As early as tomorrow, January 15th, 2016, the Supreme Court is expected to decide whether or not it will hear the deferred action injunction case. It’s an important step in the battle to see the relief the President announced in November, 2014 for undocumented parents of US citizens and some of the childhood arrivals who were over the age of 32 when DACA was announced.
But the Supreme Court is not the only place for action on immigration. President Obama has options for immediate steps he can take to reduce the suffering caused by current immigration policy and to take a more humane approach. But this year, he’s so far done the opposite.
Some believe the raids that have unleashed renewed terror in immigrant communities are actually the President’s strategy to show the Supreme Court he’s serious about his “priorities.” But you never stop deportations by deporting people. When the administration targets people for raids, it casts suspicion over the entire community and reinforces criminalization. With Trump poisoning the public conversation with fear and enlivening a frightening far-right base, it’s even more urgent for the President to make concrete advances to move the debate and policy in the opposite direction.
The best way to win legalization and relief is through the Administration doing everything in its power to demonstrate what that looks like, to show that we are valued members of society not disposable quota-filling statistics, and to demonstrate that abuse is unacceptable.
The President could show that commitment to the immigrant community today by putting a halt to the raids that are terrorizing immigrant communities since the new year. In addition to that, we take you back to the re-release of five steps the President could move on immediately:
- Release Transgender and LGBTQ Detainees and End Immigrant Detention. Transgender immigrants are 1 in 500 detainees but 1 in 5 who are sexually assaulted in detention. ICE cannot keep anyone safe in a detention system built on cruelty and profit but that is especially true for gender non-conforming detainees. While they face disproportionate violence in detention, every person who enters ICE custody is vulnerable to its abuses. Numerous suspicious deaths and suicides have been reported in detention centers, prompting unanswered calls for investigation and reform. Towards that goal, the President could urge Congress to eliminate the arbitrary detention bed quota, it can direct the Department of Justice to guide judges to lower bonds, and can direct the Department of Homeland Security to eliminate or drastically reduce the use of detention.
- End all ICE Access Programs Involving ICE and Local-Law Enforcement Collaboration including the Priority Enforcement Program (PEP), all 287-(g) agreements and the Criminal Alien Program (CAP). These programs use local law enforcement as an extension of deportations and detention, urging communication between local agencies and DHS. They also cultivate racial profiling by local law enforcement agencies and further endanger over-policed communities. Just as the President ramped up these programs during most of his administration, he can diminish or end them. PEP was created by DHS, and just as the agency ended the infamous Secure Communities program, it can put an end to PEP, a directive that the President can give. CAP is also a discretionary operation that relies on jail access to records. Instead of increasing access and actively asking Congress for more funding, the President could direct DHS to dial back the program.
- Ensure Human, Labor, and Civil Rights with Protections for Whistleblowers within Immigration Enforcement. In the month of October alone there were hunger strikes by detainees in Louisiana, California, and two Texas detention centers, with several still going, asking to be released and highlighting abuses and medical neglect by guards. At each of these hunger strikes there have been testimonies of harsh retaliation,including deportation of leaders and isolation of hunger strike participants. Beyond those in ICE custody, even individuals who have official civil rights claims that led to investigations by DHS or workers who have open labor claims have been kept in detention and deported. The President has the power to direct DHS to use deferred action and release individuals who come forward to file civil, labor, or human rights complaints – especially when they are about the immigration enforcement agencies themselves; individual who are detained by immigration authorities during a labor strike; and individuals involved in a pending matter before a federal agency in which they are participating/providing evidence.
- End Operation Streamline and Stop Criminal Prosecutions of Immigrants for Crossing the Border. Operation Streamline sentences thousands of immigrants to serve criminal sentences for crossing the border in a process that has been described as a violation of due process and human rights. It was created by the Executive branch, which can also ended. Over the last year of the Obama administration, prosecutions for immigrants for entering the country have also risen and alarmingly have appeared as a tactic to retaliate against public organizing efforts. Obama and the Department of Justice have the constitutional authority not only to decline to prosecute, but to pardon any and all violations of criminal immigration laws—in advance or after the fact, for any reason or no reason at all, on an individual or a categorical basis.
- Apply Sentencing and Incarceration Reforms Taking Place in the Criminal Justice System to the Immigration System. At the same time there is an effort to reform the criminal justice system to decrease incarceration rates and unfair sentencing caused by the Drug War, immigration enforcement is aggressively pursuing the detention and deportation of immigrants with similar charges. Just recently the Department of Justice announced that out of 6,000 people being released from federal prison, about 2,000 would be deported. The President could direct the Department of Homeland Security to re-examine its deportation and detention priorities to include the same considerations being made within the criminal justice reform discussion.