One More Reason to Oppose Secure Communities Policy: It’s Racist

The secure communities policy is driving a massive increase in deportations. Since President Obama took office, we have seen one million deportations. In 2010, the United States deported 400,000 people, more than in the entire decade of the 1980s. The secure communities policy is also racist.

(Photo by Runs with Scissors)

This rise in deportations is due to laws passed in 1996, and a massive infusion of money into draconian enforcement of immigration law with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). With an annual budget of $60 billion, DHS has been able to expand its operations far beyond those of its predecessor, the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

When we look at who is getting deported, however, it’s clear that Asian and European immigrants are almost never deported, yet blacks and Latinos are deported in massive numbers. And, nearly all deportees are men. Sound familiar? Yes, racial and gender disparities in immigration law enforcement look a lot like those in criminal justice law enforcement.

Police are much more likely to arrest blacks and Latinos. In New York State, 94% of those arrested on drug charges are black or Latino. And, yes, whites and Asians do use and sell drugs. They are just rarely arrested.

Now that President Obama has forced more cooperation between police and immigration law enforcement through the Secure Communities program, we can expect to see more blacks and Latinos deported.

No Dogs or Illegals Allowed: Racial Exclusion in a Colorblind Era

Until the 1960s, it was common to see signs in Texas that read: “No Dogs, Negros or Mexicans.” Civil rights legislation put an end to such signs. In the current post-civil rights era, it is no longer legally or morally permissible to express overt discrimination towards Mexicans or any other racial or ethnic group.

(Image Source: Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia)

In today’s political context, however, it is acceptable to insist that undocumented migrants – and even their U.S. born children – should not be allowed in this country.   In July 2010, Senator Lindsey Graham’s (R-SC) proposed a bill that would end the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of citizenship for everyone born in the United States. As of today, 130 Senators have indicated they support this bill.

Since the inception of the United States, jus soli – the idea that citizenship is determined by birthplace – has prevailed as the law of the land. The only exceptions to birthright citizenship have been racial. The first piece of U.S. legislation regarding who could be a citizen was passed in 1790, granting citizenship to all whites born in the United States. It was not until the 14th Amendment was passed in 1868 that blacks were granted citizenship. The 14th Amendment reads:

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States, and of the state wherein they reside.”

The 14th Amendment granted birthright citizenship to blacks and whites born in the United States. However, the Supreme Court had to clarify in United States v. Wong Kim Ark in 1898 that all native-born children of aliens – including the Chinese – were indeed citizens of the United States.

Today’s demands to repeal birthright citizenship do not have the clear racial bias like those of the 19th century, when it was acceptable to make outright claims to exclude Native Americans, blacks, and the Chinese from citizenship. Instead, today’s demands are under the guise of “Let’s not give citizenship to illegals.” Or, “Let’s protect our nation by preventing anchor babies.” The language has changed so that it’s no longer explicitly racial. However, the sentiment is the same.

In 1790, when our founders imagined who would be citizens of the United States, they had propertied white men in mind. Those proponents of ending birthright citizenship for the children of undocumented migrants share this ideal as to who belongs to the nation.

This vitriol can be seen in the comments of Daryl Metcalfe, a Republican state representative from Pennsylvania, who argued:

“We want to bring an end to the illegal alien invasion that is having such a negative impact on our states.”

When Metcalfe and other pundits call for an end to a so-called “illegal alien invasion,” they have a very specific group in mind: Mexicans and other Latin American immigrants. In fact, 95 percent of people who are deported from this country for immigration-related violations are Latinos or Caribbean immigrants.

It is no longer permissible to hang signs that say “No Dogs, Negros, Mexicans.”  Birthright citizenship and naturalization are available to all people in the United States, regardless of race. However, the idea that the United States is fundamentally a white nation has not gone away, and seeps into discourses about who is American and who belongs and who doesn’t. Instead of excluding Mexican and Chinese citizens from citizenship, we now hear claims to exclude “illegals” and their children.

