Dreamers Fight Deportations
Marco Saavedra, 23, is an undocumented immigrant activist who hails from New York. He’s worked with the National Immigrant Youth Alliance to hold politicians accountable, to denounce increased immigration enforcement by local police, and to organize undocumented people to advocate for themselves. A place like BTC presented a unique challenge for NIYA: in order to organize the low-priority detainees being held there and inform the public about them, it would be necessary to infiltrate the facility—but the risk of doing so was deportation. Saavedra weighed his options and trusted that if he was detained, NIYA would help him get out.
Saavedra turned himself in at a Border Patrol station and found himself at BTC a few hours later. He sought out Claudio Rojas, and the two worked together to create intake lists. After NIYA got the lists, it promoted nearly seventy cases of low-priority detainees and secured several releases. Although Claudio’s case dragged on for months, he was eventually released after NIYA persuaded Florida Congressman Bill Nelson to support his case. Claudio is now preparing to obtain a work permit, though he remains in a sort of legal limbo: careful to keep every appointment set for him by the federal government, but unsure whether that same government will return him to BTC for deportation once more. Saavedra, meanwhile, was released a few weeks after he was detained. His case has been moved to New York, where he’s lived nearly his entire life. He heads to court in late February.
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Immigrant advocates in Washington, meanwhile, are holding on to the promise of comprehensive immigration reform. In the wake of November’s election results, in which Latino voters showed their strength, they believe there is real momentum developing for a bill that offers the nation’s 11 million undocumented people a clear path to citizenship. The movement’s goals include bolstering protections for workers’ rights, as well as family reunification, allowances for future flows of immigrants, and an end to abusive enforcement.
At the same time, advocates are fighting against the inclusion of harsh measures like hefty fines, English language requirements and increased enforcement in immigration legislation. The blueprint for “tough but fair” reform issued by a bipartisan group of senators on January 28 included all of those elements. Indeed, some worry that the climate is still too hostile to prevent the inclusion of punitive measures in any comprehensive bill that can make it through both houses of Congress—as evidenced by the GOP’s negative reaction to the president’s proposal, which does not include an increased border security requirement. “It’s gotten so bad that you can’t even say the word ‘amnesty,’ ” Saavedra warns. For these reasons, he and some other Dreamers would rather see a more piecemeal approach to immigration reform while they focus their efforts on demanding the release of detainees like Claudio Rojas. (Many Republicans, meanwhile, favor a piecemeal approach for very different reasons.) Those who favor a comprehensive bill—including other undocumented young people, mainstream immigrants’ rights groups and labor unions—maintain that it is the best hope of obtaining relief for the greatest number of undocumented people.
As this debate plays out in Washington, the forced removal of undocumented immigrants is at an all-time high. “Obama is leaving behind a disastrous legacy of deportation. We’re pushing for campaigns so that people are not turned over to ICE to begin with,” says Sarahí Uribe, East Coast organizer with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.
That local focus was vibrantly illustrated at BTC this past summer. And so, even as immigrant advocates hold out hope for a viable federal resolution, and BTC invests in improving its facilities to accept more detainees, groups like the National Immigrant Youth Alliance continue to put their bodies on the line—even though, by risking deportation, its members have everything to lose.
Also in This Forum
Frances Fox Piven: “Movements Making Noise”
Mark Hertsgaard: “Climate Activists Put the Heat on Obama”
Laura Flanders: “Demanding Women”
Kristen Gwynne: “Who Will Legalize Pot Next?”
John Nichols: “The Election Reform Moment?”