Going Big in Our Movement for Migrant Justice

President Obama’s recently announced delay in granting Administrative Relief to undocumented migrants in the U.S. has sent many in the migrant rights movement up in arms. His announcement comes just months after he promised “a new effort to fix as much of our immigration system as I can on my own, without Congress” through Executive Action. After promising decisive action on immigration reform for 8 years, immigration policy reform has again been reduced to a political hot potato. A talking point. A litmus test for the liberal or conservative credentials of a political candidate, and little else. blacks4cir2

This is not a new development, indeed, the very creation of the immigration “problem” through the vilification and categorizing of migrants as an underclass and “other” is a mechanism for conservative movement building. The roots of anti-immigrant activism, organized and funded by Jon Tanton and the Koch brothers and allied with White Nationalists to rally a grassroots conservative base, now catered to by the GOP and Tea Party that has deadlocked the House of Representatives from passing any type of immigration reform legislation. Fueled by hate-filled political fear mongering, the anti-immigrant movement galvanizes its base of supporters to staunchly oppose any humane immigration policy and to pass punitive laws such as SB1070 and launch conservative political careers. Indeed, in the Arizona Republican primary for Governor, candidates worked to outpace one another in their zeal to appear tough on “illegals” and appeal to the conservative base.

Progressives, in turn, have been slow to respond. In fact, as we see with President Obama’s record number of deportations and policies such as S-Comm emphasizing enforcement, politicians on the left are complicit in building a machinery that further militarized the border and created “crimmigration”, mounting no real opposition or alternative to the right wing maneuvering of public opinion and resources, and leaving families broken and devastated in the balance.

The grassroots migrant rights movement is fractured and vulnerable to these political games. Instead of a broad based, mult-ethnic coalition fighting for real reform to provide social and economic justice, groups organize in silos and play a game of exclusionary politics. In the negotiations for the bi-partisan Senate bill on immigration passed in 2013, for example “criminal immigrants” were quickly thrown under the bus as ineligible for a pathway to citizenship and the diversity visa that enables many African immigrants to migrate to the US was summarily eliminated. This is ironic, given that it was a multiracial coalition that successfully elected President Obama to the White House in his two historic elections and could wield this considerable power and influence with an inclusive, intersectional agenda.

In the waiting game for executive action, progressive groups should be looking for ways to broaden who is covered in Administrative Relief and push President Obama to truly “Go Big” by making a big ask that will benefit the maximum number of the 11 million undocumented migrants in the U.S. The Black Immigration Network has created a list of priorities for Administrative Relief for Black communities that outline what this looks like for black immigrants. Without decisive, broad action, there is the very real prospect that any relief from enforcement granted to certain segments of the population will further expose those outside of eligibility to increased scrutiny and aggressive enforcement measures.

This presents a very real problem, especially for immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean. Families living in fear, in the shadows and margins of society, are subject to exploitation and oppression. Of particular concern for Black immigrants is the scrutiny of racial and religious profiling by the police, with many departments having the authority to work in cooperation with ICE to detain immigrants due to their non-Citizen status. This affects Black American communities as well; workers fearful of deportation won’t speak out about unpaid wages or unsafe workplaces, lowering wages and labor standards for everyone.

Only Congress can control the categories of immigration and funding of the agencies involved. However, the President may act to modify enforcement priorities, change certain regulations and create programs. President Obama could use his executive authority to create enforcement reform, affirmative relief from deportation, and modify immigration adjudications. By supporting an end to all deportations and adding program adjustments such as Family Reunification Parole for Haitian American Families to their lists of demands, migrant rights groups can signal to the President that relief is not just about garnering votes of one demographic over another, but about making real change that will bring relief to all migrant families. It is time for progressive groups to unite and make big asks in the fight for justice.