Jose Guadalupe Ramos lived in the United States for 48 years until he was deported just a few months ago. He now lives in a tiny room inside one of many cuarterías’, improvised motels in the slums of Tijuana, Mexico. It’s a city he had never known in a country he barely recognizes anymore.
The 82 year-old man has seven children and many grandchildren. But his only company nowadays is Chabela, a stray dog he found wandering the streets of the border town. His family back in the U.S. sends him enough money to rent the space and buy food while they try to find a way to bring him back.
Jose argues he was deported after defending one of his grandchildren in an argument with a man that knew he had no papers. Contrary to what President Obama promised, his case is no exception; it’s become the rule of deportations during the current administration.
A New York Times analysis of government records shows that since President Obama took office, only twenty percent of deportation cases involved people convicted of serious crimes. Two-thirds of the nearly two million deported involve people who had committed minor infractions or people who had no criminal record at all.
The criminalization of immigrant communities in this country has escalated at unprecedented rates. According to the Pew Research Center, the increase in unlawful reentry convictions alone accounts for almost half of the growth in the total number of offenders sentenced in federal courts during the last two decades. That’s more than twice as much as federal convictions related to drug offenses in the same time period.
This punishment-focused policy has torn apart hundreds of thousands of families and has affected Latino communities across the nation. Like a damaged dam, our broken immigration system is slowly collapsing before the eyes of politicians who have not yet felt the cost of doing nothing.
America is no longer a country where immigrants are welcomed, at least not those who make the journey from down south. A nation built by brave men and women who left everything behind for a chance to live a better life is now unwilling to give that same opportunity to others. Instead, it prosecutes undocumented immigrants like dangerous criminals, it has militarized its border with Mexico at a grave cost for human rights in that region. Last, but not least, it’s created a multi-billion dollar private detention industry that generates enormous wealth for few and unspeakable suffering for many.
Both parties are equally responsible for the situation. In the House of Representatives, Republicans deliberately blocked the discussion of any measure that can help bring about much needed change in our immigration laws. Meanwhile, the White House also decided to play politics with the issue, just to end up being outplayed.
President Obama delivered on border security and deportations and got nothing in return from Republicans. Whatever political calculation was behind this idea, it has tarnished the reputation of a leader once adored by Hispanics.
If nothing changes, most Latinos will not remember Barack Obama as the president who came close to passing comprehensive immigration reform. Instead, they will remember him as the man responsible for the largest expulsion of undocumented immigrants in the history of this country.
Deporter-in-chief or champion-in-chief of immigration reform? Truth is, catchy rhetoric from either side will not solve the lives of 11 million undocumented immigrants already here. People like Jose have been forced out of their homes, their jobs and their communities, in many cases, without even the chance to say goodbye to their loved ones. That can only be described as a humanitarian crisis.
Obama has ordered a review of deportation enforcement, calling for a more humane approach. But six years into his presidency, it seems like too little, too late.
Jose’s only crime was to risk his life walking across the border into a country that promised freedom and opportunity for all. Not long ago, people like him, personified the American dream, now they’re regarded as criminals.
At least 5,000 American children are now in foster care because of this policy. One can only ask, who is committing the real crime here?
Editor’s note: Fusion’s Leon Krauze argues that the Republicans, and not Obama, are to blame for the deportation crisis. Read here.