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Immigration reform must keep families together, out of poverty

By Maria Rodriguez

Jose has been in foster care. He didn’t think he belonged there, with children who have been abandoned or abused. His mom, caring and competent, is devoted but deported.

A victim of horrific, high rates of deportation, she was sent back to Nicaragua. Jose was left alone and in poverty. Now 18, he organizes for immigration reform.

Daisy is a U.S. citizen. Her undocumented husband was caught driving without a license and was detained and deported. Heartbroken, Daisy didn’t know what to tell her children when they cried for their dad.

She made the hard choice to join him in Mexico, understanding that family matters most. But U.S. poverty was nothing compared with Mexican poverty. Survival was at stake. She returned to Florida without her primary breadwinner. Now she’s a single mom, barely eking out a living.

As America debates much-needed immigration reform, the issue of criminalizing and deporting immigrants while making poverty worse for their families looms large. Jose and Daisy, an orphan and a widow of deportation, could have had modest but meaningful lives, but instead a broken immigration system plummeted them into poverty and the pain of separation. Two families, not quite whole, had to reconstruct themselves.

One way to increase social mobility in the United States and reduce poverty and economic inequality is to fix the broken immigration system. Migration is a natural, historical phenomenon. People move — especially as a result of global economic changes.

In Florida, our primary industries would be crippled without immigrant workers. It’s not fair to want their labor, but not their humanity. Why is the free flow of capital and goods globalized, yet the movement of labor — workers, people, families — criminalized.

Jose and Daisy are victims of a virtual detention and deportation war on immigrants. Like any war, it has collateral damage — the war on drugs ravaged poor and African-American communities.

This one devastates Latino families. Putting people behind bars, excluding people from the workplace and from citizenship, makes them vulnerable to exploitation and creates a permanent underclass in chronic poverty and systemic racism.

But incarcerating immigrant families not only impoverishes them; it comes at a high cost to all of us. In fact, in fiscal year, 2012, $18 billion of our federal tax dollars went to immigration enforcement — to go after Jose’s mom and Daisy’s husband.

That staggering amount is about 20 percent more than all other federal law enforcement combined — more than the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and other agencies put together.

By denying 11 million immigrants a permanent residency card and a drivers license, and devoting our resources to overzealous and misguided enforcement, we keep them and us in the dark. These dollars could instead be invested in job creation, homeless veterans or the elderly.

But criminalization impoverishes some more than others. For-profit prisons wrote and promoted laws that increase their business of incarceration, like Arizona’s “show me your papers” law. Socialize the cost of enforcement, privatize the profit.

Just like any other market, we’re sold a service — imprisonment — we don’t want or need. A hefty prison lobby works the marbled halls of Congress to promote its market, protecting its profit margin.

True fiscal conservatives should take note: On any given day, we incarcerate thousands of immigrants who pose no public-safety threat, unnecessarily put behind bars for civil immigration violations.

It costs more to imprison them than to place them in alternatives to detention. Our punitive approach is wrong, costly and ultimately ineffective.

Punitive policies that demonize people, like the war on immigrants and the war on drugs, don’t make us safer. They separate families, worsen poverty, deplete budgets and promote racism.

We need reform that values families, ends mandatory detention, removes the profit motive behind incarceration and gives families a real opportunity to stay together and out of poverty.

Maria Rodriguez is president of the Florida Immigrant Coalition. She is participating in Oxfam America’s Voices on US Poverty project.

Marvin is free and will spend Father’s Day with his family!

Many undocumented parents will still spend Father’s Day in detention due to the Administration’s Broken Promises

Today Marvin Corado, an undocumented immigrant originally from Guatemala, was finally released after being detained for more than six months at a private immigrant detention center for only driving without a driver’s license. Marvin will be able to spend Father’s Day with his wife and his 5 year old daughter who is a U.S. citizen, while hundreds continue unnecessarily separated from their families due to the Administration’s failure to stop the detention and deportation of immigrants.

A national report “Restore the Promise of Prosecutorial Discretion” (Exec Summary attached) released earlier this week, outlines several shocking statistics about the scale of the failure of the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) implementation of Prosecutorial Discretion (PD) one year after it was announced. In June 2011, DHS announced a new policy that was supposed to focus immigration enforcement on the “worst of the worst” and spare individuals who have been in the U.S. for years, raising families. However, only 1.5% of the 300,000 cases reviewed were closed and Prosecutorial Discretion has been poorly utilized to release fathers, mothers and DREAM Act-eligible students.

According to the report, “DHS is threatening to undermine the credibility of President Obama’s policies and standing with Latino and immigrant communities nationwide”.

Marvin’s case was featured in the report as a clear example of broken promises. Marvin came to the United States 12 years ago, is a father of a U.S. citizen, has no criminal record and was detained only for not having an ID. All these characteristics made him eligible for Prosecutorial Discretion. However, deportation officers tried several times to deport him, including the day before he was released.

As a ‘low priority’ immigrant, Marvin should not have even been detained in the first place. This is a clear cut example as to why ICE’s cosmetic changes to immigration policy have failed, and continue to fail our communities,” says Juan Escalante from Dream Activist Florida, who supported Marvin’s family and created an online petition to stop his deportation. “Cases like Marvin continue to be taken on by In-Secure Communities. We’ll continue to fight on behalf of people like him until President Obama and his administration makes considerable changes to the current immigration policies.”

Leslie Corado, Marvin’s wife, an undocumented immigrant herself, put away her fear and worked relentlessly to have her husband back home.  As she waits for Marvin to get out of the detention center, she says:  “I feel like a part of my heart came back to my life. It’s been 8 months without seeing him, this is the best thing that could happen today. My daughter cannot believe it, she is very excited. Thank you all for your help and I invite all families to fight. Yes, we can!