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How to fix America's immigration woes

A group of former and currently undocumented immigrants released a set of broad recommendations this week to help make deportation practices more humane.
A woman signs a petition in support of a man about to be deported in New Haven, Oct. 5, 2013.
A woman signs a petition in support of a man about to be deported in New Haven, Oct. 5, 2013.

Following President Obama’s recent announcement that his administration would look for more humane deportation practices, a group of former and currently undocumented immigrant leaders released a set of broad policy recommendations this week designed to help the White House reach its goal.

The requests are lofty, involving a heavy amount of executive authority to overhaul symptoms of the nation’s broken immigration system, as well as its root cause. But then again, curtailing a record level of deportations -- approximately 2 million since Obama took office -- is no easy task. Anything short of lofty likely won’t make a dent.

Chief among the recommendations, released Thursday by an independent Blue Ribbon Commission, is to expand deferred action to as many undocumented immigrants as possible in order to “keep families and communities together, and allow people to live and work without fear.”

The report asserted that a criminal record should no longer be a “categorical bar to inclusion,” for the criminal justice system disproportionately impacts low-income and minority populations. “Each individual should have the opportunity and due process to make their own case for relief, but the burden of proof of what makes a person a priority for deportation should be on the government,” the report said.

To that end, the panel recommended the president nix certain U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) programs -- such as Secure Communities and the Criminal Alien Program -- that it says “wrongly conflate criminal law and immigration laws, and make ICE officers a regular feature in local courtrooms, jails, and prisons around the country.”

The group also asked that the president take meaningful action to improve conditions in current detention facilities, which it said were “deplorable.”

“President Obama should direct the immediate release from custody of particularly vulnerable populations, including people who are pregnant, transgender, living with HIV/AIDS, and/or with disabilities,” the report said. “Additionally, while the DHS has adopted some rules with regards to detention standards, it should require all immigration detention facilities to implement fully and immediately the Prison Rape Elimination Act Regulations (PREA), the most recent Performance-Based National Detention Standards (PBNDS), and all other applicable safety standards and regulations in all immigration detention facilities.”

In addition to improving federal immigration policies, the group also demanded that the administration cut ties with local law enforcement offices who have been accused of civil rights violations. Specifically, the panel singled out Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County in Arizona -- currently facing a lawsuit by the U.S. Justice Department -- for alleged racial profiling.

“To this day, ICE continues to collaborate with Sheriff Arpaio, targeting individuals arrested by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office for deportation through S-Comm and other programs,” the report said. “This is a disgrace. It undermines the work being done by the DOJ and sends the message that deportation quotas trump civil rights. If the DOJ is akin to the fire department in these jurisdiction, DHS is an accomplice to the arsonists.”

The group didn’t just call for the elimination of certain programs and practices; it also laid out specific areas for creation and implementation. For example, the group recommended the president develop a “humanitarian parole program to bring back deported people with family and community ties in the U.S.” It also advised federal agencies to adopt non-retaliation policies that “include a blanket prohibition of immigration enforcement activities during a labor dispute or during organizing or collective workplace activity,” so that undocumented immigrants won’t be deterred from reporting civil, labor, and human rights abuses.

Lastly, the group called for a transparent review of U.S. trade policies, which it says are “inextricably linked” to the immigration policy debate. “Once the review is complete,” the report said, “the president should seek to renegotiate trade agreements to eliminate provisions that cause displacement of communities and increase economic pressure on people to migrate.”