From AFSC partner, Aarti Shahani of Familes for Freedom
On April 24th, the first day that the Senate returned to the heated immigration debate that has galvanized America, hundreds of families from across the country who have been devastated by deportation gathered on the West Lawn of the US Capitol at 2:30pm to protest immigration laws passed exactly ten years ago. AFSC was among the organizations that participated.
On April 24, 1996, one year after Gulf War veteran Timothy McVeigh bombed the Oklahoma City Federal Building, Congress passed the Anti-terrorism & Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) – a sweeping anti-immigrant bill that radically transformed the US immigration system, subjecting whole classes of immigrants and their families to a system of mandatory detention and mandatory deportation. Since AEDPA was passed, nearly 1.5 million immigrants have been deported and immigrants have become the fastest growing segment of the domestic prison population.
“We’re here to tell Congress that if they really believe in family values, they should not support laws that make it easier to tear families apart,” said Carol McDonald, a member of New York-based Families for Freedom. Like others in the crowd, McDonald is a US citizen and is now struggling as a single mother since her husband’s detention. Her husband Linden has been in mandatory detention since October 2003. Even though he served less than two weeks in jail for smoking marijuana, the 1996 laws denied him the right to a bond hearing before a judge.
Rally participants – who came from California, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Washington – cautioned Congress to not repeat past mistakes. The Senate and House bills are consistently pro-deportation bills. The House bill proposes to turn unlawful presence from a civil violation into a federal felony, instantaneously criminalizing millions of people. The Senate bill, widely hailed as compromise legislation, would increase the number of immigrants subject to deportation. For example, mere suspicion that a non-citizen has ever been involved in “gang activity” could subject him or her to deportation.
Maura Ortiz, a member of California-based Homies Unidos, said, “Deportation is double jeopardy—any mistake an immigrant has ever made could later end up destroying years spent building a life and thriving as a valuable community member.”
The families who converged in the Capitol are seeking not just to prevent the laws from worsening, but also to fix the current immigration system. Their only glimmer of hope came on March 28th when, one day after the Senate Judiciary passed its proposal, US Representative Jose Serrano introduced HR 5035, “The Child Citizen Protection Act” in the House of Representatives. Serrano described the bill as “common sense legislation” to restore limited discretion to immigration judges where the exile of an immigrant parent is clearly against the best interests of a United States citizen child.
One child who would benefit from the act is Bronx teenager Julio Beltre. “I saw immigration agents come to my home with guns to take my dad away at dawn. I want him back. And I want us to stop deportation now.”
FAMILIES VALUES: Brief on Detention, Deportation and Comprehensive Immigration Reform
Available at http://familiesforfreedom.org/downloads/April24NationwideFamilies.pdf