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  • Writer's pictureCenter for Immigrant Progress

Racializing Immigration Panel: Targeting And Criminalization Of Latino Communities In The U.S.

Our Director of Strategy, Dulce Dominguez, moderated a panel for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) this past month. Dulce is this year’s Social Equity Graduate Fellow at CHCI, a Hispanic nonprofit and nonpartisan 501 leadership development organization. The panel titled Racializing Immigration: The Targeting And Criminalization Of Latino Communities In The U.S. included Oscar Chacón from Alianza Americas, Angela S. Garcia Ph.D., from the University of Chicago, and Maggie Loredo from Otros Dreams en Accion.

Starting with the history of discrimination in immigration policy, Oscar Chacón reminds us of the mexicanization of immigrants that began in the 1970s and how before this time Mexican immigrants were still considered white. The changes in immigration policy in the 70s and 80s were fueled by the idea of criminalizing the undesirable population from the perspective of the dominant culture. This was further enforced in 1996 when the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRAIRA) authorized the federal government to enter into an agreement with state and local officers to allow them to perform the functions of immigration officers. Now bringing the fear to the front door of communities everywhere in the US. This immigration policy primarily affected Latin American immigrants who were now being detained, deported, and demonized.

It is disappointing to see how the mistreatment of immigrants who are not white or wealthy continues to this day. Dr. Garcia talked about more recent policies that reflect the same idea of criminalizing immigration like 287g and Secure Communities. Section 287g of IIRAIRA was mostly ignored until 9/11 and became more active after. It authorizes the Department of Homeland Security to deputize selected state and local law enforcement officers to enforce federal immigration law. Following its implementation, the Justice Department has found departments in the 287 g program using their authority to commit a pattern of constitutional violations and discriminatory policing like; checkpoints at entrances to Latino neighborhoods, arresting Latinos for traffic violations, and performing sweeps where Latinos were illegally racially profiled. Secure Communities was suspended in 2014 but revived under the Trump administration. It is a DHS program designed to identify immigrants in U.S. jails who are deportable under immigration law. Participating jails submit arrestees’ fingerprints not only to criminal databases but to immigration databases as well, allowing ICE access to information on individuals held in jails. These two programs helped drive the number of deportations up and merged the immigrant and criminal justice systems.

Maggie Loredo shared how these policies are affecting real people, like herself, who have been deported or forced to self-deport to Latin American countries. Her organization Otros Dreams en Accion is dedicated to mutual support and political action by and for those who grew up in the United States and are now in Mexico due to deportation, deportation of a family member, or threat of deportation. They are continuing to fight for mobility but discriminatory immigration policies still affect them after deportation. When applying for a visa, for example, decisions are made by discretion and biases can get in the way of fair decision making. The current narrative of good vs bad immigrants that we see in the US is present and affects applicants before they even step into an interview.

In closing, the panelists shared a few takeaways for the audience.

Dr. Garcia said, “The most important thing that we can think about doing is pushing for broad comprehensive immigration reform and not shy away from a legalization program that is unburdened by the cost, a gauntlet of paperwork and administrative burden and time. The average undocumented person in the United States is 39 years old, if we make them wait 8-10 years on a pathway to citizenship we’re looking at people entering into late middle life and older life. It doesn't make any sense and if we’re gonna move forward in a way that is thinking about offering people full legal recognition which for me is a full affirmation of their humanity we need to do that quickly and in a way that puts in the back burner administrative burden and puts in the front burner this idea of administrative justice or how can we make this happen as quickly as possible to account for the time that has been stolen from undocumented communities who lived in undocumented status for so long.”

Oscar Chacón said, “Mexicanas and Mexicanos, Salvadoreñas and Salvadoreños, Central Americans in general, and Black immigrants are incredibly beautiful people that should indeed get the respect and dignity that they deserve.”

Maggie Loredo said, “I would want people to leave with this idea of looking more at what’s happening after deportation, the southern border, and in other countries… Questioning and figuring out how you can get involved… in your role as a US citizen, congressional officer, organization, or family affected by deportation.”

Dulce Dominguez also highlighted a few recommendations for policymakers and advocates to help push for structural change that includes:

  1. Implement accountability mechanisms to hold ICE and CBP agents accountable for patterns of racial profiling and constitutional violations.

  2. Repeal section 1325 of the INA to return to the pre-1996 wording of the act which defined crossing the border without authorization as a civil offense and was enforced through administrative or legal proceedings as opposed to a federal crime.

  3. End the 287g program and prohibit the cooperation of local law enforcement with the Department of Homeland Security.

This panel was very helpful in understanding how we arrived at the immigration policies we have today and how the dehumanizing of Latino immigrants began. There is so much more about the panel that we would love to cover in this blog but we highly recommend you watch the panelist’s conversation for yourself. Follow this link to watch the panel!

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