By Elvira Arellano
Editor's Note: Mexican immigrant Elvira Arellano gained international notoriety in 2006 when she sought sanctuary from deportation in a Chicago church. She was eventually deported back to her native Mexico but not before she was named a Person of the Year by Time Magazine in 2006. She has become a noted activist in Mexico for Central American immigrants and a refugee center in Tijuana is named for her. Arellano is back in the United States after being granted a humanitarian visa. She awaits a hearing on her request for asylum.
I am informed through the media that hundreds of federal prisoners now winning early release will be arrested again by ICE and deported. This sad reality just makes clear the contradictory i8mmigration policy which moves to deport anyone with a criminal record.
The early release of thousands of Federal inmates who had been given overly long sentences for drug related crimes comes as the nation is waking up to the reality of this nation’s policy of mass incarceration. Again and again it is being repeated that the U.S. has more people in prison than any other country, that the U.S. has 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s prison population. The nation’s failed war on drugs is responsible for most of the mass incarceration of the African American and Latino community.
I am glad to see that the President and some members of Congress are waking up to this injustice, the latest form of institutional racism in the history of this nation. Yet I cannot help but be angry that the same standard that calls for rehabilitation instead of endless incarceration – and the recognition that many, many inmates are actually innocent, incarcerated because of inadequate legal representation and plea agreements gained through threats of loner sentences – is not applied to the undocumented and many long time legal permanent residents.
We have already seen the injustice of refusing DACA (Deferments for the Dreamers) to anyone who has even one DUI. We suffered for years through the use of racial profiling local police as immigration agents – and in many states we still face this daily assault on our community. New guidelines that protect many of the undocumented only intensify the drive by ICE –and local law enforcement – to round up both undocumented and legal permanent residents and quickly deport them.
Those who are undocumented or legal permanent residents are, first of all, human beings. Human beings make mistakes. Human Beings of color are also often caught up in the criminal justice system even though they are innocent of any crime.
The vicious attack on Mexican immigrants by Donald Trump focused on those with criminal records. He suggested that we are all murderers or rapists. In fact, most immigrants are convicted of the same drug related crimes that the nation now recognizes created a mass incarceration society.
The idea that a non-citizen should be immediately deported if they run afoul of the law is not new. There are three thousand veterans who have been deported after they served in the military, many with family members in the U.S. Other veterans received treatment for PTSD and drug addiction. These three thousand we just deported. You see, even if you fight for this country you are not permitted a mistake.
Our movement is always being asked to accept a line of legitimacy. We were first told to fight for the dreamers but not their parents. Then we were asked to fight for parents with U.S. citizen children but not parents of the dreamers. Now we are being asked to refuse to defend those who were caught up in the war on drugs. We should have learned that we must fight for justice for all of our people.