10/25 – 11/1: Updates on Elections, Bay Area Immigration Policies, and Deportation

3 Nov

What to Watch in the Election:
Tuesday is election day! In addition to the presidential race, several states will decide on significant immigration policies. Some to watch out for: In Maryland, voters will face an initiative similar to the DREAM Act – offering undocumented youth in-state tuition at state universities. A Montana initiative would require immigrants to provide proof of citizenship in order to access state benefits programs. This legislation, like other state laws adding barriers to accessing services, will place unreasonable hardship on immigrants and their families in accessing basic social services. Given the lack of comprehensive immigration policy reform at a national level, states and local governments will continue to pass immigration policies – though some states are working to protect immigrants rights, the trend is overwhelmingly towards punitive immigration policies.

Local Policy Updates:
In the Bay Area, this week brought two positive changes to our local immigration policies. Alameda County joined a small number of counties nationwide that will now explicitly consider deportation in criminal prosecution proceedings. Under this new policy, announced by the County’s District Attorney, prosecutors will consider the threat of deportation when handling low-level non-violent crimes. In addition, the DA modified the guidelines for plea bargains to enable a number of alternative sentences, such as longer jail sentences, rather than mandatory deportation. In the past two years, 1,700 people arrested by Alameda County local police have been deported, only 73% of whom had been convicted of a crime; this is a step in the right direction, but it remains unclear if these modified policies will significantly minimize the risk of deportation for non-violent offenders.

In Berkeley, the City Council passed a policy in which the City will no longer comply with Secure Communities – Berkeley Police “will not honor requests by ICE” to detain individuals that are thought to be undocumented immigrants, in the case that they are no longer being held for criminal proceedings. Berkeley’s new policy is thought to be one of the strongest disavowals of S-Comm nationally, and advocates hope this will facilitate additional jurisdictions passing similar policies in the future.

Supreme Court Case on Deportation:
In 2010, in the Padilla v. Kentucky case, the Supreme Court ruled that immigrants must be told about the possible consequences of pleading guilty – including the risk of deportation. This week, the Court heard a new case – Chaidez v. United States – to determine if the Padilla decision should apply to deportation cases heard prior to 2010. Roselva Chaidez is a lawful permanent resident, she lives with her two children and three grandchildren – all US citizens. In 2007, as part of her application process to become a citizen, she disclosed a prior conviction – her attorney did not advise her at the time about the potential deportation consequences of this disclosure. This case highlights the precarious status of immigrants and their families, and the complicated legal hurdles immigrants must navigate. As we are seeing with the deferred deportation policy, many immigrant youth are afraid to apply out of concerns about the potential future consequences of declaring their undocumented status. The process for gaining rights to residency or citizenship should not put immigrants at risk of deportation.

Pilot Deportation Program:
The Federal government is starting a two-month pilot program it hopes will protect the safety of immigrants deported to Mexico. Under the new program, immigrants will be sent to Mexico City, rather than returned to border towns; the Mexican government will then provide bus fare to return to their hometowns. The pilot is designed in part to protect immigrants who face significant safety concerns when dropped off on the border; however critics feel that this will make it more difficult for immigrants to return to their families. The program does not fully address the significant human rights issues at the center of our current deportation policies – and it will be critical for immigrants rights advocates to monitor this pilot. Having a ‘humanitarian’ deportation program does not justify US deportation policies. However, as deportations will continue it is essential that the US government address the challenges and dangers involved.

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