Nearly 100 residents from across Contra Costa County held a peaceful protest last week at the West County Detention Facility where illegal immigrants are held prior to deportation. Organized by the East Bay Interfaith Immigration Coalition, families and friends of immigrants, students and religious leaders shared stories, sang songs, held banners and prayed that Congress will one day take the necessary steps to repair a failed immigration system that they say is tearing families apart.
The coalition feels illegal immigrants are respected members of the community and should be treated with dignity and protected under U.S. law. Their efforts in improving the country’s economy by establishing and supporting successful businesses, owning homes and having U.S.-born children should be defended, not attacked. Many illegal immigrants haven’t been to their homeland in decades and no longer have ties there—their home is here.
“The Obama administration has been more zealous than any previous administration in enforcing our broken system and deporting people,” said Rev. Jeff R. Johnson, of University Lutheran Chapel of Berkeley. “They would like us to believe that only hardened criminals are being deported. This is not the case and many people with no criminal record whatsoever have fallen victim to this overreach by the federal government.”
Johnson said he recently attended a deportation hearing where the lawyer for the government presented to the judge in a matter-of-fact manner that two underage U.S. citizens would do just fine if they moved in with an uncle they had never met in Ohio once their parents were deported back to Guatemala.
According to the National Day Labor Organizing Network, Contra Costa County alone has deported 731 undocumented immigrants since April 6, 2010. Of these deportations only 21 percent —or 157—were convicted criminals, making Contra Costa County one of the top 30 counties in the country for the deportation of non-criminal immigrants, according to the group.
Rev. Deborah Lee, director of the Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights, said that deportations and enforcement-only solutions do not solve problems. People who are desperate to feed their children will find ways to work wherever they can which fosters illegal immigration, she said. “We need solutions that look at the impacts of trade and economic policies which are causing massive displacement and poverty in other countries, not to mention military policies creating refugees,” said Lee. “These policies of deportations are shortsighted and are enriching the pockets of prison corporations. We want our taxes spent on detention and border enforcement redirected to fund the basic needs of our budget and to rebuild our country’s economy.”
According to a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) fact sheet, $2.55 billion was spent in 2010 for the detention and removal of illegal immigrants.
Many gathered at the vigil shared stories about how deportations had affected their lives. One young woman stood in front of the crowd and revealed that after 20 years in the United States her father was deported to Honduras—leaving her mom helpless with 11 other children.
“We believe that the U.S. government should protect all U.S. citizen children and that discretion should be granted for parents and families of citizen children to stay together,” said Lee. “Children have to worry that their parents might not come home from work. It’s scary and frightening and has a huge psychic impact.”