By Peter Martin
George W. Bush deported two million people during his presidency. Barack Obama deported over two and a half million during his two terms in office, earning the epithet “deporter-in-chief.” The budgets for the US Border Patrol and ICE have nearly doubled in the last ten years, and in 2016 about $20 billion was spent on these agencies. ICE keeps 34,000 people behind bars in detention centers. Our current president has promised to step up enforcement and increase deportations.
I believe these efforts are a serious threat to our civil liberties. Most deportees have families here, and the deportation deprives someone of their father, mother, wife, husband, brother or sister. Often these families that are broken up include American citizens. American citizens are being deprived of their family members on a daily basis by these deportations. If the Constitution of the United States means anything, surely it means that the government cannot deport members of your immediate family, whether or not they are citizens. I believe Americans have a constitutional right not to have their families broken up in this way.
These deportations are counterproductive. Most deportees are working people, often with more than one job. They are paying taxes, and doing jobs that are hard to fill. People are now deported with minimal due process, and often without access to a lawyer. Most deportees are people of color. It is hard to escape the conclusion that the current deportation regime is inhumane and racist.
To take a local example, last November, a Eureka resident, Betty Flores Hijuelos, was deported by ICE, and taken away from her daughter’s family. Flores was 81 years old and suffered from dementia. Because of her disease, it was dangerous for Flores to be separated from her family. ICE did not allow Flores’ family or lawyers to speak with her before putting her on a midnight flight to Mexico City. Although Flores’ family had the resources to fight for, and eventually win her release, many are not so fortunate.
Last week, Centro del Pueblo, a grassroots organization in Humboldt, held a press conference to denounce local law enforcement cooperation with ICE. “We’ve spoken to many families in Fortuna who are so terrified to get caught up in ICE raids, they’re afraid to leave their homes,” said Renee Saucedo, a founding member of Centro del Pueblo. When people are this afraid, they’re less likely to cooperate with law enforcement investigations, report crimes, or become witnesses in criminal cases. This make us all less safe.
There are two things you can do right now to oppose deportations. First, several local groups are circulating a petition asking that local law enforcement be prohibited from co-operating with federal deportation efforts. You can sign the petition at: OurWatchHumboldt.org. Second, there is a bill pending in the California Senate, SB 54, that will get state and local law enforcement out of the deportation business statewide. Call Gov. Jerry Brown at 916-445-2841 and Assistant Majority Leader Assemblyman Jim Cooper at 916-319-2009 and ask them to support SB 54, the California Values Act.
Peter Martin is president of the Redwood Chapter of the ACLU of Northern California and is president of the Humboldt Civil Liberties Defense Fund.