Getting in Touch with the Netroots (pt.2)

Sec­ond ses­sion of the day: Blog­ging the Eco­nom­ic Bat­tles. It was a great ses­sion with pan­elists from OurFuture.org. The pan­elists broad­ly dealt with three issues: the cur­rent health­care debate, the bogey­man of deficits and neg­a­tive trig­ger words. There were a cou­ple of real­ly inter­est­ing obser­va­tions that I took from the pan­el.

1. one of the msot neg­a­tive aspects of the cur­rent polar­ized nature of the debate is that it shifts per­cep­tions such that the cen­trist or just-left-of-cen­ter posi­tions get cast as the far-left when the rhetoric of the far-right is so “wingnut”-y as some pan­elists and audi­ence mem­bers not­ed.

2. as pro­gres­sives, we have to reframe the debate from its cur­rent­ly defen­sive posi­tion. In ref­er­ence to the bogey­man of bud­get deficits, one of the pan­elists, Dig­by, not­ed that when asked how deficits per­son­al­ly affect them, most peo­ple have no answer. Now ask them how health­care affects them, they have a ready answer. We need to remind peo­ple that gov­ern­ment does great things for them. Don’t believe it? Get off the inter­state! We need to stop just fight­ing this notion that things like deficits are poi­son, we need to start from a place where peo­ple have to acknowl­edge that the gov­ern­ment does cer­tain things real­ly well and we should­n’t have to act like that isn’t a patent truth. Get­ting gov­ern­ment out of one’s Med­ic­aid would be hard, would­n’t it?

3. Not refram­ing the debate and get­ting out of our defen­sive posi­tion keeps us back as a coun­try from tru­ly speak­ing and fight­ing for every per­son, espe­cial­ly those who are most dis­em­pow­ered by the cur­rent sys­tem’s inequities. We can’t fig­ure out how to address Rust Belt work­ers in Penn­syl­va­nia when we’re trapped in a black-and-white par­a­digm where “trade” is good no mat­ter what and “pro­tec­tion­ism” is bad no mat­ter what it actu­al­ly refers to.

4. The abil­i­ty to bal­ance the debate is in our hands. The sto­ries of how, say, the health­care sys­tem is fail­ing peo­ple is in our back­yards. If we want to counter over-heat­ed rhetoric that los­es sight of the actu­al stakes, show them the real sto­ries you know. I found a great exam­ple of exact­ly this in a sto­ry from the Chris­t­ian Sci­ence Mon­i­tor from a pro­fes­sor in the town where I went to col­lege (from the rival school, no less). Now its a main­stream media out­let, but tech­no­log­i­cal advances have made it pos­si­ble for us to get our voic­es out there in ways I could­n’t have imag­ined years ago, no one’s going to do it but us!

Any­ways, just some thoughts, but I took away a real man­date to take up our own roles to counter the neg­a­tiv­i­ty we find in the dis­course. Stay tuned for more ses­sions!

Getting in Touch with the Netroots (pt.1)

So I am at the Net­roots Nation con­fer­ence in gor­geous Pitts­burgh (where its an incred­i­bly pleas­ant 81 degrees which is a nice change from the swamp that DC has been for the last few days) . The con­fer­ence brings togeth­er pro­gres­sive activists and advo­cates, many of whom are par­tic­u­lar­ly tech­no­log­i­cal­ly-ori­ent­ed. I thought since the con­fer­ence is all about blog­ging and SAALT has a blog, what a nat­ur­al fit!

After a short flight and a very long bus ride into the city, I bare­ly made the Asian Pacif­ic Amer­i­can Cau­cus ses­sion. There were about 10 peo­ple in the ses­sion and we spent most of the time iden­ti­fy­ing how we could work in issues like health­care and Cen­sus 2010 in the Asian Pacif­ic Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ty. I heard a lot of great ideas, from bring­ing Asian Amer­i­can caus­es to main­stream online spaces to crit­i­cal­ly ana­lyz­ing how to use tech­nol­o­gy to reach audi­ences like school kids to get to non-tech­no­log­i­cal­ly con­nect­ed old­er Asians.

