Instead of Mass Deportations, We Need a Moratorium

If we are truly to act based on principles of "decency, fairness, and humanity," the forcible removal of precisely the people most likely to have been mistreated under the current immigration court system is both inhumane and illogical.
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Co-authored by Leisy Abrego, Kathleen Coll, and Genevieve Negrón-Gonzales

In his recent statement about a new wave of deportations, Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, argues that despite the pain that deportations cause, "we must enforce the law... At all times, we endeavor to do this consistent with American values, and basic principles of decency, fairness, and humanity." As scholars of immigration, we are compelled to respond to both the logical fallacies and moral bankruptcy used to justify the Obama administration's family deportation raids.

Guided precisely by basic principles of "decency, fairness, and humanity," we raise three central points of intervention.

  1. The current legal system is not fair. It is a farce to enforce laws embedded in a profoundly inadequate legal apparatus.

  • The Obama administration's policies and actions are never configured in a vacuum. It is irresponsible and inhumane to carry out waves of deportations in a moment of hysteria devised by a nativist, obstructionist Republican Congress.
  • Migrants and refugees are fleeing the consequences of policies and interventions that the U.S. government implemented or supported in their countries. In a move toward decency, the U.S. debate on immigration and refugee policy needs to accept this country's shared responsibility in propelling mass international migration.
  • Structural constraints and various other problems in our immigration court system make it nearly impossible for most immigrants, asylum seekers, and refugees to receive due process and fair evaluation of their cases. In this context, migrants and refugees are repeatedly held accountable to a set of conditions they did not create. How can Secretary Johnson's deportations be seen as ethically responsible when the laws are constructed within a contradictory political terrain? Instead, the Obama administration should be asking itself what steps will bring us closer to more just immigration and refugee policies, even as it struggles under the weight of a Republican Congress that refuses to act.

    The broader political discourse, influenced largely by Republicans, suggests that the Obama administration has done little to deal with migrants. This overlooks the solution President Obama proposed more than a year ago, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans, which the Republican Congress stalled.

    The national refusal to improve our immigration system is a predictable outcome in a context in which a Republican presidential candidate faces few consequences for equating Mexican migrants with rapists; where elected leaders feel entitled to refuse to comply with federal and international policies to house Syrian war refugees in their states; where politicians feel justified proposing a ban on Muslim migrants and war refugees. Such hateful rhetoric has gripped the nation and informs our policies. As migrants and refugees continue to flee their countries, and as families are filled with fear about forced separations, we all have a responsibility to dig deeper.

    Print journalism has historically played a key role in shaping the U.S. public's views about immigrants, immigration policy, and the citizenship rights. In January and February of 1882, for example, as California's xenophobic movement agitated for the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Los Angeles Times published a series of seven inflammatory articles blaming Chinese immigrants for everything from violent crime to the spread of disease. In early 1942, the L.A. Times published two editorials enthusiastically supporting Japanese internment.

    Today, after seven years of unprecedented numbers of deportations, with over 2 million people already removed from this country, a recent L.A. Times editorial attempts to make the case that immigrant and refugee lives are worth sacrificing in the name of upholding unjust immigration laws. In response, let us recall the tragic legacies of past unjust policies that were no less reprehensible despite being perfectly "legal." It is time to learn from this anti-immigrant history, rather than repeat it.

    If we are truly to act based on principles of "decency, fairness, and humanity," the forcible removal of precisely the people most likely to have been mistreated under the current immigration court system is both inhumane and illogical. What is needed is nothing short of a complete overhaul of the immigration system in this country.

    Without due process, we cannot procedurally send people to violence and death. We cannot continue to destroy families and communities, fueled by misconceptions and fabricated hysteria. Rather than perpetuating mass removals of people who we acknowledge have likely not received proper evaluation of their cases, we call for a moratorium on deportations until such reforms and protections can be guaranteed to all. A moratorium on deportations is sound action that President Obama can take independently of the current obstructionist Congress, and it is the only decent, fair, and humane way forward.

    Leisy Abrego is an author and Assistant Professor in the Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.

    Kathleen Coll is an author and Assistant Professor of Politics at the University of San Francisco.

    Genevieve Negrón-Gonzales is an author and Assistant Professor of Education at the University of San Francisco.

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