Eleven hundred people have been deported from the United States today. Hundreds of immigrant families, who have made their lives in this country, have been broken up today. Hundreds of people seeking asylum have been sent back to dangerous situations today – places they fled because of persecution they faced due to their political stance, sexual orientation or gender identity. A minimum of 34,000 immigrants are being detained by Immigration and Customs Exchange (ICE) today because of a congressional quota system that requires them to do so. This is just a snapshot of how our broken immigration system is failing millions.
A 2011 report by the Department of Homeland Security estimates that there are 11.5 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. These immigrants do not have a clear path to citizenship. This is due to the fact that the last immigration reform that took place addressing undocumented people in the U.S. was in 1986 when former President Ronald Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 into law. Immigration law has not kept up with the times and changing situations. There is a myth of non-enforcement of laws that politicians spout out all of the time that has been etched in the public imagination – the myth being that we don’t need to reform our current immigration laws, but rather that we just need more enforcement of them through increased border and interior security.
It astonishes me that this myth is cited so many times by politicians when asked why immigration reform hasn’t passed Congress. In fact, the U.S. is spending $20 billion annually on enforcement, while the rate of prosecution of immigration-related offenses are at the highest point in U.S. history – up by more than 200 percent since 2003. This is one of the many reasons we have to reform this system immediately. There is no reason that the U.S. should be spending this much money on a system that desperately needs modernization.
Secure Communities is a federally-run program launched in 2008 that allows ICE to find and pick up immigrants from local authorities and eventually deport them. This is over-criminalizing the immigrant community and puts too much authority in the hands of untrained law enforcement agents. It encourages racial profiling and forces a need for local law enforcement to always be suspicious of people for being undocumented. In fact, many law enforcement agencies have spoken out against this policy stating that it is way outside the scope of police agencies.
We need broad, affirmative relief for undocumented and detained immigrants. We need Secure Communities and the ICE detention quota system to be repealed. President Barack Obama can and should act executively to provide these much needed actions. The Executive Branch needs to play a vital role because the Republican-led House has refused to act on this issue. More than one year ago the Senate passed a bipartisan bill – The “Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act” that fixes many of the issues of our current system. Yet the House has decided to ignore it and fail millions of immigrants who are waiting for these issues to be addressed.
In June 2012, Obama signed a memo calling for a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) which delayed deportation procedures and gave work authorization for two years for undocumented youth who have pursued military service or education. Through March 2014, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services approved 550,000 DACA applications, which has helped youth get jobs, internships and apply to colleges. DACA can be used as a framework to extend relief to many more immigrants. Since the House has failed to act, immigration advocacy groups have started focusing on Obama to act executively and on Congress to support these executive orders.
Obama promised action on immigration by the end of the summer, and we must hold him accountable to that statement. Earlier this year, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus sent Obama a list of legal actions that he can take. The President has wide executive authority to provide protection to undocumented people from deportation. Earlier in September, backtracking on what he said earlier, Obama announced that he is going to wait until after the midterm election to take executive action on immigration. This is clearly putting politics above the safety and wellbeing of the immigrant community.
A immigrant youth lead organization United We Dream has been pushing the Obama administration to act by doing community education and organizing direct actions such as protests and sit-ins. We must join them as they fearlessly advocate for themselves and our communities.
President Obama, we cannot wait any longer. We need you to take broad, affirmative action so that our families can stay together, so that people are protected from dangerous situations and political persecution.
– Nowmee Shehab is a College junior from Dhaka, Bangladesh.