One year after the executive annoucements, what's really happening with immigration?
**The following reflection was written by the CRLN's Immigration Organizer, Lissette Castillo, firstname.lastname@example.org
Last Friday, November 20 was the one year anniversary of President Obama’s immigration executive action announcements. It was also the one year anniversary of the Priorities Enforcement Program (PEP) encouraging police/ICE collaboration. On that day--just hours after the DOJ finally filed a request with the Supreme Court for reconsideration of the 5th Circuit Court’s recent decision to rule against the executive actions and to continue to withhold relief from millions of undocumented immigrants--Organized Communities Against Deportations (OCAD), a partner organization, led a press conference outside of the Chicago ICE Office. I was there, listening to the testimonies of undocumented immigrants who one year after the announcements were sharing their stories to move the conversation away from the executive actions and back to the ongoing detention and deportation crisis. An undocumented grandmother, who was denied necessary medications while in detention, reminded us of the negligent and miserable conditions that immigrants continue to endure in detention centers; a young father of US citizen children and longtime resident noted that the executive actions don’t go far enough, explaining that if and when implemented they still won’t cover for the majority of the undocumented community and that they will not shield people like him--who have convictions on their records, in his case a DUI from several years ago--from deportation.
The message was clear: since last year’s announcements, the situation of undocumented immigrants has not improved. With 5 million immigrants still in limbo, pawns in the political games of Democrats and Republicans alike, and nearly 7 million immigrants excluded from any prospects of relief, they’re right. The past year has been especially difficult for immigrants falling within the category of the excluded. With the vast majority of advocacy organizations focused on the executive actions and with ICE now equipped with a formal set of “priority” guidelines that it can flaunt to the public, manipulate at will, and then use as cover, these folks are especially susceptible to harsh targeting, criminalization, and deportation by ICE. In practice, this means that it’s gotten harder to stop the deportations of folks who have any sort of criminal conviction on their record, regardless of how old these may be, whether they are misdemeanors or minor offences, if steps have been taken to remedy past mistakes, if the person has been a longtime resident, whether familial ties exist, and, in cases like that of Manuel Roman, even if someone doesn’t actually fall under ICE’s priority categories. The problematics of this are compounded when one considers the multiplicity of ways that policing in immigrant communities-from the moment of first interaction to the moment of conviction--can and often is carried out in a racialized manner. What does it mean, for example, when a DUI misdemeanor conviction, which ICE severely criminalizes and qualifies as “significant”--can be sufficient cause for deportation when in cities like Chicago and across the country black and brown communities are from the start disproportionately targeted for these types of charges?And what kinds of practices are we passively accepting when we allow ICE to label people priority and to put them into deportation proceedings even when the initial police interaction was but the byproduct of racial profiling?
Challenging the deportation of immigrants which ICE considers “recent arrivals” or that have been issued a final order of deportation after January 2014--as in the case of Maria Oneida and her children--has also become harder, even though many of the immigrants who fall under this category tend to be fleeing some of the more violent and poverty-ridden countries in the world where US foreign policies and interests have most certainly not been blameless.
The year elapsed since last November should have taught us a couple of things. Among them, that traditional advocacy alone just isn’t enough these days. We cannot allow ourselves to fall into the mistake of spending the vast majority of our time and resources on efforts that don’t address in an immediate and head on fashion the problems immigrants are facing NOW--not unlike the not too distant past when most organizations were focused on the abstract and distant goal of immigration reform even as (and at the expense of) soaring deportations and the tearing apart of immigrant communities. If we’re not careful, we’ll exhaust the vast amount of our time and energy waiting for and chasing after the executive actions, when the contradiction of detention and deportations continues to glare us in the eye--when every day of wait means deportation for hundreds of immigrants. It’s time for us to think critically about how we can contribute to the work and efforts aimed at steering the conversation back to enforcement, to fighting deportations, and to holding our leaders accountable to the changes they have the power to implement now because, as we’ve learned, the reality is that ICE continues to be an agency so rogue and unaccountable that it can’t even be trusted to transparently adhere to its own guidelines. Just coming out of Thanksgiving and and gearing up for other holidays, dates in which we usually spend time with family, friends, and loved ones, some of us might spend some time thinking about the thousands of immigrants who will be missing at gatherings this year. The burning question for all of us should be what do we do actually do about it?