What a difference a day makes. Early last week, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was under an incessant downpour of criticism for strong arming immigrant communities with the expansion of a controversial program called "Secure Communities". Later in the week "senior administration officials" briefly emerged from their bunkers to announce that the apprehension and deportation of unauthorized immigrants will continue but at least 300,000 of those ready to be shipped out will have their cases reviewed and if deemed non-dangerous, they might get to stay and possibly receive a work permit. How soon will this new working group get to work and how much will they get to decide it's anyone's guess, but you got to give it up for the White House's PR machine that knows how to defuse a time bomb faster than a trained squad.
Let's get back to the dark, stormy days of early last week. Hundreds if not thousands throughout the United States were calling on President Obama and his administration to cease and desist expansion of the (in)"Secure Communities" program, a "collaboration" scheme that mandates local police departments to work alongside immigration. S-Comm, as it is commonly referred to by detractors, has been the number one reason why at least 121,000 immigrants have been nabbed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents who now seem to be showing up everywhere, even inside chicken broth. Half of all deportees have committed no crime at all or are accused (not convicted) of small infractions such as street vending, driving without a license, or jaywalking. Last week even the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times chimed in with editorials calling for the shelving and unplugging of S-Comm.
The delegitimized ICE Taskforce on "Secure Communities" got more than earful on Monday and Tuesday of last week during boisterous and at times highly emotional hearings with real-life testimonies that strengthened our community's argument that S-Comm has cast such a wide net it is no longer able to tell between a good guy and a threat to the community. As community members chanted and echoed an end to S-Comm, it was clear that all index fingers were pointed at the Obama Administration for allowing such a toxic chimera to continue breathing in spite of so much grief it's causing Americans everywhere.
Last week also saw the birth of a shadow report on the failed S-Comm program. Penned by the National Day Labor Organizing Network and a National Community Advisory Commission that included CHIRLA, the "Restoring Community: A Nationa Community Advisory Report on ICE's Failed 'Secure Communities' Program" must have felt like a bucket of frozen water on Secretary Napolitano's head. The 60-page authoritative report will leave some wondering what President Obama is thinking when he vehemently supports such as concoction of a monster. Then again, the Obama campaign does not seem to mind its monsters big and terribly expensive.
On Tuesday, at least six Obama 2012 campaign headquarters were the target of a well-coordinated protests by Latinos and other immigrant communities calling on the president to stop S-Comm. The calls were loud and clear: we are not looking for changes in the law (the president obviously is unwilling to spend political capitol in such an enterprise), but at least use your executive authority to lessen the pain and suffering of our community. And, chop off S-Comm's head for good. The demonstrators submitted 24,300 petitions to the Chicago campaign headquarter seeking to soften the president's ever-so-hardening heart. During the Chicago DHS Taskforce hearing on "Secure Communities" between 500 and 900 participants screamed their guts out to a reserved panel that carefully listened and sympathized with most of the protesters. At least forty people were reported to have been detained for conducting civil disobedience.
So, when on Thursday, only 24 hours after the White House pushed Cecilia Munoz to pen a defensive post on behalf of her boss the president and in support of Secure Communities, we were told senior administration officials would make a 'big' announcement, I held my breath. Could it be the president has come to his senses and realize S-Comm is just too mean a monster to be an American creation? Could it be that Janet Napolitano is too tired of arresting and deporting so many working families and bright students and not getting any credit when she testifies in front of Congress? Could it be Ms. Munoz will announce she's had it and will no longer post anything on The White House Blog?
About twenty of us gathered at CHIRLA's headquarters to listen to the brief announcement. Senior administration officials tried very hard in the simplest of terms to explain that some things were changing for approximately 300,000 immigrants in deportation proceedings. As they put it, in order to have maximum impact on undocumented immigration, DHS and ICE will readjust their deportation machine and focus on "high priority cases." Those who have committed serious crime, repeat border crossers, and those who represent a threat to our community will be deported at higher rates of speed. But those who represent no threat to our community, including students, pregnant women, members of the military, LGBTs and their spouses, victims of domestic violence, long term residents, and others, will have their cases reviewed by a new working group. The working group could find that an immigrant fits the new guidelines, dismiss the case, and, on a case by case basis, a work permit granted.
It sounded too good to be true. And it was.
Nothing comes free from this White House intent on being named the "Top Deportations Administration Ever." DHS's announcement is a distraction bearing good news for a limited few, bad news for some, and no news for the large majority of immigrants and the American public, who watches on the side growing ever more impatient. Thursday's announcement is like the period of time in between one storm and the next. There may be sunlight, a rainbow, even birds chirping in the background. But the ground remains wet and muddy, the clouds are fat and grey, and the gusts of wind remain gelid.
We are most appreciative to this Administration for using one of the many cards we have argued they carry hidden in their sleeve. The 300,000 immigrants that will have their cases reviewed is no small number. The feat to review, prioritize and decide all these cases is gargantuan and those who will have their cases dismissed at the end of the day will smile and breathe temporary sighs of relief. But let there be no mistake about it: DHS's announcement is about slowing down some deportations, not stopping them. This announcement is to quell the fires burning in the distance.
The announcement is far from being a benevolent step back from conducting the worst persecution of immigrants in ages; a review of all these cases clogging the system has been made necessary because the immigration courts are bursting at the seams. Arresting, processing, detaining, and deporting immigrants will continue under the ever-expanding tentacles of "Secure Communities". Millions are expected to be fired from their jobs with the announcement last week that DHS will continue auditing large companies and industries known to hire undocumented workers. So far, 2,300 companies have been audited by DHS.
I am not cynical, not yet. I do believe public pressure will eventually force this or the next congress and administration to implement more humane, sensible, smart immigration policies that match our nation's values and respond to our growing economic and geo-strategic needs. Thursday's announcement by DHS is a welcome respite in what has amounted to a monsoon season for immigrants in America. What the next few months will bring, I don't know.
I do know that now more than ever, we must not stop working with and pressuring Congress and the Obama Administration to pass real, substantive, and long-lasting changes in immigration policy. What we have seen so far is that as soon as we step up the pressure, the president calls for a meeting with celebrities, posts a blog, makes a fiery announcement in Texas, and eventually gets away with doing nothing. Meanwhile, Congress hides its head in the sand and does nothing too. This is not the President Obama that sparked the fire within me one stormy day when we thanked the heavens the Bush regime was about to be over. If Thursday's announcement by DHS is the lull between storms, let's welcome it; but let us be ready, for the sky remains dark, the thunder is audible, and the next ominous and burdensome storm approaches.