The SAFE Act is not safe for immigrants and their families

DREAMers demanded Congress pass legislation now that affirms the dignity and hard work of immigrants and stops the heartless practice of tearing families apart to meet an arbitrary deportation quota of 400,000 per year—over 1,000 people deported every single day!  The pinnacle of DREAMers’ efforts this August was an unprecedented act of courage in Phoenix.  Leaders from the Arizona Dream Act Coalition and United We Dream chained themselves to the gates of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility and stopped a bus full of people being deported, some for nothing more than a minor traffic violation.

Supporters of humane immigration reform overwhelmingly won the August recess, but as Congress returns to Washington, it seems Congressional leaders are still dragging their heels or pursuing wrong-headed policies.  Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, has touted the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act, misleadingly labeled the SAFE Act, as a way forward on immigration.

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The draconian bill poses a serious threat to the civil rights of the immigrant community by giving local law enforcement unprecedented authorization to enforce immigration law, allowing for indefinite detention and fewer protections for immigrants, and criminalizing the very act of associating with someone who is undocumented. The UnSAFE Act, as it more fittingly should be known, is a veiled attempt at the Arizonification of the entire country and would only lead to more deportations and more family separation while undermining the President’s power to use administrative action to provide relief and protection to our community.  It would harm immigrant youth even if immigration reform were to pass the House, because many in our community would be subject to racial profiling regardless of whether or not we have our papers.

We see firsthand the threats faced by our community and understand the constant fear families live under and the pain they endure when a family member is taken away from them.  Many DREAMers, like United We Dream leader Evelyn Rivera, whose mother was detained and deported after a routine traffic stop more than six years ago, would be further harmed.  Under this legislation, Evelyn’s sister Pam, a U.S. citizen who testified before Goodlatte’s committee in July, could be jailed for simply giving her sister a ride!

As DREAMers, we’re making clear to Congress that we absolutely reject the unSAFE Act as Chairman Goodlatte has proposed and will not support any legislative package the House of Representatives takes up if it includes the unSAFE Act. The consequences would be too dire for our community and our nation.  The unSAFE Act would turn everyday, often unavoidable infractions, like driving while undocumented, into crimes with extreme sentences, only perpetuating the inhumane practice of tearing families apart. All we need to do is look at the negative repercussions of Arizona’s ‘show me your papers’ SB-1070 to know how this will play out.

If Republicans decide to go down this path, they will deal a permanent blow to their party’s chances of rebuilding credibility and regaining support among Latino voters.  The unSAFE Act is a giant step backward when what we need is real immigration reform that stops deportations and family separations while providing a path towards citizenship for the undocumented. Only an accessible path to citizenship will provide the permanent protections our families deserve while giving us all the opportunity to fully contribute to the place we call home.

Polls continually show that an overwhelming majority of Americans support immigration reform with a real path to citizenship and without more out-of-control enforcement.  Congress should create a permanent solution that gives immigrants the opportunity to fulfill their potential and protects them from abuses and deportations.  DREAMers will not accept backwards measures that criminalize immigrants and harm our families and we will continue to pressure Congress to pass reform that reflects the dignity our community deserves and the values that ground our movement.

Congress can expect to see more and more civil disobedience and direct action as the immigrant youth movement ramps up our fight for our families. The time is now for reform that keeps our families together, stops inhumane enforcement, `provides a clear path to citizenship and allows our communities to live free of fear of hateful policies like the unSAFE Act.

 Jimenez is managing director of United We Dream.