The court battle over immigration does not prevent the White House from tackling inhumane immigration policy.
Op-ed by Carlos Garcia. Originally published at Al Jazeera America.
A federal appeals court is hearing oral arguments today to decide whether to stay a judge’s injunction on President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration. His new programs would allow undocumented people to apply for relief and get a deferment, but the initiative is currently in question because of a lawsuit filed by 26 states, most of them with Republican governors.
Yet even if the new deferred action programs are allowed to begin, Obama is on pace to deport at least 3 million people by the end of his term — more than any other president in history.
Last month, immigrant rights advocates hailed the Department of Justice’s appeal. Lupe Lopez, interim campaign director of the Alliance for Citizenship, said that it showed Obama’s “solid commitment … to immigrant families” and that he “will use every tool at his disposal to defend and support” the expanded relief for millions of undocumented immigrants and their families.
The injunction on Obama’s expanded relief isn’t stopping Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from moving on the negative components of the new policies. Across the country, the agency is ignoring discretionand widening its priorities for removal without hesitation. The agency has carried out nationwide home raids last month, arresting more than 2,000 people.
Justified by Obama’s own stigmatizing felons-not-families language, people such as Pastor Max Villatoro of Iowa City are being picked up and deported on 15-year-old charges. Once caught, the administration treats immigrants-turned-prisoners to the conditions exposed by a recent rebellion in the prison dedicated solely to “criminal aliens” in Willacy, Texas.
Obama is ultimately responsible for the crisis that continues to break up immigrant families. The push for a humane immigration policy should go beyond a court battle to lift a conservative judge’s injunction on the expanded relief programs.
The deferred-action programs are just one tool among many that Obama can use to turn his record on deportation around and end the devastation of immigrant families. As his affirmative relief faces an unknown timeline in the courts, there were 7 million immigrants who didn’t qualify for relief in the first place. Obama must do more to demonstrate his commitment to immigrant communities. He can start by ending the experiment of police-ICE collaboration.
In Arizona, for example, we at Puente Arizona are working to declare an “ICE-free AZ,” where federal immigration agents have no place at the side of profiling police departments empowered by the infamous Arizona Senate Bill 1070, which is still in effect. This month marks five years since then-Gov. Jan Brewer signed the discriminatory bill into law. That is five years of profiling that Obama had the power to stop but failed to.
The Department of Homeland Security may have shifted from the failed Secure Communities program, but the overpolicing of black and brown neighborhoods still acts as a funnel to transfer people from jail to ICE detentions every day. So long as police and ICE are collaborating through programs such as the Priority Enforcement Program, known as PEP-COMM, deportation will continue to serve as a double punishment for those who have come in contact with law enforcement.
Before his November announcement on deferred action, the Obama White House and the Democratic Party were criticized for using immigration reform in Congress to commit the perfect political crime. Obama could side with immigrants, continue to deport them, and blame Republicans for the suffering his own policies cause, as a way to build the case to election more Democrats in the next campaign cycle. As Obama continues deportations on a record pace and his relief programs are delayed by the states’ lawsuit, we are at risk of falling into the same partisan trap and blame game. But those arguments don’t register in communities still in crisis.
To demonstrate that the expansion of deferred action is truly a break with Washington’s pattern of political cynicism, the Obama administration needs to advance civil rights by improving oversight at ICE, end collaboration with states such as Arizona and protect undocumented immigrants from deportation while the court case continues. With well-documented prejudice in local law enforcement and deeply rooted abuse within the federal immigration agency, cutting the ties between the police and immigration enforcement agencies is the clearest step forward.
Our families can’t wait for relief, and we won’t accept anything less.