Adventures of a Forced Migrant Contact Me
I am cross-posting this letter, which was initiated by DRM Action Coalition, and signed by over 80 immigrant youth leaders. You can probably still sign on here in solidarity.
Open Letter to the Immigrant Rights Movement: Our Families Can’t Wait
Dear Friends and Allies in the Immigrant Rights Movement,
We are writing this letter to open a dialogue about the direction and strategy of the immigration reform campaign in the New Year. For us, this is not a question of ideology, but our own and our families’ lives. We hope that this letter will agitate your thinking and that we can move together in a new direction in 2014.
First, we want to recognize the collective work of our movement last year. From lobbying members of Congress, to infiltrating detention centers, to stopping individual deportations, we have each done our part to make this movement stronger and to advance the rights of the immigrant community. We want to thank you, every person and organization, that has dedicated themselves to this cause.
Despite all the hard work that we did last year, we cannot ignore that we did not win a legislative policy change. In the same year we lived through close to 370,000 undocumented immigrants being deported by the Obama administration. We saw toddlers carry signs asking for their parents to be released from detention; we saw families taken in the middle of the night after a simple knock at the door; we saw ICE taking parents while working, and then labeling them as felons. Their only crime was to work to provide food for their family. As leaders, we need to have the humility to reassess our strategy and make changes when something is not working.
How did we get to this point where we haven’t passed immigration reform? Entering 2013, we felt confident. We were all on a high from the 2012 elections. We were sure that the Tea Party’s defeats, including Mitt Romney’s loss due to his “self deportation” stance, would finally move the Republican Party to act on immigration legislation. Like you, we, DREAMers, undocumented youth-led and parent-led organizations, remember feeling confident that we could achieve immigration reform with a path to citizenship for all eleven million undocumented immigrants.
While the Senate immigration bill was not perfect, we were hopeful that its passage meant we were halfway there and that a bipartisan deal was taking shape in Congress. The logic at the time was that passing the Senate Bill would increase momentum to pass it in the House. This, however, did not happen.
Looking for a way to keep the pressure, a number of organizations asked Democrat leadership to introduce H.R. 15 in the House with the hopes that it would pressure Speaker Boehner to allow a vote or introduce his own legislation. While we thank these organizations for doing what they thought was right at the time, unfortunately, it was a miscalculation. Speaker Boehner refused to bring the Senate bill to the floor, and no Republican had the courage to introduce their own bills. Despite all of our efforts, we didn’t have the power to get the Speaker to bring up the Senate bill.
Democrat leadership, meanwhile, has established hard lines like “citizenship or nothing,” making it politically impossible for both parties to come to the table on a real solution. Blaming Republicans for killing CIR became good propaganda for the Democratic Party, and alienated the few Republicans who were interested in moving legislation forward.
At the end of the year, as Congressmen went home for recess, we were left with nothing for our families. What could we tell the people in deportation who kept calling us, even on Christmas Eve? Tens of thousands of parents across the country spent their Christmas behind bars in cold jail cells in detention centers, the hopes of immigration reform fading from their hearts. Tens of thousands of peoples tried to make the best of Christmas, but couldn’t really smile because a loved one was missing. People like the Zuniga family, whose son Joel was deported. Joel’s mom Marypaz said the food didn’t taste the same and she didn’t feel like putting up Christmas lights this year. People like Naira, who’s husband Ardany was deported in the middle of the night the week before Christmas. While a group of us held vigil outside of Florence detention center, ICE snuck Ardany out the back to deport him. Naira was left with her 2 year old son and newborn daughter, fighting back the tears so that the children could enjoy Christmas morning.
Lupita Arreola, Erika’s mother, Mario Montoya, Reyna’s father, Mario Andrade and Hareth’s father are all still in deportation proceedings. How many more will it take before we stop this? How many more families will be torn apart? How many more children traumatized?
We don’t know what’s going to happen in 2014, but we know that the status quo is unbearable. We cannot stand by and watch another 2 million people get deported while we try to pass an ideal immigration reform.
As people who are directly affected, we ask you to revisit your strategy:
1. Focus on a practical legislative solution for immediate relief for families, even if it doesn’t include a special path to citizenship. Our families and communities need relief now, not ideological hard lines.2. Allow bills that are already amenable to citizenship for Dreamers and legalization for parents without blocking existing citizenship channels. We will not accept a proposal that blocks, bans or bars citizenship.3. Use our power and political capital to call on Democrats and the President to expand administrative relief and stop unjust deportations. NDLON has already laid out what this could look like http://goo.gl/DZjaeN4. Focus on advancing substantive policy this year, not on advancing the electoral efforts of the Democratic Party. Let go of HR 15 and SB 744 and focus on winnable pieces of legislation in the House. No, we will not take ‘just anything.’ We want to see the Republicans proposals on the table and then we will decide if its good for our community or not.
