Defend and Expand Immigrant Rights!—Thirteenth in a Series on Key Issues in 2012

The Immigrant Community after Obama’s First Term: From Record Deportations to Deferred Action, With Raids and Deportations Happening at Both the Federal and State Levels

As a result of the Supreme Court’s decision on Arizona’s anti-immigrant laws, the announcement by President Obama that qualifying immigrants will not be deported for at least two years—though there is no guarantee of that—and other developments, the issue of immigrant rights has come much more to the fore nationally than was the case some months ago. This was heightened by the “debate” among Republican candidates for president during which each tried to outdo the others in strident ant-immigrant rhetoric. This only underscores the fact that repression against the immigrant community is being promoted on a bi-partisan basis.

What follows is an analysis by two immigrant rights activists, Melina Juárez and Reyes Zavalza, on what is at stake here and a program of action to deal with it, a program supported by the ELN. It is the first of a two-part series on immigrant rights; the second posting will deal with the AgJobs program sponsored by Obama and key Republican leaders and is titled, “AgJobs: Modern Day Bracero Program.”

Following is Melina’s and Reyes’ statement.

First and foremost, we must be clear on the fact that Obama’s immigration policy has not only failed to heed the mandate of Latinos for papers for all, but it has completely devastated the immigrant community through raids and deportations.

The New York Times reported in June 2012 that Obama had deported a record 400,000 undocumented immigrants for each year in his term, totaling over 1 million deportations. Families have been torn apart, and whole communities have been decimated. And it is always the most vulnerable and helpless who suffer the harshest consequences—thousands of U.S.-born children have been forced into foster care (an already overburdened and fragile system) after undocumented parents have been detained. These kids are left helpless, confused, and without their families.

The conditions at the privately run, taxpayer-funded detention centers have also been highly controversial. Mistreatment and abuse are rampant, with stories of beatings, rape, denial of medications, and even disappearances coming out of the detention centers.

In addition to these detrimental effects, Obama’s record number of deportations has also had the consequence of giving overtly anti-immigrant groups the upper hand in pushing for even tougher immigration policies at the state level. S.B. 1070 in Arizona was instituted in this context, and together with the slew of copy-cat legislation it inspired in Alabama, South Carolina, Utah, Georgia, and Indiana, this marked a new level of repression against the immigrant community.

This is all the more true now that the Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of S.B. 1070’s “papers please” measure, which requires police officials to determine the immigration status of anyone they stop or detain. Given existing practices by police departments across the nation, this policy of “papers please” can only lead to more racial profiling, more deportations, and further hampering of the civil rights of Latinos and others.

Deputizing Local Authorities to Act as INS/ICE Agents

Years before the passage of S.B. 1070, however, federal policies had already begun to use local authorities in deporting immigrants. In examining the repercussions of these policies, we get the clear picture of what S.B. 1070-type legislation has in store for the immigrant community.

Beginning in 1996 (under Democratic Party President Bill Clinton) the 287(g) program was included into the Immigration and Nationality Act and allowed the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS)—renamed Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, in 2003—to enter into agreements with local authorities. These agreements essentially gave local police and sheriff departments the ability to deputize their officers as INS/ICE agents. Local officers were now allowed to act as immigration-enforcement agents demanding papers, detaining people for immigration-related issues, and serving on INS/ICE task forces.

The most famous of these agreements undoubtedly has been that between ICE and Maricopa County, Arizona, where Sheriff Joe Arpaio has gone to great lengths to exploit the powers bestowed by the 287(g) agreement. Arpaio’s abuse of 287(g) powers and the ruthless persecution of undocumented immigrants in his jurisdiction have spurred several civil rights lawsuits. Apart from accusations of abuse of power and money laundering, the Maricopa Sherriff’s department has come under fire for their treatment of undocumented immigrants in their custody. The most appalling of these are the cases of two pregnant women who were forced to endure labor while shackled to their hospital beds and in the presence of deputies.

These horror stories of maltreatment and abuse are not unique to Arizona. In communities throughout the 24 states with 287(g) agreements, there have been reports of abuse by officials ranging from racial profiling to inhumane treatment like that seen in Arpaio’s county. Ultimately, programs like 287(g) have only served to increase the number of non-priority deportations through minor traffic violations and other similar situations. Most importantly, it has served to further alienate immigrant communities from their local authorities and institutions. Undocumented immigrants are hesitant or outright refuse to report crimes or interact with police officers who double as immigration agents. There is fear that reporting a crime can lead to the victim’s or witness’s deportation.

