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Why We Need a Deportation Moratorium Now

Catherine Traywick

As a floundering Congress repeatedly impedes the passage of widely supported immigration measures like the DREAM Act, reform advocates are refocusing their efforts and calling on President Barack Obama to declare a moratorium on deportations.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), whose impassioned support of immigrant rights landed him in jail earlier this year, is at the forefront of that charge, reports Braden Goyette at Campus Progress. Joining a chorus of immigration reform groups, Gutierrez is asking for moratorium: “The President will tell us we need Republican votes in order to pass legislation, and he’s correct,” Gutierrez told a raucous crowd of New York immigrants last month. “But let me tell you something. With the executive stroke of that pen, he can stop the deportation and the destruction of our families.”

The deportation dragnet

The administration’s amped up efforts to detain and deport greater numbers of undocumented immigrants is understandably contentious among immigrant rights advocates. As Goyette notes, at least 6.6 million mixed-status families stand to be directly affected by increased immigration enforcement, and nearly 100,000 citizen children have already seen their parents—lawful permanent residents—deported by the government.

To make matters worse, individuals are being deported without demonstrable regard for clean records, mitigating circumstances or even legal residency, in spite of the administration’s assurances to the contrary. Alina Das, a fellow at NYU’s immigration law clinic who was interviewed by Goyette, sums it up this way:

“Once you’re in the system it often does not matter if you’ve lived here since childhood, if you worked and paid taxes your entire life, if you gave back to the community and served in the military. The laws are so draconian that immigration judges are not able to consider these factors in many cases.”

ICE under fire for netting innocents

The legal system’s rigidity is further exacerbated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)’s questionable practices, which have resulted in the unlawful detention and deportations of scores of immigrants. The consequences of ICE’s overreliance on local law enforcement and its apparently indiscriminate tagging of undocumented immigrants are making headlines and raising prominent eyebrows.

The Filipino Express, via New America Media, reports that immigration courts are rejecting 31 percent of deportation cases filed by ICE—a six-point increase since 2009. In larger cities, the rejection rate is as high as 70 percent, suggesting that ICE is increasingly detaining and processing people who have just cause to remain in the country.

ICE’s credibility on the matter has deteriorated so much that last week a federal judge ordered the agency to release previously withheld documents related to a controversial enforcement program called Secure Communities, which has netted a number of non-criminal immigrants, including domestic violence victims. Several localities have tried to opt out of participating in the contentious program—including Santa Clara and San Francisco Counties in California, Arlington, Va., and Washington D.C.—but ICE has waffled on allowing them to do so. The documents ordered for release should shed light on the issue.

ColorLines’ Seth Freed Wessler reports that last week’s ruling was the second of its kind made against ICE:

In July, a federal court ordered the release of all government documents related to Secure Communities, following a public information request by Uncover the Truth, a coalition of civil rights and immigrant rights groups. The government released only some documents, which revealed that the program had resulted in the deportation of tens of thousands of non-citizens with no criminal convictions at all, or with convictions for low-level things like traffic violations.

The dark side of detention

The indiscriminate roundup of undocumented immigrants can have grave consequences—particularly when the immigration enforcement system is overly outsourced and over capacity.

While we’ve highlighted several cases of detention centers run amok in the past, Forrest Wilder at the Texas Observer has been following the case of a particularly horrifying incident at the Reeves County Detention Center near Pecos, Texas.

Two years ago, when the facility’s remarkably poor conditions provoked immigrant detainees to demand a meeting with the Mexican consulate, 1,200 detainees rioted and commandeered the facility, costing more than $1 million in damages. The impetus: The arguably preventable death of Jesus Manuel Galindo, a 32-year-old epileptic Mexican citizen who had lived in the United States since he was 13 and was locked up for “illegal re-entry” into the country:

Galindo’s death set off a huge riot at the Reeves County Detention Center, the world’s largest privately-run prison. It was the first of two riots in protest of poor conditions, especially medical care that the prisoners claimed was literally killing people. At the time of his death from an epileptic seizure, Galindo had been locked up in the prison’s administrative segregation unit for a month, possibly as punishment for his persistent medical complaints.

Wilder further reports that, last week, the ACLU and two El Paso attorneys filed suit against officials and administrators of the ill-reputed facility, stating that “the utter disregard shown by RCDC prison and medical staff to Galindo’s repeated, beseeching, well-founded expressions of fear for his own personal safety bordered on sadistic.”

Galindo’s case is not unique among immigrant detainees in the United States. Immigrant detainees suffer myriad abuses and injustices while their cases are processed and the administration’s increasing emphasis on enforcement only exacerbates the problem.

With the DREAM Act stuck in sentatorial limbo, the dire circumstances of hundreds of thousands of immigrants should compel President Obama to take action where Congress will not.


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Catherine Traywick

Catherine Traywick


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