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Seth Freed Wessler Headshot

How Immigration Reform Got Caught in the Deportation Dragnet

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Shahed Hossain is a Texan to the core. He spent most of his childhood and adolescence just outside of Fort Worth, dated a young woman whose mother worked as an accountant for a military contractor, went fishing on the river with his best friend, and held a weekend high school job scooping ice cream at a drive-through near his family's house. "Everything that I know and everything that I learned, I learned from Texas," he says. "I love Texas."

But Texas is far away now. Shahed now finds himself passing long days in his grandmother's home in Bangladesh, a country he left when he was 10. The young man had a green card and was soon to be a citizen, but he was removed from his home over a trifle: He accidentally told a border guard he was a citizen rather than a permanent resident, thus triggering automatic deportation. In an investigative report for ColorLines.com, I dug into 25-year-old Hossain's shocking story of deportation -- a story that reveals just how indiscriminate the expanding deportation dragnet has become, and how badly immigration reform has unfolded in Washington. Brian Palmer tracked Hossain down in Bangladesh to film his new, disoriented life.

This is the sort of human story that lies behind the deportation numbers the Obama administration bragged about this week. "It has been another record-breaking year at ICE -- one that has seen ICE enforce the law at record levels, and in sensible, firm and thoughtful ways," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano insisted. But "sensible" and "thoughtful" are the last words that apply to a system as indiscriminate as the one over which she presides. In the three years since Hossain was deported, over one million others have been removed from their homes as well. Unless President Obama uses his authority to stop mass deportations, the "comprehensive" reforms Democrats have vowed to rally around after the elections won't work, even if passed.

Last Friday, with just over a month left before the November elections, Sen. Robert Menendez introduced an immigration reform bill. The bill, which has almost no chance of passing, is partially an offering to Latino voters frustrated with Washington's inaction on immigration. It would open a path to citizenship for some of the approximately 11 million immigrants who live without papers in our communities. But like every other immigration reform package that's been introduced in recent years, it further entrenches a deportation system that's indiscriminately sweeping up more people than ever before in American history.

The President and congressional Democrats seem to have concluded that the enforcement provisions are necessary to garner GOP support for a path to citizenship. But the indiscriminate deportation machine is undercutting the promise of reform. Nothing in Sen. Menendez's bill would have stopped Hossain's deportation or the removal of countless others like him.