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Josue Diaz and ‘Southern 32’ Make Last Plea to Obama Administration: Don’t Deport Us for Standing Up To Abuse

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Last week, the regional ICE office in charge of New Orleans, Tennessee, Alabama, and other localities completed its review of over 3,000 deportation cases pending in the region’s immigration courts.  Among the cases are those of the “Southern 32,” thirty-two immigrant leaders from the Congress of Day Laborers who are still facing deportation simply because they had the courage to stand up and defend their rights.

Four members of the Southern 32 are scheduled to appear in immigration court tomorrow morning, including Josue Diaz, a worker who participated in reconstruction efforts after Hurricane Ike and now faces deportation because he dared to stand up to an abusive employer.  Immigrant workers like Josue were paid less than they had been promised, were paid less than similar white workers, and received no protective equipment.  When the immigrant workers rallied in protest, the blowback was severe.  Based only on the word of the employer, the police arrested the workers (on the pretense that they had stolen their own clothes) and threw them into jail, followed by immigration detention.  In detention, Josue met many others who were also facing deportation for the crime of demanding justice.

As Josue said during a press call today:

There are many people going through what I went through… hundreds of them. They’re afraid. They’re afraid that immigration is going to be used against them when they stand up for themselves.  That’s why I’m fighting and will continue to fight. Tomorrow I have my court date and we’ll see what ICE decides to do with me. I know that President Obama made a promise, but ICE is not following through on it. We’ll see tomorrow what ICE decides to do.

Other commentators on the call discussed how un-American it was to put workers into deportation proceedings just because they had asked for basic protections for themselves and for others.  As Jennifer Rosenbaum, Legal Director of the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice:

Standing up for justice should not lead to deportation. The failing grades of the Southern regional field office show that DHS needs to take action now to ensure protections for civil, labor, and human rights defenders are real in the South and across the United States.

The Obama administration already has a prosecutorial discretion policy in place that is supposed to protect labor and civil rights defenders from deportation, but the Southern ICE office continues to ignore this directive.  As the review period comes to a close, the office has given no indication that it intends to close any of the cases of the Southern 32.  That means they will be forced to continue living under threat of immediate deportation, unable to earn a living or move on with their lives.

Said Marielena Hincapié, Executive Director of the National Immigration Law Center:

For three years, the Obama Administration has, through its detention and deportation policies, indiscriminately shattered the lives of over one million people. Despite promising to inject some common sense in its draconian policies, the cases of the Southern 32 demonstrate that the Department of Homeland Security is unwilling to follow its own guidelines for when to exercise prosecutorial discretion. Under the administration’s own criteria, these individuals should be considered low-level priority and should not be deported.  We demand that the administration practice what it purports to preach, and allow these civil rights leaders to resume their lives with their families and in their communities.

For more information on Stand Up 2012: Make Justice Real, visit: www.MakeJusticeReal.org

Listen to the call here.