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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.

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.

Will Senator Rubio show us some love?

After all political spin subsided on Sen. Marco Rubio’s response to the State of the Union Address, we may have missed a noteworthy moment for our nation and our state.

Senator Marco RubioThe moment Senator Rubio, the Cuban son of a bartender and a domestic worker, with sweat rolling down his temple and water quenching his thirst, became the first Latino to address the nation, he became living testimony of what is possible when New Americans are given a chance to fully belong, keep their families together, and have equal opportunity to citizenship. This was particularly poignant as he responded to our nation’s President, the son of a Kenyan immigrant. A snapshot of the New America.

If only all new or aspiring Americans could have the same opportunity. Rubio’s story may have turned out differently if his parents had faced deportation as so many families do today. As we celebrate Valentine’s Day, send a message to Sen. Rubio and your Member of Congress asking them to show our families some love by supporting a new and better immigration system that works equally for all, and not just for some.

Today, there are thousands of Floridian families waiting in the shadows for the same opportunity, suffering at the hands of the most expensive immigration enforcement in our history while waiting in line for decades to be reunited with their families. All families should have the same opportunity to climb the ladder of the American Dream from the bottom-up, just like the Rubio family did.

Send your message to Sen. Rubio and your Member of Congress, and ask them to SAY YES to a real and inclusive roadmap to citizenship for ALL families, ask them to SAY YES to Florida. Share your family story as new or old immigrants.

It’s time for them to hear our stories:

http://salsa3.salsalabs.com/o/50599/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=9581

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