Immigration Reform Is Dead But We Must Continue to Push Forward

Obama can change his legacy, while giving our communities a victory, and giving us freedom to live, drive, work, and travel without fear of being separated from our families.
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An image from the "The Not One More" Campaign. Credit: NotOneMoreDeportation

As an undocumented organizer, it pains me deeply to write this, but it is abundantly clear from various sources, including the Hill and leading GOP and Democrats working on immigration reform, that comprehensive immigration reform is dead.

This is not to say that the pro-reform advocates are giving up. Pro-reform advocates announced that the bill isn't dead until they say it is dead:

"We are not giving up," said Kathy Bird, campaign lead at Florida Immigrant Coalition, a statewide alliance of more than 30 member organizations advocating for immigrant rights. "We are going to continue. This is an issue that's popular with American voters."


"There is still time in 2013 [to pass immigration reform]," said Lynn Tramonte, deputy director of America's Voice, one of the most vocal pro-reform groups in favor of a pathway to citizenship.

I admire these persistent efforts to reform our immigration system. But I am tired of the rallying-lobbying-rallying approach that has grown increasingly anemic over time, and produced no substantial results for the community other than growing immigrant detention, record deportations, and a discourse that divides our community along the lines of good immigrants and bad immigrants. As part of a community that has been decimated by almost 2 million deportations in the past six years, I believe that it is time to use more creative and administrative strategies to bring relief to the 11 million undocumented immigrants who are suffering.

Even Representative Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) now agrees with the analysis that immigration reform is dead, and is putting everyone on blast for the failure of immigration reform: "'I think shame on all of us,' Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (Ill.) said during an interview with Fusion's Jorge Ramos."

As an undocumented organizer who is eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), I call on President Obama to extend this same privilege of deferred action to all undocumented immigrants, including parents and relatives of U.S. citizens and day laborers. Deferred action would enable many undocumented immigrants to obtain work permits, drivers licenses, and live without fear of detention and deportation. Many community members are pushing for legalizing all undocumented immigrants in this manner. Additionally, immigration reform champion, Representative Gutiérrez, has called on the president to stop the deportations and extend DACA:

Gutiérrez has grown impatient with the partisan gridlock holding up immigration reform in Congress. He wants President Obama to take unilateral action to suspend deportations of many undocumented immigrants.

Specifically, he wants Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program expanded to cover the parents of undocumented immigrants and others who could receive relief under the Senate's bill.


"There is much more the president can do about deportation," he said. "If the Republican Party is going to continue to persist in refusing to enact [comprehensive immigration reform], then I think the president has a moral challenge before him to take this matter into his own hands."

I am not under any illusion that deferred action has no shortcomings. It is a temporary measure that can be overturned by future presidents and may not result in any permanent status. But no specific group given temporary immigration relief has ever had it taken away. In fact, in some cases, Congress has granted permanent status to persons given temporary status such as certain Nicaraguans, Cubans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, nationals of former Soviet bloc countries who gained temporary protected status, and eventually green cards through the enactment of the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (NACARA). I have no doubt that through the power of organizing our communities, we can make a presidential directive permanent over time.

People would also fall through the cracks of any deferred action directive from the president. But organizations such as Race Forward have exposed how millions would be left out of comprehensive immigration reform. In fact, the drawbacks of the comprehensive immigration legislation currently drafted are well-documented by many in the community. Advocates at the Detention Watch Network lament that the legislation would do nothing for immigrant detention, and instead, make matters worse. Investigative reporters have documented how increased border enforcement will lead to more migrant deaths. In light of how these problems have long caused divisions between immigrant rights and reform groups, it is time to unify around stopping all deportations.

Despite the failure of immigration reform on the national level, immigrant rights advocates are not giving up. Many of us are have been organizing in our communities to pass driver's licenses for undocumented residents, win instate tuition for undocumented youth, end individual deportations of persons targeted by insidious policies such as Secure Communities (S-COMM), and bring deported people home. We will continue to work locally and in our states, to ensure immigrant justice.

But nationally, the calls to stop the deportations is growing. Right now, President Obama is known as the Deporter-in-Chief for deporting more people than any other president before him. He can act now to stop those deportations and become a savior for the 11 million. He can do this by enacting administrative fixes to enforcement programs such as Operation Streamline and Secure Communities that target, detain and deport migrants and even U.S. citizens. He can extend deferred action to everyone who would have otherwise qualified for Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) status. He can change his legacy, while giving our communities a victory, and giving us freedom to live, drive, work, and travel without fear of being separated from our families.

The time is now.

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