Adventures of a Forced Migrant Contact Me
Democrat apologists are coming out of the woodwork to defend the Obama Administration’s deportation record.
After all, once you deport 2 million people, expand immigration enforcement, and preside over the largest immigration detention complex in the world, there is nothing stopping even the conservative National Council of La Raza from calling you ‘Deporter-in-Chief.’
The esteemed Julia Preston for the New York Times tells us that court deportations have dropped 43 percent in five years. There is a very simple explanation for why court deportations are down. It is because most people are being deported without ever even seeing a judge, through a process called expedited removal–a term that is so impersonal, but essentially means deportation. Preston paints a rosy picture of the deportation crisis by ignoring the reality that 75 percent of people removed from the country never even saw a judge. They were deported in the most inhumane way–without due process of law. Moreover, due to budget reasons, our immigration courts are so backlogged that many people languish in limbo for years–awaiting a final hearing–before they are deported. And many people in removal proceedings are lawyering up, which makes removal less likely through the immigration court system, and much more likely through the process of “expedited removals.”
The most creative attempt to make the President look good on deportations comes from the New Democrats Network (NDN). The NDN report plays on the legally-crafted distinction between removals and returns to say that Obama may be “removing” more people but is “returning” less than Bush:
The NDN report shows that removals under Obama’s administration have indeed increased, from a record low of 165,168 during the Bush administration in 2002 to a record high of 419,384 in 2012. However, the number of returns has plummeted — dropping sharply from 2008 to 2009, when Obama first took office, and declining steadily since. In 2001, there were 1,349,371 returns, but in 2012 there were only 229,968 — a drop of nearly 83 percent.
What’s the difference between removals and returns? Well, deportation is a rather harsh word, so lawmakers have opted to move away from it since 1996, and categorize deportations as “removals” and “returns.” Removals are actual deportations, and returns constitute voluntary departure. For the government, voluntary departure expedites and reduces the cost of removal. For the non-citizen, voluntary departure removes the stigma of deportation and allows a person more time to depart the country at her or his expense. Many times, non-citizens are actually forced into accepting voluntary departure, so the phrase is a euphemism in practice, and literally means deportation from the country, without the harsh legal consequences of removal.
The 2 million figure contains both removals and returns. However, as the NDN reports admits, Obama has presided over more removals than returns, which means people face harsher consequences if they are deported nowadays. The Immigration Policy Center confirms that the trend has been towards removal rather than return:
The end result is that the number of “removals” (deportations) has trended upward since the mid-1990s. Meanwhile, the number of apprehensions has fluctuated widely, primarily in response to changing economic conditions in the United States and Mexico, and nose-dived when the recession of late 2007 hit. The number of “voluntary returns” has tracked apprehensions closely. However, since 2005, voluntary return has been made available to fewer and fewer apprehended immigrants as deportation (with criminal consequences for re-entry into the country) becomes the preferred option of U.S. immigration authorities.
Another colleague, Anna Law, who is a professor at CUNY Law, penned “Lies, damned lies, and Obama’s deportation statistics” only to be somehow caught up in the web of lies. She concludes in her well-written article that Obama has emphasized returns over removals even though the statistics from ICE and the NDN report tell us otherwise. Law also appears to be downplaying the harmful impact of “expedited removals” by pointing out that “two-thirds of Obama’s overall expulsion numbers consist of returns of people who have previous final orders of removal and who are recently arriving entrants.”
Surprisingly, nowhere in the article does Law analyze that many of these “recently arriving entrants” who have final orders to leave the country actually have family members in the United States, and that “expedited removal” tears apart American families without due process of law. Law does not even mention how the Administration has steadily given more people criminal convictions for mere entry and re-entry such that immigration convictions account for the largest portion of federal convictions. In effect, the Obama Administration is increasingly criminalizing immigrants–giving us criminal records, locking us up in detention centers, and deporting more people who have such minor criminal records.
In conclusion, Obama has presided over more actual removals than former President George W. Bush, criminalized immigrant communities to prioritize us for removal, and in total, the number of returns and removals under his Administration surpasses 2 million.
This is all beside the point. Numbers can be skewed in many ways, and we’ll continue to see both conservatives and liberals spin numbers for political reasons. But numbers don’t tell us the real stories of how people across the country continue to suffer the devastating impact of immigration enforcement. Numbers are impersonal–they do not tell of the violence and terror done to our communities. It does not matter whether Obama or Bush deported more people–what matters is that actual people are suffering due to harsh enforcement programs carried out by the Executive Branch ranging from Operation Streamline to Secure Communities to the Criminal Alien Removal Initiative.
The President can change this, but thus far, he has refused to act. And so we continue the hunger strikes on his lawn, carry on with shutting down ICE, and do what we must to put the pressure where it belongs.
