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Immigrants: The Right to Stay

from the Feb. 3, 2021 Bulletin

border policy immigrant rights deportation and detention

On Day One of his new administration, President Joe Biden announced two long-awaited immigration measures. He halted deportations and proposed a path to citizenship for migrants living in the United States. Several days later, Mijente senior campaign organizer Jacinda Gonzalez discussed Biden’s two new initiatives. We have the main takeaways from her comments. You can watch her full analysis online.


Mijente and its allies demanded that Democratic Party presidential candidates pledge to issue an order to stop all deportations, for 100 days, on Day One of their term. What made that demand — and the responses to it — most significant?


We’ve succeeded in putting the deportation issue into a larger frame. It’s not about “good” vs. “bad” immigrants. It’s not just about children in cages, or just about Dreamers brought to the US as children. All undocumented people should be included in the moratorium. We will not be divided. Bernie Sanders was the first to agree with us, and he helped us negotiate with the Biden campaign. And on Day One, Biden kept his promise, signaling his commitment to immigration reform.


So people with criminal records will also be protected from deportation?


Yes! This was an important victory, since arrest and conviction comes easy when you’re a Latinx immigrant. But the order does have a scary exception: No “aggravated felons” — such as terrorists and spies — will be protected. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, better known as ICE, has too much discretion in defining what “aggravated” means. “Aggravated” could be a minor offense like shoplifting! We’ll have to keep a close watch on that.


The moratorium on deportations needs to be just a start. We have to rescind ICE’s 287(g), the policy that gives state and local police the authority to “identify and remove" immigrants. That’s not their jurisdiction. And the federal Operation Streamline criminalizes people trying to cross the border and tries them en masse in criminal courts, instead of moving people through the usual civil immigration system.


Most of all, we need to defund ICE. Just like other police forces, its budget has ballooned, and all that money would be better spent on social services that make communities safer.


The Texas attorney general just secured an injunction against the moratorium in his state. What happens now?


The far right has moved its guns to the state level, a not unexpected setback. The halt to deportations will now not start for 14 more days. We’ll have to fight every deportation, and many grassroots groups in Texas will do just that.


Biden also provided a blueprint for a path to citizenship. Is immigration reform finally in sight?


Biden’s proposal offers a starting point to get to a new immigration law, something promised by administration after administration. Senator Menendez is going to be introducing a reform bill, but this will be just the first step in the legislative process that could take several years.


Biden is promising “a different approach.” Unfortunately, we’re worried at his suggestion that instead of building a wall, hell beef up surveillance to “monitor the border.” This smacks of the old paradigm of making a trade-off between citizenship for those already here with tougher restrictions at the border.


What now for the immigrant rights movement?

We have to make sure what we have won so far is just the floor. We have new initiatives: the We Are Home coalition, a “Defund Hate” campaign, a plan to use the budget process to cut funds to the Department of Homeland Security, and more. We’ve reached this far through a multiplicity of strategies: protests, electoral activism, forming coalitions, policy meetings, building alternatives. There are no guarantees that we will win. But if we don’t fight, it’s guaranteed that we will lose. The next 100 day will be an organizing sprint!


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