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President to seek immigration reform by executive order

By Kevin Milliken, La Prensa Correspondent


July 8, 2014: President Barack Obama’s promise to exercise executive authority to provide immigration reform may come as a relief to many Latinos, their families and friends, especially those caught in the web of deportation proceedings and those who assist them.


But any action cannot come soon enough for those waging battle with the increasing numbers of deportations that are tearing families apart in Ohio, Michigan, and elsewhere.

Baldemar Velásquez, FLOC


In Northwest Ohio, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee and legal aid groups are waging an ongoing battle with the Sandusky-based Border Patrol and have called for the resignation of the regional director of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.


One of the biggest battles being fought in Northwest Ohio is to ensure the due process rights of undocumented immigrants. Baldemar Velásquez, FLOC cofounder and president, stated many undocumented immigrants are too quick to admit their undocumented status when questioned by the authorities—and that honesty only leads to deportation proceedings.


“You have a right to go to immigration court and ask for a stay in your deportation, to stay here and take care of your family and keep working,” he said to a recent gathering. “You’re not robbing banks. You’re not pushing drugs. That is the discretion that our president ordered the immigration people to use.”


But Velásquez pointed out that policy and practice have been two different things in Northern Ohio. Because of that, he is seeking to find common ground with local law enforcement to prevent federal intervention—what he is calling a “proactive” approach with Toledo and Lucas County authorities.


“You can talk philosophically all you want about making Toledo welcoming to immigrants, but underneath all of the talk are all these things that are happening and there’s nothing practical around to address them,” said Velásquez.


Alongside local dialogue, Velásquez and other community organizers are planning to put their long-time experience to work drawing attention to the increasing number of deportations in Ohio and Michigan, starting with an Aug. 8, 2014 march and protest in Detroit. He stated that civil disobedience may be the only answer to long-term reform, both in policy and practice.


“There are some things that may come to that, but we’ll decide that together,” Velásquez said. “The person who needs civil disobedience is that ICE director in Detroit.”


Latino organizations across the country have sounded the alarm about the rising rate of deportations, which they claim is disproportionately affecting Latino immigrants.


The National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA), a coalition of 37 Latino groups across the U.S., released a report this spring that showed:

  • 96.7 percent of all deportations last year—356,303 people in all—were of Latino descent.
  • Over 5.5 million children have a parent who is undocumented, and 4.5 million of those children are U.S. citizens.
  • Between 2010 and 2012, the Obama Administration deported more than 200,000 individuals with U.S. citizen children.


According to the NHLA report, when the Obama Administration reaches two million deportations mark—likely later this year—the number of Latino deportees will equal the populations of Wyoming, Vermont, and North Dakota combined. The entire report can be found online at: latinosunited.org/immigrationreform.

“This administration’s obsession with deportations has had a devastating impact on Latino families and children. Enough is enough,” said Hector Sánchez, NHLA Chair and executive director of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement. “We’re here to call on the president to halt deportations using various forms of prosecutorial discretion. He has the authority to expand affirmative relief.”


Example, as cited by paralegal Phillips

One of the people being defended locally is 48-year old Juan Manuel Gómez of East Toledo, an undocumented immigrant who has been in Northwest Ohio for nearly 25 years and has a family. He now is in danger of being deported because of a recent police stop—in his driveway.

Gómez has worked for the last five years as a forklift operator and was returning from that job last February, when “a police car coming the opposite direction turned around and followed him home.” Gómez further said he went back outside to get his lunch box and was questioned by the police officer, who also asked to see his driver’s license.

According to Carolina (Aguilera) Phillips, a paralegal for a Columbus-based immigration attorney, Gómez had let his Ohio driver’s license lapse and because of changes in recent years to state law, is now unable to obtain a valid license.

“My first question was ‘what’s wrong?’ and he told me to shut up or I would be in trouble,” Gómez recalled.

Ms. Phillips stated that the Border Patrol was called, Sr. Gómez was handcuffed just outside his home, and forced to wait for federal immigration agents to arrive. Sr. Gómez was issued two traffic citations—one for a lack of a driver’s license and a second because he had objects hanging from his rear-view mirror.

“He wants to get his license again—and if he could, he would,” said Ms. Phillips.

Gomez was transported more than 50 miles from his home to the Seneca County Jail in Tiffin, where inmates are commonly held for deportation proceedings. Ms. Phillips explained that because he had no criminal history, he was allowed to post a $5,000 bond.

His case is now winding its way through immigration court, which can be a slow and cumbersome process. Ms. Phillips explained that efforts are underway to get Gómez a work permit before his next federal hearing.


Renewed debate

The antediluvian immigration debate was additionally triggered by the recent influx—52,000 and counting—of immigrant children to the southern U.S. border, mainly from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. It is not as easy to send those unaccompanied minors back to their countries as it is undocumented Mexican immigrants. As a result, Border Patrol facilities from California to Texas have been taxed to their limits with children.

President Obama’s declaration in late June to seek more executive authority to handle the crisis comes in the wake of a Republican threat to sue the administration over what it terms an excessive use of presidential power. The House GOP leadership has refused to call for a vote on an immigration reform bill that passed the U.S. Senate about a year ago.

Such continued political gridlock, analysts contend, effectively means that any broad-based change in immigration policy is dead for the year—and possibly for Obama’s remaining term in office. Changing immigration laws and providing a path to citizenship for about 11 million undocumented immigrants has been one of the president’s top priorities in his second term,...according to President Obama. 

President Obama has directed his Homeland Security Secretary and Attorney General to move available resources to the southern U.S. border and to “identify additional actions” he can take on his own to address immigration reform without Congressional action. Such feedback is due to the president’s desk by the end of the summer.

With no federal immigration reform in sight, the situation facing the undocumented then, by default, becomes a local issue. So community organizers such as Velásquez and Ramón Pérez are turning toward strength in numbers to force proactive change. Ironically, Velásquez admitted it’s his first attempt to build a grassroots, Toledo-based group in 47 years of community organizing.

“FLOC has built permanent presence in the migrant camps of Ohio and North Carolina, and so we’re going to build a permanent presence for the Latinos in the city of Toledo,” he said.

Editor’s Note: President Obama has asked Congress for emergency spending of $3.7 billion to deal with the crisis of unaccompanied child migrants from Central America streaming into the United States, but for now he won't seek legal changes to send the children back home more quickly.

Copyright © 1989 to 2014 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 07/18/14 17:51:19 -0700.




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