If Congressional leaders, from both parties, fail to act on comprehensive immigration reform before the 2014 mid-term election cycle begins in earnest, our republic will again sadly demonstrate, just like failing to curb gun violence, that we have lost our moral compass.
Incredibly, our country now sponsors a mega-deportation system that spends billions, and routinely separates children from loving, hardworking parents.
Thousands of parents are imprisoned, held incommunicado, at almost 200 for-profit detention camps, for months and even years. Then, they are finally deported with lifetime bans, making it nearly impossible to return to the U.S. to regain custody of children left behind.
In April 2012 the Latino Policy Coalition filed a petition before the United Nations Human Rights Council requesting an end to the de facto misappropriation of children from the custody and care of their immigrant parents; and, the creation of a complete and detailed list of children who have been removed from the custody and care of their parents as a result of detention or deportation proceedings initiated against immigrant parents.
Make no mistake, under the Obama Administration deportations have accelerated at an exponential rate.
The Shattered Families report found that in 2011 alone over 397,000 persons were deported; and of these deportees, 22% were the parents of children who are American citizens.
Recent data now estimates that 205,000 parents of U.S. citizen children have been deported. (This helps explain Mexican census data showing that 500,000 U.S. citizen children are now residing in Mexico)
At least ten thousand of these American citizen children have been scattered throughout county foster care systems nationally.
Tragically, some infant children have been put up for adoption, after state courts have deemed the children as "abandoned". In many cases, the protests of their immigrant parents, and Latin American governments, have been ignored.
In response to growing pressure, the Obama Administration has begun to take small steps to remedy these summary removals.
On August 23, 2013, the U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) division of the Department of Homeland Security issued a directive entitled Facilitating Parental Interests in the Course of Civil Immigration Procedures. This directive announced a policy that ICE personnel should ensure that the agency's immigration enforcement activities do not necessarily disrupt parental rights of both alien parents or legal guardians of minor children.
ICE indicated that it will maintain a comprehensive process for identifying, placing, monitoring, accommodating and removing alien parents or legal guardians of minor children while safeguarding their parental rights.
Clearly, this ICE directive does not put a definite halt to deportations, but merely highlights the human tragedy of family separations that are an ongoing consequence of summary deportations. The directive allows ICE Field Office Directors to exercise prosecutorial discretion in immigration enforcement proceedings, including taking into consideration whether a potential deportee is a parent or legal guardian of a minor child or the child's primary caretaker.
The directive also provides that immigrant parents or legal guardians, prior to returning to the United States, must stipulate in writing that their sole purpose in traveling to the United States is to attend their termination of parental rights hearings.
This is hardly family reunification, but the ICE directive does represent a small step forward. Unfortunately, without comprehensive immigration reform even this modest directive will remain a stop-gap measure.
Should immigration reform not be concluded by Congress, this directive could be reversed either by the Obama administration, or by future administrations that see political capital to be gained by expanding mass deportations.
The promise of potential immigration reform has also prompted thousands of Dreamers to register with the Department of Homeland Security to obtain a two-year reprieve from deportation. However, these Dreamers are only granted a temporary reprieve, or deferred action under the directive. After two years (think the 2014 mid-term elections) the deferred action directive could be allowed to lapse. If so, and all these guileless Dreamers could be left with is two years of hope, and a name on a Department of Homeland Security deportation database.
The Immigration Policy Center has estimated that there are over 1.4 million potential Dreamers who could qualify for temporary deportation reprieves as students or members of the military. Without comprehensive immigration reform, each one of these Dreamers stands the risk of deportation, and a loss of the valuable contributions that they are making to American society.
So, despite these modest steps forward the question still remains, shall we choose comprehensive immigration reform and inclusion, or an expanded mega-deportation system?
Rather than focus on the multi-billion dollar militarization of the U.S./Mexican border, Congress needs to focus on the humane normalization of regular cross border immigration, coupled with increased trade and commerce which could flow from comprehensive immigration reform.
Congress must not lose this opportunity by failing to pass immigration reform in 2013.
If after all is said and done, Congress continues to allow a summary deportation policy which still separates parents from their American-born children; and only passes a bill for a new $50 billion militarization program -- with giant border walls -- future generations will justifiably look back to 2013, as the year America's congressional leaders lost their moral compass.
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