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The Winds of Change

Por Mariel Fiori
May 2013
 We began this year with unfortunate news: the United States spends more money on immigration enforcement than it does on all other principal federal criminal law enforcement agencies combined; that includes the FBI, the DEA, the Secret Service, and all of the national police. Specifically, that means that nearly $18 billion dollars went to the CBP (Customs and Border Protection), ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), and the DHS (Department of Homeland Security). If that wasn’t enough, in 2011 around 430,000 people were put into the immigration detention system, with a similar number in 2012 (the majority of these people were then deported). Knowing that about half of these detention centers are owned and maintained by private companies, for many: immigrant detention is just good business. Thus it seems ironic, simply based on the budget allocations, that hunting for undocumented immigrants has been the number one priority of the government.

The extremely high rates of the detention and deportation of immigrants (many times without any criminal charge, which eliminates their right to a lawyer as well as a trial) have been possible thanks to another harmful program: Secure Communities (S-Comm). This program has disproportionately detained and deported more Hispanics (75% of the total deported were Mexicans) than any other group, giving its actions highly racist undertones. But many, many voices have spoken out against this program, in requests, calls, and lawsuits by the same counties that are expected to follow the rules of S-Comm.

A slight change in the wind occurred recently when John Morton, ICE Director, explained the changes in the detainer policy regarding the detention orders of the people arrested by local police. Morton expressed that from now on, they will only issue a detainer against an alleged undocumented immigrant if the person has a prior felony conviction or has been charged with a felony offense, or the person has three or more prior misdemeanor convictions, or if they already have an outstanding order of removal, among other reasons. These are parameters slightly more fair than those they have been using since 2008 (when the program began), and in some ways this is a victory, a partial but important one, against the S-Comm program.

The winds of change are blowing throughout the country and are altering people’s mindsets, most likely motivated by the reality of the late presidential elections. 71% of Hispanics voted for Obama, and we know it too, and it is now time for him to finally fulfill his promise for comprehensive and comprehensive immigration reform. And not only in Congress and the White House have they noticed the demographic changes; various news agencies such as the Associated Press or USA Today have decided that no human being is illegal, and that the overuse of the phrase “illegal alien” or “illegal” to refer to immigrants who do not have the permission to be in this country is incorrect. The New York Times may reach a similar decision. In La Voz we never use the word illegal to refer to anyone, because it is pejorative.

Returning again to politics. On April 17th a group of eight senators revealed their plan for bipartisan migration reform that would give legal status to 11 million undocumented immigrants, although the path to citizenship would be significantly long (13 years for the majority, in addition to other inconvenient requirements). Of course it is better than nothing, though nothing is what we have at this moment: there is still no new immigration reform law. If it were not for many years of work dedicated by people and groups based all over the country and in our own Hudson Valley, to community organization, to voter registration and to awareness campaigns, we would not even have this bill.

The path for this bill to become law is still very long. It is going to pass to the House of Representatives (the majority being Republican) and will be subject to long discussions and changes (some for the better, others not), before it can be approved as law and signed by the president. Some experts have already said that until next year there will not be immigration reform. Others, such as The New Yorkers for Real Immigration Reform Campaign (a coalition of more than 150 groups throughout the state under the umbrella of the NYIC,, say that now is the moment to continue fighting, to not put down your arms, to talk to our representatives and make them know that we have a voice and that our vote counts.

The winds of change are blowing for the more or less 16 million immigrant families that have undocumented members. Millions of people still live with the fear of being arrested for any minor infraction, to later be deported and separated from their families and children. We still hear cases like this. I have hope that one day there will be immigration reform, but knowing how hard it has been till now, it will not be easy to achieve it. We need to inform ourselves and participate in the civic process to make our voices heard. Then there will be a change, and we will be able to say that we were the strong wind that made that change possible.

Mariel Fiori

Managing Editor

LA VOZ, Cultura y noticias hispanas del Valle de Hudson

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La Voz, Cultura y noticias hispanas del Valle de Hudson



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