The idea of race itself is based on the notion that moral and cultural characteristics are passed on from one generation to the next. Thus, the idea that we should exclude not only undocumented migrants, but also their children, is clearly a racialized argument. It is true that undocumented migrants do not have permission from the government to be here. But, their undocumented status does not define them. Current laws allow many undocumented migrants to eventually become citizens of this country. Calls to eliminate birthright citizenship work to essentialize illegality by making it a permanent feature of undocumented migrants, and something they pass along to their children. In effect, these calls racialize illegality.

Demonizing undocumented migrants for their transgression of immigration laws allows anti-immigrant activists to make racialized claims about who belongs and who does not belong to the nation. It is incumbent upon anti-racist activists to point out this racism and to promote the idea of a multi-ethnic nation – the sort of nation we actually always have been, despite white supremacist claims to the contrary.

Frontiers of Racism: Anti-Immigrant Bigotry

Many times, those who defend the anti-immigrant movement do so by denying any connection to racism. This short (6:48) video from The Center for New Community explores the connections between anti-immigrant bigotry, immigration, and African Americans in the United States:

This video (h/t @NativismWatch) makes a connection between contemporary anti-immigration bigotry particularly against Mexicans and Mexican Americans, which seems to be growing, and historical, institutional racism against African Americans.

The American Nightmare: Jamaican Immigrants

Jamaican migrants in the United States are often hailed as a “model minority” – black immigrants who are able to succeed against the odds. It is remarkable that blacks can succeed in a society where being black is criminalized. Yet, the truth is that many Jamaicans do not succeed. Many Jamaican men, it turns out, fall prey to the lure of the streets and end up deported.
Jamaican_Festival_2010-21
(Creative Commons License photo credit: paul.hartrick)
Many Jamaican deportees I have met through my research were left with relatives in Jamaica while their parents traveled abroad to earn money and establish themselves. Their parents sent for them when they were teenagers. Arriving in New York City in the 1970s, these Jamaican boys, raised by their grandmothers, did not fit in. They spoke the wrong way, wore the wrong clothes, and didn’t know the code of the streets. They often had misunderstandings with their parents, as their years of separation had created distance between them. Their parents worked long hours and often did not provide the emotional support they needed and expected. Many of them dropped out of high school.
After dropping out of high school, some were able to find menial jobs. But, like their parents’ jobs, these jobs paid little, and didn’t allow them to attain the glitz and glamour they saw all around them. They found solace hanging out with other young Caribbean men, on the streets of New York.
As teenagers, living the street life of New York in the 1970s, they weren’t angels. But, a couple of years in the United States had not turned them into hard-core criminals either. Many Jamaican deportees I met found themselves in a situation where they were in a car or a house and the police came and found drugs and/or guns. Each of them did hard time for this.
One man, Samuel, explained to me that he had been raised by his grandmother in Jamaica. At age 14, he went to the US to live with his parents, who had obtained legal permanent residency. Samuel went to high school in Brooklyn for a couple of years. Eventually, he couldn’t take the teasing and taunting about his accent and his clothes anymore. When he dropped out, his tenuous relationship with his parents soured and they kicked him out of the house. He went to live with some friends, and slowly got pulled more and more into the street life. One afternoon, he was riding down the street with some buddies, and the cops pulled them over.
Samuel told me he had no idea the car was stolen. When he realized what was going on, he ran. The cops cornered him in a back yard and arrested him. When it was time for him to stand trial, the police officer said that, in the back yard, Samuel had pointed a gun at him, and Samuel was charged with attempted murder of a police officer. At age 19, his first conviction turned into a fifteen year sentence in prison. Turns out he served twenty-six years, as the parole board did not release him. He said that was in part because he would never admit guilt and in part because the board was particularly harsh on violent crimes when his turn came up.
The story of the devastation of black communities because of the loss of black men to the prison system is well-known. The incarceration of Jamaicans in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s adds another dimension to this. Upon release, these men are deported to Jamaica, a land many of them left as teenagers. Many of them have nearly all of their family members in the United States, and few or none in Jamaica.
Samuel spent five years on the streets of New York, and then spent twenty-six years in the penitentiary. In 2005, he was deported to Jamaica. He was 45 years old, and had not been in Jamaica since he was 14 years old. No prison release program, no orientation to Jamaica, and all of his family in the United States. Moreover, his father was too embarrassed of him to help him find family members in Jamaica. Eventually, he found a cousin who lets him stay with her for a couple of months.
When Samuel applies for jobs, they ask him about his work history. If it becomes evident that he spent over two decades in prison, no one wants to hire him. Samuel fights back tears as he tells me his story. He never lets one drop. “Everyone in prison says they are innocent,” he says. I look into his eyes and see a life wasted.
Samuel is calm, intelligent, articulate, poised. He has to sacrifice his dignity every day to get a plate of food and a warm bed to sleep on. He is currently staying with a childhood friend who is willing to hide Samuel’s past from others.
For these men, the American dream turned into a nightmare, and no one believes them. Jamaicans look at them and see that they had the opportunity to go to where the streets are paved with gold. They went to America, and came back with nothing.

