A collective statement from 1Love Movement, Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), Families for Freedom, and Immigrant Defense Project.
As a network of grassroots organizations with over two decades of work specifically at the intersection of criminal justice and immigration, we seek to end the War on Crime and the War on Immigrants. To start, we need to de-criminalize the immigration system by repealing the 1996 laws.
Since the nation’s inception, immigration policies have been used to maintain white supremacy, stifle dissent, and as a social control tool, silencing alternative voices seeking social, economic, and racial justice and equality.
The 1990s brought us a wave of laws which pulled the rug out from under the advances made by people of color in the U.S., including immigrants, during the Civil Rights movement. As part of this attack on Black and Brown communities, Congress passed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (“the 1994 Crime Bill”), which re-classified less serious offenses, including drug offenses, as federal felonies, created long mandatory sentences, required state sex offender registries, and provided for $9.7 billion dollars in funding for prisons along with 100,000 new police officers on the street.
Fresh off the 1994 Crime Bill, Congress passed the “1996 Immigration Laws”. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (“IIR-IRA”) and Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (“AEDPA”), expanded the grounds for deportation by broadening the definition of “aggravated felony,” which was first defined in the 1988 Anti-Drug Abuse Act; establishing harsh sentences for numerous offenses and classes of mandatory detention; stripping away judicial discretion and the right to due process; and retroactively punishing those who already served time for their offenses. These laws also created a perverse incentive for local and federal law enforcement agencies to criminalize communities of color and created the private prison contracting sector.
As a result of these laws passed twenty years ago, and a political climate that marginalizes and promotes state violence against immigrant, Black, Brown, and poor communities, the number of immigrants deported has increased ten-fold, tearing apart millions of families. Moreover, the U.S. mass incarceration and immigrant detention and deportation systems have become the largest in the world.
Immigration Policing Goes Nuclear
Since 1996, and particularly since the founding of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2003, the U.S. has made massive investments in the surveillance, policing, prosecution, imprisonment, and exile of both U.S. residents and migrants, resulting in the forced removal of millions. The Obama and Bush administrations have together deported more than 5 million people - close to double the number deported by all previous presidents combined. Congress currently mandates the maintenance of 34,000 prison beds.
The merger of the War on Crime, the War on Immigrants, and the War on Terror, compounds injustices of racist policing and the criminal legal system, and created a perfect political scapegoat - the “criminal alien”. We have been living in a constant “state of emergency” in which the government, bolstered politically and ideologically by the War on Terror, has named and targeted immigrants with convictions as a main threat to national security--fueling criminalization and undermining the goals of other struggles against policing and mass imprisonment. The government’s aggressive push to identify and deport people with criminal convictions has increasingly engaged local police in deportation. The government has also vastly expanded its prosecution of immigration-related offenses - now almost equal to those for drug offenses.
These laws and policies targeting low-income immigrants and communities of color are funneling people into oppressive systems and working as a form of social control. To end the marginalization of our communities, we must continue to mobilize around transformative demands that will dismantle systems of oppression in the U.S., including the deportation system.
Fighting Back and Looking Forward
Since the passage of the 1994 Crime Bill and the 1996 immigration laws, we have been fighting back to end the criminalization, mass incarceration and deportation of communities of color. During the post 9/11 era, we rose up and organized against raids in Muslim, Arab, South Asian, and Sikh communities. In 2006, millions of activists in the US mobilized against HR 4437, “the Sensenbrenner bill,” that would have elevated the criminal status of undocumented migrants and those who helped them to felonies. We also mobilized against laws like SB 1070 (also known as the “Show Me Your Papers” provision) - a 2010 Arizona law signed by Governor Jan Brewer that allowed local police to ask for the immigration status of someone arrested or detained when there is “reasonable suspicion” they are not in the U.S. legally. We have fought back against the growing entanglement between police, jails and ICE, and the demonization of people with convictions. We have organized communities to demand an end to all deportations and border militarization and worked across borders in international solidarity with deportees and other allies.
Today, we live in a period in the U.S. where forces such as the Occupy movement, the work of #Not1More, the Movement for Black Lives, and others have helped open up the political imagination of this country. During this period, millions of voices and bodies have mobilized to force the general public to wake up to the real and devastating impact that unjust, oppressive policies, such as IIRIRA and AEDPA, has had on millions of lives in the US.
This moment of upsurgence also parallels the 20 year anniversary of the 1996 laws; it has been 20 years too long.
We believe in the abolition of the U.S. prison and detention system, an end to all U.S. deportations, and a right to return for all people deported from the U.S. Some initial steps toward these demands include rolling back the 1996 laws and U.S. mass criminalization practices in these ways:
Removing convictions as a grounds for deportation and exclusion, including aggravated felonies and drug offenses.Ending the retroactive application of the 1996 laws.Restoring judicial discretion and due process for all individuals who come into contact with the criminal justice and immigration systems.Ending permanent deportationEnding mandatory detention.Ending police/ICE collaboration programs such 287g.Eliminating the 3 and ten year bars, which prohibit return to the U.S. Providing a “right to counsel” in immigration proceedings.
We recognize that a complete transformation of the immigration and criminal justice systems will be needed to fully meet our demands. This includes:
Addressing violence and harm in transformative ways.Centering and uplifting the experience of Black people, including Black immigrants, in the criminal justice and immigration systemsBuilding a global analysis and strategy, which recognizes and exposes the root causes of migration and oppression.Centering connections between the mass criminalization and the policing, imprisonment, and deportation regimesBuilding movements to both end deportations and reunite families and communities - fighting for the right to return or exist wherever we call home.Centering the most invisibilized leadership within communities most impacted, including women, youth, queer, and trans folks, and the formerly incarcerated, amongst others.