February 21, 2014

Editorial

The cruelty of U.S. deportations

In November of 2012 Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration, noted what was then “the unprecedented bipartisan support for comprehensive immigration reform.” Unfortunately, that support has dissipated. Reform now seems as elusive as ever.

Archbishop Gomez said at the time, “For decades, the U.S. Catholic bishops have advocated for a just and humane reform of our nation’s immigration system. We have witnessed the family separation, exploitation, and the loss of life caused by the current system. Millions of persons remain in the shadows, without legal protection and marginalized from society. As a moral matter, this suffering must end.”

Those who oppose reforming our immigration laws argue that the first priority must be to secure our borders from illegal entry. It’s as if they don’t know what has been happening lately.

The Feb. 8 issue of The Economist spells it out: “America is expelling illegal immigrants at nine times the rate of 20 years ago; nearly 2 million so far under [President] Barack Obama, easily outpacing any previous president. Border patrol agents no longer just patrol the border; they scour the country for illegals to eject. The deportation machine costs more than all other areas of federal criminal law-enforcement combined. It tears families apart and impoverishes America.”

Last year, 369,000 undocumented migrants were expelled. Of those, 235,000 were caught trying to cross the border into the United States while 134,000 were picked up well within the interior of the country, where most of them have lived a long time, work and have families.

While the deportations are going on, it should be noted that, for the past couple of years, more people are leaving the country than are entering. That has a lot to do with the United States’ economy during recent years, but also by the fact that it has become more difficult to cross the border.

And those who are being deported? The Economist reports, “They are flown down to the Mexican border by the planeload, and then released across the bridge at night. Many have no papers. Some have no money. A few have lived so many years in the United States that they cannot even speak Spanish. All have wives, children or friends that they have left behind, yet they have been thrown out without so much as a change of clothes.”

The article in The Economist says that the number of people being deported is determined largely by the number of beds available in detention centers. Each year, Congress mandates funding for a certain number of beds for immigrant detention. In 2013, that number was 34,000. The average length of stay before deportation is about a month, and then another group arrives.

From the detention centers, the deportees are put on planes. During 2013, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) flew 44 charter flights a week, and it runs a daily flight to take people to Central America.

We recognize that the reaction of many Americans to all this is, “Wonderful! That’s what should be happening to people who come here illegally.” But is this really how the United States should be treating people who were so desperate to find work to support their families that they risked their very lives to come to this country?

While here, those deportees worked at jobs the native-born shunned, paid taxes, and raised families. In many parts of the country, farms, hotels and restaurants depend on them.

Whatever happened to the sentiments inscribed on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore”? That’s how most of our ancestors were welcomed before restrictions were put on immigration with quotas for Latinos so small that it’s nearly impossible for them to enter legally.

Even with so many deportations, it’s recognized that we can’t deport 11.7 million undocumented people. We must find a way to allow them to stay legally unless they commit violent crimes.

It was originally thought that that could happen this year, but as of now the bills in Congress don’t seem to be going anywhere.

And that’s a shame.

—John F. Fink

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