Structural Racism and Mass Deportation

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has a goal of deporting 400,000 people from the United States every year. The policy of DHS to deport as many people as possible is advertised as a measure that enhances national security. The way that mass deportation is implemented, however, leads to the disproportionate deportation of black Caribbeans and Latin Americans. Because of the disproportionate impact of deportation on black and Latino immigrants, the policy of mass deportation is another manifestation of racial inequality in the United States.


(image from here.)

The overwhelming majority of the 12 million undocumented people in the United States are not in deportation proceedings. Some undocumented migrants, particularly East Asians, are very unlikely to ever be apprehended and deported. In 2007, there were about 230,000 undocumented South Koreans in the United States. Only 417 Koreans were deported from the United States in 2007. In that same year, there were about 280,000 undocumented Hondurans in the United States. Yet, 29,737 Hondurans were deported. In 2007, there were slightly more undocumented Chinese and Filipinos in the United States than Hondurans. However, only 408 Filipinos and 766 Chinese were deported. This is indicative of a trend – Latin Americans are much more likely than Asians to be deported.

Given that DHS claims to be making the nation safer through deportation, it is remarkable that they almost never deport people to countries which the U.S. Department of State identifies as sponsoring terrorism – Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Cuba, North Korea, and Sudan. In 2007, for example, 319,382 people were deported. Among these were 49 Iranians, 27 Iraqis, 40 Syrians, 76 Cubans, and 13 Sudanese. (Data were not available for Libya and North Korea.) Instead, deportees are most often sent to countries with which the United States has amicable relations – our allies in the Western Hemisphere. Human Rights Watch reports that 897,099 people were deported on criminal grounds between April 1, 1997, and August 1, 2007, and that 94 percent of these people were from just ten countries, all in the Western Hemisphere – Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Colombia, Jamaica, Canada, Brazil, and Haiti,

The laws that have led to mass deportation were created in the context of fears of a racialized other. The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), which lay the groundwork for much of present-day undocumented migration and employment, was the result of nativist concerns over rising numbers of undocumented immigrants in the United States. The 1996 laws, which expanded the grounds for deportation, were an outgrowth of Proposition 187, a California initiative with many racial overtones. The Homeland Security Act, which allowed for the funding of mass deportation, came about in the context of fear of terrorists, often racialized as Middle Eastern. Although these laws are color-blind on the books, both their enactment and implementation are tainted by implicit and explicit acts of racism.

As Melvin Oliver and Thomas Shapiro (among other scholars) explain, it is not necessary for laws to use explicitly racial language to reproduce racial inequalities. Insofar as laws, policies, and institutions create inequitable outcomes in their implementation, they can be considered part of the structural racism that has pervaded U.S. society since its inception.

A Matter of Technicality, Not Racial Contestation: The Coming SB 1070 Challenge

It appears the Obama Administration and Justice Department will be challenging Arizona’s immigration law, otherwise known as SB 1070, although no lawsuit has been filed yet.

