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Speak out for Immigrants faced with Deportation

May 26, 2011

By Marianne Comfort, Institute Justice Team

The stories of immigrants facing deportation tugged at my heartstrings.

Manuela came to the U.S. more than 12 years ago to escape poverty in Mexico. She has six children, four of them American citizens, and one U.S.-born grandchild whom she has raised since birth. Immigration enforcement agents invaded her home in Ohio in 2007, looking for someone who had never lived there. Her husband, sister and two older sons (aged 14 and 11 at the time) were arrested and taken to court.

Prior to that, they had never been in trouble with the law and were active in the local community. Her husband was deported last November, and she and her two older sons were told to report to immigration enforcement officers on May 17 for the next step in deportation proceedings. I had to wonder: if she was forced to return to Mexico, would she bring her four younger children and grandchild, who have much better opportunities for education and a future here? Or would she leave them here to live as orphans?

Then there’s Cristian, who had fled El Salvador as a young boy with his parents and sister amidst the post-civil war violence, during which time his father had been kidnapped twice. Cristian is now 21, a high school graduate and a student at a college in Texas. He has held stable jobs and volunteers at a church youth ministry program. Last year, Cristian was caught driving with a registration sticker that had expired two days before. Since he had missed a court date for a previous traffic violation, he was arrested and turned over to federal immigration officials. He now faces a deportation order against him and his family.

Fortunately, there’s a way I could move beyond empathy and concern to actually speak out on Manuela’s and Cristian’s behalf.

Realizing that the goal of comprehensive immigration reform, which would create a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, is highly unlikely in Congress in the next couple of years, the Interfaith Immigration Coalition (IIC) has started the Let My People Stay campaign. Each month, the IIC website will highlight the story of an immigrant who faces deportation and provide an easy way to contact President Obama and Janet Napolitano, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), urging them to defer deportation orders on behalf of the immigrant who is at risk of deportation. Residents of the state in which the immigrant lives can also contact their U.S. senators about the case.

President Obama spoke earlier this month in Texas about his commitment to immigration reform legislation, which depends on passage by Congress. His administration does have authority of its own, however, to defer removal proceedings against undocumented immigrants. The DHS mandate is to prioritize the deportation of immigrants who pose the greatest threats against the security of the U.S., a category that clearly doesn’t include Manuela or Cristian.

The good news is that, because of an outpouring of support, Manuela, her two oldest sons and her sister, who helps care for the children, were granted one-year deferred action on deportation orders.

I’m hoping that sending letters to President Obama and Secretary Napolitano will have a similar outcome for Cristian. And for the highlighted case next month, and the case the month after, and beyond.

You can join in this campaign by checking the IIC website each month to get information on the highlighted immigrant and to contact President Obama and Secretary Napolitano and, if appropriate, your senators.

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