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Temporary bandage or a real step towards reform and reprieve for DREAMers?

In a desperately needed positive move, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced on August 18 some significant administrative repairs to the country’s broken immigration system. Responding to the tsunami of criticism over their increasingly harsh and unjust immigration policies, including blindly deporting hundreds of thousands of immigrants without due process, the DHS announced a few changes to their policy.

Under the new policy, the DHS and ICE will review and suspend the low-priority deportation cases – around 300,000 of them – that primarily involve younger immigrants and those who are not deemed a threat to public security. This new move especially benefits the DREAMers, who have been fighting tirelessly for their right to remain in the country. The main stipulations of the DHS policy shift, as highlighted by Campus Progress, are the following:

The DHS will create a joint-commission with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to review 300,000 existing deportation cases to identify immigrants that are not high priority cases for removal;

Those that are not high priority individuals for removal —DREAMers, primary caregivers, veterans or relatives of persons in armed services, among others identified in an agency memo (PDF) — will have their cases closed. These individuals should then become eligible to apply for work permits.

This initiative does not provide individuals with an earned path to Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) status or U.S. Citizenship. Work authorization is not guaranteed, either.

These measures have been generally praised by immigration reform activists, DREAMers, organizations and officials that have been fighting for major changes in the immigration system. Representative Luis V. Gutierrez of Illinois, a long time champion for immigration reform – who was also heavily involved in the case with Tony and Janina Wasilewski – reacted positively to the DHS announcement, stating:

This is the Barack Obama I have been waiting for, that Latino and immigrant voters helped put in office to fight for sensible immigration policies.

While the DHS, especially Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, has been guarded about their own policy shift so as not appear to be making a complete turnaround, immigration reform groups have also reacted with some trepidation. Napolitano, during a press conference after the DHS announcement made it clear that “Nobody’s getting a free pass. Nobody’s getting free admission to citizenship or anything like that under this system. Nobody is getting exempted.” Meanwhile, immigration reform groups have commented on the very small percentage of the approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants that will actually benefit from this policy change.

Furthering this stance, Michelle Fei of the Immigrant Defense Project, wrote an op-ed on behalf of the New York State Working Group Against Deportation (NYSGAD) arguing that immigration reform should include new measures for all undocumented immigrants and not just those deemed innocent or harmless. Pointing to a wider flaw in the current immigration policy of the country, Fei writes:

…we cannot accept that people with criminal convictions should be so easily tossed out of our country. They’ve already paid their price in a criminal justice system that seldomly lives up to its promise of fairness and equality – particularly for those from low-income, of color, and immigrant communities. They don’t deserve a harsh second punishment of permanent exile through a deportation system we all know is patently unjust and broken. And no matter what, they still belong with our families and communities.

Fei’s stance on the extents of the the deportation machinery highlight that much more needs to be done until we have a fair and just immigration system in the country. These moves by the DHS are definitely positive and will bring relief to hundreds of thousands of immigrants – many of them young people with a real chance at a great future – who will get another chance to stay in this country. However, the DHS and President Obama must keep this momentum going and really work towards a positive, lasting and effective overhaul of the immigration system. For more information about this policy, read this fact sheet put together by the National Immigrant Justice Center. Add your voice to the immigration reform movement today. Join Restore Fairness.

Photo courtesy of immigrationimpact.com

Immigration reform is on the horizon but what about fair and just enforcement policy?

napolitano_featureThe past fortnight witnessed numerous developments on the immigration front, and almost all roads seem to be pointing to the pressing need for immigration reform that ensures fair and just enforcement.

The November 18th Families, Freedom and Faith telephonic town hall featuring Members of Congress Luis Gutierrez, Raul Grijalva, and Nydia Velazquez, was a huge success with more than 60,000 reform supporters calling in from 1,009 house parties in 45 states. During the event, which took the form of a massive conference call with more than 16,000 active telephone lines, organizers urged listeners to demand immigration reform by texting and calling Members of Congress. Congressman Gutierrez laid out a comprehensive vision for immigration reform and called on supporters to hold their leaders accountable.  In his words,

We need everyone on this call to take action with your churches, your families and your organizations so that we can deliver a strong message to President Obama and Congress that, hey, it has been a year…We want you to keep your promise to our families.  We’ll be watching on the State of the Union to make sure you keep your promise.