If recent events are any indication, the forthcoming lawsuit will frame immigration as a national issue that requires a federal, not state, response.  In a recent interview, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton commented, “[Obama] thinks that the federal government should be determining immigration policy.” These comments were further corroborated by President Barack Obama, himself, when he first openly criticized the law. He said, “If we continue to fail to act at a federal level, we will continue to see misguided efforts [like Arizona] opening up around the country.” Further preview of the lawsuit to come was offered by Randal Archibold and Mark Landler of The New York Times. According to them, legal scholars say the Obama Administration and Justice Department have a stronger case if they argue that Arizona intruded upon what ought to be federally regulated.

As these accounts foreshadow, the merits of the pending challenge will likely be on grounds of federal versus states’ rights. At face value, this is certainly good news to those who oppose SB 1070. However, the grounds in which this case will likely be built has complicated implications for racial/ethnic issues. If such a challenge is solely built on the notion that immigration is a federal issue, then it will ignore the proverbial elephant in the room that made this law controversial in the first place: racial profiling.

Under SB 1070, Arizona lawmakers have enabled local police enforcement to approach anyone who they “reasonably suspect” to be of illegal status and verify their citizenship. Furthermore, this law enables local police enforcement to detain anyone they reasonably suspect to be in the U.S. illegally. Because reasonable suspicion remains undefined, this broadens what tactics can be employed to enforce the new law. As critics argue, this not only encourages police to rely upon racial and ethnic markers such as skin tone and language to enforce immigration law, but it gives them legal justification to racially profile.

If the Obama Administration and Justice Department file suit against SB 1070 on grounds of federal versus state authority, they virtually leave racial profiling unchallenged. 1

This is problematic because racial profiling is discriminatory as it targets individuals on the basis of group assumptions. And these group assumptions often times are faulty generalizations that depend upon stereotypes. All Latina/os or “Latina-looking” people are not illegal migrants, but SB 1070 enables law enforcement to presume such individuals as guilty until proven innocent. Instead of condemning racial profiling, the Obama Administration and Justice Department will likely change the subject and frame this law as an issue of how government authority should be delegated.

A failure to openly contest racial profiling reinforces a central feature of color-blind racism: the minimization of racial discrimination. When people buy into this post-racial fantasyland, as Eduardo Bonilla-Silva contends, they understand racial discrimination as more of a historical fact than a contemporary living nightmare for folks of color. Rather than address mountains of evidence (see Karen Glover and Katheryn Russell-Brown) that detail the persistence – and limits – of racial profiling, it remains unaddressed and thus the racial status quo is maintained. By remaining silent, the Obama Administration and Justice Department implicitly dismiss the enduring presence of such racial discrimination within the criminal justice system.

If the Justice Department wins its forthcoming lawsuit on grounds that immigration is a federal issue, then SB 1070 will have been defeated by technicality. Though this would successfully nullify this racist law, it’s premature to bring out the champagne glasses just yet. Turning your back on a problem does not make that problem go away. The merits of racial profiling must be openly contested for SB 1070 to be genuinely defeated in the name of racial progress. Such a task is cumbersome, but it is necessary if America is to become closer to the ideal that many have dreamed. In the hopeful words of Langston Hughes, let America be the land it could be:

“O, let America be America again

The land that never has been yet

And yet must be

the land where every man is free….

America never was America to me,

And yet I swear this oath—America will be!”

1 Though I have critical reservations about this legal strategy due to its racial implications, it may very well prove to be most effective. If the Obama Administration and the Justice Department squarely tackled the unconstitutionality of racial profiling, they run the risk of a conservative U.S. Supreme Court dismissing their claim on grounds of precedent: the 1975 ruling of the United States v. Brignoni-Ponce. For this case, the Court essentially legalized racial profiling by enabling police to use someone’s racial appearance as grounds for stopping and searching motorists. Michelle Alexander points this out in her new book: “In that case the Court concluded that the police could take a person’s Mexican appearance into account when developing reasonable suspicion that a vehicle may contain undocumented immigrants.”

