Democrats' inexcusable delay in deportation relief

As June arrives, millions of children from around the country are taking out their scissors, glue-sticks, and color paper ready to make crafty creations for Father’s Day. Not all will be joyful, however, as some will be without their fathers, many of whom have been deported or in immigration detention. 

Recently, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said President Obama will have to act alone on stemming deportations if the House doesn’t move on immigration by this summer’s end. “We’re willing to wait another six weeks,” said Reid.  Last week, political organizations, like the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the National Immigration Forum, sought to protect the Obama administration by urging a delay in the Department of Homeland Security’s review to reform deportation policies.

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By delaying, these groups, Sen. Reid and Democrats have abdicated their responsibility to fight against arbitrary deportations and a crisis of family separation. This wait is devastating for the millions of families, which include millions of American citizens in mixed-status families, who are affected.

On one side, Republicans are alienating Latino communities by their harsh, at times insulting, anti-immigrant rhetoric, killing any sort of chance to pass immigration reform. On the other side, Obama is deporting more than 1,100 people every day, and is believed to have surpassing two million deportations. About 41 percent of those deported were parents and workers with no prior criminal record. 

With the delay, Democrats and groups are endorsing, between now and Labor Day, around another 97,000 deportations and unnecessary detentions under horrid conditions of fathers and mothers who won’t be with their families. 

Despite any optimism that reform still has a pulse, we cannot ignore the pain of our families. Indeed, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) show no willingness to move on immigration, one saying the president’s decision to delay means nothing and the other campaigning against reform. 

There is a real human cost to the delay: Ardani Rosales last month held Nayla, his seven-month-old daughter, for the first time since he was deported. That day he sang a lullaby in Spanish and finished with “los amo,” staring at his two-year-old son and wife. Despite a judicial order to be released, Ardani is still being held in immigration detention by Immigration Custom and Enforcement (ICE).  

Madina Salaty preserves ordinary moments with Zunaid, her husband. “Four days left,” she says. Now only four days remained before he would be sent off to Bangladesh, a deportation that would upend not just one life but two. Zunaid would be forcibly separated from the United States after 20 years; his wife, an American citizen, would be forcibly separated from her husband.

1,100 people a day. 45 people an hour. One every 80 seconds. Each of those people leaves behind a life: a home, a job, and in many cases, a spouse. And for many, children, often U.S.-born.

We must continue to ensure that DREAMer deportation relief be expanded to other identifiable groups of undocumented immigrants who are low priority with no violent criminal records; revise enforcement priorities and refine prosecutorial discretion to ensure that immigrants who return to be with their families are not deported; and eliminate the Secure Communities programs so that local police will focus their attention on fighting crime and not be burden doing the Federal government’s job. 

As we approach the election season, GOP leaders are well aware of the demographic peril of blocking immigration reform. Similarly, Democrats must be cautious not to take Latinos for granted: a new study has found that when Latinos between 18 and 31 learn about the Obama administration’s two million deportations, they become more negative towards the Democratic party.

The American people expect our leaders in Washington to lead. Real power comes from compelling action from Congress and the president for your community, not condoning inaction. 

In the face of Republican obstruction, Obama and the Democrats must demonstrate that our government can function to solve our country’s pressing problems stemming from a broken immigration system left unchecked for too long. Immediate executive action to halt deportations to ensure families are kept together is the first step to modernizing our system, and it needs to happen now. 

Vargas and Andiola are co-directors of the DREAM Action Coalition and national activists for immigrant communities.

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