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Relief from Deportation Is Important, But Comes at a High Price

By David Bacon


The Obama administration has finally responded to the grassroots movement of marches, demonstrations, civil disobedience, and hunger strikes organized by communities around the country. For six years this movement has demanded an end to the administration's policy of mass deportations.

Relief from deportation for four to five million of the eleven million people who lack legal immigration status is a step in the right direction. But it is only a step. Deportation relief is a stopgap measure. We need permanent solutions so that those receiving deferred status are not vulnerable to a possible Republican administration and Congress that can easily reverse it, putting in danger those people who have come forward.

The plan, however, leaves millions of the other undocumented subject to deportation and to the vastly increased enforcement apparatus this administration and Congress have put in place and plan to continue. Activists will need to fight for the right of all people to real legal status, beyond deferred deportation for some.

The administration is making a tradeoff that many activists reject—increasing enforcement and labor programs as a price our communities must pay for deportation relief for some. More enforcement on the US-Mexico border will mean even more people will die trying to cross, and greater violations of civil and human rights in border communities. We need to demilitarize the border, not to increase its militarization. The US already spends more money on immigration enforcement, including the notorious Operation Streamline kangaroo courts, than all other federal law enforcement programs combined.It is inexcusable to spend even more.

The announcement that the administration will end the Secure Communities program, opposed by advocates and even several state governments, is another good step, but only a small one. It leaves in place the 287(g) program that is the root of local enforcement collaborations with ICE. Even worse, the administration plans to expand the number of privately run prisons for immigrants, and the number of people held in them.

Silicon Valley tech titans have been pushing for more labor programs and work visas to maximize profits by keeping wages to tech workers down. By giving this industry access to more work visas and tying labor programs to deportation relief, the administration is taking a step towards lower wages and undermining the rights of all workers.

The administration has announced it will work with Republicans on negotiating more free trade deals, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Two decades of experience with NAFTA tells us that these deals drive people into poverty, leading to more displacement and global migration, while US jobs are eliminated. We need to end these trade arrangements as part of a sensible immigration policy. We must change US immigration law and trade policy to deal with the basic causes of migration, and to guarantee the human, civil and labor rights of migrants and all working people.


David_BaconAward-winning photojournalist, author, and immigrant rights activist David Bacon spent over twenty years as a labor organizer and is the author most recently of The Right to Stay Home: How US Policy Drives Mexican Migration. Bacon’s previous books include The Children of NAFTA, Communities without Borders, and Illegal People (Beacon, 2008). He is an associate editor at Pacific News Service and writes for the Nation, American Prospect, Progressive, and San Francisco Chronicle, among other publications.