Immigration, deportation, and the need for reform is undisputed in the United States. Hardliners and so-called “amnesty” supporters both agree that change is needed, but neither side seems to expect progress from the president who ran on a platform of change. Despite repeated calls for reform to be passed by an increasingly stagnant Congress, Obama has done very little to directly affect immigration in a way to make substantive change. Now, protestors in numerous cities across the United States are crying out against an increasing number of deportations and are attempting to point at Obama’s long-running hypocrisy on this issue.
April 5th was chosen as the day to stage the protests by a project calling itself Not One More Deportation, which is affiliated with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. The project is meant to provide an opportunity for people affected by current immigration policies an opportunity to share their stories and to speak out against what they see as an unfair policy of deporting non-threatening individuals for no good reason. So far the protest has been in effect in such places as Tennessee, Connecticut, and California, where some peaceful protesters in San Jose were arrested for blocking traffic with their sit-in. This is the most extreme case to come out of the protest, but it was relatively mild. The protesters were given citations and released at the scene.
Through these peaceful means, the Not One More project has been getting its message across, getting the topic of deportation to trend worldwide and using the hashtag #not1more on Twitter to grab the attention of politicians. The basic message is quite clear: no more families should be hurt by the policy of deportations.
Stories like Vernon Rodney’s add impact to this simple message. Last year, when the father-of-five’s car broke down at the side of the road, officers approached him and immediately asked to see his identification. In a case that a judge said seemed like a trap, he was arrested and sent to trial for a probation violation that he was unable to comply with when he was deported the first time. After serving time, he was released on March 13, 2014, he was immediately taken into custody by immigration officials and is awaiting deportation proceedings. Rodney is engaged to a permanent U.S. citizen and is a small business owner.
Cases like Vernon Rodney’s show a terrible side of the immigration issue which does cause harm and anguish to innocent families. President Obama’s call for more humane deportation policies seems to be a step in the right direction, but it is belied by an increasing number of deportations under his administration. Overall, the number of deportations since 2008 has been growing, with a slight drop in 2013. Those who are calling for immigration reform see this up-trend in deportations as the primary argument for their cause and their protests are meant to point out Obama’s hypocrisy.
It would seem reasonable to think that opponents of immigration reform and many of the Republicans blocking reform in Congress would be happy about this trend, but that is simply not the case. They claim that the president is inflating the numbers by changing what counts as a deportation. In fact, the cases of deportation have indeed changed from being located in the interior of the country to being more along the border between the United States and Mexico. Cases that would once have been deemed “turnaways,” or people turned back close to the border, are now part of the deportation statistics.
This is an acknowledged fact by members of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). John Sandweg, the former acting director of ICE, told the Los Angeles Times that the likelihood of an average undocumented immigrant being deported are close to nothing. This indicates the shift in policy that has seen fewer deportations from beyond the border and more close to it. ICE is not looking for people who live in places like inland Idaho or Iowa. They are generally more focused on people close to the border who are more recent arrivals or who pose a criminal threat.
It is important to note that despite the rise in deportations close to the border, officials have not ignored the threat of criminals who have entered the country illegally. Statistics show that the deportation of criminals, defined as people who have offences on their record other than standard traffic violations, has risen from 31 percent of deportees to 59 percent of all deportees. This does show a clear focus on the part of the Obama administration to ensure the safety of the country instead of haphazardly deporting people who pose no threat.
Why then do stories of good people like Vernon Rodney still happen? Since that is the kind of thing the Not One More project is speaking out against, it is important to see why they still feel the need to protest. One of the main reasons comes out of their perception of Obama and what he has done to change immigration policy.
According to them and other outspoken opponents, the president has not done enough. It is true that Obama has been hampered in his efforts by the Congress, where Republicans are refusing to have a vote on key immigration legislation. Their opposition, Obama has said time and again, is why no progress is being made. His critics do not see it that way. They say that Obama has not used his executive power enough to help the innocent people who are affected by the current situation and argue that it just might earn him the reputation as the worst president in history on immigration.
President Obama has been consistent in his claim that without the support of Congress, he is limited in what he can do. When he called himself the “champion-in-chief” of comprehensive immigration reform, he reiterated that fact. While it does seem to undercut his argument of being an ardent defender of immigration reform, his apparent hypocrisy on the issue has a subtler side to it. Should President Obama use his executive authority in this way, it might just set a dangerous precedent for future generations. If he makes an executive decision, it could easily be overturned by another president wielding the same power, but a law duly put in place by Congress following the correct legal channels would be much more secure. Basically, Obama is playing the long game on an issue where many are looking for a quick fix and it just might be to his credit in the long run.
Projects like Not One More Deportation and its protest are necessary for the process when it comes to comprehensive immigration reform. Sharing stories like Vernon Rodney’s is an integral part of pushing reform forward because it shows that there are abuses going on and that there are many, many good reasons for change. Immigration reform is not amnesty. It does not allow anyone and everyone to subvert a system meant to protect. Criminals will still be penalized appropriately and the nation will be kept safe. But supporters of reform should be careful in what they ask for. President Obama’s supposed hypocrisy in not using his executive power might actually do them more good in the long run and their protests, while good, should take this into account when they ask for an end to deportations.
Opinion By Lydia Webb