Any immigrant will tell you that, of all the indignities ravaging the more than 11 million undocumented people in the United States, there is no greater horror than that of watching your young son or daughter cry helplessly as heavily armed government officials chase you down, arrest and deport you while your child screams “Mama! Mama!” or “Papa! Papa!.”
As immigrant communities and supporters of common-sense and justice-driven immigration policy reform get ready to participate in national mobilizations around the country on Oct. 5, we are inspired by a commitment to inject respect and dignity into our national debate about immigrant communities and immigration policy reform. But we also recognize a moral imperative to bring to the forefront of this effort the devastating impact of aggressive enforcement practices on nearly two million immigrant households over the past five years.
As we prepare to stand for “Dignity and Respect” for immigrants on Oct. 5, we must take stock of the humanitarian crisis within immigrant communities resulting from the systematic detention, imprisonment and deportation of our fellow human beings who happen to be hard-working immigrants. The vast majority of those affected by this enforcement mania are law abiding individuals who work hard, pay taxes, and contribute in many ways to their communities. Most of those who have been deported, particularly during the past five years, had no criminal records whatsoever. Their only infraction to the law was residing in the U.S. without an immigrant visa. The ripple effects of so many people detained and deported over the past 15 years are deep and long lasting. For Latin American immigrant households, the past 25 years have been a period of systematic humiliation where respect and dignity towards our communities have been sorely missing.
The U.S. Congress bears much of the responsibility for this humanitarian crisis whose roots are found in mean-spirited laws dating back to 1996 that deliberately ignored the contributions made by immigrant communities to the wellbeing of the nation. Here, much of the blame lies with Republican Party legislators, but we cannot ignore that significant numbers of Democratic members of Congress have also supported the ill-advised approach to immigration that has characterized federal policymaking since the early 1990’s. As we take part in the Oct. 5 mobilizations, we must demand accountability from all our elected officials and demand an end, once and for all, to all immigration bills inspired by racist and xenophobic prejudices.
We have no intention of letting Congress off the hook. Now is not the time for partisan obstructionism. Truly wise immigration policy reform proposals must be considered and acted upon right away. At the same time, those of us who work with immigrant communities who grapple day in and day out with the humiliation and uncertainty produced by our current immigration policy, must also hold accountable President Obama for his unwillingness to exercise administrative discretion on how this deeply inhumane policy is enforced.
It is precisely because of President Obama’s refusal to make better use of his discretionary power that many immigrant rights organizations have kept a steady, active and visible campaign calling on him to put an end to the current practice of detention and deportation of immigrants. On the eve of the Oct. 5 mobilizations across the nation, it is crucial to cry out as loudly as we can and to convey our messages in the strongest terms possible on both these issues.
One the one hand, we demand immediate action from Congress toward passing just and common-sense driven immigration reform. On the other hand, we must also demand an immediate halt of deportations from President Obama. Both demands are urgent and imperative.
From the perspective of immigrant communities, it is very obvious that Republican members of Congress are so far primarily responsible for impeding a rational debate and consideration of wise immigration policy reform proposals. But we are equally aware that it is President Obama who could make a difference right away, just as his deputies did in 2011 when Prosecutorial Discretion was announced, and again in 2012 when Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was granted.
Our commitment to the principles of respect and dignity requires us to speak truthfully on Oct. 5 and denounce those who block consideration of much-needed reforms, and to hold President Obama accountable for the pain and agony being wrought on thousands of immigrant households every single day.
Let’s all be there on Oct. 5, calling out for keeping families together, and for the respect and dignity that immigrants deserve.
Oscar Chacon is the Executive Director, National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities (NALACC) and a contributor to the CIP Americas Program www.americas.org