What Happened to Immigration’s Year of Promise?
Posted December 2015
At this time last year, immigrant communities welcomed 2015 with a palpable sense of hope. President Obama and DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson had recently announced a series of immigration directives in response to stalled immigration reform legislation. The expansion of DACA and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) were designed to lift the corrosive fear of separation hanging over millions of American families by enabling 4 million undocumented immigrants with deep family and community ties in the United States to request a reprieve from deportation and temporary work authorization.
While not a complete solution to our broken immigration system, the legislation represented a critical win for a profoundly marginalized community–not to mention for America’s economy, values, and security.
Fast forward a year, and these promise-filled policies remain shelved. Immediately following the announcement, Republican governors and attorneys general filed a lawsuit effectively blocking the policies from taking effect.
The good news: Every step of the way, Emerson Collective partners have fought political stalling tactics so that the Supreme Court can issue a ruling in 2016 on the programs’ ability to move forward.
This was also the year when undocumented immigrants have come under heavy fire from the GOP’s slate of presidential candidates, all of whom have declared opposition to these executive actions.
And the most recent setback has manifested in the misinformed and politically opportunistic reactions to the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino. Congress is actively attempting to block Syrian and Iraqi refugees from entering the United States; governors have announced intentions to block Syrian refugees from resettling in their states; and GOP candidates have called for tracking all Muslim immigrants. Partners are beginning to respond through advocacy and litigation. In Indiana, the American Civil Liberties Union brought a legal challenge against the governor’s attempts to close their doors to Syrian refugees.
All of these developments send a clear message to immigrants: you are not welcome here. That’s a far cry from the message of inclusion rooted in the DAPA/DACA policies and in stark contrast to our heritage as a nation of immigrants.
But that un-American sentiment has only hardened the resolve of immigrant communities and advocates. Responding to the Central American humanitarian crisis causing families to flee unspeakable violence, a host of organizations, including the Catholic Legal Immigration Network and the American Immigration Council, heroically advocate for the families placed in detention.
Their tireless presence, in addition to advocacy from the Women’s Refugee Commission and others, has already reduced detention time for families—and the effort to end family detention entirely continues thanks to advocates like Emerson Collective fellow Barbara Hines. Beyond detention, our partners have successfully challenged counterproductive immigration enforcement, resulting in a nearly 50% decrease in deportations from a peak a couple of years ago.
Thanks to years of grassroots community building by California Immigrant Policy Center and others, California has developed a package of immigrant-inclusive laws designed to allow undocumented immigrants to thrive as they await federal legislation to give them immigration status.
Meanwhile, attorneys and advocates—including our fellows—work in immigrant communities offering representation and advocacy. For instance, Caroline Kornfield Roberts at the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant represents undocumented immigrants who have fled violence in their home countries to find safety and apply for asylum in the U.S. The staff at KIND represent unaccompanied children at deportation hearings to ensure that these children don't face court alone.
At Emerson Collective, we are profoundly grateful to our partners for their relentless advocacy on behalf of the voiceless and the marginalized among us. We know that the time will come when common sense policies prevail over political gamesmanship. And by continuing to push past obstacles and for the values that define America, we will be ready to seize that moment when it arises.