As undocumented advocates, we do want citizenship rights. We believe that this is our country, and our family’s home. We do want to be able to vote and voice our opinions. We cannot, however, wait for that to happen while our families are being persecuted. Walking away with nothing is not an option for us; “citizenship-or-nothing” is not an option. We can’t ask our communities to wait for “citizenship” while we see our mothers, our fathers and our children being taken from our homes by immigration. We can’t wait while we see our families being taken into detention centers for months and even years while our children are being traumatized.
Through this letter we are asking that you stand with us. Fight with us for immediate relief for our families. Let’s together hold President Obama accountable for every deported parent. Let’s find a way to work with both parties to find an immediate solution, even if it’s a solution that doesn’t include a “special” pathway to citizenship.
Together lets achieve a level of peace for our families and our communities, a peace that will allow us to live free from persecution, that will allow us to live, work, travel like a human being. We want our mothers to see their parents, to be able to hug them and not arrive to visit their grave. We want to be able to drive without the panic of seeing a police officer in our rearview mirror. We want to be able to live knowing that we will come home and see our children at the end of the day.
Once we achieve this level of relief/stability, there is no question that we will keep fighting for more- for what rightly belongs to our families. Our families are not conformist. Our mothers crossed borders, risked their lives for something better. We need to survive but will never settle, we will always fight for the betterment of our families.
This week, Jose Patino of “The Dream is Now” fame wrote great article on “What the undocumented community needs out of immigration reform” which raised a lot of eyebrows. Friend of this blog, Cesar Vargas, Founder of DRM Action, reiterated that undocumented youth leaders are loyal to their communities, and not beholden to either party. Around the same time, the National Immigration Law Center released an excellent report, outlining how the President can use his executive powers to stop deportations.
After having a public fallout with certain undocumented leaders, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, one of the strongest advocates for immigration reform, has actually adopted their views on deportation. In a Fusion interview, he states:
“Democrats think all they need to do is to simply blame Republicans. You know what? We control the White House and we control the deportation apparatus,” he said. “We have a responsibility to act.”
Certainly, we can do more. While we await immigration reform, Santiago Leco’s recent infiltration of El Paso Detention Center, combined with a Fusion investigation, has revealed that ICE had detained at least 13 pregnant women, contrary to its own policy:
The agency’s policy says that detaining pregnant or nursing women is low on their priority list. The directive states that resources should be spent on locking up people whose cases are top priority, like those who have formerly broken immigration laws, are threats to public safety, or have been convicted of crimes.
Similarly, contrary to its own policy, the U.S. continues to detain asylum seekers, even after they have been granted credible fear.This week, a law firm contacted me about helping out with one of their clients who is currently detained in Georgia after fleeing Honduras for his life. Homeland Security agents detained Mr. Paz and his wife after they crossed the Texan border in late October 2013. The two fled Honduras after being threatened by the gang members who killed two of their adult children in 2013. Mr. Paz, who is 60 years old, applied for asylum and passed the credible fear interview, but the Department of Homeland Security is refusing to release him from custody. Instead, they have him locked up at Stewart Detention Facility in Lumpkin, Georgia, hundreds of miles away from his family. Please sign his petition here.
The U.S. isn’t the only country dealing with immigration issues. Thousands of African refugees to Israel joined in a peaceful protest this week against Israel’s denial of their refugee status and their continued detention. The New Yorker has more background on this issue.
A very dear friend of this blog, Attorney Madeline Stano, showed up in federal court this week to prevent discriminatory pesticide practices that allow predominantly Latino children to be exposed to high levels of harmful chemicals in California. Thanks Stano!
The polar votex came for me so I am back in the Bay Area, California. On that note, the EBIYC – East Bay Immigrant Youth Coalition is now accepting scholarship applications. The due date is Monday, February 17. So check it out!
Photo Credit: greensefa
The US Constitution states that a US citizen can’t be deported unless he has committed treason or terrorism. Not one part of the US Government is looking into my case of a US citizen being deported. I was sent back to England where I have no family and had to live in the streets until I was able to get into a Hostel a few weeks later. I signed a wavier for deportation under great direst because they told me I would be deported anyway. I didn’t think a US Federal agent would lie or not do his job.
-Kevin Dale Cartee, Deported U.S. Citizen
Something is seriously wrong when a country deports its own citizens either through error or some misguided attempt to enforce immigration laws.
Meet Kevin Dale Cartee. He recently got deported back to the United Kingdom. Why? He happened to be born to a U.S. citizen and military officer on an army base.
