Washington, D.C. (August 19, 2011) — The Obama administration last week announced that the Department of Homeland Security, with the Department of Justice, would review the deportation caseload and use discretion to prioritize deporting people who have been convicted of crimes or pose a security risk, while clearing out low priority cases.
The Southeast Asia Resource Action Center welcomes this effort by the administration to use its authority to provide relief for some. However, this policy does not do enough to relieve the burden for many immigrant families facing deportation. In fact, while some community members will benefit from this policy, many will become even more targeted for deportation.
“We agree that the President and his administration have a responsibility to enforce existing laws, but the blanket deportation of any group, including people with criminal histories, is neither responsible nor effective,” stated Doua Thor, executive director of SEARAC. “This policy continues to undercut our American values of justice, where people who have criminal histories, no matter how minor, are subject to mandatory deportation without consideration of their circumstances — including whether they have already served their time, how long ago, and how reformed they are, or the fact that they arrived as refugees with long term legal permanent resident status.”
Such blanket policies deport people who are an asset to our communities, like Sam (not his real name). At the age of nine, Sam and his mother were resettled in the U.S. as refugees fleeing persecution in Cambodia. He grew up in an impoverished neighborhood in Philadelphia, where at the age of 21, he was involved in a neighborhood fight resulting in a conviction that made him deportable.
After serving his time, Sam turned his life around. He started his own thriving small business as a barber and became a role model and advocate for youth in his community.
Sam was determined to ensure that other struggling youth would not end up in prison has he had. Yet, after seven years of proving how valuable he is to his family and community, he was deported to a country he barely remembers, and faces indefinite separation from his U.S. citizen children and wife.
Immigration enforcement is a civil — not criminal — matter, and discretion must be applied to all cases. SEARAC applauds the administration’s recent efforts to provide discretion for some, but continues to urge the administration and Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform that ensures due process, proportionality, and judicial discretion.
SEARAC is a national organization that advances the interests of Cambodian, Laotian, and Vietnamese Americans by empowering communities through advocacy, leadership development, and capacity building to create a socially just and equitable society. www.searac.org