An End to the Immigration Nightmare?

Jill Garvey • Aug 22, 2011

Daily life is difficult for the folks with family members or friends stuck in the immigration system. It’s even harder for those who are actually ensnared.

Millions of American citizens and immigrants are impacted every day by the chaos that comes with our broken system - leaving those with an uncertain status and their partners, children, parents, employers, and friends, with a crushing burden.

People put their lives on hold for years, and spend endless hours navigating a bureaucratic nightmare and untold resources just to get un-stuck. It’s not pretty, it’s not fair, and it just keeps getting worse. As a result, nativist activity has risen to historic levels, racist laws have passed in states like Arizona and Georgia, and the Dept. of Homeland Security has mandated enforcement programs like Secure Communities, which fosters mistrust between communities and local law enforcement.

Last Thursday was the first time that the White House provided a glimmer of hope when it came to cleaning up the immigration system - and by glimmer I mean the ever so slightest flicker of hope.

According to the Obama Administration there are 300,000 individuals with immigration deportation cases in process. That’s an average of 2.87% of the roughly 10 to 11 million undocumented immigrants reportedly living in the U.S.

Of those 300,000, the Department of Homeland Security is in the process of identifying them as high or low priority cases. According to a recent memo released by John Morton, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), “low priority” includes those eligible for the Dream Act, veterans, victims of crime, and those with strong connections to their communities. Those deemed “high priority” include criminals, recent entries, or those who pose a “national security threat.”

On Thursday, White House officials announced that they would place a hold on those cases deemed “low priority” - they estimated that at about 70% of the 300,000 cases. While this certainly provides some relief to families struggling with deportation, it will realistically impact less than 2% of immigrants living with an unresolved status. And that 2% may be only gaining temporary relief. There are no guarantees that their cases won’t be reactivated.

Despite the fact that only a very small number of folks stand to benefit, the anti-immigrant movement has taken the opportunity to whip itself into a fury over the announcement. Ultimately, the backlash immigrants face from nativist organizations in this country may outweigh the benefits.

Ironically, this announcement came amid a week of strong protests to DHS’s efforts to force its Secure Communities program onto states that had previously opted out of the program. In Chicago alone, ten activists were arrested Thursday night after a public hearing in which community members received few answers from DHS about the controversial program. Many of those arrested were undocumented students.

The White House said that its decision had nothing to do with those protests, but it’s hard to believe that the administration isn’t trying to quell this new wave of outrage.

Bottom line is that this may be a step in the right direction, but it’s not enough. Not by a long shot.

Ultimately, this move brings up more questions than it answers. And more uncertainty is the last thing an already burdened population needs.

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