Kasey Henricks, Master’s Student, Sociology Department, Loyola University Chicago

Forced to Choose Between Family and Country

In the United States of America, the spouses of US citizens can be deported, no matter how long they have lived in the United States, no matter how many US citizen children they have, and no matter how much they love their family.

In Chicago in 2008, I interviewed nine couples that consisted of a US citizen married to an undocumented migrant. Each couple discussed the implications of US immigration law to their families. I discuss this project in this video:

This is one of the stories from this project:

Fatima is 30 years old, graduated from Loyola University, and works as a family therapist, counseling families whose children are in juvenile detention. She likes being able to help people, to give them hope, and to figure out ways to make their life better. Her husband, Antonio, paints houses for a living. He would like to go back to school, to learn a trade such as an electrician, or maybe open a business. But, life hasn’t presented him with that opportunity yet.

Fatima, along with her two sisters, was born in Mexico City. When she was four years old, her father passed away, and her mother decided that it would be easier for her to raise her three children in the U.S. She was able to obtain visas, and they came to the US on an airplane. Eventually, the whole family obtained U.S. citizenship.

Antonio was born in Michoacan, Mexico, in a small town. His father was attacked by a bull when Antonio was thirteen. This accident left him invalid, and Antonio and his brother left school to go to Mexico City to work. They found work in a car wash, and stayed there for six years, until a woman from their hometown asked Antonio to accompany her to cross over to the U.S. Antonio arrived in Dallas, and eight months later, decided to come to Chicago. In Chicago, he spent several months working as a day laborer, until he finally found a more stable job as a painter. He has been in that job now for four years, and works seven days a week most weeks.

Not too long after Antonio found his current job, he met Fatima. When I spoke with them, in May 2008, they had a two and a half years old son and had been married for three years.

Fatima and Antonio came to the community-based organization, Latinos Progresando, to see if there was anything they could do to legalize Antonio’s status. Antonio had been living here illegally since he crossed the border in 2003. Fatima said she is constantly stressed out. When he goes to work, she has to worry about whether or not there will be a raid, or if he will be stopped by the police. This stress is clearly wearing on her, as her voice broke and her eyes welled up with tears as she talked to me. Continue reading…

Earthquake hits Haiti, causing destruction to an impoverished nation

As you no doubt heard by now, an earthquake of 7.0 magnitude on the Richter scale has hit Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Its epicenter was just a few miles from the capital city of Port-au-Prince. Large buildings in Port-au-Prince, including the National Palace, built by the US Marines in 1915, and the United Nations headquarters, have been destroyed.   Many large cement structures are now piles of rubble.   The extent of the damage remains unknown, as communication between Haiti and the rest of the world has been difficult since the earthquake hit.

Haiti is a country of ten million people, and some reports estimate that at least 100,000 have died and three million people have been affected directly by the earthquake. The capital, Port-au-Prince, is home to nearly three million people, many of whom are recent migrants to the capital and who live in substandard housing.

Thirty years ago, Haiti was self-sufficient in terms of food production, particularly rice, one of the staples of Haitians. Unfortunately, over the past three decades, trade and aid agreements between the US and Haiti have created a situation where rice farmers can no longer make a living in Haiti.  A prime example of this is when rice, grown by subsidized farmers in the US, is dumped on the Haitian market, pushing Haitian farmers out of production. Because of these and other US and IMF economic policies over the past three decades in Haiti, people from the countryside have been unable to make a living in rural areas, and have migrated to the capital.

Many of these urban migrants live in houses made of cinderblock or other substandard materials that are very susceptible to earthquake damage. The fact that so many people live in inadequate housing structures adds significantly to the destruction caused by the earthquake.

Haiti was founded in 1804, and is the first black republic in the Western Hemisphere.   Haiti also boasts a proud history of a successful slave revolt.    Despite its noble beginnings, Haiti’s history has been fraught with violence and poverty, and the United States has played a significant, contributing role in the lack of political and economic stability in the tiny island nation.

Haiti was occupied by the United States from 1915 to 1934. In 1994, Aristide Bertrand was democratically elected by the Haitian people – the first democratically elected president of Haiti. Eight months later, he was ousted by US-backed forces.   Following this, the US occupied Haiti.   Haiti was occupied again by US and UN forces in 2004.