Video Credit: The NIYA
I don’t know how Santiago Garcia-Leco managed to get detained, given he is eligible for Barack Obama’s deferred action program. But inside the El Paso Detention Center, Santiago, a queer undocumented organizer, found hundreds of cases of asylum seekers who had won credible fear, but were detained for months to await trial. The National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA), joined by leading civil rights organizations such as GetEqual, Texas Civil Rights Project, and the Detention Watch Network, is demanding a full review of the detainees El Paso Detention Center.
In a video released by the NIYA, Santiago reports that “when no one is watching, ICE does whatever they want.” To give an example, he reveals how federal agents tried to get him to sign his own voluntary departure papers. Inside the detention facility in Texas, Santiago also found over 60 cases of individuals who have been granted credible fear, but denied parole into the United States, in violation of of Directive No.: 11002.1, as laid out by former ICE Director, John Morton. This directive went into effect January 4, 2010; however, the ICE leadership from the El Paso sector continues to ignore it:
“…[W]hen an arriving alien found to have credible fear establishes to the satisfaction of DRO his or her identity and that he or she presents neither a flight risk nor danger to the community, DRO should, absent additional factors, parole the alien on the basis that his or her continued detention is not in the public interest.”
NIYA organizers state that “it is alarming to hear of numerous instances where immigrants are being detained at the El Paso Detention Center despite the fact that they do not pose any security risk, are not a flight risk, and their detention is contrary to the public interest.”
This is not the first time that NIYA has infiltrated a detention center to uncover rampant abuse of detainees and immigration procedures. Marco Saavedra and Viridiana Martinez from the NIYA infiltrated Broward Detention Center in Florida last summer. Through that action, the NIYA found hundreds of cases of abuse, which led to the release of many detainees and a Congressional letter demanding review of the facility.
After NIYA revealed the identity of the infiltrator, ICE at El Paso Detention Center kicked Santiago out of the facility. If Santiago, who does not have any paperwork authorizing him to live in the U.S., can be released into the general population, why not release all the parole eligible people?
Two whole months after self-deporting to Mexico, walking up to the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) with a humanitarian parole and asylum application to come back to the United States and spending 17 days at the Eloy Detention Center in remote Arizona, I still remain in awe of the Bring Them Home action organized by the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA).
At first, it made no sense to many as a political action. Then again, the 2010 sit-in in Senator McCain’s office in Arizona, which sparked a series of civil disobedience actions across the country for a standalone DREAM Act and brought the legislation up for a vote twice, also made no sense to many. In the past two months, and through speaking to the DREAM 9 — now released from detention — I have discovered that Bring Them Home is not just an escalation action to defy Congress and the President in order to reunite families, but that it provides us with many other lessons. I am noting some of these lessons below.
Expanding the Dreamer Label
It is perplexing that we talk a lot about immigration reform, but not about immigrant lives. Instead, whenever the immigration reform debate comes up, advocates cherry-pick a few “aspiring American” undocumented youth (“Dreamers”) to highlight, preferably with a “We are Not Criminals” banner. I am a survivor of this tactic so I have a lot of empathy for the undocumented activists who have to act like perfect poster children because they have either testified before Congress or had their photos splashed on magazine covers. The exceptional framing of the “Dreamer” borne out of the DREAM Act, a rather conservative and Republican idea, comes with a loose noose of limiting who deserves citizenship. The noose gets tighter as we start talking about who deserves a pathway to citizenship, and it strangulates the dreams of millions who will be left out of reform.
While I believe the entire exceptional framework should be thrown into the dustbin, the recent escalation tactics are trying to expand the notion of a “Dreamer” and who is deserving of American citizenship. Indeed, Claudia Amauro, one of the DREAM 9, is 37 years old, and people may not see her as technically a Dreamer. She tells me that she “had lost faith in people caring about other people” but through the original Bring Them Home action, she met wonderful people who were doing good work for their community in trying to reunite families.
“I felt like Dorothy trying to get back from the land of OZ,” says Claudia.
I am glad Claudia is back in the U.S. with her U.S. citizen son, through the DREAM 9 Bring Them Home action. She is the real Dreamer.
The Many Faces of Mexico
Mexico is often painted in the mainstream media as a poor country, knee-deep in drug cartel violence, corruption and cronyism. While that is partly true, some of the DREAM 9 who self-deported, also experienced a different Mexico.
“I loved Mexico,” Marco tells me. “Through my American, first-world, colonized eyes. I loved it but I was only there for three days. Little did I experience the violence there, which has scarred and killed too many. But I loved how everything is not a sanitized, box store, even though it is getting there. There is spontaneity in the terrain, for now.”
Not all is beautiful, and I do not want to romanticize Marco’s experience in Mexico as the only experience. He was only there for three days after all.