With the recent Supreme Court ruling these abuses are bound to become more commonplace. Indeed, the court’s decision seems to be relegating immigrants and Latinos to a permanent police state. Under these state of affairs, it is more than likely that what occurred in Anaheim, Calif., will become even more prevalent.

Anaheim—Police Repression

Keeping the immigrant community under a constant state of siege (as the Supreme Court now enables) can only lend itself to such unwarranted killings and abuses as those that occurred in Anaheim, California.

The nightmare began on July 21, 2012, when neighbors and passersby looked on at Manuel Diaz laying face down, handcuffed, and with an Anaheim police officer’s bullet imbedded in the back of his head. As Diaz helplessly struggled for his life with no ambulance in sight, officers pushed back the crowd and cordoned off the area. Diaz’s shooting was not an uncommon ordeal for the Anaheim community, and as word spread through the area more and more community members came to protest the shooting. The incident made headlines when police officers unleashed a police dog on the crowd. The police dog charged toward a woman with a baby in a stroller and injured the father. Police fired pepper balls and bean bags to disperse the peaceful gathering. The Anaheim Police Department later apologized for the police dog incident, but defended their use of the non-lethal weapons used on the crowd.

The massive outrage sparked by Diaz’s shooting was only compounded by another police killing the following day. Joel Acevedo was shot while fleeing from police. With two Latino men dead within 48 hours in a majority immigrant and working- class community, Anaheim was consumed with unrest by a people tired and angry over the rampant inequality and repression by authorities. The anger reached a boiling point the night of July 24 as large numbers of protesters descended upon City Hall and the Anaheim Police Department. Although most protesters marched peacefully, there were others who began hurling rocks, smashing windows, and lighting garbage cans on fire. Police responded with bean bags and pepper balls to disperse the angry rioters. The night ended with 20 protesters arrested and four people injured.

The killings and the riots they ignited revealed a situation common in many immigrant communities under the Obama administration—growing inequality, lack of resources and funding, high unemployment, and disinterest from local authorities to the plight of their communities. The total lack of disregard by authorities for the safety of the Latino and immigrant community of Anaheim was exposed on July 21. This alienation between authorities and the immigrant community is a common characteristic throughout the nation. Cases such as that of Luis Gutierrez Navarro, who was murdered by Yolo County Sherriff’s deputies in California, have proved that authorities continue to disregard the safety and well-being of the immigrant community.

Indeed, it seems that in the eyes of politicians and government officials, the immigrant and Latino community are a surplus population deserving attention only during election cycles.

Obama’s Deferred Action

This is why it’s no surprise that now that it’s election season, President Obama has decided to turn his attention to the plight of immigrants—a plight very much aggravated by his policies. Just on June 15, in an attempt to line up the Latino vote, Obama issued an announcement declaring that certain undocumented immigrants could qualify for deferred action. This announcement was later followed by a memorandum written by Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and issued to all agencies of the Department of Homeland Security.

However, this initiative taken by the Obama administration is more of a ploy for votes than any serious attempt to heed the demands of the immigrant community. In fact, in analyzing what deferred action actually is, it becomes apparent that there are several issues involved which may endanger those who apply.

First and foremost, deferred action applies only to a small minority of immigrants. The qualifications required for consideration of deferred action make this clear (see Napolitano Memo, 6/15/2012). These requirements leave out the majority of undocumented workers and families. But even within the undocumented youth population, these requirements exclude a large portion of applicants who have criminal records. Immigrant communities are often subject to police violence and un-proportional arrests via racial profiling. The requirements for deferred action also introduce the legal category of “significant misdemeanor,” which is open to interpretation, and as such could be used to disqualify otherwise viable candidates.

