The inhuman decision

There is at least one thing our government does really, really well: coming up with things to scare us with to distract us from the issues we really ought to be concerned about.

There is at least one thing our government does really, really well: coming up with things to scare us with to distract us from the issues we really ought to be concerned about.

The Migration Policy Institute’s Michelle Mittelstadt told Jorge Ramos of that between 2002 and 2008, there was a rise in deportations by 117 percent. Those numbers are still increasing. This past year, there were over 392,000 deportations reported by the Department of Homeland Security.

With Arizona’s strict new immigration laws, new technologies from Homeland Security meant to detect illegal immigrants and the voting down of the DREAM Act in the senate, we are seeing a shift in our government’s priorities.  No longer are we focusing our efforts towards deporting just those immigrants who commit felonies. We are targeting everyone, without regard for their situation, their family, their livelihood or their potential.

In the last couple of years, we have amped up our state and federal laws on immigration in a paranoid frenzy with no real consideration for what we are doing to the lives of fellow human beings. Not only are we fostering an environment of mistrust and suspicion, we are tearing families apart and hindering people from upright and respectable paths.

Last month, Portland resident and college student Hector Lopez was deported with his father to Mexico, from where they illegally immigrated when Lopez was just six weeks old. He grew up in Portland and graduated from Rex Putnam High School, serving as student body president, and continued on to Clackamas Community College. But he now finds himself in a country where he does not speak the language and in which he ahas no wish to be. In Portland, he was a little league coach and a nominee for the national Alexander Hamilton Leadership Award. In Mexico, he has no way to earn an income.

There was a glimmer of hope for Lopez, and the 700,000 students like him who could be eligible for conditional legal residency, with the DREAM Act—which would allow those who entered the country as minors to earn conditional residency here if they graduate from U.S. high schools, are pursuing a degree in college, or serve two years in the military, and who are of “good moral character.” But the DREAM Act was voted down in the senate last week.

Lopez is just one example of too much emphasis being placed on bureaucracy and not enough consideration taken for people’s livelihoods.  

According to a recent article in the Herald Tribune, President Obama has stated he objects to deporting immigrants who do not have criminal records. In a 2008 speech he said that “nursing mothers torn from their babies” would be an example of immigration failure. The article goes on to report that the head of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office, John Morton, “recently directed agents to make it a priority to deport only those immigrants with criminal records.” He even suggested that deportations of some immigrants who were likely to win legal status be cancelled.

But there seems to be some disagreement over what level of crime warrants deportation.

Sarah Mirk reports in the Aug. 26 issue of the Portland Mercury that being charged with a misdemeanor—as minor as skipping out on MAX fare—can get immigrants deported. In the last couple of years, according to Mirk, Portland attorney Sarah Krick has seen at least 20 deportation cases dealing with immigrants arrested for evasion of the $2 fare. It is a recent phenomenon, Krick noted, and is particularly disturbing when you consider that these people probably have families to provide for.

Twenty-one-year-old Wendy Garcia has lived in Sarasota, Fla. under political asylum from Guatemala for more than a decade. But, because of the unstable political relationship between Guatemala and the U.S., her asylum has been revoked and she is currently waiting to hear whether she and her 3-month-old baby will be deported, separating her from her fiancé.

There are for Garcia, like Hector Lopez, extenuating circumstances which need to be taken into consideration. Separating a young mother from her fiancé and a baby from his father does not serve anyone.

There are those who say Homeland Security is not doing enough—that the more illegal immigrants we deport, the better. Their resentment of immigrants is perhaps informed by their own anxiety over the current state of affairs in this country. The economy is not recovering as quickly as we’d hoped. But we must not be too quick to punish respectful, productive people who are in active pursuit of a better life here. There are human rights that are at stake. We must be careful not to direct our fears and anxiety toward those who merely want the same things we want. ?