Immigrant organizations call for action on immigration reform
The reaction from different pro-immigrant organizations to President Obama’s speech this week on immigration was mixed, but all tend to agree the administration needs to lead with action.
In his speech President Obama spelled out on his administrations increases on border security, adding that they have gone above and beyond what was requested by the people supported broader reform as long as there was more enforcement, but now are calling even more enforcement to ensure the border is secure before talking about comprehensive immigration reform. At the same time, immigrant advocacy groups are calling on the president to put a stop to detentions and deportations – other words, to scale back enforcement until lawmakers can fix the system as a whole.
Jonathan Fried of Homestead-based We Count said that president Obama made this speech to boost his ratings with Latino and other immigrant voters, adding that Obama has failed to move immigration reform while his enforcement policies have separated immigrant families.
“It is fine for him to say he’s starting another dialog in immigration but their isn’t anything new,” Fried said, “I think it is an effort to save face and get votes.”
“It is not accompanied by a legislative proposal, if he really wants to send a message he needs to look at what his administration is doing,”Fried added.
The National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities press release said that despite Democratic Party majorities in the House and Senate over the last two years no immigration policy reform was enacted, and called on the Obama Administration to change its current enforcement approach.
In his speech, Obama touted the success of enforcement efforts under his administration, arguing that the success of those efforts now puts the onus on Congress to enact a more comprehensive set of reforms, but many Republicans are arguing that the borders are not yet secure, and that stronger enforcement efforts are still needed.
In his speech president Obama said comprehensive immigration includes the following steps:
- Secure the borders and enforce the law.
- Hold businesses accountable if they exploit undocumented workers.
- Require those who are here illegally to admit that they broke the law, pay their taxes, pay a fine, learn English, undergo background checks and a lengthy process to legalize their status.
- Reform the system of legal immigration.
Obama said his administration has concentrated on enforcement, and is focusing its limited resources on violent offenders and people convicted of crimes, not families, not immigrant workers. He added that the removal of criminals has increased by 70 percent.
In a press release issued Tuesday the National Day Laborer Organizing Network also addressed this issue:
In his speech today, President Obama declared that his administration ‘increased the removal of criminals by 70 percent last year.’ We call for immediate disclosure of the data underlying that assertion. The Obama Administration has repeatedly played fast and loose with its use of the term “criminal.”
The release points to Secure Communities, a federal immigration law enforcement program that connects local law enforcement agencies to federal databases to check immigrant detainees’ fingerprints and issue detainers for deportation.
The National Day Laborer Organizing Network and other groups contend that Immigration and Customs Enforcement data show that Secure Communities deportations often target “non-criminal” undocumented immigrants – including large numbers in St. Lucie, Hillsborough and Miami-Dade Counties. All 67 Florida counties have joined the program as of June 2010.
The National Day Laborer Organizing Network also wants Obama to answer the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’s (pdf.) call to freeze the program. The Hispanic Caucus letter supports removal of criminal immigrants who represent a danger to public safety.
Martine Apodaca, communication director for the National Immigration Forum said the President can halt the expansion of Secure Communities and stop implementing 287(g). The latter is a controversial immigration enforcement federal program that trains local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration law. Apodaca added Obama can also use prosecutorial discretion to have the justice department focus on cases that are a threat to public safety, while he deploys resources to get Congress to debate immigration.
Joaquin Guerra, campaign director at Presente.org said they know the president supports immigration reform and the DREAM Act but instead of another empty speech the president must issue an Executive Order that would stop the deportation of young people who would benefit from the legislation until it is passed.
The DREAM Act would offer undocumented youth who came to the U.S. before the age of 16 a path to legalize their status.
Apodaca added that what is important is how the President will unite the different stakeholders in the coming weeks.
An Immigration Policy Center report released in April concluded the Obama Administration and the Department of Homeland Security have not used their extensive authority to make the necessary changes to immigration policy.
The National Council of La Raza said in a press release that the president is right to highlight the steps his administration has taken on immigration enforcement but the White House needs to take meaningful action to stop record levels of detention and deportation that tear families are apart.