A project of the Center for Community Change

Why the Era of “Enforcement Only” Has Failed

ICE raid

The time has long passed, since our country lost it’s way in the struggle to figure out how to effectively deal with our broken and outdated immigration system. There are multitudes upon multitudes of missteps that I could point to along the way on our tragic misadventure. However, if I had to point to one specific decision that continues to confound this issue on a daily basis through to this day, it would have to be President Bush’s decision to “appease” the Restrictionists, in the wake of his second loss to get Comprehensive Immigration Reform passed in 2007.

Bush never was one for subtlety. He made an assumption that Restrictionists would eventually go along with the concept of CIR, if they saw that America was taking our existing immigration enforcement laws seriously. Therefore, he set us on a course of “enforcement only,” in an effort to prove that he could be tough on undocumented immigrants.

In the abstract, one could theoretically see the simple logic of his simple plan. By ramping up the enforcement side of the equation, he assumed that he could cozy up to his conservative base, while at the same time, cause just enough economic havoc in the marketplace for people to start calling for reform. His plan misread the tea leaves on many levels.

First of all, his economic policies imploded so severely, that we are now experiencing such massive unemployment, as to obscure any signs that the enforcement only approach has hurt our domestic economy (it has, actually). But because of the upheaval that his fiscal policies have wrought upon us, the undocumented labor issues, such as the recent firings of 1,800 undocumented employees at American Apparel, have barely been noticed on a national scale.

Similarly, in the absence of the passage of a CIR bill, his enforcement policies have served to tear apart families and crush the dreams and aspirations of thousands, if not millions of aspiring Americans, and citizens alike. The vacuum of reform has lead to the continuing alienation of millions of people, and has fostered or nurtured an atmosphere of racial tension and a climate of scape-goating.

Back in October of 2007, actually two years ago this week, I wrote an article that warned of the problems that the environment of “Enforcement Only” would engender upon us. The article, “The “Enforcement Only” Approach: Be Careful What You Wish For, You Just Might Get It,” spoke to the situation that we now find ourselves in.

In the article, I mention…..the Director of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff’s dire yet understated warning that “there will be some unhappy consequences for the economy out of doing this”. Of course, he probably didn’t realize just how right he was. I warned in the article that

“the myopically short sighted anti-immigration reformers simply don’t have a clue as to how the economy works in the real world, and furthermore, exposes the dangers that the enforcement only approach posses to not only our economy here at home, but to the economic stability of our entire region of the World.”

However, it is actually the issue of social injustice that moves me to write today. The time to put the enforcement only environment on hold has never been more important than it is right now. We need to completely re-think what we are doing, until such time as we can put together a CIR package that makes sense, and that is fair and just, and allows for enforcement that targets only the right people, for only the right reasons.

Anna Gorman of the Los Angeles Times had two articles last week that addressed our current and continuing path down the wrong road on this issue, and the policies that are striking fear into our nation’s neighborhoods. She wrote that,

Despite continuing criticism about the program, authorities announced Friday that 67 local and state law enforcement agencies across the country would continue enforcing immigration law under special agreements with the federal government….Since 287(g) began, more than 1,000 local officers have been trained to enforce immigration law. More than 130,000 illegal immigrants have been identified under it, according to officials. In 2009, roughly 24,000 illegal immigrants identified have been deported.

She also wrote about how these programs are truly on the wrong track:

Yolanda Diaz, who was arrested on a charge of simple assault, said the arrest has dashed her plans of going to college in the United States. Her sister, Diana, arrested on a disorderly conduct charge, said she just wants to graduate from her high school. “It’s not fair,” she said. “Other people have done much worse things than this.” Marty Rosenbluth with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said the government’s 287(g) program wasn’t designed to pick up illegal immigrants like the Diaz sisters. “I appreciate that they are saying they are prioritizing dangerous criminal aliens,” he said. “That is not what we are seeing.” Another one of his clients, Luis Cruz Millan, 30, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, was ordered to report to an immigration officer after being arrested last month for allegedly listening to music too loudly in a car outside the Raleigh house where he was living.

Professor Kevin Johnson, Dean of the University of California Davis Law School, wrote passionately about how this climate of fear and hate has escalated our worst societal demons:

Sadly, it continues to be open season on Latinos — especially Latino immigrants — in the United States. The “sport” of “beaner hopping” is even defined in the Urban Dictionary.  What the heck is going on?  The latest news on this subject to report is a hate crime in Brooklyn, with the poor Mexican victim who was beaten senseless (and now unable to work and support his family) afraid to report the crime to police because of his and his wife’s immigration status. Will the federal government ever act?  How many senseless deaths of Latinos must occur before the Obama Administration condemns what is happening?  The spike in hate crimes against Latinos has long been in the news, as the debate over immigration reform, state and local anti-immigrant agitation, and Lou Dobbs and others have fomented hate..  Where is the U.S. Department of Justice, especially the Civil Rights Division? During the Presidential campaign, we were told by Senator Obama himself that “help was on the way.”  Many of us hoped and believed.  We have been patiently waiting on immigration reform, responses to hate on the streets, etc.  The wait has to end.  What has to be done to trigger a federal response to the daily injustices affecting Latinos in the United States?  Is there anyone out there?

Last week, I attended a meeting of community leaders in Los Angeles, and the issues of 287g agreements and our “enforcement only” policies are impacting communities in ways that surely our leaders never intended. This is a huge issue in the inner cities around the country.

Many misguided people have wrongly assumed that just because our local police have the capacity to arrest people, and jails in which to incarcerate them, that they would naturally be the right people to enforce immigration laws. They couldn’t be more wrong. The whole concept of police departments, is inherent in the motto of the LAPD: To Protect and Serve. How can our police people protect and serve our neighborhoods, when a large percentage of the population fears them, and won’t go to them for protection, because they rightly fear that they would end up being deported for their trouble?

Again, I want to make a plea to our nation, and particularly to our Government, that it is time to assume a full mantle of responsibility and sanity during this debate, and to re-examine our policies and tactics. If we have been trying to show that we can be tough on enforcement, I think that we have made that point, and we don’t need to continue to beat that dead horse. Clearly, at some point in our near future, we will come together in a dialogue aimed at restoring order to this atmosphere of chaos. Until that time, which should be within the next few months, let us put aside the tactics of fear and, what could be labeled an environment of institutionalized terror to our undocumented population of millions. The time for a rational federal – and federal only – policy is now. The time for fear and hate has long since passed.

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