Jose Adolfo Quinones Salazar is an undocumented immigrant from a town in the highlands of Guatemala. Tourist web sites advertise the principle crafts of the area as weaving, candle-making and ceramics, but Salazar, 30, says there are few jobs.
“I came to the United States to help my family for some money,” he said. “They are very poor.”
He has been in the US since 2004, when he crossed the Mexican/American border “like everyone else.” Since then, he’s worked a variety of constructions jobs and, he says, sent back money from every paycheck.
With a renewed interest in comprehensive immigration reform, many are celebrating the possibility that an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants like Salazar could have a pathway to legal residency.
He is hopeful about the prospect of reform. “It would be great if they could help us all get out of this situation.”
But for most undocumented workers who have come in contact with the immigration system, their first and only interaction has been with its enforcement arm.
Salazar was among a group of day laborers picked up last November in a raid by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). He spent 21 days in an immigration detention center, and is now facing deportation. He insists he has no criminal record, but he also has no documents that grant him a legal presence in this country.
The past ten years have seen what the Immigration Policy Center has called “a sweeping and punitive transformation in US immigration enforcement” that has culminated in record expenditures and arrests.
Immigration enforcement is now more expensive than all other federal law enforcement programs combined, costing $187 billion since 1986, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
Meanwhile, in a second record-setting year, 2012 saw an unprecedented 409,849 deportations.
According to a Migration Policy Institute report released in April 2012:
The ‘enforcement-first’ policy advocated by many in Congress and the public as a precondition for considering broader immigration reform has de facto become the nation’s singular immigration policy.
Judging by resource levels, case volumes and enforcement actions which represent the only publicly available comprehensive measures of the performance of the system, immigration enforcement can thus be seen to rank as the federal government’s highest criminal law enforcement priority.
Despite this, both legislative frameworks put forward by the Obama administration and a bipartisan group of Senators still focus on heavy enforcement, and in the case of the Senators’ plan, a “secure border” before any path for legalization can begin.
The Obama administration’s skeleton plan calls for two key areas of enforcement. “First, continue to strengthen our borders. Second, crack down on companies that hire undocumented workers.”
This includes “mandatory, phased-in electronic employment verification,” and facilitating “public-private partnerships aimed at increasing investment in foreign-visitor processing.”
The proposal put forth by a bipartisan group of Senators said the trade-off for a path to citizenship would be to “continue the increased efforts of the Border Patrol by providing them with the latest technology, infrastructure and personnel needed to prevent, detect and apprehend every unauthorized entrant.”
Unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as drones, were a part of their proposal. “Additionally, our legislation will increase the number of unmanned aerial vehicles and surveillance equipment, improve radio interoperability and increase the number of agents at and between ports of entry. The purpose is to substantially lower the number of successful illegal border crossings while continuing to facilitate commerce,” the Senators’ proposal said.
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