From The Hispanic Coalition NY: “Obama Administration Continues to Tear Apart Latino Families”

We received the following statement today from The Hispanic Coalition NY:

On The Dawn of President Obama’s Speech on Immigration Reform, 

We Must Rally to Denounce Current Policy

ALBANY, NY (1/28/13)  The Obama Administration failed to address the broken immigration system upon taking office in 2009. Millions of Latinos voted for him expressly because of his promise to take action on immigration. Four years later his administration holds the highest deportation record of any American President and we continue to demand comprehensive reform to address the status of more than 11.1 million undocumented immigrants.

Latinos have shown their voting power and in 2012 it became very clear that without the Latino vote a candidate cannot win the Presidency; 70% of the Latino vote went to Obama in 2012 as the alternative was not even a consideration given the anti-immigrant feedback from Mitt Romney.

On Tuesday, President Obama will be presenting his immigration proposal to the nation and we will be listening. His policies have been cumbersome and are not addressing the immediate need, which is to stop breaking families and ripping children away from their parents. One family in Syracuse is living this nightmare; a court hearing scheduled for January 30, 2013.

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The Obama Administration has deported a record 1.58 million immigrants since taking office in 2009. During his last year in office, the Bush Administration deported 369,221 a record which Obama quickly broke the following year. The Obama Administration’s record represents a more than 70% increase in deportations, more than any other president in the history of the United States. A total of 409,849 immigrants were deported in 2012.

Esperanza and Roberto live in Syracuse and are one of thousands of families who are being torn apart by a broken immigration system. Their three children ages 3, 5 and 6 are United States Citizens and yet, are being forced to leave their country with their parents – what is their other option? As all other immigrants who came before them, Esperanza and Roberto left home country of Guatemala nine years ago in search of the American Dream. In 2008 they fled Arizona after anti-immigrant laws were passed and made a home in Syracuse.

To read Esperanza and Roberto’s story, click here 

They must appear in NYS Court on January 30, 2013 to provide proof and documentation that passports are being prepared for the three children and plans to leave the country are well underway. Esperanza and Roberto have been living off the money they saved from Roberto’s job doing landscaping and painting; due to the winter weather he has been laid-off. A local Church is helping cover the $350+ cost for pictures and passports. The children who are United States Citizens are being forced to leave their home to a country they have never seen where they will be considered immigrants.

Detaining immigrants is a business of its own. There are over 100 detention facilities across the nation and two located in New York State:  Buffalo Federal Detention Facility and Orange County Correctional Facility. According to Shattered Families:  The Perilous Intersection of Immigration Enforcement and the Child Welfare System the cost to house a detained immigrant is approximately $122/day with an average of 33,400 detentions or $4 million per day. The estimated average yearly cost is $2 billion tax dollars. Many of these facilities are owned and operated by the private sector not the Federal Government. A steady stream of detainees ensures the system is well funded and operational. The Obama Administration has stated that it has the capacity and funds to detain more than 400,000 immigrants per year.

We continue to hear that the Department of Homeland Security simply follows the rules and have no say in whether someone gets detained or even deported. CNN Politics published an interesting piece on June 25, 2012 where the headline read:  Official: Obama administration will enforce its priorities, not Arizona’s. The reality is that while we see the Obama administration give us a sense of false hope through the issuance of prosecutorial discretion memos, we continue to hear and see how people’s rights are constantly violated and racial profiling by those who implement immigration laws are being used to determine which people are asked to “show their papers.”

Upstate NY is no stranger to civil liberties violations or cases of racial profiling. In November 2011 the NYCLU released the first of its kind investigation into the “transportation raids” that happen to take place far from the Canadian border, in Rochester NY of all places: Justice Derailed:  What Raids on New York’s Trans and Buses Reveal about Border Patrol’s Interior Enforcement Practices.

As stated in the report: “In sum, transportation raids by Rochester Station agents demonstrate unduly punitive and overzealous policing in an operational realm securely outside of the Border Patrol’s border- policing mission. Through an analysis of previously unreleased data, this report sheds light on the Border Patrol’s “show me your papers, please” approach to immigration enforcement and serves as an impetus for more transparency and closer scrutiny of CBP practices. The report also serves as a warning sign for the need to examine Border Patrol practices beyond buses and trains, and particularly practices that raise concerns regarding Fourth Amendment violations and racial profiling. The report calls on the CBP to conform its practices to democratic principles and legal and regulatory standards, and to curb its incursion into the country’s interior.”