Adriana Diaz, one of the DREAM 9 who had been forced to leave the U.S. due to the terror of Sheriff Arpaio tells me “I never expected to live at an immigrant shelter for 7 months. It is very sad to realize that you have almost no family support whatsoever in the place you were born in.”
“I would see all the frustration and desperation transform into so many tears on so many faces of mother’s who only ask to be with their children and families. Honestly, to me, that is the furthest thing from respect,” says Adriana when she describes her experience in detention.
Six of the DREAM 9 were placed in solitary confinement after they went on a hunger-strike, as a punishment for trying to organize within the facility. Lizbeth Mateo lost 1/10 of her body weight in solitary confinement. Lulu Martinez and Maria Vargas were sentenced to 15 days in solitary for providing legal information to other women detainees, and for encouraging them to “chant and speak out against injustices that were happening in the detention center.” While in solitary, Maria Vargas was also placed on suicide watch.
“Solitary confinement was the most psychological horror thing that could ever happen to me,” says Claudia.
Marco gave us a more refreshing take on the horror of confinement: “I feel like the depression we undergo through years of fear takes a concrete body in detention. That’s where empowerment kicks in and the hope of hearing our loved ones in the outside fighting.”
DHS had promised to look into the use of solitary confinement in federal facilities in March 2013. However, it was not until after the DREAM 9 were solitary confined and brought the issue more national attention, that ICE released a memo restricting the use of solitary confinement in immigration detention. Whether or not the memo is implemented is another story for another day.
Putting the Pressure on the Executive Branch
Both parties bear responsibility for the state of our immigration system. Some immigration reform advocates — never to be confused with immigrant rights advocates — hate to hear this. The overall Reform Immigration for American, now Alliance for Citizenship, campaign has poured millions into messaging immigration reform to be about “aspiring Americans” craving to assimilate into the “melting pot” of the U.S. by becoming citizens. They have made the unyielding GOP the target of their campaign for immigration reform, even while the Obama Administration continues to deport people in record-breaking numbers.
Now, no one taking part in these escalation tactics is opposed to immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship. That is beside the point. But pointing out that Obama is still deporting our parents and children sends chills up the spines of some Democrats and immigration reform advocates as it shifts from the partisan multi-million dollar narrative of the GOP killing 11.7 million dreams to the Democrat President tearing apart 1.7 million families.
At the same time even as members and supporters of NIYA take the heat for changing the message, their actions have created more space for various different non-profit groups to put pressure on the Obama Administration to stop all deportations. Indeed, Puente Arizona, NDLON, the Arizona Dream Act Coalition and various organizations across the country are coming together to escalate and put more pressure on the Administration to stop deportations, and extend deferred action to all persons.
Earning Citizenship vs. Pathos of Belonging
The UN Declaration of Human Rights stipulates that “everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.”
The Bring Them Home campaign presents a different way of looking at immigration reform beyond the partisan blinders of Democrats, GOP and the pathway to citizenship–a debate that has stalled the Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) legislation. For a long time now, the “Dreamers” have been seen as a low-hanging fruit in the immigration debate, and the “chosen ones” for politicians to support. The good immigrant/bad immigrant dichotomy created by the exceptional framework of the DREAM Act has made its way into the “earned citizenship” concept of the current CIR legislation, which leaves millions behind. Instead of hand-picking which migrants have earned themselves a pathway to citizenship based on how aspiring they are as Americans, Bring Them Home focuses on notions of belonging, based on the simple idea that everyone has the right to live, work and reside in the place she or he considers home. The Immigrant Youth Justice League, a sister organization, describes it best:
Even when a person is removed from their home, held in detention, or deported, they are not forgotten. They, like everyone else, are integral keys of the magical piano that are our communities. The idea of home transcends borders, it transcends nationalism, singularities, it defies definition, redefines belonging, and breaks away from the imprisonment that holds many stationary. And yet an increasing militarization of our streets and borders, and economic and social policies that target marginalized communities, continue to shatter those ideas and keep loved ones apart. As fellow community members, we have the responsibility to support our neighbors and loved ones, although far away from us they still live and exist. Their ideas of home are as important here as they are there.
Everyone has the right to come home.
Migration and Love
If there is a common thread in all of these stories of the deported and departed, it is the story of love. Undocumented youth act out of love for their families and communities when they put bodies on the line to escalate against nefarious, wrong-headed, devastating immigration policies that continue to separate far too many loved ones from one another. I believe Adriana puts it best:
I admit that my entire experience in Mexico was very harsh and very desperate. However, I do think that I would participate in the whole Dream9 movement all over again, just to shed the tiniest of light to all those women who still remain locked up in the Eloy Detention Center. I’m sure that all nine of us would repeat what we did because in my opinion, part of being a “dreamer”, and part of being human is giving hope, respect , and dignity to people. Especially to those who are being brought down every single day only for the color of their skin, their language, or even their sexual preference.
