Today is a historic moment for the immigrant rights movement. A year and a half ago a fight for all 11 million resulted in a partial victory that was to expand temporary relief from deportations to a little less than half of the undocumented population in the US. And now that case is being heard in the Supreme Court.
But what should be on trial today is not the President’s executive authority which is clear. Nor should it be whether immigrants are deserving of relief or even whether undocumented people will stay in the country. That’s not up for debate. As the case of Jose Juan, a father of five who just took sanctuary in a Southside Chicago church, shows, families will fight to stay together no matter what the court decides.
What should be on trial today is the persisting cruelty of current immigration policy.
As Bernie Sanders said, the Obama Administration is “wrong on the issue of deportation.”
It’s well known now that President Obama has deported more people than any other President. He first ratcheted up removals with the political calculus that it was necessary to convince Congressional Republicans that he was “serious about enforcement.” But by the Spring of 2014, two million deportations and no immigration reform later, there was finally a consensus that the enforcement-first strategy was not just a failure but a human rights disaster.
President Obama instructed the new DHS Secretary to find ways to make immigration policy “more humane,” an order that undocumented immigrants are still waiting to see come to fruition.
Out of the Spring, 2014 order came the deferred action program debated in the Supreme Court today, alongside the termination of the failed Secure Communities deportation program and its replacement the Priority Enforcement Program (PEP) and a rearranging of deportation priorities.
But at the beginning of the year, the Administration announced it would be raiding asylum-seeking mothers and children and then unaccompanied minors in its Operation Border Guardian. How could it justify ICE agents staking out people’s homes and taking teens away on their way to school? The same rationale as its justification for record deportations, only this time with a different body to convince. People like Jose Ismael, one of the teens raided in North Carolina, had to be deported back to the violence he fled in El Salvador to show the Supreme Court that the Administration is “serious about enforcement.”
Immigrant lives have rarely been valued for something other than sending a message. They have been used to show how tough Democrats can be to Congressional Republicans or the Supreme Court, or to tell Central Americans they won’t be welcome, or to display how compassionate politicians can be every four years to potential Latino and immigrant voters. But their humanity has never been recognized as anything other than a political calculation.
And so while we look to the Supreme Court to quickly uphold the legality of the expansion of deferred action, we also look to the detention center numbers that have not gone down, where people like Jose de Jesus Deniz-Sahagun mysteriously die, where mothers who seek help for sick children are told they can go back to their country any time, where raided youth are still held despite winning stays to their removals, and where transgender detainees face assault. We look to the recent deportation of Ladislao from Tennessee. We look at the discriminatory policing in Chicago as cause for people’s removal. And we see something else that should be on trial.
When immigrants get their day in court, it will be when this administration’s cruelty, not their own belonging is being put on trial.
B. Loewe is the communications director for Mijente and the #Not1More Campaign.