The biggest issue with applying for deferred action, however, is that one must get his/her finger prints taken and entered into the ICE database. This means that in order to qualify, immigrants must come out of the shadows and submit their personal information to the Department of Homeland Security—that very same department which, since its inception, has spearheaded the offensive in deporting immigrants. The danger with this is obvious. But this danger is made worse by the fact that neither the announcement made by President Obama, nor the memo issued by Janet Napolitano, are executive decrees, and thus carry no legal weight. This makes deferred action ultimately contingent on the discretion of the Department of Homeland Security.

In fact, deferred action is nothing more than a type of prosecutorial discretion “practiced” by the Department of Homeland Security. Prosecutorial discretion gives ICE officials, as well as other immigration agencies within the department, certain policy guidelines by which to direct their deportations (by prioritizing immigrants with criminal records, for example). However, because this is not a law, it assures nothing.

And even if you meet the criteria for deferred action, there is nothing in place that can prevent Homeland Security from rejecting your application and entering you into deportation proceedings. In the memo, phrases like the following permeate the document: “DHS cannot provide any assurance that relief will be granted” (Napolitano Memo, 6/15/2012). What is more, decisions cannot be appealed, as with actual legal proceedings. Thus, things like due process, accountability, or any form of transparency, are simply not guaranteed.

But the issues with deferred action don’t end there. Even if you are granted deferred action, it only lasts for two years, and can be revoked arbitrarily. This raises the question of, “What if Romney wins the presidential elections?” or, “What will happen if after two years immigration reform still isn’t passed by Congress? Will ICE revert back to deporting these individuals?” Given the purpose of the Department of Homeland Security, these are all valid questions. But the memo simply doesn’t address them.

Another uncertainty comes with the process of applying for work authorization, for which deferred action recipients are eligible. The memo completely omits what criteria will be used to determine eligibility for work authorization (see Napolitano Memo, 6/15/2012). At best, work authorization would last the lifetime of deferred action; or it can be denied. In any case, neither deferred action nor a work authorization permit could lead to amnesty. In the memo it is clearly stated that, “this memorandum confers no substantive right, immigration status or pathway to citizenship.” (Napolitano Memo, 6/15/2012) Arizona Governor Jean Brewer recently cited this section of the memo to support her executive decree ordering all state departments in Arizona to deny driver licenses or any public service to those who apply for deferred action.

Not only is deferred action built on shaky grounds, but previous memos have often times been ignored. For instance, two similar memos on prosecutorial discretion have been issued by President Obama since June 2011, but they haven’t always been followed by the Department of Homeland Security.

The first of its kind was the Morton Memorandum issued on June 15, 2011. This memo set out policy guidelines that prioritized the deportations of criminals, and de-prioritized the deportations of students and veterans with no criminal records. However, since this memo was issued, the Department of Homeland Security has continued these practices.

And while there have been cases in which these memos have been followed, the uncertainty is too great for us to advocate this memo in a positive light. Plus, the fact that past failures to comply with similar memos has yet to result in any consequences for those responsible makes it unlikely that the tenuous guidelines of deferred action will actually be followed in the future. There is simply no accountability (or teeth) to deferred action.

Due to the uncertainty involved in applying for deferred action as well as the track record of similar memos—not to mention the nature of the Department of Homeland Security itself—it would be a grave mistake to hype-up deferred action as a victory for the immigrant community. Not only would this let Obama off the hook for terrorizing the immigrant community since day one, but, even worse, it would send the wrong message and ultimately misguide immigrants into taking a dangerous action that may culminate in their deportation. Instead, it is our responsibility to expose the dangers that come with applying for deferred action and characterize it for what it is: a ploy for votes.

At the same time, it’s more urgent than ever that we provide a fighting alternative that centers on political independence: We want neither the Republicans’ “get-tough immigration policies” nor Obama’s deportations! The alternative is to mobilize in the streets to demand tangible legal rights, not just memos which carry no legal weight.

  • No more raids and deportations, no more police repression!
  • Justice for those killed and injured by the police in Anaheim, CA!
  • Repeal the “papers please” measure of S.B. 1070!
  • Papers for all now!
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About elnwebmaster

This is the discussion blog of the Labor Fightback Network, an auxiliary to the laborfightback.org website. It is designed to facilitate discussion among labor activists concerning the critical issues facing working people in the current economic crisis. Readers’ comments are welcome, but flaming is not. Any comments which are racist, sexist/homophobic, or disrespectful on a personal level will not get past moderation.
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