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We Stand Together—Black and Brown—for the Youth in Chicago and Central America

Last week The Root’s Keli Goff wrote about the child refugees fleeing violence and poverty in Central America and seeking refuge at our border. Unfortunately, she argued that we shouldn’t protect these brown children, and supports deporting them—while claiming that we have our own black children to care about first, citing recent violence in the streets of Chicago.

An immigration-reform supporter marches in the Rally for Citizenship on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on April 10, 2013.  SAUL LOEB/AFP/GETTY IMAGESWell, we are those black and brown children she’s talking about.
One of us—Phillip—grew up in the same Chicago that Goff says she wants to protect, while the other—Isabel—is a young immigrant who came to this country as an undocumented child fleeing violence in Colombia. And in our life journeys seeking justice for all young people, we have committed ourselves to building united social movements that fervently proclaim, “Our lives matter.”
Every one of our lives matters, whether we are black, white or brown, queer or straight; whether we crossed the border or our ancestors came here as indentured servants or on slave ships.
We reject the notion that black lives should matter to our president and policymakers while the lives of the unaccompanied child refugees fleeing devastation in Central America shouldn’t. Because in both cases, they’re surviving or fleeing violence rooted in our own failed policies, like the so-called war on drugs.
In fact, young people across this country are suffering because most of our politicians do not act as if any of our lives matter. If they did, education would be a primary investment over the failed foreign and domestic policies that have only contributed to our criminalization. If our lives mattered, America’s immigration policy would prioritize family safety and unity instead of prioritizing border militarization and profits for the private prison industry.
In the 1980s, families fleeing Central American civil wars between guerrillas and U.S.-backed dictators landed in cities like Los Angeles. Youths who had just witnessed the horrors of war in their home countries now faced the reality of America’s streets during the height of the war on drugs. Many joined gangs feeling that they had no other recourse to protect themselves.
Instead of being treated as if their lives and their trauma mattered, these young people were deported back to countries where the only people they knew were other young gang members. As a number of researchers have observed, the U.S. deportation regime helped turn two small street gangs started by young refugees into transnational criminal organizations operating across Central America with partners in the U.S., eventually creating the ripples of refugees we continue to see today.
The story of young African Americans on the South Side of Chicago is not that different. Since the early 1900s, black families had fled the lynching and racial violence of the Jim Crow South, only to be met with redlining, unemployment and refined racial segregation in Chicago. Without adequate jobs and political power, many young people who had witnessed the horrors of Jim Crow also began forming gangs to protect themselves from the violence of a society that continued to degrade them as either criminal or cheap labor.
Instead of being offered adequate education and opportunities to thrive, these young people were subject to mass incarceration. The criminal justice system, also fueled by the war on drugs, turned Chicago’s small street gangs into national organizations by releasing inmates into a society with no adequate infrastructure for their reintegration and rehabilitation.
Both of these groups—and the youth across this nation—rely on policymakers and our president to prove to them that their lives do, in fact, matter.
And as José Luis Vilson, writing for The Rootalso noted last week, deporting child refugees who are victims of the same failed policies will never reopen even one of the 50 schools that the president’s former chief of staff, and current Chicago mayor, Rahm Emanuel has closed. Believing this lie only caters to the whims of pandering politicians.
As young people who have grown tired of politicians pitting us against each other, we stand together here in Florida to build up our collective power. Our communities are not pawns to be picked up and maneuvered whenever it fits political strategy. Our work and our vision are not anchored to the politics of scarcity that are perpetuated by those who live in abundance.
We will not be divided. We will continue fighting together—from Chicago’s South Side to the Gaza Strip to Central America’s Northern Triangle—holding accountable all who help to line the pockets of those who profit from our suffering.
Phillip Agnew is executive director of Dream Defenders and Isabel Sousa-Rodriguez is youth organizer for the Florida Immigrant Coalition.
The Root aims to foster and advance conversations about issues relevant to the black Diaspora by presenting a variety of opinions from all perspectives, whether or not those opinions are shared by our editorial staff.
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Florida: The State of our Communities

Floridians Respond to the State of our Union Talking About The State Of Our Communities

On Tuesday, January 28th, Floridians hosted a “People’s State of the Union” event in Miami and a statewide twitter forum to watch President Obama’s State of the Union address and ask Florida’s diverse communities if the SOTU spoke to the issues that they care the most about. The issues that the crowd paid closest attention to included immigration, minimum wage and health care.

Dozens of immigrant families, low-income workers, youth and other community groups and members joined the Florida Immigrant Coalition and 1Miami in Little Havana, while over many more Floridians joined the conversation online using the hashtag #pplsSOTU.

“The President spent barely 30 seconds talking about Immigration Reform, the issue that affects 11 million lives and that matters the most for 53 million Latinos,” said Jonathan Fried, Executive Director from WeCount! “Once again, President Obama mentioned he supports immigration reform, but talking won’t keep our families together when they are being separated every day. The President can prove that he truly cares about our families by stopping the deportation of our family members now and easing our communities’ suffering. Otherwise he will still be known in our communities as the deporter-in-chief.”

