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A Just Immigration Reform Will Suspend Deportations While Applicants Wait

Hope has emerged from the first steps toward immigration reform under discussion in the U. S. Congress. There seemed to be a new bipartisan willingness to tackle the issue of the millions of undocumented people already in the United States. We hope and pray that this effort does not get bogged down in political concerns about who gets the credit for any reform.

As we witness the destruction of immigrant families as they are torn apart by deportations, we rejoice at the possibility of a new law that might give a path to legalization and citizenship. Current deportations often mean that parents may never see their children again. This injustice should be addressed in new legislation and families should be reunited.

Not only do families suffer terribly from deportations, but those who are here and working are paid so little that it is very difficult for families to survive.

Too Much Emphasis on Punitive Enforcement

Our joy in the possibility of a new law is tempered by the emphasis in the proposals on more border enforcement, more drones, more border patrol, more military-type infrastructure.

Unfortunately, there is still a punitive spirit alive in the land among those who are trying to tie expensive and unaccountable enforcement to a practical and humane reform that makes it possible for people to work without exploitation and unifies families.

It isn’t as if enforcement has been neglected. In recent years massive amounts of money and effort have been spent on enforcement, building fences, hiring more border police, and detentions and deportations of immigrants. The Obama administration has deported more immigrants than any previous administration.

Already billions of dollars are spent each year spent on border enforcement. Accord-ing to a report by the Migration Policy Institute, in 2012 the U.S. Government spent more in the agencies that monitor compliance with immigration laws and border enforcement, than all of the other federal law enforcement agencies combined. The report indicates that last year, the U.S. spent almost 18 billion dollars in enforcing measures against illegal immigration, and indicates that it is an increase of 24% more than what it spent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Secret Service.

Recent reports charge that ICE agents have quotas of numbers of immigrants they must detain and send to detention for deportation.

 Suspend Detentions and Deportations!

What can be done immediately to help families?

The cruel methods employed by Homeland Security could be suspended immediately while the legislation is being formed and during the time people are waiting for their applications to be processed and for their turn to be approved.

In his State of the Union message, President Obama spoke positively about immigration reform and encouraged the groups working in Congress to develop a bill. In that speech he said that those who would be given a path to citizenship should go to the end of the line, behind those applying to come legally. One might truthfully say that there is no line, because the vast majority of immigrants cannot even apply. For those who have submitted applications for family reunification, the lines stretch to eternity. The problem with the idea of going to the end of the line is that currently those who are waiting in line, those few who have been able to submit applications, are subject, during all their years of waiting for their number to come up to finalize their papers, to deportation.

If a new law asks immigrants who have been here for many years to go to the end of the line, their deportations must be stopped during the application process. Otherwise, the law will compound injustices.

The president did make reference to the possibility of a more realistic number of immigrants being allowed admission from various countries. This would ease the pressure of undocumented immigration.

Address Our Global Economics Policies that Uproot People

Our economic system promotes slave labor, especially in other countries. Our international policies implemented through trade agreements and through the policies and requirements of the World Bank and the IMF create an economic reality that uproots people and encourages immigration. Trade agreements such as NAFTA in the past few decades have made it possible for large corporations to take over production and markets of areas previously run by small business people in their own countries. Corporations based in the United States take advantage of every loophole in other countries to avoid taxation to assist the local people and the lowest salaries they can find.

Most people would rather stay home if there were good opportunities there for them to raise their children in a decent economy. The Popes have said that a person has a right to migrate in order to feed their children, but that they also have a right not to migrate – they have a right to basic necessities in their own land.

Time to Act

We encourage our readers to contact our leaders to ask for just immigration reform.


Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XXXIV, No. 2, March-May 2013.