As you can imagine, there have been lots of reactions to the August 18 announcement from the Obama administration about the new deportation policy. We’ve complied some of the comments and statements from a range of our allies and colleagues. For the most part, this is viewed as a good first step. There’s still more that can be done, but this is progress.
I have been vocal in my criticism of the President and his Administration over the dramatic increase in deportations on his watch and have traveled the country urging him to use his power under existing law to do what he can to help. This is the Barack Obama I have been waiting for and that Latino and immigrant voters helped put in office to fight for sensible immigration policies. Focusing scarce resources on deporting serious criminals, gang bangers, and drug dealers and setting aside non-criminals with deep roots in the U.S. until Congress fixes our laws is the right thing to do and I am proud of the President and Secretary Napolitano for standing up for a more rational approach to enforcing our current immigration laws.
Today is a victory not just for immigrants but for the American people as a whole because it makes no sense to deport DREAM Act students and others who can make great contributions to America and pose no threat. It is not in our national interest to send away young people who were raised in the U.S. and have been educated here and want only to contribute to this country’s success.
I applaud President Obama and Secretary Napolitano’s decision to commit a panel to redefine priorities in deportation cases. It is essential to devote our resources to apprehending, prosecuting and deporting individuals that pose a danger to our communities.
While this administrative change is not a panacea for all our nation’s immigration problems, it’s a positive step forward and will, I hope, serve as guidepost to set the tone of continuing immigration discussions.
I have asked the Department to ensure that it prioritizes the removal of serious criminals instead of deporting young people who have grown up in this country since childhood and hard-working families who have compelling ties to the United States. The Department of Homeland Security’s decision to review all pending deportation cases and to consider humanitarian concerns in each case is a very positive step forward. I hope the Department will pursue additional initiatives to keep American families together by allowing immigrant spouses and children of U.S. citizens to apply for visas from within the United States based on an expanded and broad list of humanitarian factors.
I commend Secretary Napolitano and the Department of Homeland Security, as well as President Obama, for the significant and very welcome news that DHS plans to adopt a more commonsense, humane approach to the cases of DREAM Act eligible individuals and others who are a low enforcement priority – our friends and neighbors who seriously contribute to our communities in Connecticut and across the country every day. The new guidelines will also apply to others, including those who have served our nation with honor, such as veterans and members of our military.
Upon hearing the outline of the new process, National Immigration Law Center executive director Marielena Hincapié said, “We welcome this great news from the administration, which shows that it is finally listening to the community’s demands and exercising sound judgment to provide much-needed relief for immigrant families. This new process comprises a positive first step toward ensuring that the country’s limited resources are not misspent on ripping families apart or deporting students who came as children to the U.S., or workers who exercised their civil rights, or countless other immigrants who have been caught up in the deportation dragnet.
“Many questions as to what the specific criteria will be and how these priorities will be implemented remain unanswered, however. We remain particularly concerned about how the administration will apply these priorities to immigrants still being detained for low-level offenses and minor traffic violations as a result of the infamous Secure Communities program, and how it will ensure relief for immigrants who do not qualify for prosecutorial discretion. As always, the devil is in the details, but we look forward to working with DHS and DOJ to ensure that immigrants currently in deportation proceedings can benefit from this new process.”
We applaud the Department of Homeland Security for taking this welcome and important step toward aligning our immigration enforcement practices with our nation’s values and priorities. By focusing our enforcement resources on those who pose threats to our communities, rather than on immigrants who have committed no crimes, these guidelines will make our communities safer, save taxpayer dollars, and uphold our nation’s commitment to the rule of law.
This initiative represents another step in the ongoing process of making our immigration enforcement regime more effective and coherent by building on the prosecutorial discretion memo issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton on June 17, which clearly articulated the agency’s enforcement priorities.
The initiative launched today takes a giant step forward operationalizing the guidelines laid out in the Morton memo and extending their application throughout the entire immigration system. This unprecedented cross-agency effort, including the Department of Justice, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection, and Citizenship and Immigration Services, will standardize removal and enforcement practices to ensure that resources are deployed effectively across the system.
“Everyone in America should welcome today’s announcement,” said FIRM spokesperson Marissa Graciosa. “The President has responded positively to the moral crisis created by wrong-headed deportations. This policy change reflects the hard work of hundreds of organizations and thousands of immigrants who literally put their lives on the line for to make their voices heard.”
“This is an important step in the right direction. We urge the Administration to enforce this policy vigorously and follow it through to its full logical and moral conclusion: suspend deportations of all those who work hard every day to create better lives for themselves and their families,” Graciosa said. “Specifically, the Secure Communities Program that undermines public safety and tears apart immigrant communities should be abolished.”
“This is an encouraging announcement,” said AILA President Eleanor Pelta. “For months, AILA has been talking about the need for smart, targeted enforcement. DHS should focus its limited resources on prosecuting those who are a danger to our communities or would do our nation harm, not wasting taxpayer money going after longtime residents, spouses of U.S. veterans, students, the elderly, and others with deep ties to our communities,” added Pelta.
Pelta went on to say, “We applaud DHS for recognizing that much more needs to be done to ensure that enforcement resources are targeting those who would do us harm, and not students, mothers, churchgoers, and taxpayers. If the committee embraces the true spirit of this announcement, we could begin to see some much needed change to DHS enforcement practices.”
“This is an important moment not because today’s changes will necessarily mean anything, but because it shows that our organizing is effective,” Jose Torres-Don, coordinator of The NIYA Education Not Deportation campaign, a project focused on preventing the deportation of youth and their families. “It shows that the president does actually have the power he previously claimed to not have. We are tired of empty promises and, thanks to this president; we know them when we see them.”
The underlying problem is that the Obama Administration is hard-wired for deportations through dragnet programs like Secure Communities. For years, advocates have been providing solutions, yet this administration has turned a blind eye. We warn President Obama that if he expects our support in 2012 we want more than temporary fixes to his broken programs.
Before anything, we want to express our happiness for the individuals and families that may benefit from today’s announcement. Because President Obama opted to handle each of the 300,000 cases one-by-one, we are concerned that far fewer than the 300,000 people will actually complete the complicated process and receive a work permit. We will also wait and see if, in fact, today’s announcement provides some relief from deportation to DREAM Act students, a demand that Presente.org and its allies have been advocating strongly for some years now.
But our happiness is tempered by the unavoidable conclusion that the Administration’s announcement does little to help the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants who are not currently in deportation proceedings. These immigrants continue to live in fear because of President Obama’s failure to fundamentally alter immigration policies like the controversial SCOMM program, which was the impetus for our recent national day of action. In this sense, the Obama Administration’s announcement represents a (Less Than) 3% Solution to the crisis that his administration has caused in the lives of the more than 1 million immigrants he has already deported, the majority of whom have committed no crime but for seeking a better life for them and their families. It also offers minimal incentive to Latino voters who are seriously questioning whether they will vote to re-elect the President.
So while we celebrate today’s small sign of progress, we will continue to exercise powerfully our ongoing commitment to elevate the voices of the Latino community until justice for immigrants becomes the law of the land. Until then, we will never cease to mobilize, whether at the ballot box or in our communities.
United We Dream
This is a step in the right direction. The Administration is listening to the pressure from the immigrant community and Latino voters. Given the frustration with the Administration’s immigration policy over the past 2 years, including the record number of 1 million deportations and the recent move to enforce Secure Communities, we are wary of today’s announcement.
We want to ensure that our young people are not left vulnerable to the discretion of ICE offices and law enforcement in anti-immigrant states. We must be sure that individuals don’t fall through the cracks, like 18-year-old Mercedes from Tennessee who was stopped for driving less than 10 miles over the speed limit and is currently facing deportation.
It is still unclear the mechanisms and how it will actually work. Marisol Valero-Davila, leader of UWD says; “The President has earned our mistrust by deporting our community and ignoring our calls for relief. He now must earn our trust, by showing us that he is serious about this new proposal. The proof is in the pudding.”
This post originally appeared August 19, 2011, on America’s Voice.
Image courtesy of Jobs With Justice via Flickr.