Participants in Miami and online took this opportunity to talk about the real issues that affect all hard-working families in Florida, such as an unfair minimum wage, not having access to Medicaid and proper health care.

We feel that our politicians do not understand the real state of our communities; they live very far from the realities that our communities face,” said a participant in the crowd.

We know that the state of our communities won’t improve until our local Government also takes action. Our Governor is literally sitting on billions of federal dollars that can build our economy, create jobs and save lives by allowing Florida to expand health care,” said Eric Brakken, Director for 1Miami. “Our State Legislature is also letting the broken immigration system crush our students’ future and make our roads unsafe. They can act now to save lives and secure our future by expanding Medicaid, granting in-state tuition to DREAMers and allowing immigrant parents and workers to drive. Our local elected officials are as responsible as the Federal Government for fixing what’s broken.”

Last Day of Fast in Homestead to Stop Deportations

Fasters ask President Obama to Stop DeportationsTonight, the 7-day fast in Homestead to stop deportations comes to an end.  The fast is the second leg of a National Rolling Fast to Demand #Not1More Deportation taking place in different locations throughout the country.

Over the course of the next two months, fasters hope to bring a moral, prophetic voice to the immigration debate.

The first leg of the fast took place in Mountainview, California, from May 1st to 11th. Following Florida’s turn, the next leg will take place in Freehold, NJ, organized by Casa Freehold and Unión Latina en Acción.

Guadalupe De La Cruz fastsThe fasters are calling on the President to immediately suspend deportations and Congress to pass an immigration reform that’s inclusive of all 11 million undocumented people in the U.S.

One of the fasters, Guadalupe de la Cruz, is a 23-years old daughter of immigrants who was born and raised in South Florida.  She recently shared:

“This is not the end, but just another step in the fight we have to end all raids in Homestead and stop the deportations.  Hearing the stories of people coming out, losing their fear and saying what has happened with their families due to the raids, made me realize this is the place where I belong, supporting the families, fighting this fight”.

For more information about the fast in Homestead, visit WeCount‘s website.

More information on the National Fast available at the #Not1More website.

LA MEJOR DECISIÓN. Inmigrantes de la Florida aplauden la decisión del Presidente Obama de detener las deportaciones de jóvenes inmigrantes.

El presidente Obama anunció hoy la decisión de dar alivio administrativa a los jóvenes inmigrantes, deteniendo inmediatamente las deportaciones y brindando una oportunidad de aplicar para un permiso de trabajo temporal. Esta decisión llega después de casi una década de presión por parte de los jóvenes y las familias inmigrantes en todo el país que han estado pidiendo a nuestro gobierno protección para el futuro de los soñadores, y dos años después de que jóvenes de la Florida escalaran sus acciones hasta el ámbito nacional, poniendo de relieve el poder administrativo del Presidente.

A continuación se encuentra la declaración de María Rodríguez, Directora Ejecutiva de la Coalición de Inmigrantes de la Florida.

“Aplaudimos la decisión del Presidente de actuar; fue, sin lugar a dudas, la mejor decisión. Nuestras comunidades no podían esperar más para que el Congreso tomara una decisión sobre el DREAM Act, mientras que los estudiantes y sus familias seguían siendo detenidos y deportados a diario.

Durante muchos años, el DREAM Act ha sido más que una pieza legislativa para las millones de vidas que afecta en todo el país; ha sido un movimiento liderado por los jóvenes para el futuro de las familias inmigrantes. Diversos sectores se han unido a esta lucha, incluidos defensores de derechos civiles y dirigentes sindicales, generales militares y lideres religiosos. También ha recibido un importante apoyo bipartidista, a diferencia de cualquier otro estado en el país.

En un paso trascendental, la administración de Obama anunció esta tarde una orden ejecutiva que detiene las deportaciones de jóvenes elegibles para el Dream Act que fueron traídos a este país bajo la edad de 16 años y todavía están bajo la edad de 30 años. El tope de edad representa a todos los jóvenes que habrían sido elegibles si el DREAM Act hubiera sido aprobado en 2001 cuando fue introducido inicialmente. Esta orden ejecutiva, a pesar de que no puede ofrecer ningún camino a la ciudadanía, brinda una oportunidad dentro del Departamento de Seguridad Nacional para que cerca de 800.000 inmigrantes puedan solicitar permisos de trabajo.

Esta decisión no sólo beneficia a los jóvenes o sus familiares directos, sino a todos los estadounidenses. No tiene sentido expulsar a jóvenes con talento que quieren dotar de personal a nuestros laboratorios, comenzar nuevos negocios, y contribuir a nuestro país. A medida que más inmigrantes salen de las sombras y reciben una oportunidad, nuestro país se beneficiará de profesionales cualificados, así como de futuros dueños de negocios que ayudarán a reactivar las economías locales mediante la generación de trabajos y compra de productos locales.

