NEWS RELEASE / Thursday, January 29, 2009
Immigrant Rights Supporters Urge Obama
To End Raids, Restore Rights
Thousands sign letter to President Obama calling for changes in immigration enforcement in the first 100 days of new Administration (OAKLAND, CA) Immigrant rights supporters are calling on President Barack Obama and his Administration to protect the rights of immigrant workers, families and communities. An "Open Letter" to President Obama, signed by over 3,500 individuals and organizations from nearly all 50 states in the union, urges Obama and his Administration to end immigration raids and suspend all detentions and deportations in the first 100 days of his Administration.
The letter, which is also being shared with key policy-makers, also calls on President Obama to restore immigrants' due process rights and hold field hearings with immigrant communities to learn from them about the impacts they suffer from immigration law enforcement.
"President Obama must stop the cycle of punishment and implement humanitarian policies and practices to uphold the rights of immigrant communities," declared Catherine Tactaquin, Executive Director of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (NNIRR), announcing the delivery of the "Open Letter to President Barack Obama" during a a telephonic media conference on Tuesday.
NNIRR members and partners drafted the open letter as part of a campaign to expose the massive immigration detention and deportation system that the U.S. government has built over the last decade. NNIRR is calling for accountability and other changes to end the abuses.
Ms Tactaquin said, "We are calling on President Obama to take decisive action to end the criminalization of immigrants, de-linking immigration policy from the politics of national security. President Obama moved swiftly to close the notorious Guantanamo prison; we will urge him to also act quickly to end the abuse and trauma that hundreds of thousands of immigrant workers are experiencing in detention centers throughout the United States."
Ending Raids Will Not Be Enough to End Abuses
In fiscal year 2008, the Department of Homeland Security deported 349,041 persons; almost 6,000, or less than two per cent, were detained and deported through immigration work place and other types of raids. However, ICE detains and deports the overwhelming majority of immigrants through different strategies, including collaboration with local police and other public agencies and employers.
"The result of raids and other types of immigration enforcement is the same. ICE enforcement devastates families, undermines our rights and traumatizes communities, disrupting the economy. Ending ICE raids will not be enough; detentions and deportations must be put on hold while the Obama Administration takes action to uphold our rights," Ms. Tactaquin concluded.
NNIRR presented several more speakers who shared their stories exposing the grave injustices caused by immigration enforcement in the interior and the border.
Criminalization of Immigrants, Militarization of Immigration and Border Control
During the media briefing on the open letter to President Obama, NNIRR had several speakers share stories of the devastating effects detention and deportation have on immigrant families.
Susan Gillis spoke about the case of Mr. Rebhy Abdel Malak, an Egyptian man who was brutally beaten by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in an Atlanta detention center to force him to sign away his rights and deport him. Ms. Gillis is advocate working on behalf of Mr. Abdel Malak's family.
Rebhy Abdel Malak came legally to the U.S. ten years ago with his family. He has three children, two who are U.S. citizens, and petitioned for asylum after he and his wife fled religious persecution in Egypt.
Ms. Gillis emphasized, "Mr. Abdel Malak's case points to the humanitarian crisis deepened by a lack of accountability in federal detention centers across the country." Ms. Gillis told how Rebhy Abdel Malak, after errors made by unscrupulous lawyers in his petition, was taken into custody over a year ago and transferred to a remote jail in Alabama, separated from his family in North Carolina. Mr. Abdel Malak is the family's sole breadwinner; his wife and children have been traumatized by his incarceration.
Ms. Gillis urged the immediate release of Mr. Abdel Malak and all immigrants detained for status violations as part of the letter's call to President Obama on immigrant's rights.
Betsy Dewitt with Families for Freedom, an organization in New York advocating with families directly affected by the detention and deportation regime, noted that "At least 15 percent of American families are 'mixed status,' meaning that at least one or more family member is an immigrant." Ms. DeWitt, whose husband was deported over a year ago, echoed the urgency of ending raids and the cruel separation of families caused by detention and deportation.
Ms. DeWitt said that the ongoing criminalization of immigrants - deepened by the 1996 laws such as Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act and the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act - gives no respite to families whose loved ones are being subject to deportation.
President Obama: End Raids, Restore the Rights of Immigrants
"In this era of change, it is vital that we work with the Obama Administration to educate the public and return to American values of family unity and the rule of law. If we can close Guantanamo, we can also close Hutto," Ms. Dewitt emphasized. "T. Don Hutto" is a federal detention facility in Taylor, Texas, used to jail immigrant families, including over 200 children.
Isabel García from the Coalición de Derechos Humanos in Tucson denounced the criminalization of immigrants and spoke out against "Operation Streamline," a strategy implemented at the U.S.-Mexico border to automatically jail migrants. Ms. García said that Streamline has resulted in "criminal convictions of up to 70 persons per day, essentially normalizing violations of the U.S. Constitution en masse." In addition, she urged President Obama and the new administration to "address immigration as a social, humanitarian and economic issue and examine why last year 183 people died a horrific and unnecessary death attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border to reunite with families."
Ms. García closed by saying, "Enforcement measures at the U.S.-Mexico border and in the interior affect us all, immigrants or not. Current immigration policies and laws continue to normalize the deprivation of rights for immigrants."
Immigrant rights groups also announced plans for follow-up work with the "Open Letter" to President Barack Obama and members of Congress when they travel to Washington, D.C. in March. Signators and immigrant rights groups will continue pressing elected officials to take action to end the raids, suspend detentions and deportations, and restore due process before the end of Administration's first 100 days.
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Contac: Catherine Tactaquin, (510) 465-1984 ext. 302
Laura Rivas, (510) 465-1984 ext. 304