“In the Rochester area alone, Border Patrol agents arrested 2,788 train and bus passengers from October 2005 through September 2009. These arrests happened miles from the border, which transects Lake Ontario, or the nearest point of entry. The vast majority of individuals arrested had lived in the United States for more than a year.”

Another important NYCLU analysis concluded that 1 in 5 New York State School Districts was putting barriers for immigrant children, which are illegal under the US Constitution since a free elementary education is guaranteed to all regardless of immigration status.  The research found a total of 139 schools were in violation of Constitutional law.  In response the Education Department issued a statement and requested all schools stop placing registration barriers to all immigrant children.   Immigrant families are left to navigate these very complicated systems which opens them up to being subjected to abuse.

The current system is not confined to detaining single family members, instead systematically destroys families and separates children. More than 90,000 families per year are being torn apart by broken immigration policies and we are seeing this happen right here in our own back yard in New York State (see the story about Esperanza and Roberto). A troubling practice is that of turning US Citizen immigrant children to the Child Protective Services and the foster care system.  ICE released a fiscal year 2011 report on deportations of US born citizens and notes 437 cases in NY from the more than 40,000 reported. We know that in New York, the number is much higher based on what we are seeing across the State. Other reports focus on the impact separation has on the children. The University of Arizona released Disappearing Parents: A  Report on Immigration Enforcement and the Child Welfare System and found that there is no formal policy set in place nor any mechanisms that address these cases.

In another report, Applied Research Center, publisher of ColorLines, Shattered Families:  The Perilous Intersection of Immigration Enforcement and the Child Welfare Systemestimates that over 5,100 US Citizen children born to immigrant parents are currently in the foster care system. In 2009 Congress ordered ICE to begin collecting information about deportations of US born citizen children, however the report does not contain data on the number of children entering the foster care system. It is important to note only one such report has been published although Congress ordered a semi-annual report be produced.

The Obama Administration claims to have changed their deportation focus to those cases where violent crimes or a threat are present. Roberto has always worked hard and never caused any trouble with the police; and there is no history of any violent crime. Esperanza and Roberto have always cared and provided for their children; they do not pose a threat to the community yet have been told they must leave the country ASAP. The children have been traumatized and are afraid of the police after Esperanza was taken by ICE officials. The children cried every day during the eight days Esperanza was in detention. What kind of change in guidelines is reflected in the actions of ICE and Border Patrol enforcement personnel, when it fails to use the discretion it can especially around low-level cases?

A June 17, 2011 John Morton, Director of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued a memo on prosecutorial discretion as related to “immigration enforcement priorities of the agency for the apprehension, detention and removal of aliens.”  Two provisions directly speak to cases where there are US Citizen children involved:  “the person’s ties and contributions to the community, including family relationships,” and “whether the person has a U.S. Citizen or permanent resident spouse, child, or parent.” What cases fit this criteria?

While there is such a thing as Prosecutorial Discretion, which can be used to keep families together, ICE continues to shatter families by separating them and in many cases parents never get to see their children again once deported. On June 15, 2012 Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano issued a memo outlining guidelines for discretion in the case of individuals who entered the country as children.  On December 12, 2012 another memo was issued on the use of detention retainers.  How can people maneuver this discretion maze?  And why does ICE fail to observe prosecutorial discretion?

In cases where a US Citizen child is suddenly torn from his/her parents, the children are then placed under the custody of Child Protective Services of the State where they resided and begin their lives in the foster-care system — their lives forever changed.   Taxpayers then pick up the tab to house these children who have been traumatized and have no idea what is happening to them; ripped apart from their families and without any contact with loved ones.

President Obama, it is time you deliver on your promise to address and fix the broken immigration system in our Country.  We must ensure children’s lives are no longer torn apart by a system that not only takes their parents away but also has no regard for the rights of United States Citizen children to immigrant parents.   

Fear continues to hinder the immigrant community’s ability to come forward and share their stories about a broken immigration system that continues to destroy families.  It is time to stop forcing immigrants to live as ghosts in the shadows of society.  

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