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Risks and Lies in Obama’s “Deferred Action for Undocumented Youth”
“Defer the Bullshit” is our ongoing effort to resist the propaganda around the Obama Administration’s new Deferred Action campaign for undocumented youth. While some youth *may* have a chance at relief, Deferred Action is at best insufficient, and at worst misleading, dangerous and deliberately deceptive. They call it a relief program – we call it an enforcement campaign. As always, Mr Obama is using immigrants as guinea pigs for his own political gains. “DEFER THE BULLSHIT” It is an effort to combat misinformation, dispel the myths – and to demand Mr. Obama use his executive powers for real solutions.
President Obama has advertised a new campaign supposedly granting relief to undocumented youth who meet certain criteria. But Homeland Security documents clearly state: even people who meet all the criteria may be rejected and turned over to I.C.E. There is no guarantee they will be granted any kind of relief, and the government will be able to initiate deportation proceedings against them, or their families, at any time. In addition, even if granted, Deferred Action does not represent a legal status or safety from deportation. It simply meas the government may temporarily postpone efforts to remove you.
Undocumented people have been living under conditions of constant terror imposed by this regime’s deportation policies. Any initiative that seems to offer some relief is understandably greeted with great hope. But this campaign promises nothing more than a chance that maybe the government will postpone its efforts to deport you – while exposing you to extreme risks, including the risk of deportation simply for applying! While Deferred Action this may be a good option for people already in custody, it is incredibly cynical to bait young people who are not yet in custody and are therefore not subject to deportation in the first place.
Mr Obama, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) and Congressman Luis Gutierrez have been misleading the public about the benefits and risks of Deferred Action for youth. ICIRR Chief Executive Officer Lawrence Benito stated “We encourage every undocumented youth who fits the criteria to take advantage of this great opportunity to come out of the shadows by applying for deferred action.” We consider it irresponsible to encourage people to apply without appropriately analyzing the risks involved. ICIRR has also stated that undocumented youth would be “free from deportation”. This statement is false: deferred action offers no protection from deportation. ICIRR and Congressman Luis Gutierrez have been recruiting people into a dangerous and uncertain situation for their own political gains.
The document at the root of all the hype is a memo released by Janet Napolitano, addressed to three branches of the Department of Homeland Security. While there has been much propaganda around this new campaign, it is clear this memo is not about justice, it is about enforcement. Further, a Memo is not a law, it is not a pardon or an executive order. And it offers no guarantees. It is a set of instructions from the DHS boss to the people who work in agencies under her command. It outlines a set of criteria for how Prosecutorial Discretion should be applied.
Prosecutorial Discretion has been used in the immigration system for 30 years, and is fundamental to the criminal justice system as well. It allows the authorities to decide on a case-by-case basis how, and if, to enforce laws against people. Discretion can be applied in your favor or against you; it is not based on laws, accountability or rights, but on administrative “priorities” set by different agencies at different times. In the US, this has lead to unchecked powers for prosecutors, police and ICE agents, who act with impunity against poor people, immigrants and people of color.
The new memo outlines a set of priorities in order to better enforce immigration laws through Prosecutorial Discretion. Obama has fashioned himself as the “tough on immigration” president, setting deportation quotas that put pressure or every agency, and every part of the system, to make as many people as possible subject to deportation. But the courts are backlogged, the system is clearly failing and DHS is unable to meet its own quotas. Instead of using his executive powers to provide real relief, Obama is finding “innovative” solutions based in “efficiency” and disinformation. The propaganda encourages youth who have not yet been detained, and who are not yet in custody, to turn themselves in to Homeland security – in exchange for the possibility that Prosecutorial Discretion may be used in their favor and they may be granted Deferred Action. But DHS documents reveal that even those who meet all the criteria may be turned over to ICE, and deportation proceedings may be initiated against them at any time. Furthermore, Deferred Action offers no protection from deportation. Defer means to postpone, Action refers to any action initiated by the government with the purpose of deporting someone. So Deferred Action, even if granted, means simply this: the government will temporarily postpone efforts to deport you. It does not represent status or safety from deportation; and DHS decisions are final with no possibility of appeal.
While falsely promising *maybe* relief for some, the new Obama campaign is expanding enforcement in several significant ways:
Making more and more people deportable. Baiting youth to turn themselves over to Homeland Security makes more people subject to deportation. This is not only about the risks faced by these youth, who may be deported as a result of applying. We understand that criminalizing immigrants is not really about deporting 12 million people, but about making entire populations deportable, and therefore exploitable.
Reinforcing the good immigrant vs bad immigrant divide. This campaign promises “maybe” rewards for those deemed by the administration to be like “good Americans” while pushing for more enforcement against all others, who are by default more likely to be categorized as “bad immigrants”.
Expanding criminalization. The new campaign introduces the notion of “significant misdemeanor”, which is a new and very fuzzy category of crime. We have seen the tendency to expand and make more flexible what constitutes a “criminal alien” for deportation purposes. Every time new language is introduced to “invent” new crime categories, this represents an expansion of criminalization that affects all immigrants
Social justice movements are buying into the hype and are turning their focus away from demanding real solutions. We are supposed to believe this is a victory and to become facilitators of Obama’s campaign. Just as undocumented youth are “put to work” as unwaged ICE agents in apprehending themselves, social justice advocates and organizers are put to work as recruiters for Homeland Security.
Our eyes off the prize: keeping us focused on case-by-case solutions pushes demands for justice for all further and further into the background.
We will not be so easily duped. We refuse to be satisfied with case-by-case solutions. Our demands continue to be: justice for all!
No Name Collective
Moratorium On Deportations Campaign (MDC)
Jose Herrera 773-632-9992 (Spanish/English)
Rozalinda Borcila 813-789-0123 (English)