Reina — an undocumented immigrant who asked that her last name not be used — lives in Homestead with three U.S.-born sons, ages 15, 11 and eight. Her husband, Maximino, was deported to his native Mexico two months ago after a traffic stop. He did not have a driver’s license.
“He was arrested and told by [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] agents to sign a waiver for deportation, that it would help his case to sign, and once he was back in Mexico he could apply for a humanitarian visa,” Reina tells The Florida Independent.
Opponents of the federal government’s Secure Communities program say cases like Maximino’s exemplify why it doesn’t work: Immigrants who have committed no crime are being detained and deported, leaving behind U.S.-born children and families that, in many cases, will struggle to make ends meet.
Secure Communities allows local law enforcement agencies to check the fingerprints of people they detain and match them up with federal immigration and criminal databases, with the stated goal of deporting criminals.
Immigrant rights organizations and people like Reina joined in a national day of action in six U.S. cities, including Miami, on Tuesday. Florida activists delivered a report that documents what they see as Secure Communities abuses to the Democratic Party of Miami-Dade County, and demanded that the Obama administration terminate the program immediately.
Jonathan Fried of We Count! said during the event on Tuesday that in Miami-Dade County, as of May 2011, close to 60 percent of undocumented immigrants who have been detained under Secure Communities have not committed a crime.
Felipe Matos of Presente.org told participants that a recent poll by Latino Decisions — which conducts research on and polls of the Latino electorate — shows that 51 percent of registered Latino voters say immigration reform and the DREAM Act are “the most important issues facing” their community. Matos said that as of yesterday, more than 35,000 people had signed a Presente.org petition telling Obama to end Secure Communities.
Maria Rodriguez, executive director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, said at the event that 56 percent of Florida Latinos voted for Obama in 2008, but that Secure Communities “has been maintained despite a growing chorus” that rejects the growing number of deportations that are separating families.
Reina’s oldest son, Max, was with his dad on the day he was arrested by Miami-Dade County police officers.
“We were going to work and we picked up some food for our lunch break. As soon as we turned the corner, the cop stopped us,” he says. “They asked him for his driver’s license. My dad said he didn’t have one; he gave [the police officer] his name. They checked on the computer, another cop came and told him to get down, and arrested him right there. They didn’t tell us why he got stopped, that it was a routine check.”
Max says he was not able to see his father in detention and that his family never received an explanation of the charges he faced from a lawyer or ICE agents. “They took him two days before Father’s Day and deported him on his birthday, and that is kind of messed up,” Max says.
“Why are they deporting fathers from kids who are born here, leaving the kids at home?” Max asks, adding, “How are the moms supposed to support the kids? What are they going to do?” Max says his mom does not have a job, but has received some support from her church to pay the bills.
Max is starting ninth grade, and was working a construction job during the summer with his dad to make money for school. He does not want to go back to Mexico, even though he says he’s a “little bit” confident speaking Spanish. He says that after his father’s deportation, his 8-year-old brother “would cry a lot and did not eat for about two or three weeks.”
Diego Sanchez, a 21-year-old college student who lives in Fort Lauderdale and came to the U.S. at the age of 8, tells the Independent that his mom and two sisters are residents but he is not.
He is a senior at St. Thomas University, a private Catholic school, where he studies psychology and international relations. Thanks to his grades, he benefits from a reduced tuition. He is also president of Students Working for Equal Rights.
“My dad is a painter, my mom cleans houses for a living, so they have to go to work early and can’t take me to school,” he says. “So I drive on an international license, but I’m risking everything. But you can’t stop your life.”
“I’m in a pretty good position compared to other folks that are in public transportation,” Sanchez says, “especially because [immigration authorities] have been stopping students in public transportation and ask you for ID. … There was a crime close to my house and there were folks that didn’t know whether to report it because they were afraid of the cops.”
Photos from Tuesday’s rally: