New on Bitchmedia: Pathway to Citizenship Bill May Be Pathway to Deportation

I've got a new post on Bitchmedia looking at the implications for greater incarceration/deportation under the Senate's Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act:

Last Thursday, the Senate passed what some have touted as a "sweeping immigration reform bill" by a vote of 68 to 32. Many people have applauded the bill as a "path to citizenship for the vast majority of the country's 11 million immigrants." What's been missing from the conversation is focus on who loses from this reform: for many immigrants, the bill increases the chance of incarceration and deportation.

Here's how it works: the bill allows immigration judges to stop a deportation proceeding if it would result in hardship to a US citizen parent, spouse, or child. However, it plays on the "good immigrant" vs. "bad immigrant" binary, denying that same opportunity if the immigrant has a criminal conviction. It doesn't allow for explanations, such as when the conviction happened or under what circumstances. The bill also keeps in place provisions that mandate the deportation of non-citizens with criminal convictions, even for minor offenses, without the opportunity for a full hearing before a judge.

This past fall, I met Dede Adnahom, an activist, organizer and mother of three who is facing deportation. Dede came to the U.S. at age ten with her sister, brother-in-law, and their children. Several years earlier, the family had fled war-torn Ethiopia, where their parents had been killed. They were granted permanent residency under the 1980 Refugee Act. Three years later, Dede was removed from her sister's home and placed in foster care. The foster care agency severed all ties between Dede and her sister.

At age 18, Dede aged out of the foster care system and was expected to take care of herself. Without resources or support, Dede slept in cars and, occasionally, at her former foster mother's house. In 2002, 19-year-old Dede was caught selling $20 of crack cocaine. It was her first—and only—time in trouble with the law. She was convicted for controlled substance delivery and sentenced to nine months in a work-release center. She served six months and was released to begin rebuilding her life.

In 2006, Dede gave birth to her first daughter. Months later, she received a letter from the US Board of Immigration Appeals mandating her to appear for a deportation hearing. In 2007, an immigration judge ruled in Dede's favor. The board appealed the decision and, although Dede had received a gubernatorial pardon in 2011, reopened her deportation case in 2012.

While Dede has been fighting her deportation case, she has also been raising her children and remaining involved in social justice organizing around Seattle. Under the immigration reform bill, none of that would matter. What would matter is that, at age 19, Dede Adnahom was convicted for selling $20 worth of crack.

This is just one case, but Dede is not the only person who would be negatively impacted by this bill. While immigration reform could certainly create a "a real, substantive difference to the lives of millions of aspiring citizens," it's important to recognize how it will hurt the very groups supporters hope it will help.

For the full post (complete with links), see: The 'Pathway to Citizenship' Bill May Become the 'Pathway to Deportation'", Bitchmedia, July 3, 2013.