The U.S. immigration system is broken and not in line with the nation’s values, said Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO), at an event Wednesday night. GALEO is a nonprofit organization seeking to increase Latino civic engagement.
“We need to have a workable system that moves us forward and upholds our values,” he said.
Addressing a small crowd of mostly Latino students at Kennesaw State University near Atlanta, Gonzalez said a top priority should be keeping families together.
Under the current immigration system “some families have to wait 20 years to be reunited,” he said. “Would you wait 20 years when the only thing separating you from your family is a border?”
Gonzalez said the current system promotes illegal immigration.
“We need to have a system that encourages legal immigration rather than illegal,” he said.
But a recent change in immigration policy may help keep some families with U.S.-born children together. The Department of Homeland Security will refocus its deportation efforts on convicted criminals and foreigners who pose a national security risk, The New York Times reports. The new policy also pushes closing low-priority cases. The move may reduce the number of families split apart when illegal immigrants with U.S.-citizen children are deported, in some cases forcing the children into foster care.
As JJIE reported Monday, at least 5,100 children whose parents are detained or deported are currently in foster care around the United States, according to research by the Applied Research Center (ARC). Previously unreleased federal data obtained by the ARC showed that, between January and June of 2011, the United States carried out more than 46,000 deportations of the parents of U.S.-citizen children. Almost one in four people deported in the last year was the mother or father of an American citizen.
The Obama administration will also retrain immigration enforcement officers and prosecutors in an effort to speed the deportation process and clear a backlogged and overburdened court docket, The Times said.
According to Gonzalez, President Obama has lost the confidence of many in the Latino community because of the high number of deportations during his term in office. According to The Times, Obama has deported nearly 400,000 illegal immigrants in each of his three years as president.
“Obama,” Gonzalez said, “is known among Latinos as the ‘deportation president.’”
Despite a hard-line deportation policy, the Obama administration is fighting back against recent state immigration laws such as those in Arizona, Georgia and Alabama that mandate proof of citizenship or immigration status during many government transactions.
In fact, the U.S. Justice Department is investigating possible civil rights violations in connection with Alabama’s law. A federal appeals court blocked a provision of the legislation last month that mandated public schools determine citizenship of students. The court upheld other parts of the law.
“Alabama’s law is horrendous,” Gonzalez said in his speech Wednesday evening. “It has caused a humanitarian crisis that is unfolding right before our eyes.”
Some state lawmakers in Alabama are beginning to have second thoughts about the legislation, The Times says.
“The longer the bill has been out, the more unintended consequences we have found,” said Slade Blackwell, a Republican Alabama state senator. “All of us realize we need to change it.”
Gonzalez, for his part is calling, for voters to kick out lawmakers responsible for the bills.
“We get the government we deserve whether we engage or not,” he said. “And I believe we will get a better government if we encourage engagement at every level.”