While it was great to be able to share the space with fel­low Asian Amer­i­can activists and blog­gers, I some­times won­der whether these sep­a­rate con­ver­sa­tions some­times hold us back from cast­ing these actu­al­ly main­stream, impor­tant issues as broad­ly as they could be. Any­ways, I’ll keep post­ing as much as pos­si­ble from beau­ti­ful Pitts­burgh!

Death in Detention: Tanveer Ahmad

Here’s a case for you to pon­der about. When you first read it, you might not think it that sym­pa­thet­ic. But, by the time you read the end of this post, maybe you’ll change your mind.

The New York Times recent­ly report­ed on the sto­ry of Tan­veer Ahmad. He came to New York City from Pak­istan on a vis­i­tor’s visa. In 1997, he was arrest­ed for pos­sess­ing an unli­censed gun. He mar­ried U.S. cit­i­zens and applied for mar­riage-based green cards to stay in this coun­try. His wife was threat­ened with mar­riage fraud alle­ga­tions by the gov­ern­ment. Immi­gra­tion author­i­ties lat­er caught him in 2005 for over­stay­ing his visa and detained him because of his gun offense. A few weeks lat­er, he died in deten­tion in New Jer­sey.

At first blush, you might be think­ing, “Hey, the gov­ern­ment should be going after these crim­i­nals! Why should I care that he got locked up and hap­pened to die?” After all, the lat­est buzz word with­in immi­gra­tion enforce­ment cir­cles is to go after “crim­i­nal aliens”, right? But dig a lit­tle deep­er into the facts — things aren’t quite that cut and dry.

What’s the most shock­ing about this case? Is it that Mr. Ahmad showed his gun while pre­vent­ing a rob­bery at the gas sta­tion where he worked the night shift and that had been held up 7 times in about a month? Is it that fol­low­ing 9/11 his U.S. cit­i­zen’s wife’s friends said, “You bet­ter watch it. You may be mar­ried to a ter­ror­ist,” caus­ing him to always watch his back? Is it that he was detained near­ly 10 years after his offense even though he paid the req­ui­site $200 fine for the mis­de­meanor? Is it that his arrest was con­sid­ered a “col­lat­er­al appre­hen­sion in Oper­a­tion Secure Com­mute” as part of the gov­ern­men­t’s sweep of immi­grants over­stay­ing visas fol­low­ing the 2005 ter­ror­ist attacks in Lon­don? Or is it that when he suf­fered a heart attack in deten­tion, the jail guard report­ed­ly blocked med­ical atten­tion for one hour, even after the jail received numer­ous pre­vi­ous com­plaints about detainee abuse and neglect?

I’ll leave it to you to decide. But remem­ber that our immi­gra­tion and deten­tion poli­cies can change to become more humane. In fact, there is a bill in Con­gress known as the Immi­gra­tion Over­sight and Fair­ness Act (H.R. 1215) pro­posed by Con­gress­woman Roy­bal-Allard of Cal­i­for­nia that would cod­i­fy deten­tion stan­dards and improve med­ical care for immi­grant detainees.  In my mind, such a case should not have come to this, but, sad­ly, it did. And we can let Con­gress know that through pol­i­cy reform, hope­ful­ly, they won’t hap­pen again.

(Check out this pre­vi­ous arti­cle in the NYT on this sto­ry, too.)

Intro to ISNA

This past July 4th week­end, the Islam­ic Soci­ety of North Amer­i­ca (ISNA) host­ed its 46th Annu­al Con­ven­tion in DC, fit­ting­ly named “Life, Lib­er­ty and the Pur­suit of Hap­pi­ness.” It was my first ISNA expe­ri­ence, and I was in awe of the huge crowd. Thou­sands of peo­ple were in atten­dance as var­i­ous speak­ers and pan­elists dis­cussed top­ics rel­e­vant to the mod­ern Amer­i­can Mus­lim. Many of those infor­ma­tive ses­sions were geared towards young peo­ple, as part of the MSA Nation­al and MYNA por­tions of the con­ven­tion. While there was def­i­nite­ly a strong inter­est in the ISNA Mat­ri­mo­ni­als event, many atten­dees were drawn to the DC Con­ven­tion Cen­ter by the dynam­ic speak­ers and the vari­ety of goods and art avail­able at the Bazaar.