En palabras de los jóvenes:

“A medida que continuamos trabajando para asegurar un camino a la ciudadanía para jóvenes estadounidenses como yo, nos alegramos de la acción histórica del Presidente Obama de brindar protección a los miles de jóvenes a través de todo el país que reconocemos a los Estados Unidos como nuestro único hogar”, dice José Machado de Estudiantes Trabajando por la Igualdad de Derechos (SWER).

“Reconocemos que este es sólo un alivio temporal, y apoyamos al Presidente en pedir al Congreso que de el siguiente paso en la aprobación del DREAM Act el cual traera una solución definitiva para miles de jóvenes estudiantes como yo, y a nuestras families, pues llevamos viviendo en este país por mucho tiempo y queremos contribuir a nuestras comunidades sin miedo”, dice Evelyn Rivera, Red de Jóvenes Inmigrantes de la Florida.

Los soñadores han puesto todo en la línea de sus sueños con acciones audaces e inspiradoras. Desde que cuatro de nuestros líderes estudiantiles decidieron valientemente recorrer el Camino de los sueños desde Miami a Washington, hasta las protestas y ayunos que hemos visto recientemente en las oficinas de Obama a nivel nacional, vemos que nuestro trabajo duro esta siendo recompensado y que vale la pena en la medida en que sigamos de pie para nuestras familias y por nuestro futuro.

Changes in Deportations? Understanding the DHS Announcement

Janet Napolitano, DHS

Janet Napolitano, DHS

On August 18th, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced significant changes on our country’s deportation priorities. Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, sent a letter to Sen. Dick Durbin, stating that DHS and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) would concentrate their resources towards “high priority” deportation cases and that “it makes no sense to expend our enforcement resources on low-priority cases.”

What does this mean? According to Napolitano, deportation efforts should focus only on “those who pose a threat to public safety and national security, repeat immigration law violators and other individuals prioritized for removal.”

So far, this announcement didn’t sound like anything new. Until Napolitano further explained how this change was going to be achieved:

  • Review case-by-case all individuals currently facing deportation proceedings, approximately 300,000
  • Immigration officers should exercise “prosecutorial discretion” to identify low-priority and high-priority cases, according to a memorandum from ICE Director John Morton (read below)
  • Those cases deemed “Low Priority” will get a letter form DHS stating their case has been administratively “closed”
  • Those whose cases are closed, can probably apply for a work permit

This does sound like great news for thousands of families! 

However, there is still confusion and misinformation on how and when those currently in deportation proceedings can benefit from this.We need to understand fully what this announcement really means, in order to inform correctly our communities and to demand that it is implemented appropriately.

To understand what this announcement IS and what it ISN’T, read this Consumer Advisory by the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

To understand the differences between “Low-priority” and “High-priority” cases, refer to the Morton Memorandum


Move by Obama Administration positive sign, but impact still unclear

Miami, FL – Florida’s immigrants and advocates see yesterday’s announcement by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), that it would review the cases of 300,000 persons currently in removal proceedings, as a step in the right direction. However, they assert that much is still unknown about the criteria DHS will use in this process and caution the immigrant community that many deserving persons will still face deportation.

“We are cautiously optimistic about the relief this may bring to thousands of families facing separation,” says Maria Rodriguez, Executive Director for the Florida Immigrant Coalition. “This is a testament to the power of community organizing and the remarkable resilience of those most affected by this criminalizing system.”

Julio Calderon, an undocumented student leader of Students Working for Equal Rights (SWER), who is currently facing deportation, said, “I feel we may be given a second chance and all I hope for is that this promise is fulfilled. We simply don’t understand why Obama had to wait until there were 1 million deported to take this step, and we will continue fighting until all immigrants are not seen as criminals and are valued and respected.”

Immigrant rights advocates note that the administration in essence announced a process to implement ICE director John Morton’s June 2011 statement that ICE would begin exercising “prosecutorial discretion.”

“The devil is in the details and there is still much ambiguity as to how the process will be carried out,” says Jonathan Fried from WeCount! For example, the administration has not said that it will dismiss removal proceedings for all persons without criminal records. So far it seems it will only apply to those who meet other criteria such ashaving come here as a child, being a victim or witness of a crime, or having a serious health problem or disability.

“Moreover,” Fried added, “what will happen with those that were detained only for driving without a license in a state like Florida where it is considered a crime? Will they still be deported for having a criminal background?”

“We believe that the Obama administration can do even more,” says Rodriguez. “If the intention is to focus enforcement efforts on those who are adanger to our communities or who have committed violent crimes, the administration should broadly apply prosecutorial discretion. It also must end dragnet programs such as ‘Secure Communities’ that are creating this crisis in deportations.”