Since its founding by George W. Bush after September 11, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has funded and executed the world’s largest surveillance, policing, prosecution, detention, and deportation regime. Under the veil of protecting national and public safety, the massive homeland security apparatus replicates racist and classist practices from the decades-long “War on Crime,” such as hyperpolicing and criminalization.
While the Obama Administration announced Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA), at the same time, DHS honed in on the “criminal alien” — a label for people with a wide range of offenses, some convicted decades ago — as the key threat to public safety.
This vilification of “felons, not families” presented a false dichotomy and reinforced the harmful idea that individuals who have had contact with the criminal system are unworthy and disposable. Targeting people based solely on their criminal history oversimplifies our social and human reality, where racial profiling, over-charging crimes, and over-incarceration happens every day. Many individuals are forever labeled “criminals” or “felons,” terms that play into coded language on class, race, ethnicity, and even citizenship.
Immigrants who have had contact with the criminal system also have families and deserve the opportunity to contribute to our communities. Unfortunately, once branded with a criminal record, thousands of immigrants are marginalized and expelled, with little to no opportunity to meaningfully participate in society.
This new era of heightened immigration enforcement requires robust advocacy from local communities and close monitoring of ICE’s new and evolving tactics. Our country’s obsession with mass incarceration has driven our nation’s current war on immigrants, and the struggles against both are interconnected. We cannot take down the deportation and detention machine without addressing the larger framework upon which it was conceived. It is critical to unite the struggles of black and brown communities, seek accountability of law enforcement agencies, and pursue comprehensive criminal justice reforms that address the root causes of criminalization of all communities of color, citizen and noncitizen alike.