The huge turnout for the telephonic town hall came hot on the heels of Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano’s speech at the Center for American Progress in which she made a strong case for the need for immigration reform, positing that  now is the time to take significant strides towards a  “three-legged stool” approach – regulating the flow of immigrants, dealing with those who are already here, and beginning with “fair, reliable enforcement.” She said:

Let me emphasize this. We will never have fully effective law enforcement or national security as long as so many millions remain in the shadows…Making sure these people become full taxpayers and pay their fair share will both benefit our economy and make it easier to enforce the laws against unscrupulous or exploitative employers.

But with the talk of reform must also be the talk of fair and just enforcement policies. In mid-October Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced new 287(g) memoranda of agreements (MOAs) with 67 state and local law enforcement agencies – an expansion of the already  existing program that arms state and local enforcement with immigration enforcement powers. Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office headed by Sheriff Joe Arpaio was one among several agencies accused of racial profiling to be granted a new MOA despite various complaints and an ongoing Department of Justice investigation. Even the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has expressed its concerns in a letter to the Obama administration in which they outline the clear lack of progress towards ending racial discrimination in the United States, calling upon the Administration to “reconsider its policy under 287 (g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.”

Problems with the new program are already emerging. Although the federal government has said that it was reformulating its agreements with local law enforcement to ensure that the 287(g) program was being used to detain only serious felons rather than those with misdemeanors to save precious resources, programs in places like the Sheriff’s department of Wake County, North Carolina are still operating unchanged and unchecked. Wake County Sheriff, Donnie Harrison confirmed that his department has not altered the way it implements the program. “We do the same thing if you’re charged for murder or if you’re charged with no operator’s license,” said Harrison, one of seven North Carolina sheriffs who have the program. “Nothing has changed for us.”

In Maricopa county, Alma Minerva Chacon was detained by Sheriff Arpaio’s officials while she was nine months pregnant. On the night of her arrest, Chacon went into labor and was rushed to a local hospital with her hands and legs shackled, and despite the nurses’ requests, was forced to give birth while shackled to the bed. Arpaio’s police staff did not allow Chacon to hold her baby girl and warned her that if no one came to claim the child within 72 hours, the child would be turned over to state custody. Watch Alma Minerva Chacon talking about her ordeal.

These shocking incidents only reinforce the need for the hour – immigration reform that respects fairness and due process and does not bargain one for the other.

Photo courtesy of www.reformimmigrationforamerica.org

Answer this call to action for immigration reform on November 18th- listen in and party it out!

November 18th is a day of National Action for immigration and here is an opportunity for you to take leadership in your community and fight for immigration reform.

On Wednesday, November 18th, supporters of immigration reform from all across the country are getting together for a nation-wide dialogue about the steps necessary for immigration reform. Reform Immigration for America will be hosting a virtual/telephonic town hall meeting in which Congressman Luis Gutierrez will lead a discussion about why the broken immigration system needs to be fixed, and how we are going to win this fight. Gutierrez and other immigration reform leaders will lay out the ways families are hurting right now, and how Reform Immigration for America’s campaign for Families, Freedom and Faith can make a difference.

At 8:00 PM Eastern time/5:00 PM Pacific time tomorrow, you can join this exciting conversation with Representative Gutierrez and other reform leaders by listening in along with thousands of others, voicing your concerns and asking questions en route to winning this fight. Also, there are 650 parties taking place across the country that night in houses, churches and ESL classes, in which all those who support comprehensive immigration reform are gathering with their friends, families and neighbors to join in on the call and learn about what action needs to be taken to fix the system. By attending a party, you and immigration reformers in your neighborhood will tell the world that you’re committed to the cause. Not only will you hear firsthand what’s already being done for immigration reform, but you’ll also learn about what’s next for this movement and how to take a stand.

Click here to find a party near you, and if you don’t find one, then host one yourself! Not sure how to host a party? Here’s a helpful ‘host a party’ toolkit that will tell you how. And if you can’t attend a party, then sign up here to participate in the Families, Freedom and Faith call!

This call will lay out how we’re going to win the fight for immigration reform. And you’re invited.

PS- The town halls are being hosted in both English and Spanish. To look for a party for a Spanish-language call, click here.

Photo courtesy of www.reformimmigrationforamerica.org