Immigration

VIDEO: Executive Action Explained

Before taking executive action in November, which would exempt millions of immigrants from deportation, President Obama used scripture to remind U.S. citizens that “we were strangers once, too.” Jim Wallis used this Exodus quote for the title of his February “Hearts & Minds” Sojourners column. In “‘We Were Strangers Once, Too,’” Wallis describes the tough battle to reform immigration policies, the importance of Obama’s recent executive action to the lives of immigrant families, and the need to continue fighting for more permanent congressional solutions.

Watch Vox.com’s two-minute video below to learn more about what led to Obama’s executive action and the impact it will have on millions of immigrants.

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Operation Railroad

IN OCTOBER 2013, an ad hoc group of humanitarians in Tucson, Ariz., chained themselves under buses scheduled to bring undocumented immigrants to trial at the federal district courthouse. The protests were aimed at Operation Streamline, which requires federal criminal charges to be brought against every person accused of an illegal border crossing. The action halted, for one day, Operation Streamline’s en masse prosecution of groups ranging from 50 to 100 people.

Under Operation Streamline, implemented under the Bush administration, deportation cases shifted from civil immigration authorities to federal criminal courts, a move that forced undocumented immigrants into the federal criminal justice system and into U.S. prisons. Operation Streamline is undergirded by a 2005 Customs and Border Patrol program called the Consequence Delivery System (CDS), which “guides management and agents through a process designed to uniquely evaluate each subject and identify the ideal consequence to break the smuggling cycle.” Using CDS, a first border-crossing offense is treated as a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in prison. Those who are caught a second time face deportation and possible felony convictions punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Prior to CDS, border crossers without proper documentation were rarely prosecuted as criminals; instead, they were “administratively deported” through the civil immigration system. Under fast-track programs such as Operation Streamline, a federal criminal case—with prison and deportation consequences—can be completed in two days or less.

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'We Were Strangers Once, Too'

IF YOU'VE been following Sojourners’ work for the past few years, you know that we have been deeply involved in efforts to reform our nation’s broken immigration system. In the wake of President Obama’s game-changing executive actions in November and the political firestorm they ignited, it’s appropriate for us to reflect on how we got to where we are today and where we might go from here.

After the 2012 elections, it seemed all but certain that we would see comprehensive immigration reform become law during the 113th Congress. The electorate in 2012 had a higher percentage of Latino voters than ever before, in keeping with our country’s changing demographics. The mandate seemed clear for political leaders on both sides of the aisle to prioritize immigration reform or risk alienating a constituency vital to winning future elections.

Beyond this narrow political calculus, however, many of us became deeply involved in the struggle for immigration reform because we strongly believe that fixing our broken immigration system is a moral imperative, and long overdue. Our faith as Christians compels us to struggle for a more humane immigration system. Indeed, the scriptures could not be clearer. In the Old Testament, the Lord commands: “Also you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9).

In the New Testament, the stranger and all who are vulnerable are at the very heart of the gospel. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus offers a vision in which caring for them is the defining mark of God’s kingdom: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matthew 25:35-36).

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Becoming a Better America

Boston immigration rally, Jorge Salcedo / Shutterstock.com

Boston immigration rally, Jorge Salcedo / Shutterstock.com

I am a newly minted American. Four years ago I passed the naturalization test and took the oath of allegiance to the United States. But I had been living as a citizen before I took the oath. Those who do not have the legal status of citizen often act as citizens. They attend PTA meetings, pay taxes, and engage in spirited public discussions about the common good. Citizenship is not only a legal status, but also a moral category and a set of practices.

President Obama recognizes this. Last night’s address described executive actions that will protect up to five million people from deportation and provide them with permits to work legally. People without valid immigration documents will be eligible to stay in the country temporarily if they have lived in the United States for more than 5 years, if they have children who are American citizens or legal residents, and if they register and pass criminal background checks.

Obama is not offering people citizenship, but his address reflected on the meaning of community belonging. “These people” often act like citizens, he seemed to be saying, because they “came to work, and study, and serve in our military, and above all, contribute to America's success.” To those of us who are citizens legally, Obama also had a message: Become better Americans.

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