US Human Rights in Crisis

The campaign is called “#Not1More Deportation” and aims at stopping arrests and deportations through actions of civil disobedience, while pressuring Washington to approve an unfulfilled promise: immigration reform.

“I know Republicans are blocking immigration reform but it’s President Obama who has the power to stop deportations.” These declarations by National Day Laborer Organizing Network Executive Director Pablo Alvarado to NBC Latino hit a nerve. The reality is that during this administration of a Democratic president, there has been a record number of deportations of undocumented immigrants, to the point that Alvarado calls it a “human rights crisis,” with an unprecedented, annual average of 400,000 sent away, south of the border, and about 1,000 deported daily.

Congress has practically pushed aside the issue of immigration reform because of pressure from the strong controversy between Democrats and Republicans over the debt ceiling, a battle that pushed the imperial country to the edge of default, paralyzed the federal government for 16 days and contributed to further discrediting Washington in front of the whole world.

Meanwhile, however, immigrants have not stopped putting up a fight: They have kept up a campaign of civil disobedience and continued with outcries against inhumane arrests and deportations that painfully separate their families.

In Arizona, one of the border states taking strong measures against the undocumented and also in preventing border crossings that increase the population, seven activists handcuffed themselves to the fence of the Eloy Detention Center, one of the country’s private prisons owned by the Corrections Corporation of America.

Tomas Martinez, member of the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights and one of the protesters, claimed: “Behind these walls are thousands that are taken far away from their families and the better lives they came here for. For Washington, detainees are just a number, but for us the people inside Eloy are our sisters and brothers.”

Maria Guadalupe Crespo, Maria Cruz Ramirez, Narciso Valenzuela Siriaco, Jose Francisco Rincon Coutino, Tomas Martinez, Alfredo Carrera Gonzalez and Rodrigo Guzman are the seven who denounced Eloy’s policy of meeting its quotas for detentions in order to increase earnings — a lucrative business model for the CCA prison consortium.

The group also debunked the arguments of the current U.S. administration, which insists that only those who have been convicted of serious or violent crimes and, therefore, constitute “a threat to public safety,” are subject to deportation; however, human rights activists who defend immigrants confirm that government records reveal that even those who have committed only minor violations or misdemeanors are also persecuted. A TRAC Immigration study backs this up, as it reveals that barely 10 percent of those detained fall under the criteria for “a threat to national security.” Of course, a good portion of those who are held for deportation have not even committed or been convicted of any crime.

This group of seven activists for immigration reform held a similar protest on Sept. 18, when they handcuffed themselves to the fence of the White House. That is when Maria Cruz Ramirez , mother of three undocumented children, made her reasons clear: “When our community loses its fear, we’re capable of anything. My children have taught me that. Until the president stops deportations, we will begin to stop them ourselves. What other option do we have? What would you do if ICE came to take your loved ones away?”

Their fears of deportation are personal and were explained: “I have to fight for the future of my children and for my future. I know that by working to support them, I am at risk of being arrested and deported. I don’t want to be separated from my children, that’s why I’m here fighting for my future. The hardest part of working against deportations is finding yourself with your family and seeing how your children are suffering. But your heart can’t let this happen. The most beautiful thing is to see when a person who has been arrested is released and reunited with family.”*

A Trapped Obama

On Tuesday, Oct. 15, when the government was just 48 hours away from the budget collapse, President Barack Obama told the Hispanic television network, Univision, that “once that´s done, you know, the day after, I’m going to be pushing to say, call a vote on immigration reform,” and he repeated it again in his speech on Thursday, after which Washington and a part of the world took a sigh of relief — to a certain extent, with a deadline set for February 2014. Obama spelled out the agreement reached by both the Senate and feisty House of Representatives, where far-right, tea party Republicans had fueled the crisis.

As Reuters has noted, what is certain is that the latest clash was just one more obstacle to immigration reform during the second presidential term, together with the exposure of the National Security Agency global espionage program and the issue of the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government.

These were the three biggest problems that put on the back burner legislation that could reassure 11 million people living in the United States, trying to fulfill their American dream but without the papers that would give them legality.

Again, on this particular case, there is a dispute in the House of Representatives: The Senate already reached an agreement on immigration reform last June. Again, Republicans in the House are divided on the issue, and their most conservative wing refuses to open the door to the 11 million, many of whom have lived in the U.S. for years, created families, seen their children be born and grow up, and faced every kind of discrimination and exclusion as well.

In fact, Obama does not have the coast clear within his administration, and he still puts immigration reform in second place. His first priority is to reach a long-term solution for the public debt and his third, he mentioned, is agricultural law. These three difficult issues affect the U.S. economy and are like three wishes he would ask of his fairy godmother — to see them come true, or see them become law, before the end of the year.

It seems that Obama has learned a lesson from the struggle and is more willing to negotiate with his political adversaries, which would also imply his backing down or making concessions on the laws that are proposed. After pointing out that the majority of Americans are in favor of the naturalization of the undocumented, he stated: “Now, if the House has ideas on how to improve the Senate bill, let’s hear them. Let’s start the negotiations. But let’s not leave this problem to keep festering for another year or two years or three years. This can and should get done by the end of this year.”

Perhaps, with the conciliatory position that John Boehner assumed as speaker of the House and leader of its Republican majority during the heated debate about the debt, he could succeed in making progress on the issue of immigration, but last July, the House’s Judiciary Committee passed bills that limited illegal immigration, setting the tone for how difficult the negotiations on this topic will be. This has also been a telltale sign that immigration reform could continue to stay in limbo, similar to how the planned closure of the concentration camp at Guantanamo Naval Base never materialized, another illegality committed on Cuban territory, arbitrarily occupied for more than a century.

According to what the Associated Press published a few days ago, Boehner himself said that the immigration bill, known as the S-744 initiative, would be voted on when he had the support of the majority of the 233 members of his party, a goal set by the Hastert Rule, whereby a bill is not voted on unless it has the support of the majority of the majority party.

Of course, this goal could be considered almost unattainable because, up until now, the Democrats sponsoring the liberating legislation have not received support from any Republicans; therefore, the threat of a federal government default could be seen as a simple excuse for not discussing this basic human right and Boehner’s position as an obstructionist. Passing the bill would require 218 votes in all, one more than half of all votes.

However, while the U.S. was losing sleep over the country’s budget, fighters for immigration reform took to the streets — unfortunately, with hardly any reflection in the great American press and, even less, in the global media — to pressure Congress, which did not pay the least attention to them, despite the tens of thousands, who gathered in at least 160 cities, in 41 of the 50 states of the Union, on Saturday, Oct. 5 and despite eight congressional Democrats being arrested a few days later for participating in a demonstration that blocked traffic in front of Congress and, therefore, became a “crime” for the other 200 participants, who were also arrested by police forces.

This is how things are. Obama has been unable to fulfill a promise he made for the second time in his presidency, and the 11.5 million undocumented immigrants who live in the U.S. cannot get that legal status they anxiously await and deserve. Boehner has not said a word in response, and once again, the U.S. is in crisis of human rights.

*Editor’s note: Correctly translated, this quote could not be verified.

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