It was excit­ing to see the num­ber of Mus­lims who came to DC for the event, and I was par­tic­u­lar­ly impressed by the num­ber of South Asians I observed attend­ing the con­ven­tion. Throngs of desis could be found in Chi­na­town restau­rants, out on DC streets, and strolling the Nation­al Mall. My own cousins came to DC for the first time from Cal­i­for­nia and Okla­homa specif­i­cal­ly for ISNA week­end, and they were sur­prised by the num­ber of South Asians in DC. So was I! While there are many South Asians liv­ing and work­ing in and near the Dis­trict, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many in one place before. ISNA had a strong pull for our com­mu­ni­ty, with ses­sions geared specif­i­cal­ly towards South Asian Mus­lims, fea­tur­ing South Asian speak­ers or mod­er­at­ed by South Asians, as well as many, many bazaar stalls that were put up by South Asian small busi­ness own­ers and artists.

I liked that there were net­work­ing events, such as the Mus­lim Lawyers net­work­ing social that I attend­ed Fri­day night, and info ses­sions, such as the one about get­ting jobs at fed­er­al agen­cies, that involved Mus­lims help­ing oth­er Mus­lims. Not sur­pris­ing­ly, many of the faces at both those events were South Asian. It’s great to see peo­ple in the com­mu­ni­ty tak­ing inter­est in men­tor­ing oth­ers!

Helping ICE Doesn’t Mean They Won’t Turn Around and Deport You Anyway

Thanks to RaceWire, where I found the fol­low­ing sto­ry: A Pak­istani man had over­stayed his visa when he was con­tact­ed by Immi­gra­tion and Cus­toms Enforce­ment agents who enlist­ed his help in gath­er­ing evi­dence against a para­le­gal fil­ing false immi­gra­tion claims. In exchange, they promised to help him stay in the coun­try and pos­si­bly get a green card. The para­le­gal was even­tu­al­ly indict­ed, I’m sure in no small part due to his efforts. He then went on to help ICE agents gath­er infor­ma­tion about ter­ror­ism-relat­ed activ­i­ties at a local mosque. How does ICE repay him? Giv­ing him false infor­ma­tion about his depor­ta­tion order and, now, ready­ing itself to deport the man who had helped them.

Tak­en with recent rev­e­la­tions about law enforce­ment ini­tia­tives to place infor­mants at Amer­i­can mosques, and the result­ing betray­al of trust for the Amer­i­can Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ty, this sto­ry shows the com­pli­cat­ed rela­tion­ships between nation­al secu­ri­ty, immi­gra­tion and the Amer­i­can Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ty. Amer­i­can Mus­lim orga­ni­za­tions have repeat­ed­ly stat­ed that it is impor­tant for law enforce­ment agen­cies to build rela­tion­ships with the com­mu­ni­ty in an open and hon­est man­ner. More­over, the com­mu­ni­ty is com­mit­ted, like all oth­er com­mu­ni­ties, to con­tribut­ing to a strong and vibrant Amer­i­can soci­ety that affirms prin­ci­ples like reli­gious free­dom and equal­i­ty before the law. To see some­one who went out of their way to help ICE agents, no mat­ter how ques­tion­able the activ­i­ties, aban­doned by the agency and fac­ing depor­ta­tion puts a human face to how this tru­ly com­pli­cat­ed sys­tem is fail­ing peo­ple.

Read the whole sto­ry here.

Read the Islam­ic Cir­cle of North Amer­i­ca’s state­ment oppos­ing FBI infor­mants (you have to scroll down past the first state­ment).

To brand, or not to brand? — Addressing the MTA’s “turban-branding” policy

Four years ago, Sikh tran­sit work­ers in New York City decid­ed that enough was enough. In response to a “tur­ban-brand­ing” pol­i­cy that required work­ers, both Sikh and Mus­lim, to brand their tur­bans with the Metro­pli­tan Tran­sit Author­i­ty (MTA) logo, Sikh tran­sit work­ers called on the MTA to end this pol­i­cy, deem­ing it an act of reli­gious dis­crim­i­na­tion.