Hurricanes have hit the island regularly over the past decade, adding to the troubles faced by the people of Haiti. The recent earthquake is the worst to hit Haiti in 200 years. The earthquake, with its fires and the massive destruction of buildings, “seems like the abyss of a very long history of natural and political disasters” (Edwidge Danticat, January 13, 2010 on Democracy Now).

When Haitian citizens have left their own country to come to the US (a form of forced migration), the US government has systematically discriminated against them.   Currently, there are currently 30,000 Haitians being held in immigration detention centers in the United States.  Subsequent to the most recent hurricane in Gonaïves, Haiti, immigrant rights activists mobilized to request that Haitians not be deported to Haiti, because of the destruction wreaked by the hurricane. These demands for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) were denied. In the aftermath of the present disaster, it would be inhumane to send deportees from the United States to Haiti.

President Obama has promised to help the Haitian people get through the present disaster. Given the troubled history between the two nations, and the extensive corruption involved in foreign aid in Haiti, Obama will face many challenges in delivering this much-needed assistance. Granting Haitian immigrants presently in the United States Temporary Protected Status would be a crucial first step in the effort to help Haiti get back on her feet.

If you’re interested in helping the people of Haiti, Dumi Lewis has a good list of organizations over at Uptown Notes.

Update from admin 1/15/10: U.S. Suspends Deportations to Haiti.

~ Tanya Maria Golash-Boza teaches at the University of Kansas and blogs about her research on the consequences of mass deportation at http://tanyagolashboza.blogspot.com/

Legalization for All? Not with HR 4321

It looks like it is about time for immigration reform to be debated in Congress again. For the twelve million undocumented people in the United States, immigration reform could not come too soon.

H.R.4321 – Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act of 2009, the latest proposed legislation, would allow undocumented immigrants to apply for legal status. This provision has caused anti-immigration activists such as Mark Krikorian and others to voice concern about the proposed legislation. Among immigrant-rights activists, the provision is generally celebrated. However, many activists also recognize that HR 4321 likely will not provide for the legalization of all 12 million undocumented people in the US.

HR 4321 provides legalization only to those undocumented immigrants who qualify. Any undocumented immigrant who has been convicted of more than three misdemeanors or one felony will not be eligible for legalization.

This may, at first glance, seem like a fair provision. Who wants criminal elements in our midst? However, if we consider the potential human costs to deportation, the story changes. Felonies are generally crimes for which the sentence is more than one year. Felony convictions vary by state but could include, for example, property damage over $250 (Arizona) or possession of one gram of cocaine (Indiana) possession of four ounces of marijuana (Texas) or possession of a BB gun (New Jersey). These are crimes, but many would argue that the punishment should not be permanent separation from one’s loved ones. For many, deportation amounts to exile from the only country they have known.

Due to racist police tactics and a discriminatory justice system, felony convictions are all too common for people of color. For example, Bureau of Justice statistics estimate that 17% of Hispanic males in the United States will go to State or Federal prison at least once in their lifetimes (pdf).  Notably, only about 75% of people convicted of felonies actually serve time, making the rate of felony convictions for Latinos even higher. Rates of incarceration for immigrants are lower than for the native born.  However, it is reasonably safe to say that as many as one million of the current twelve million undocumented migrants currently in the United States will not be eligible for legalization because of prior criminal convictions.

Many of these one million people will be long-term residents of the United States, and will have families in the United States. Knowing they have a criminal conviction, they will be faced with the choice of remaining in the shadows and continuing to live with their families and leaving their families behind to fend for themselves.

In short, anything less than legalization for all will mean that the problems associated with undocumented migration will not go away with immigration reform. We will continue to have people in the United States who are deprived of the basic rights that go along with legal status, and, of course, citizenship.

It is crucial to point out that those undocumented migrants that can take advantage of legalization will benefit from the passage of a bill such as HR 4321. For that reason, this bill deserves the support of the progressive community. At the same time, we should continue to push for the long-held goal of the immigrant rights movement – legalization for all! Anything less will be a compromise that will harm millions of immigrants and their families.

