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Latino Activists Not Satisfied By New Deportation Order From White House, Still Pressing for Full Reform

Sticking to the immigration theme, over the past week we’ve seen major action from the Latino community to demand an end to the Secure Communities program and the mass of deportations that has separated families and sent non-criminal undocumenteds into the grips of ICE, contrary to the Administration’s stated goals for the program. Latino and immigration activists have staged mass walkouts of federal task force hearings, including on Monday night in Los Angeles. They say that Secure Communities damages local law enforcement efforts and has put 11 million people in a perpetual state of fear. They have also assailed what they consider lies that S-Comm only goes after criminal offenders for deportation, citing examples of undocumenteds working with law enforcement on reporting crimes and getting shifted over to ICE.

The Administration had to respond. These activists were threatening to sit home, saying they would hold the President accountable for the record deportations and twisting of S-Comm. They wanted to see some change. Today, the Administration made that response.

The Obama administration announced on Thursday it will do a case-by-case review of deportations, allowing many undocumented immigrants without criminal records to stay in the United States indefinitely and apply for work permits.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano will send a letter on Thursday to Senate members who had asked for details on how the agency would prioritize its immigration enforcement. The policy change is meant as a framework to help prevent non-priority undocumented immigrants from “clogging the system,” senior administration officials said on a conference call with reporters Thursday.

First, the agency will look at its pending immigration cases and close the low-priority cases, so immigration courts can focus on the most serious ones, administration officials said. The low-priority cases can be reopened if circumstances require. Next, guidance will be given to immigration enforcement agents to help them better detect serious criminals and other high-priority undocumented immigrants.

Undocumented immigrants whose cases are closed will be allowed to apply for work permits, but will not be given them automatically, officials said.

This would affect roughly 300,000 suspects currently in the immigration system, giving them the potential to stay and work legally in the United States. This would especially impact DREAMers, students with no criminal record who only know this country as a home and want to stay here and contribute to society.

Democratic Senators are praising the action. “The Obama Administration has made the right decision in changing the way they handle deportations of DREAM Act students,” said Dick Durbin (D-IL). “I applaud President Obama for taking this decisive step to bring our immigration enforcement policies more in line with our national security and public safety priorities,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).

However, if the Administration thought this would appease the activists whose work clearly led to today’s action, they should think again. I just spoke with Roberto Lovato of, whose organization was instrumental in the week of action to protest S-Comm and the deportations. He made a crucial distinction.

“For the 300,000 in deportations, this is huge. Their cases will be reviewed, and they could get work permits,” said Lovato. “From the universe of people terrorized by Secure Communities and the policies of the Obama Administration, this does nothing for them. ICE can still tear down their door and put a gun in their face, or the face of their children. From the view of the 11 million (undocumenteds), this does nothing.”

In addition, Lovato said, this has the potential of being an administrative disaster. If the only way for a DREAM Act student to get a work permit is to get into the deportation system, for example, “this tells the DREAM students to go into ICE and start administrative proceedings.” That would only fill the system with a further backlog.

The Latino community’s demand remains to end S-Comm immediately, stop turning local law enforcement into tools of the immigration authorities, and to use executive powers like temporary protected status or deferred enforcement to deal with the other 11 million while Congress is gridlocked on an ultimate solution. “We pause to claim a small but important victory for 300,000 of the 11 million,” Lovato said. “But you would have to be covering up the sun with one finger to say this resolves the problem.” He believes this action was mainly designed by the Administration to get Latinos off their backs before the election.

Lovato did agree that this was a direct response to the pressure put on by the Latino community over deportations and S-Comm during the past several months. But they plan to continue the fight. “We will not hesitate to exercise our community’s power against the Obama Administration’s terror put upon us,” he said. “We will continue fighting for real reform.”

Chris Newman of the National Day Laborers Organizing Network had a similar take:

“In order to fulfill its promises, the administration must end policies like Secure Communities that result in the criminalization of innocent immigrants who are Americans in Waiting like those who came before them,” said Chris Newman, legal director of the National Day Laborers Organizing Network, in an email statement. “The administration has pursued policies that are sowing fear and devastation among immigrant communities, and it must reverse course to stop the Arizonification of the country,” he added, referencing Arizona’s strict immigration enforcement policies.

More from AP.

…The Center For Community Change forwards this statement:

“Everyone in America should welcome today’s announcement,” said FIRM spokesperson Marissa Graciosa. “The President has responded positively to the moral crisis created by wrong-headed deportations. This policy change reflects the hard work of hundreds of organizations and thousands of immigrants who literally put their lives on the line for to make their voices heard.”

“This is an important step in the right direction. We urge the Administration to enforce this policy vigorously and follow it through to its full logical and moral conclusion: suspend deportations of all those who work hard every day to create better lives for themselves and their families,” Graciosa said. “Specifically, the Secure Communities Program that undermines public safety and tears apart immigrant communities should be abolished.”

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David Dayen

David Dayen