Immigrant detainees are patted down at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Broadview, Ill. facility, Friday, March 14, 2008. (AP Photos)
Immigrant rights advocates have long awaited the elusive promise of comprehensive immigration reform. President Obama promised a major overhaul while campaigning 2008 and again in 2012. Yet while Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, issued prosecutorial discretion standards in 2011 and Obama issue issued a memo last year to grant temporary deferred action for undocumented students, more people have been deported under this administration than any other.
Contradictory policies have already made themselves evident since the start of the year. The administration changed its rules to make it easier for some undocumented immigrants to access visas if they have close relatives who are US citizens. A few days later, it was revealed that the nation spends more money on enforcing immigration than an on all other federal criminal law enforcement combined. The administration insists that ICE only pursues high priority criminal cases, but immigrants with low priority cases—like driving without a license infractions—constantly face deportation. In the meantime, undocumented young people have formed groups like Dream Activist, which often fights on a case-by-case basis to help bring attention to low priority cases.
Erika Andiola works with the Arizona Dream Act Coalition and has been a visible immigrant rights advocate in one of the nation’s most anti-immigrant states. In a phone call today from an ICE office, Andiola explained that ICE agents arrived at her home and asked for her mother, Maria Arreola. When Arreola went to the door, agents handcuffed her in front of her daughter and teenage son. When her 35-year-old son, Heriberto Andiola Arreola, began to ask him questions, they detained him as well.
Andiola, who remarked that this was the first time she had to fight for her own mother, then reached out to her expansive network. Dream Activist, along with Presente.org and others, helped publicize the detention of a prominent immigration activist’s family members, and urged people to sign petitions and make phone calls to stop the deportations they might face. Social media quickly spread the message through laptops and smart phones. Twelve hours later Andiola’s brother was released. A couple hours after that, her mother was also set free. ICE denies the accusation that the detentions were retaliation for Andiola’s dedicated activism, but it’s likely that organized pressure led the agency to almost immediately release Andiola’s mother and brother. As Julianne Hing wrote on Colorlines.com today, the outcome highlights the undocumented youth movement’s power.
Cristina Jimenez, who works with United We Dream, maintains that the current haphazard immigration system runs counter to the promises made by the Obama administration.
“This is just the latest case of a government agency that is out of control,” says Jimenez.
And she’s right. While Andiola’s mother and brother are back home, and will likely be granted some type of prosecutorial discretion, ICE agents will be busy filling their unofficial quota of 400,000 deportations per year.
Undocumented women are some of the most vulnerable to sexual violence. Read more in this week's issue of the Nation.