Kevin holds a Citizen Born Abroad of a US Citizen certificate (DS-1359). But the United States could care less. Everyone from the officials at ICE to the office of Senator Chambliss were less interested in hearing his story and investigating his claims than simply deporting him back to where he was born.
In an email correspondence, Kevin describes his immigration nightmare:
I was pick up by (ICE) immigration on 14th FEB 2007 from Telfair State Prison in Georgia and taken to the Atlanta county jail where (ICE) leases part of the jail for immigration and kept there until they sent me to south Georgia to a private facility, which held only people for immigration. I stayed there a while until I was sent to Gadsden Alabama county jail and from there I was picked up and taken back to Atlanta, Georgia to be put on a plane and sent back to England. That was on the 19th of July 2007. The only officer I can remember is Agent Jeremy Blankly who was a federal officer with (ICE) who said he checked everywhere he could and there was no record of me at all ever being let into the USA legally.
The officer either lied or did not do a thorough-enough job. It turns out that Kevin Dale Cartee was a citizen of the United States by virtue of the fact that his father was a U.S. citizen serving in the USAF and shortly after Kevin was born on a U.S. military base, his Dad had filed a citizens born abroad certificate. It would have taken only a phone call to the Department of State to confirm this fact and prevent this wrongful deportation.
My parents brought me here without a choice and basically rejected me for being gay… I didn’t know how I was going to survive.
With the endless bickering and politics of organizing hanging like a sword over my head, I feel quite jaded and unenthusiastic about life on most days. And when I get emails from students like Ben, it pumps much-needed adrenaline back into my body. I need to refer us back to why I started blogging in the first place: to tell our stories, to make sure that our narratives would not be lost to history or remain unwritten, get buried in a few scenes of a screenplay as an afterthought or appear at 3am in the morning where people are fast asleep.
Several months ago, I had called out students to fill out a survey for us concerning their gay and undocumented status. I do realize here that queer theory–for the most part–is supposed to liberate us from essentialism but without a preliminary conversation about our unique lives and shared experiences, there is no way to move forward.
The movement for immigration reform–permeated in heterosexuality–has to incorporate queer voices and politics, and not just from ‘Immigration Equality‘, which mainly advocates for gay American citizens without really questioning the problems with the conception of ‘citizenship’ — a construction imbued in routine violence. It’s great to cherry-pick model minority students like Tam Tran (and I find her completely adorable so no offense) to appeal to the mainstream, but it leaves me wondering whether there really is space for students who are more marginalized, less privileged and not exactly ‘model minority.’
With that said, let me waste no time and give this space to Ben–an (ex) undocumented student of Hispanic descent studying Architecture. This is his story.
“One might wonder, as a conceit or a hypothesis, whether geographical knowledge doesn’t carry within itself the circle of the frontier, whether this be a national, departmental or cantonal frontier; and hence, whether one shouldn’t add to the figures of internment you have indicated–that of the madmen, the criminal, the patient, the proletariat–the national internment of the citizen-soldier. Wouldn’t we have here a space of confinement which is both infinitely vaster and less hermetic”
Foucault: That’s a very appealing notion. And the inmate, in your view, would be a national man? Because the geographical discourse which justifies frontiers is that of nationalism?”
(Questions on Geography, Power/Knowledge)
I think the question can be seen assuming and also leading us towards a carceral archipelago–how a punitive system is physically dispersed and yet covers the entirety of society. One of the topics I really want to cover on this blog in the near future is Foucault’s concept of the ‘apparatuses of security’ and how they are applicable to our society. In liberal societies and the liberal international order, we are led to believe that our ‘freedoms’ require ‘apparatuses of security.’ As Foucault states, “Freedom is nothing else but the correlative of apparatuses of security.”
Stemming from this is my concern about the ‘archipelago of detention,’ especially concerning the increasing confinement of mobility regarding migrant bodies–bodies that are constructed and labeled as ‘criminal.’
Foucault also lays out a population/people distinction in Security, Territory and Population that is worthy of further exploration. Population has two meanings — one denotes a group of subjects with rights or subjects to a sovereign etc. but the one we are interested in is population as a process that needs regulation and management, a process that correlates with the awareness of the ‘public’ and maybe even the sharp binaries of citizen/non-citizen. Now, while Foucault poses the question of the ‘inmate’ as the “national man” and that is true since borders, citizenship and nationality are all confinements, I do want to focus on the (bi)(trans)(multi)-national Others as inmates, both literally and figuratively. And I don’t think we can leave economics out of the picture.
This post here – Documenting the ‘birth’ of illegal immigration, while not perfect, serves as a start and historical background in terms of the United States context.