Marin Voice: Obama's approach to immigration (Op-Ed)

Marin Voice: Obama’s approach to immigration
By Tom Wilson
Guest op-ed column
Posted: 09/06/2011 03:29:00 AM PDT

SO-CALLED Secure Communities, the brainchild of the Bush administration, and continued by President Barack Obama, requires local law enforcement to share fingerprints with the Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement to deport tens of thousands of people each year.

The idea, popularly known as “SComm,” was to deport the “worst of the worst,” according to Obama.

The unintended result is that nearly a third of the people deported have no criminal records at all. They are, in many cases, just hard-working people trying to survive and raise their children.

Communities are made less safe with SComm, because people fearing deportation will not call police when they are witnesses or victims of crime, fearing they will be swept up in the SComm net.

This is not what the president intended when he said “the worst of the worst.”

In an attempt to correct the worst of SComm, the administration decided to exercise prosecutorial discretion and set aside some deportation cases that are low-risk, thus lessening the negative effect on families while relieving the backlog of deportation cases.

A work group of officials from the departments of Homeland Security and Justice will review the 300,000-plus cases already pending in immigration and federal courts. Low-priority cases would include people who are: married to U.S. citizens; college students that graduated from U.S. high schools; lawful permanent residents; pregnant women; people with chronic illness or disability.

These legal cases would be put on hold unless ICE has a specific reason that one be reopened.

This will address some of the problems with SComm, which currently does not discriminate by risk factors.

Remember, we are threatened by crime, not by immigrants, and we already have a system in place to deal with crime. We are not made safer when our law-abiding neighbors are taken from their families, and though some would assert that people who entered the country without authorization are criminals and therefore should all be considered a risk, this is not true.

There are two ways people are in the U.S. without authorization. One is to overstay a visa, and the other is to avoid inspection when entering. While it is true that entry without inspection is a federal misdemeanor, it is also true that continuous presence is not itself a crime. Overstaying a visa is not a crime at all, and the only penalty for either of the unauthorized activities is possible deportation.

When you consider that cheating on income taxes can be a felony, the act of being in the U.S. without authorization can be viewed with a clearer perspective and we can strip bare the truth that the use of the label “illegals” is not only inaccurate, but hate speech that dehumanizes a whole class of people in order to effectively demonize them.

From a broader perspective, because many detention facilities have been privatized, the arrest of immigrants is a profitable industry. Big companies like Correction Corporation of America hire lobbyists to promote anti-immigrant legislation like Arizona’s well-known AB1070, knowing that detaining immigrants is good for profits. There are 200 corporate prisons with 150,000 beds in the United States, and our tax dollars go directly into corporate pockets at a rate of $200 per detainee, per night. It is a very profitable venture!

Let’s stop the anti-immigrant rhetoric and focus our energy on enacting family-, worker-, and business-friendly immigration policies that will stop the criminalization of employers and working families and create an orderly way to bring much-needed immigrant workers to the U.S. to create jobs through innovation and hard work, as immigrants have done throughout American history.

Tom Wilson of Fairfax is the executive director of the Canal Alliance in San Rafael.