Fur­ther­more, in 2005, the Depart­ment of Jus­tice found that, over the course of three days, there had been two hun­dred cas­es of MTA employ­ees wear­ing some form of head­dress with­out the logo, includ­ing Yan­kees hats, yaar­mulkes, and a num­ber of win­ter hats in fact issued by the MTA. The Depart­ment of Jus­tice con­se­quent­ly filed a dis­crim­i­na­tion suit against the MTA. Yet for years, this issue has been placed on the back burn­er by city offi­cials.

On Tues­day of last week, a major­i­ty of the New York City Coun­cil final­ly spoke out against the “tur­ban-brand­ing” pol­i­cy. Coun­cil Mem­ber Tony Avel­la said, “It’s time for the City Coun­cil to take action on this mat­ter, and it’s long over­due that the MTA end reli­gious dis­crim­i­na­tion.  Enough is enough.”

While this issue is being addressed for a small num­ber of Sikhs in New York, it still speaks to a greater issue that many South Asian and Arab indi­vid­u­als in the US face on a day-to-day basis. Even today, the con­cept of reli­gious wear is quite for­eign to Amer­i­can cul­ture. Many do not real­ize that a tur­ban, hijab, or any type of reli­gious wear is rep­re­sen­ta­tive of an individual’s spir­i­tu­al life, and is there­fore a very per­son­al and pri­vate enti­ty. Like any arti­cle of faith, it is not some­thing that can just be set aside for appearance’s sake, nev­er mind brand­ed with a cor­po­rate logo.

The law­suit against the MTA has yet to be resolved, and we are hop­ing for an end to this dis­crim­i­na­to­ry pol­i­cy. In the mean­time, it is impor­tant to keep this in a wider con­text and rec­og­nize that if this law­suit goes through, it is a small step in a long jour­ney to address­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion against Sikhs and Mus­lims in the Unit­ed States.

Facts and quotes from: New York City Coun­cil Major­i­ty Demands End to MTA’s “Tur­ban-brand­ing” Pol­i­cy from the The Sikh Coali­tion (June 18, 2009)

The Reuniting Families Act

Today, Deepa (SAALT’s Exec­u­tive Direc­tor), Priya  (SAALT’s Pol­i­cy Direc­tor), and I attend­ed a press con­fer­ence on Capi­tol Hill where Con­gress­man Michael Hon­da intro­duced  the Reunit­ing Fam­i­lies Act, a bill that advo­cates hope will become a key com­po­nent of broad­er immi­gra­tion reform in Con­gress. Lead­ers from a diverse array of var­i­ous immi­grant and civ­il rights orga­ni­za­tions and faith com­mu­ni­ties attend­ed the con­fer­ence to express their sup­port for the bill, includ­ing Hilary Shel­ton from the NAACP, Karen Narasa­ki from the Asian  Amer­i­can Jus­tice Cen­ter (AAJC), Rachel Tiv­en from Immi­gra­tion Equal­i­ty, Lizette Olmos from the League of Unit­ed Latin Amer­i­can Cit­i­zens (LULAC) , and many oth­ers. Many mem­bers of Con­gress also appeared and spoke in sup­port of this bill.

Per­son­al­ly, as an intern observ­ing the brief­ing, it was excit­ing to see the sheer num­ber of peo­ple who appeared at the event (the room was packed, and the crowd of peo­ple stand­ing in the back led all the way out the door). But more impor­tant­ly, it was inspir­ing to see the breadth of sup­port for the bill, from con­gress­men, to rep­re­sen­ta­tives of numer­ous orga­ni­za­tions, to indi­vid­u­als who have had per­son­al expe­ri­ences with cur­rent fam­i­ly-based immi­gra­tion poli­cies. See­ing such a wide com­mu­ni­ty of indi­vid­u­als come togeth­er for a sin­gle cause was real­ly excit­ing.