Many undocumented non-citizen parents left their beloved homes and traveled long distances to give their children a better home and hope for the future. They made the courageous, dangerous and heart-breaking journey across many borders, seas and oceans out of love for their children. Through the actions of the NIYA, I see the deported and departed young adults and children of these parents doing the same today. Migration may or may not be beautiful, but somewhere, in all these stories, there is a common thread of love. And that is the bridge between all our differences.
The NIYA is now working with 30 other immigrant youth to Bring Them Home through Laredo, Texas. Unlike the last action, no one has self-deported to Mexico in an attempt to come back. These are all “Dreamers” who grew up in the U.S. and were either deported or forced to leave the country. The action will stream live today at 11 am EST.
I was on HuffPost live yesterday holding down the fort, along with Viri Hernandez, for our friends who broke down the arbitrary U.S.-Mexico wall to bring people back home. The #DREAM9 are now detained at Eloy Detention Center — the worst detention center in the country. Alas, HuffPost was more committed to trying to talk to me about bigoted Republicans.
That’s a no go. You want to talk to me about douchebag Steve King and how the Republicans are denying 11 million a rotten pathway citizenship while my friends are looked up in detention by a Democrat? No, I don’t want to talk about Steve King. Rep. King is not the President of the United States. He hasn’t been responsible for 1.7 million deportations, massive growth in the criminalizing of immigrant communities or the fact that our freedom-fighting friends are locked up in detention. That is squarely on President Barack Obama. No one else bears responsibility for 1.7 million deportations in the past 6 years.
Bring Them Home is about fighting for people who have been and will be left out of immigration reform efforts. Bring Them Home is about making sure everyone, not just the #DREAM9, can come home.
I don’t want to hear about “pathway to citizenship.” Those are empty and hollow words for people of color. What does pathway to citizenship mean if you are Trayvon Martin in America? What does it mean if you are a black man? The ones who are pushing for the pathway to citizenship constitute the gang of 8 in the Senate, and the so-called D.C.-based immigration advocates, who are mostly straight, white men. They’re the ones who benefit the most from their citizenship, which includes their white privilege, male privilege and straight privilege. But citizenship means different things for different people. Having spoken to hundreds of undocumented immigrants, including parents, I can basically state that most don’t necessarily want citizenship but the right to be able to live their lives without any sort of fear and the right to be able to come and go home.
BRING THEM HOME.
Please send all media requests directly to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 704.286.6581.
I’m always fascinated with how Ruben Navarette hits the nail on the head but he’s actually not pinning two things together.
In due time, I’m sure the institutionalized youth part of the non-profit industrial complex will come out with some “strategic messaging” to counter this. They may even hit the nail on the head with some headline that resembles “we are fighting for our families and communities” and yet, fail to give a counter-narrative to Mr. Navarette.
Mr. Navarette is essentially right when he calls certain “Dreamers” entitled. There are certainly some in the so-called movement who think they are better than “the hardworking and humble folks who cut your lawn, clean your house or care for your kids.” He is also on the mark for noting that this entitlement exists because “Dreamers” are American. What he doesn’t divulge into is the entitlement that it takes for Americans to occupy a stolen land, make laws that exclude people from citizenship on the basis of race, gender, and sexuality, and demand that people assimilate to become a part of the fictionalized narrative of the American dream.
Why would anyone be surprised then, that some “Dreamers” act that very same way, with a better-than-thou mentality? They are mostly Americans after all. They are bound to have a “I am better than you” mentality. In order to become part of the fabric of America, “Dreamers” do need to show that they are better than the other kinds of immigrants. They need to show “exceptionalism.” And they need to show that they are not a threat to the establishment in order to become part of it. They need to show that they are essentially American. And in doing so, there will be people who get thrown underneath the bus.
But there is more going on here, in terms of entitlement. I’m sure that the same was said about the people of color who sat at the front of the bus to desegregate it, the people of color who took over lunch counter-tops at segregated restaurants and the people who wanted their kids to attend a whites-only school — “entitlement.” I am not drawing parallels to show that the situation “Dreamers” find themselves in is similar to segregation and apartheid. I am drawing parallels to show that minorities have historically been told that they are “not in their place” and think they are “entitled” when they start agitating for more than just crumbs.
Entitlement is not new or confined to Dreamers. This better-than-thou mentality comes from those in power. It comes from living in unequal conditions. And the history of oppression– ranging from lord and serf to master and slave to haves and have-nots–signals that such unequal conditions not only dehumanize and denigrate the ones at the bottom. They also dehumanize and denigrate the ones at the top, stripping them of both humanity and power. For real social transformation to happen then, certain people need to lose a lot of power that they feel entitled to and certain people need to gain power that has been historically denied to them. It is that entitlement to privilege and power at the top that prevents us from moving forward — not “Dreamers” with their demands to a pathway to citizenship.