Political Strategy or Malpractice to Immigrant Communities?

It is upon us as teachers, researchers, advocates and policymakers to embody the ideals of just and humane immigration reform
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Anibal Fuentes is a Chicago day laborer who may only have a few weeks left in the country. Early one morning, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents pounded on his door. They arrived saying they were looking for a neighbor, but instead took him away in handcuffs, leaving behind his wife and six-month-old baby in tears. Originally from Guatemala, Anibal came to the U.S. after his parents passed away. He had no previous criminal record. This was ICE's fourth raid on the same apartment building.

Anibal's family and community made urgent calls to ICE and the detention center released him two weeks later -- but with an ankle bracelet that keeps him under continuous monitoring. He currently awaits a judge's decision to know whether he can stay with his family or be sent back to a country where he knows no one.

Anibal's story represents just one of the over 1,000 deportation cases that happen in this country on a daily basis. It is the direct consequence of President Obama's immigration policy that has led to over 2 million deportations, separating thousands of families across the country.

We have come to a major crossroads in the fight for immigration reform. I'm an academic researcher who has legal training and over 30 years working in immigrant rights policy and advocacy campaigns. My work has highlighted wage theft across the country, and the link between immigration status and poor working conditions. In the legal field, a lawyer who misrepresents his clients interests can be held accountable for committing malpractice. I'd like to put forth that in the fight for immigration reform, advocates must also try to represent immigrant communities to the best of their abilities.

During President Obama's State of the Union address, he vowed executive action on several major issues, but made no mention of halting of deportations. When asked about this during a Google hangout immediately afterward, the President responded optimistically regarding immigration reform in Congress, but said that absent their action he would weigh all available options to ensure a rational immigration policy. This statement has been the closest President Obama has come to acknowledging that his deportation policy is part of his political strategy. If true, it means that he has made a very large gamble for immigration reform -- tearing apart thousands of families on a daily basis for the possibility of passing a bill.

Simultaneously, several prominent immigrant rights groups came forth to declare the recently released Republican principles for immigration reform a "positive step forward" -- also presumably in the name of political strategy. These memo outlines, in essence, border a militarization plan that proposes inhumane triggers and prohibitively difficult requirements for legal work status. Some sources have said that this would make it impossible to attain legal status for at least half, if not more, of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country. Those who are fortunate enough to attain legal status will never be eligible for citizenship. It is a plan that creates three subclasses of residents in this country -- legal permanent residents, those who cannot qualify, and the inevitable group of future migrants.

To this I pose the question: At what point do we draw the line between political strategy and committing malpractice to immigrant communities?

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka is among the few bold leaders who have come forward about the House Republicans' set of principles. He asserted that House GOP proposal of limited legal status was "fool's gold" and that labor and other key progressive groups would strongly oppose it. He went on to say that President Obama's draconian policy is actually undermining his own strategy "because that fear is causing people to say, 'We'll take less'...The President could take that pressure away today ... and leave Boehner holding an empty bag, if that's what he wants to use as pressure for an inferior bill and a permanent underclass."

The backing of a strong grassroots movement stands behind those who hold to the principles of just and humane immigration reform. Late last November, Ju Hong, a DREAM student leader from San Francisco State University, spoke out to challenge President Obama about his authority to issue an executive order to halt all deportations during a public speaking event in San Francisco. And across the country, young immigrant leaders and immigrant workers have taken huge personal risks to call attention to the issue, chaining themselves to buses leaving deportation centers.

And what about political strategy? On the one hand, the GOP seeks to end the President's authority to exercise discretion, as he did when he granted temporary protection to young immigrants under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). On the other hand, their immigration reform principles favor citizenship for DACA recipients. It appears that pushing forward DACA helped dramatically propel prospects for legalization to this group of young immigrants who previously were unable to pass the DREAM Act. This seems to suggest the President should do more, not less, to move the needle.

It is upon us as teachers, researchers, advocates and policymakers to embody the ideals of just and humane immigration reform. It is upon us stop malpractice to immigrant communities, and to choose a political strategy that is eliminates the extreme daily hardship that immigrant families currently suffer under the status quo.

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