So,  what exact­ly does the bill do?  Speak­ing on a tele­phon­ic brief­ing with  Con­gress­man Hon­da after the press con­fer­ence, Deepa broke down the bill into its major com­po­nents. The bill will recap­ture unused visas pre­vi­ous­ly allo­cat­ed by Con­gress for cur­rent­ly back­logged appli­cants.  It also  reclas­si­fies the spous­es and chil­dren of  green card hold­ers  as “imme­di­ate rel­a­tives,” allow­ing them to imme­di­ate­ly qual­i­fy for a visa  rather than wait for years . Anoth­er key com­po­nent of the bill is its expan­sion of per — coun­try lim­its on fam­i­ly and employ­ment-based visas from 7% to 10%.

The speak­ers at the press con­fer­ence pre­sent­ed var­i­ous view­points on the impor­tance of the bill.  Con­gress­man Neil Aber­crom­bie  from Hawaii  point­ed out that the strength and devel­op­ment of a com­mu­ni­ty starts at the fam­i­ly lev­el. Con­gress­man Hon­da also not­ed that the fam­i­ly serves as a crit­i­cal sup­port sys­tem for per­ma­nent res­i­dents; allow­ing immi­grants to reunite with their fam­i­lies would invari­ably lead to health­i­er com­mu­ni­ties and a stronger local econ­o­my, reduc­ing the need for gov­ern­ment-based eco­nom­ic assis­tance pro­grams. Karen Narasa­ki from AAJC also not­ed that pro­longed sep­a­ra­tion from loved ones slows down the abil­i­ty of per­ma­nent res­i­dents to inte­grate into Amer­i­can soci­ety, in addi­tion to inhibit­ing their abil­i­ty to work at their full poten­tial.

A major top­ic today was the por­tion of the bill regard­ing  bina­tion­al same-sex  cou­ples. The bill includes a com­pre­hen­sive def­i­n­i­tion of “fam­i­lies,” includ­ing  gay and les­bian cou­ples and their chil­dren so that U.S. cit­i­zens and green card hold­ers can spon­sor their per­ma­nent part­ners liv­ing abroad.  Mem­bers of Con­gress and orga­ni­za­tion­al rep­re­sen­ta­tives present strong­ly  sup­port­ed this aspect of the bill,  empha­siz­ing  that no one should get left behind in the upcom­ing reform of immi­gra­tion laws.

So, why does this bill mat­ter for South Asians? Approx­i­mate­ly 75% of  the over 2.7 mil­lion South Asians in the US were born abroad. Most impor­tant­ly, indi­vid­u­als from South Asia  are among the top ten coun­tries that rely upon the fam­i­ly-based immi­gra­tion sys­tem  and wait years for green cards. Cur­rent­ly, fam­i­ly mem­bers abroad  have two choic­es: stay with­in the legal process and wait an unrea­son­able length of time to be with their loved ones; or enter and remain in the US  through unau­tho­rized chan­nels and keep a low pro­file. The choice to fol­low the law should nev­er be a dif­fi­cult one. When the choice is between wait­ing to get immi­gra­tion sta­tus and being with the one you love, a change in poli­cies is clear­ly in order.

Links to Orga­ni­za­tions:

  • NAACP: http://www.naacp.org/
  • LULAC: http://www.lulac.org/
  • AAJC: http://www.advancingequality.org/
  • Immi­gra­tion Equal­i­ty: http://www.immigrationequality.org/

Undocumented Immigrants, Children and CCPA

Check out this piece from Lavanya Sithanan­dam, pedi­a­tri­cian and trav­el doc­tor in Tako­ma Park and SAALT Board mem­ber about undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants, cit­i­zen chil­dren and the Child Cit­i­zen Pro­tec­tion Act:

The non-par­ti­san Pew His­pan­ic Cen­ter released a report yes­ter­day enti­tled ‘A Por­trait of Unau­tho­rized Immi­grants in the Unit­ed States’ .  The report reveals that 4 mil­lion Amer­i­can chil­dren in the Unit­ed States have at least one undoc­u­ment­ed par­ent, which is up dra­mat­i­cal­ly from 2.7 mil­lion chil­dren in 2003.   Chil­dren of unau­tho­rized immi­grants now account for about one in 15 ele­men­tary and sec­ondary school stu­dents nation­wide.  One third of these chil­dren live in pover­ty and close to half (45%) of these chil­dren are with­out health insur­ance.

