If you're looking for a good reason to celebrate family unity and revive Thanksgiving from its ahistorical traditions (a mythical day of peace in place of the violent conquest of the continent) consider giving thanks for the California TRUST Act, which, starting January 2014, will help keep tens of thousands of families from being torn to pieces by the Obama Administration's deportation machine.
Beginning in 2008, the Department of Homeland Security started implementing the offensively euphemistic "Secure Communities" Program (S-Comm) that mandated local law enforcement agencies to keep a hold on persons if they suspect them of not having legal status in the country. The effect of S-Comm, far removed from ushering security into communities, has been to force the hand of local police departments, making police officers de facto immigration officers and deporting record numbers of migrants. In 2012 there were well over four hundred thousand deportations, or about the population of the city of Miami. Since Obama came into office there have been an astounding and horrifying two million people deported from the country, or nearly the population of Houston, the fourth biggest city in the country. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) has even introduced what is known as the "bed mandate" a malevolent quota designed on keeping increasingly privatized immigrant detention centers full of at least 34,000 people a day in conditions that not infrequently amount to torture.
Though ICE claims that the majority of those detained and deported are criminals, there are still hundreds of thousands of low-level offenders and non-criminals who are swept up by the catchall system, which has been widely accused of promoting racial discrimination and breaking down community trust, in effect creating the antithesis to is name: Insecure Communities. Many, in mostly minority communities, are now afraid to go to the police for fear of being held for deportation. There are myriad and terrifying cases of innocent people not reporting (among other crimes) sexual abuse because they are afraid of the police. Even U.S. citizens have been held by ICE and deported. S-Comm has done more to tear apart the free and democratic fabric of our communities than perhaps any other governmental program in recent history. S-Comm is Stop-and-Frisk squared, on a national scale. In Los Angeles County alone, according to one report, S-Comm "led to the deportation of nearly 12,000 people, nearly half of whom had no convictions or had committed misdemeanors."
I live in a seemingly peaceful Los Angeles neighborhood. My next-door neighbor, a family man who ran a taco-stand, was rudely awakened one early morning by a cluster of LAPD officers banging on his door. The officers coerced him outside, stole a thousand dollars in cash from him, then turned him over to ICE. The next day he was deported to Tijuana. He was the father of three children, ages 4, 5, and 9 and his wife was six months pregnant. His youngest daughter, the 4-year-old, started sleeping with a cheap, home-printer photograph of him. His story is one of many thousands.
But there is hope. The insidious S-Comm program is ending in California. What has become known as the ICE Monster has been dealt a blow by the California TRUST Act.
The TRUST Act, signed into law by Governor Brown on October 5th, limits ICE's power to force local police and sheriffs to act as immigration officers and submit holds on people they come in contact with. The new bill, going into effect in January, could, in California alone, save up to 20,000 people from being deported. That is certainly something to give thanks for on the last Thursday of November: up to 20,000 families who will have the chance of celebrating the holidays together.
Though California is the most immigrant populous state, barring an about-face in policy from the deportation-crazy Obama administration, we need to start protecting our communities (and families) by adopting legislation similar to the TRUST Act in states across the country. We need to secure our communities from Secure Communities and put the ICE Monster at bay.
This Thanksgiving, let's remember what makes a holiday worth celebrating: family unity and a sense of community. Let's stop ICE from bringing more misery to the table these holidays. Let's stop the deportation machine.