Immigration reform will be a top legislative priority this year, and it won’t be some vague policy or philosophical change that we’re asking for. The coming battle to change our immigration policy is personal, and we fight it every day to protect our mothers, fathers, children, and family members.
Last week was a powerful reminder of this when I received this email from my friend and colleague in the immigration movement, Erika Andiola of Arizona. Here’s what she wrote:
My house just got raided by ICE and they took my mom and my brother. They had no reason to do this! I can’t believe that this is happening to me. I’m [going to ICE] tomorrow morning to make sure they don’t get deported. Please be in the look out for more updates from me.
Erika has been a leader in the fight for the DREAM Act and immigration reform. She and her mother, Maria Arreola, have appeared on TV to make the case for our cause. She’s worked with members of Congress and staffers within the Obama Administration to stop this exact kind of thing—the arrest, detention, and deportation of family members—from happening. And because she knew who the right people to call were, she was able to mobilize a national uproar about what happened to her mom and her brother. Petitions were signed, articles were written, and activists took to Facebook and Twitter to update each other on her story. And thankfully, the outrage worked—Erika’s mom and brother have been allowed to go home for now.
But they’re not out of the woods yet. A removal order on Maria Arreola has been pending since 1998, which means ICE could come back again at any time and arrest her again. They could still deport her–this is post-SB 1070 Arizona we’re talking about. Erika’s family needs prosecutorial discretion—please sign this petition asking ICE to stop the deportation of Erika’s mother and brother, now.
I’m so grateful that Erika and her family are reunited at home together again—for now—but I know too well that cases just like this happen around the country every day. The Migration Policy Institute has just released a report finding that we spend $18 billion every year on immigration enforcement—more than we spend on all other federal criminal law enforcement agencies combined. And last month, the Department of Homeland Security released its deportation numbers for fiscal year 2012—409,849 deportations, a new record for an Administration already known for breaking deportation records.
And this is what 400,000 deportations every year looks like. It’s mothers and fathers being separated from their children, and it’s thousands of kids (many of them US-born citizens) being raised in foster care because their parents have been taken away. It’s 400,000 emails like the one I received from Erika, asking “can I get some help from anyone? I don’t know what to do.” ICE claims that the vast majority of people they pick up are the worst of the worst criminals, but in truth, so many of them are just people who were stopped for driving with a broken taillight.
This needs to end now. The Obama Administration announced a year and a half ago that they would be starting a prosecutorial discretion policy, and when that was largely ignored, they made the same announcement again in December. I admire Erika deeply, and the woman who raised her must be a wonderful person as well. They are not the type of people who should be “priorities” for deportation. So why are people like Erika’s mom and brother still being picked up and detained? And why does it still take a massive mobilization, and a collective outrage, to protect this family?
There needs to be a real solution, one that recognizes the 11 million immigrants already here and creates a path they can take to apply for legalization and citizenship. And the Obama Administration needs to do a better job distinguishing who should and should not be a deportation “priority.” These are real people at stake, not numbers. They should be treated as such.