As a prac­tic­ing pedi­a­tri­cian in Tako­ma Park, MD, these sta­tis­tics are more than num­bers to me.   Some of my patients that I treat in my own office are includ­ed in this data.  What these per­cent­ages and sta­tis­tics do not con­vey is how deeply entrenched these chil­dren and their fam­i­lies have become in this coun­try.  Despite this, I have noticed a dis­turb­ing trend over the past two years, with a grow­ing num­ber of my patients hav­ing to deal with the deten­tion and pos­si­ble depor­ta­tion of a par­ent, friend, or neigh­bor.  This is a night­mare sce­nario for any­one to have to cope with, let alone a young child.

In response to this sit­u­a­tion, I have been work­ing with SAALT and sev­er­al oth­er non-prof­it orga­ni­za­tions such as Fam­i­lies For Free­dom to shed light on the plight of such chil­dren and to help them stay unit­ed with their fam­i­lies.   This week is a ‘Week of Action’ in sup­port of HR 182 or the Child Cit­i­zen Pro­tec­tion Act, which will give immi­gra­tion judges dis­cre­tion in depor­ta­tion cas­es involv­ing the sep­a­ra­tion of fam­i­lies with chil­dren who are U.S. cit­i­zens.    Cur­rent­ly, judges have their hands tied and are forced to deport many par­ents unless they meet an ‘extreme hard­ship’ stan­dard–  a dif­fi­cult stan­dard for most to meet.  I ask that you call your local con­gress­men and ask them to sign on to this bill.  Also please try to doc­u­ment any expe­ri­ences that you may be fac­ing with the deten­tion and/or depor­ta­tion of a loved one.  In my own prac­tice I am ask­ing my patients to draw pic­tures of bro­ken hearts (like the one above) to rep­re­sent the pain and suf­fer­ing these fam­i­lies endure when one or both par­ents are deport­ed.   I hope to show these draw­ings and let­ters that I col­lect to my local rep­re­sen­ta­tives as part of SAALT’s annu­al advo­ca­cy day next week.

Tako­ma Park Pedi­atrics Patient, Age 7

Also, check out Dr. Sithanan­dam’s excel­lent Op-Ed pub­lished in the Bal­ti­more Sun.

Another Immigrant Death in Detention–New York Times

I was sent this arti­cle from the front page of the New York Times about anoth­er death in immi­gra­tion deten­tion, this time in New Jer­sey. The heart­break­ing sto­ry, which high­lights the dif­fi­cul­ties in even find­ing an accu­rate account­ing of the deaths that have tak­en place in immi­gra­tion deten­tion. Ahmed Tan­veer’s death was record­ed in a hand­writ­ten note of a fel­low detainee and it took the per­sis­tent efforts of civ­il rights and civ­il lib­er­ties groups and aci­tivists to get details about the case or to even get con­fir­ma­tion that the man had been impris­oned and died while in cus­tody from the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty. Read the whole sto­ry at <http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/03/nyregion/03detain.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2&hp>

“Failing Families” op-ed in Baltimore Sun

Mont­gomery Coun­ty, MD, where the SAALT offices are locat­ed, is a vibrant com­mu­ni­ty with immi­grants from around the world. This op-ed from Dr. Lavanya Sithanan­dam, a pedi­a­tri­cian and trav­el doc­tor based in Tako­ma Park, shows how immi­gra­tion raids have neg­a­tive­ly impact this com­mu­ni­ty, par­tic­u­lar­ly its most vul­ner­a­ble mem­bers: chil­dren. Read the excel­lent piece here:

Failing Families

Immigration enforcement policies unfairly hurt many children who are citizens

by Lavanya Sithanan­dam

When I walked into the exam room, I knew some­thing was wrong. My 8‑year old patient, usu­al­ly an extro­vert­ed, charm­ing boy, was angry. He sat with his arms crossed and refused to look at me. His exhaust­ed moth­er recount­ed how one week ago, her hus­band, after arriv­ing home from a 12-hour shift at work, had been arrest­ed in front of his chil­dren and tak­en away in hand­cuffs. He was now sit­ting in an Immi­gra­tion and Cus­toms Enforce­ment (ICE) deten­tion cen­ter in Fred­er­ick. The moth­er asked me to eval­u­ate her son for a one-week his­to­ry of poor appetite, dif­fi­cul­ty with sleep­ing, and wheez­ing.

