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How Tacoma's immigration protest spawned a national fight

Immigrants at Tacoma's Northwest Detention Center blockaded a bus full of detainees one morning. Soon, they'd sparked protests across the country.

At 6:30 in the morning on February 24, Maru Mora Villalpando and eight other people locked their arms together and formed a human chain across the driveway of the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Wash. A cold rain drizzled down as they stood in the path of a bus departing the facility, which held immigrants being considered for deportation, asylum, or residency. Through the tinted windows of the bus, Maru could just make out the silhouettes of people inside waving, straining to reach their shackled hands above the windowsill.

Both Maru and one of the other activists were undocumented, so by participating they risked not only arrest but also detention and deportation. But they carried out the action anyway, hoping it would make a strong statement against the policies of the Obama Administration, which has deported more than 2 million immigrants—more than any previous government.

As it turned out, their blockade did much more than make a statement. It helped set off a cascade of mobilizations led by undocumented immigrants themselves, who are increasingly going public about their status and taking the lead in the fight for immigrant rights. Their primary concern is the separation of families — for example, between July 2010 and September 2012, more than 200,000 parents were separated from their U.S.-born children through deportation, according to government data obtained by the online magazine Colorlines in December 2012.

On March 7, less than two weeks later, 750 out of the 1,300 detainees held at the Tacoma facility began a hunger strike, directly inspired by the bus blockade, in protest of detention conditions and the Obama Administration's immigration policies.

Next, detainees held at the Joe Corley Detention Center in Conroe, Texas, began their own hunger strike inspired by the one in Tacoma. Detainees at both facilities said they faced retaliation by GEO Group, the private prison corporation contracted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to run the two detention centers.

The protests didn't end there. On March 24, one month after activists locked down in Tacoma, seven members of the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice chained themselves to the doors of the Etowah County Detention Facility in Gadsden. As in the Tacoma action, two of the Alabama activists were undocumented. All seven were arrested that day — and then, a few hours later, released.

“Ironically, being open about not having papers seems to make activists less likely, not more likely, to be targeted by immigration officials and deported,” says Ruth Gomberg-Munoz, an anthropology professor at Loyola University of Chicago who specializes in studying immigration.

She says the newfound political influence of undocumented immigrants “shows how even the most disempowered people can struggle for rights and recognition.”

DREAMers join in

 

Supporters of increased immigration enforcement, along with President Obama himself, often claim that most of those affected by detention and deportation are criminals. But since the 1990s, several amendments to the Immigration and Naturalization Act have greatly expanded the list of deportable offenses to include nonviolent minor crimes. And a recent New York Times analysis of internal government records found that under the Obama administration, “two-thirds of the nearly two million deportation cases involve people who had committed minor infractions, including traffic violations, or had no criminal record at all.” Only 20 percent of those deported had committed serious crimes.

And it's not just undocumented immigrants who can be detained and deported — so can legal permanent residents and refugees seeking asylum.

A number of national campaigns are calling attention to these policies, from Not 1 More Deportation, started by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, to #BringThemHome, an effort spearheaded by the National Immigrant Youth Alliance. The former organizes protests in the United States aimed at pressuring President Obama to end deportations, while the latter challenges the policy through events in which groups of formerly deported immigrants seek re-entry while supporters gather at the border. The week of March 10 saw more than 100 people attempt to return from Mexico to the United States.


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Apr 29, 5:30 a.m. Inappropriate

If only we can ignore our laws and open our borders to anyone who can walk,crawl,fly or swim into the country, we will finally have the kind of country Rachael can be proud of. Why are we bias toward illegal aliens from countries with contiguous borders to the United States? Shouldn't we be actively supporting illegal aliens from Asia/India/Pacific islanders to come here in order to maintain a better ethnic balance? Why should they be discriminated against simply because there is an ocean between us? Let's not forget all of those impoverished, hard working people who are denied the opportunity to be illegal aliens in the United States from Africa and the Middle East as well. They need our support to get here in the name of diversity. If anything we have allowed a disproportionate number of illegal aliens from Mexico, Central and South America and we need to encourage a better ethnic/racial mix of immigration law violators to achieve a more balanced ethnically and racially representative population...right?

If you are going to modify your laws according to lack of compliance, do you really have a society ruled by law? What other laws can we eliminate or ignore and have the President and Congress turn a blind eye? How about an article about those laws?

Cameron

Posted Tue, Apr 29, 8:29 a.m. Inappropriate

If you want to learn more about what undocumented workers go through to get to the US, watch Al Jazeera America's "Borderland." Six Americans meet the families of undocumented immigrants who died trying to reach the US. These Americans include Gary Larsen, an asparagus farmer from Pasco.

Frankly, if we are going to ever do anything about our broken policy, we need to declare a provisional amnesty so we can learn who is in the country and what they are doing. I'm suggesting a provisional amnesty so that people aren't afraid to come forward and so that we can identify those who should be imprisoned and/or deported.

I've lived in Greece and in the US - both have broken immigration systems and in both immigrants die often. The difference is that here the immigrants die out of sight and often mourned only by their families living far away in Mexico and Central America.

As we watch food and other prices rise, we need to remember that we need undocumented workers because documented immigrants and Americans are not willing to work at the wages these workers must accept.

$15/hour for field workers?

Amaliada

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