In August, President Obama made perhaps one of the most significant announcements in years regarding a change in U.S. immigration policy. Obama stated that the Department of Homeland Security would begin reviewing all existing deportation cases in the system, targeting for removal only those with criminal backgrounds, and potentially dropping some “low priority” cases against those with strong ties to their communities here in the U.S. and who have no criminal records. Many undocumented individuals in this country looked cautiously optimistic to this policy shift, as DHS officially began the case review process in Baltimore and Denver in early December.
However, months after Obama’s August announcement, the policy shift has been largely met only with derision by immigrants and activists in this country who see it as a cosmetic change that has at best had no measurable affect, and has at worst put most undocumented individuals in this country at a greater risk for deportation than ever.
Despite Obama’s stated intention to focus on limiting deportations to those who pose a criminal danger to this country, the U.S. deported a record 400,000 undocumented individuals in 2011. In addition, DHS expelled a record 46,486 parents of U.S. citizen children, despite pledging to show leniency to those with strong ties to families and communities in this country.
Paradoxically, it has been argued that more noncriminal migrants are being targeted for deportation today than were prior to the announced shift in policy, because immigration authorities have now begun labeling those convicted of immigration related offenses or very minor charges as criminals worthy of deportation.
The Obama administration has also received a great deal of criticism this year for its continued support of the embattled Secure Communities program, which requires state and local police to enforce federal immigration law. Despite continued evidence that Secure Communities not only results in the U.S. Latino population being unfairly subjected to racial profiling and police harassment, but that it also alienates Latino communities from law enforcement, resulting in dangerous conditions for both.
One person in the Obama administration who has in particular received a great deal of criticism in 2011 for her role in supporting the current U.S. immigration policy is immigration advisor and former official working for the National Council of La Raza Cecilia Muñoz. Muñoz, once viewed as an ally of immigrants and activists in this country, is now being targeted by these groups for her unwillingness to stand up against Secure Communities and U.S. deportation policy.
One continued refrain heard over and over again this past year from almost every side of the debate is that the immigration-related problems the U.S. is facing will not be solved through simple cosmetic changes, but rather this country needs real, comprehensive immigration reform if any of these concerns are to be truly and definitively addressed.
This is the third part in a series of pieces revisiting the major immigration and border-related stories of 2011. Read additional parts here: part 1, part 2, part 4, part 5, part 6.