As a pedi­a­tri­cian work­ing in Mont­gomery Coun­ty, home to the largest immi­grant com­mu­ni­ty in Mary­land, I have seen first­hand the dev­as­tat­ing effects that aggres­sive immi­gra­tion enforce­ment poli­cies can have on fam­i­lies. Many of these chil­dren are cit­i­zens, born in the Unit­ed States to at least one undoc­u­ment­ed par­ent. Yet these chil­dren often expe­ri­ence what no U.S. cit­i­zen (or any child, for that mat­ter) should. They live in con­stant fear of aban­don­ment because they have seen and heard of neigh­bors and fam­i­ly mem­bers being picked up and deport­ed with­in days.

My patient, a “cit­i­zen child” him­self, was exhibit­ing symp­toms of depres­sion, and like oth­er chil­dren who have lost a par­ent to deten­tion cen­ters, he per­ceives his father’s arrest as some­how being his fault. His moth­er, who must now take over her hus­band’s 15-year role as the fam­i­ly’s bread­win­ner, is strug­gling to pay the bills, to make the lengthy dri­ve to see her hus­band, and to take her son to the doc­tor. These par­ents are good peo­ple: hard­work­ing and hon­est immi­grants from West Africa who pay their tax­es and take good care of their chil­dren. They strug­gle to make a decent life for their fam­i­ly, despite a gru­el­ing, 70-hour work­week.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, their sto­ry is not unique. There are more than 5 mil­lion cit­i­zen chil­dren in this coun­try — and sad­ly, the like­li­hood that one or both of their par­ents will be deport­ed is increas­ing. In order to meet arrest quo­tas, ICE agents are increas­ing­ly going after “soft tar­gets”: immi­grants such as my patien­t’s father, with no crim­i­nal record and for whom ICE had not issued a depor­ta­tion order. Some of these peo­ple are picked up by chance, at work or at home. Some are vic­tims of “res­i­den­tial raids” where immi­gra­tion author­i­ties knock on door after door with no evi­dence that the inhab­i­tants are undoc­u­ment­ed until they can get some­one to admit that he or she is here ille­gal­ly.

Some­times, racial pro­fil­ing is an issue — as in the case, recent­ly revealed, of a Jan­u­ary 2007 raid on a 7‑Eleven in Bal­ti­more. Offi­cers detained 24 Lati­no men, few of them with crim­i­nal records, in an appar­ent effort to meet a quo­ta for arrests.

The future for fam­i­lies like my 8‑year-old patien­t’s looks grim. My patien­t’s suf­fer­ing will prob­a­bly have no influ­ence on his father’s depor­ta­tion pro­ceed­ings, giv­en the high legal stan­dards of “extreme hard­ship” that must be met in order for his father to stay with his fam­i­ly. The boy will most like­ly be forced to start a new life in a coun­try he has nev­er even vis­it­ed.

Immi­gra­tion pol­i­cy is com­pli­cat­ed and emo­tion­al­ly charged, but pun­ish­ing cit­i­zen chil­dren should be at the bot­tom of ICE’s pri­or­i­ties. It is time to once again con­sid­er a fair and com­pre­hen­sive approach to immi­gra­tion reform. One promis­ing pro­pos­al is the “Child Cit­i­zen­ship Pro­tec­tion Act” (intro­duced this year by Rep. Jose Ser­ra­no of New York), which would autho­rize an immi­gra­tion judge to pre­vent depor­ta­tion of an immi­grant when it is in the best inter­est of his or her cit­i­zen chil­dren.

It is essen­tial to enact laws that will pro­mote fam­i­ly reuni­fi­ca­tion, fair­ness and dig­ni­ty over cur­rent enforce­ment tac­tics that tear fam­i­lies apart.

Dr. Lavanya Sithanan­dam, a pedi­a­tri­cian in Tako­ma Park, immi­grat­ed to this coun­try from India at the age of 4. She is a mem­ber of South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er (SAALT), a social jus­tice and advo­ca­cy group. Her e‑mail is drsithanandam@gmail.com.