You Donít Have to Go Home—You Just Canít Stay Here

Posted by Bobbi Murray on August 13, 2008

The wags at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) — a.k.a the U.S. immigration agency — launched a pilot program last week that would allow people with outstanding deportation orders to deport themselves.

ICE calls the pilot program “Scheduled Departure.”

Other people call it “a joke.”

As a San Diego day laborer told Notimex:

You don’t turn yourself in, you run the risk that they may catch you and deport you. But if I go and turn myself in, for sure they will deport me. That’s why I say — what’s the joke?

The program — being tested in Chicago, Santa Ana and San Diego, Phoenix and Charlotte, N.C. — allows immigrants with deportation orders against them and no criminal history to turn themselves in without charges.

That’s about 458,000 people nationwide, according to official estimates.

Judges can and do issue deportation orders against people who are not in custody, so ICE argues that this gives people an opportunity — 90 days — to get affairs in order before shipping out.

Spokespersons for the immigration agency also say it established the program in response to advocates’ criticism about early morning raids that scare the daylights out of the whole family (or apartment building) and to show the community the migra is open to different approaches.

Advocates note that immigrants who want to can leave whenever they want without turning themselves in to authorities.

ICE notes in its news release that it will “work with eligible aliens who are not able to provide for their travel,” meaning, it seems, they may or may not pay the freight on the trip home.

And it’s up to family members who are legal residents or U.S. citizens as to whether they want to deport themselves, too.

There’s the crux of it — people won’t come forward because they have no livelihood if they return and have fought to establish lives for themselves in the U.S. Many have children, born here, who are citizens.

ICE may well be trying to do something new, but for the immigrant communities, especially Latinos, it has the whiff of the same same ol’ same ol’.

Google “self-deportation” these days and you’ll turn up stories about the Scheduled Departure program, but scroll past the zillion new stories and youíll see a more popular use of the expression.

And, alas, I mean “popular” in two senses —both “of the common people” and “regarded with favor, approval or affection by the general public.”

On the Web you’ll find “self-deportation” often means driving immigrants from communities with laws designed to make life impossible.

From the delightful Prairie Pundit:

One of the arguments used by the critics of immigration enforcement is that you can’t deport everyone in the country illegally. What we are finding is what I suggested. If you enforce the law they will leave on their own. It is better for them and us that they leave that way.

Escondido, Calif. is a tony town of some 140,000 where I guarantee few are mowing their own lawns. The burghers there have pursued a variety of measures aimed at making miserable the lives of those who do the work.

A couple of years ago the city council passed a law to penalize anybody renting to the undocumented, but gave it up rather than undertake the expense of defending it in court.

Now they indulge their inclination to harass with license checkpoints, sweeps and policies about overnight parking and living in garages.

States have cracked down on immigrants in a similar fashion, Oklahoma among them.

Oklahoma’s law, among other things, makes it impossible to get a driver’s license if you are undocumented, “terminates several forms of public assistance.”

And here’s the money shot: it “expands authority of local law-enforcement agencies to enforce federal immigration law,” which means you have cops doing the migra’s job instead of their own — keeping the community safe.

You think people are going to report crimes or cooperate as witnesses under those circumstances?

But — oops — in Oklahoma when people self-deported as encouraged, it left the state unable to clean up after disasters. And thatís not all.

“You really have to work hard at it to destroy our state’s economy, but we found a way,” said state Sen. Harry Coates, the only Republican in the state Legislature to vote against the immigration law. “We ran off the workforce.”

The anti-immigrant measures generally attack the impoverished for the symptoms of poverty. Just one more reason it’s important to raise the working standards floor for all.

There’s no question our national leaders have completely dropped the ball when it comes to anything but a piece-meal, half-assed immigration policy that emphasizes enforcement rather than assessing the push and pull factors that draw people here whether they have papers or not.

The European Union isn’t exactly immigrant Eden, but they do look at immigration in the context of a globalized economy — the notion that capital and production move around across borders and you have to figure out an orderly way for labor to do so as well.

A couple of years ago I interviewed Jeff Faux, founder of the Economic Policy Institute. He says there’s no honest discussion of the central question which is: why the sudden influx of people over the past 12-plus years?

There’s always been immigration from Mexico, he said, but why has it recently become such a phenomenon involving millions of people?

The reason: trade agreements that govern the movement of capital and production, while labor and people are left out of the whole social contract.

In the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, concluded between Canada, the US and Mexico in 1993, “Mexico negotiated to open up its economy to heavily subsidized corn from the US.” This blew away one to two million farmers — and their communities — in rural Mexico. They were already at a subsistence level and couldnít compete.

Those driven out of rural areas go to the cities, and finding nothing, head north, at great risk.

Operation Gatekeeper, put in place by the Clinton administration in 1995, militarized the California stretch of the border and pressured prospective border-crossers east to the merciless desert of Arizona. Thousands have perished since then, agonizing deaths from exposure to relentless 110-degree heat, hunger and thirst.

The militarization interrupted long-term migration patterns that saw people come north temporarily for work and then return home. Now it’s too dangerous to go back and forth. So when people arrive, they stay.

Ha! The U.S. has taken extreme measures to shut “those people” out but has actually closed them in.

Faux, whose book The Global Class War examines the trade/immigration dynamic in detail, said that it’s time for the people in the United States to look for a real, functional deal with the country of Mexico.

In Europe, he said, richer countries provided investment funds to poorer countries. Don’t look for a Marshall Plan for Mexico soon though. Especially since that’s what the U.S. is doing to rebuild Iraq= except that the $48 billion we sent isn’t actually going to rebuild anything.

You break it, you bought it.

In the meantime, until August 22, we have the self-deportation program. News reports say it’s not going that well and few have turned themselves in.

“You would have to be crazy,” a man who arrived undocumented from Mexico City 15 years ago told The New York Times. “We risked everything to get here for a reason.”

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