Headlines, Human Rights, Migration & Refugees, North America

From DREAM to Nightmare, Deportations Soar in U.S.

Kanya D'Almeida

NEW YORK, Nov 30 2010 (IPS) - While the U.S. Congress idles on the passage of the DREAM Act, immigrants here face ever harsher treatment. The rate of deportations has increased by 1,200 percent since 1990, from 30,000 per year then to a staggering 360,000 under the Barack Obama administration.

These numbers, taken from a recent study by the New York Immigration Coalition, also show that roughly 1,000 immigrants are deported every day.

In 2001, a small piece of federal immigration legislature known as the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act was proposed in the Senate.

On Nov. 30, nearly a decade later, the House of Representatives is supposed to finally vote on the bill, which provides certain relief measures for immigrant youth who are currently weathering the greatest anti-immigration storm this country has seen.

The bill allows young immigrants the opportunity to earn conditional permanent residency, provided they graduated from U.S. high schools, are of sound “moral character”, arrived in the U.S. as minors, and have been in the country continuously for at least five years prior to the bill’s enactment.

The DREAM Act also stipulates that youth meeting these criteria perform either two years of military service or spend four years at an institution of higher learning.

The DREAM Act barely comes close to the “comprehensive immigration reform package” that Obama promised his constituency, yet it faces intense opposition in both the House and Senate, and has become the only issue up for debate in Washington.

But away from Capitol Hill, major immigration advocates are grappling with even more pressing concerns.

On Nov. 21, the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC), an umbrella organisation with over 200 members, held a rally at St. Brigid’s church in Brooklyn to garner support for the DREAM Act and to protest the Secure Communities programme initiated by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement unit (ICE) of the Department of Homeland Security.

Secure Communities, launched in 2008, is designed to identify immigrants in U.S. jails who are deportable under immigration law. According to the Immigration Policy Center, “participating jails submit arrestees’ fingerprints not only to criminal databases but to immigration databases as well, allowing ICE access to information on individuals held in jails.”

Secure Communities is available in 686 jurisdictions in 33 states, with a projected presence in every state and each of the 3,100 state and local jails throughout the U.S. by 2013.

According to the Immigration Policy Center, “Unlike other ICE-local partnerships, Secure Communities gives ICE a technological, not a physical, presence inside the jails. There is the concern that [Secure Communities] will give police officers the incentive, or at least the ability, to make arrests based on race or ethnicity, or to make pretextual arrests of persons they ‘suspect’ to be in violation of immigration laws in order to have them run through immigration databases once they are jailed.”

Thanu Yakupitiyage, media relations associate at the NYIC, told IPS, “The problem with Secure Communities is that it focuses on an enforcement-only approach that is insufficient for fixing our broken immigration system.”

“While its intended purpose is to target immigrants with criminal records, an analysis of the programme has shown that fully 79 percent of people caught in the deportation dragnet of Secure Communities have no criminal background whatsoever, or have committed only minor violations (such as traffic offences),” she said.

Addressing the crowd of over 500 immigrants and their allies in Brooklyn last week, Illinois Representative Luis Gutierrez said, “We should not be foolish enough to think that deporting 1,000 people a day is not tearing apart families, devastating communities and fraying the moral fabric of our society.”

“We can take a stand by passing the DREAM Act and putting a stop to the fantasy that we will deport 12 million immigrants from this country,” Gutierrez stressed. “We should not punish the children and we must stop deporting their parents. It is a simple case of what’s right and what’s wrong.”

Other speakers at the rally spoke out forcefully against “correctional facilities serving as a pipeline to inhumane detention centres”, a passage that is lubricated by ICE’s unchecked presence across the country.

Those gathered at the rally also joined fervently with NYIC’s ‘With the Stroke of a Pen’ campaign by signing letters urging Obama to “reverse course on the destructive immigration policies and practices that have held sway in recent years.”

The campaign is inspired by the ‘Ink for Jack’ initiative of the 1960s when civil rights leaders, frustrated by Present John F. Kennedy’s refusal to keep his campaign promises on ending housing discrimination, flooded the White House with pens and letters.

At the rally last week, several hundred letters were collected and will be sent to Obama along with pens, reminding the president that he can take action independently of the Congress.

“The campaign is pressuring Obama and his administration to take executive action to end unjust deportations, to stop casting a wide net that is likely to target hardworking immigrants and family members and to stop programmes that enlist local enforcement officers as immigration agents, which destroys police and community relations and actually compromises public safety,” Yakupitiyage told IPS.

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