~ Tanya Maria Golash-Boza teaches at the University of Kansas and blogs about her research on the consequences of mass deportation at http://tanyagolashboza.blogspot.com/

DreamAct: Immigration Reform & Call to Action (Updated)

The DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act would enable the children of immigrants to apply to become permanent residents and put them on the path to citizenship (you may have noticed the poll up now in our banner).   Under the DREAM Act, young people who meet a number of requirements, including: arriving in the U.S. before their 16th birthday, living here for at least five consecutive years, have a high school diploma or GED, and demonstrate “good moral character,” which in this context means no criminal justice involvement, would be eligible to apply for citizenship.  There’s more detailed information from the National Immigration Law Center here (pdf).  The fact is, tens of thousands of children grow up in this country as de facto citizens but then are blocked from pursuing their dreams of a college education or military service because of their de jure legal status.   It diminishes everyone when these hard-working young people are not allowed to pursue their dreams, or worse yet, forced to leave the country.

It’s a form of discrimination based on racial and legal distinctions that are without merit.   And, as with other forms of discrimination, blocking educational attainment and deporting people who want to make a contribution to society as a whole makes no sense.  Ju tells of his experience growing up in the U.S.:

I was born in South Korea, and I came to the United States when I was twelve years old. At first, I had a tough time learning English and I had a difficult time to adapt American culture due to lack of support from the Asian community. Therefore, I never knew what it means to be living in a strong Asian community where people help one another, build strong relationships, and live a fulfill life within a secure family. And unfortunately, I’ve experienced racism, classism, segregation, and discrimination from the privileged people. Yes indeed, Asian Americans have been oppressed and marginalized by the dominant society. Furthermore, we have been treated as minority and perceived as second class citizens.

There are many more stories like Ju’s at the Dream ACTIVST.   If you want to take some action, you can sign the Dream Act 2009 Petition.

Another young person’s story that has been circulating around various social networking sites and forwarded through email recently, is that of Rigoberto Padilla.  Padilla is a student in the Latin American and Latino Studies Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago and he is currently facing deportation.    Last winter, he was arrested by the Chicago Police for a minor driving violation. While in police custody, his undocumented status was discovered by ICE officials, who charged him with entering the United States without authorization in 1994 as a six-year-old child. Even though his misdemeanor is not a deportable offense, his deportation is now set for December 16, 2009 – less than two weeks from now.

Faculty at the UIC where Padilla is a student are organizing to stop Padilla’s deportation are asking everyone to sign an online petition requesting an administrative closure of his case.  The online petition automatically sends faxes to the offices of Janet Napolitano (Secretary of Homeland Security), John Morton (Director of I.C.E.), Senator Richard Durbin and Senator Roland Burris.

Although the Dream ACT has enjoyed bipartisan support, it was originally introduced into the Senate in June 2002 by Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), and the late Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) was also a supporter, the bill has faced a number of legislative set backs.  It is currently listed as “open” and, ironically enough, also under the purview of Senator Durbin (D-IL).   If you want to do something to stop the deportation of Rigoberto Padilla and to help the thousands of other young ‘dreamers’ you can contact  Sen. Durbin at D.C. office: (202) 224-2152 or his Chicago office:(312) 353-4952,  or, you can contact him using this online form.

Update as of 12/11/09 from the organizers: “We have great news. With your support, we have been able to stop the deportation of UIC student Rigo Padilla.  Yesterday, he was granted a one-year deferment by the Department of Homeland Security. This was accomplished through the efforts of local and national elected officials, Chicago City Council, Berwyn City Council, community groups, UIC administration, faculty and students, university professors nationwide, media and the general public who expressed their support for Rigo and the plight of all undocumented students nationally. The campaign generated 1,159 faculty petitions and over 18,000 individual petitions to DHS Director Janet Napolitano, ICE Director John Morton, Sen. Richard Durbin and Sen. Roland Burris.”