Here’s Why Some Immigrant Activists Say Not Even Criminals Should be Deported

Andrea Castiloo, LA Times, May 6, 2017

As President Trump continues to vow to come down hard on illegal immigration, supporters of immigrants find themselves at odds over how much to fight for those whose criminal history is fodder for advocates of harsher and broader crackdowns.

L.A. County became an early flashpoint in the debate after officials — in response to fears of mass deportations — unveiled a $10-million fund to hire lawyers to defend local immigrants without legal status.

Some activists believe that not only should the L.A. Justice Fund help all immigrants but that no one should be deported — not even those convicted of violent crimes.

That position puts them at odds with others — including Democratic politicians in California and many immigrants themselves — who support deporting those convicted of violent and more grave crimes, which was a long-standing policy embraced by President Obama.

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“I don’t think there’s a member of Congress — Republican or Democrat — who believes that if somebody commits an egregious crime, that they shouldn’t be deported,” said Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Los Angeles), the son of Mexican immigrants. “Public safety is a very important issue to all of us.”

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For activists like Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, deportation even of convicted criminals ends up sowing chaos in places with weaker criminal justice systems such as Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. And that, he said, causes more people there, including victims of crime, to flee those countries.

“I’ve been in El Salvador and in Honduras when the planes land with deportees,” Alvarado said. “It’s becoming the penal colony of the United States where criminal dumping is acceptable.”

It’s a position with far more currency among activists than many of the immigrants they advocate for — something evident during the May Day rally Monday that saw thousands of people march to downtown L.A.

While many people carried signs demanding no more deportations, immigrants interviewed expressed reluctance to be lumped in with those convicted of serious crimes. Sitting on a grassy knoll outside City Hall, Rosa Alvarez, 66, said she had no problem with immigrants in the country illegally being deported if they had extensive or serious criminal histories.

“Get rid of the bad ones, I say. Deport the criminals and leave the rest of us alone, the ones who are working and don’t do anything,” Alvarez said.

Nearby, Christian Hernandez, 25, and his mother, Lydia Hernandez, 57, said they came to the march as a way to challenge Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Christian, a beneficiary of the Obama administration’s immigration relief program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, said he and his mother have been in the U.S. since 1998 and have no criminal records. He said immigrants who commit violent crimes make people like him look bad and should be removed.

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For some activists, though, simply getting rid of the “bad” ones is more complicated than it sounds. They point out that the Trump administration has already broadened the definition of “criminal” and also highlight cases of immigrants being detained and deported after minor infractions or after being caught up in raids targeting others.

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Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, believes all deportations should be suspended until the immigration system is reformed.

“We’re deporting people without a single penny to their name into abject poverty or homelessness, many of them back to places they haven’t known,” she said. “These people are products of our society.”

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For many conservatives, there is no debate: Everyone in the country illegally should eventually be deported, they say.

David Ray, communications director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said deportations should be prioritized with criminals at the top of the list. FAIR keeps a running list of serious crimes committed by people who lack legal status.

“The principal of American fairness is based on the fact that nobody is above the law,” Ray said. “If we fail to enforce the immigration laws, then people stop respecting them.”

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California state Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) has introduced a “sanctuary state” bill that would expand policies prohibiting state and local law enforcement agencies from using resources to investigate, interrogate, detain or arrest people for immigration enforcement purposes.

After changes to the bill, federal immigration officials would be notified when felons who have violent or serious convictions are released, and a recent amendment to the bill would require the state parole board or the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to give ICE a 60-day advance notice of the release date of inmates who have been convicted of a serious or violent felony, or those who are serving time for a nonviolent crime but have a prior conviction for violent or serious crimes.

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