Public Defenders Group Praises New Immigration Legislation, But Criticizes Police ‘Contact’ Details – Urges ‘Defang’ Amendments

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – A coalition of public defenders gave a thumbs up, and thumbs down to new congressional legislation dealing with immigrants that has just been announced, known as the U.S. Citizenship Act, the American Dream and Promise Act, and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act.

“(W)e express grave concerns with legislation that strips due process rights for people who have experienced police contact,” said the Public Defenders Coalition for Immigrant Justice, a nationwide coalition of public defender offices.

The coalition charged that “Any provisions that categorically exclude a person from legalizing their status due to a past criminal conviction or police contact will doubly punish communities surviving cycles of family separation caused by incarceration and deportation.”

“Our Coalition shares in the excitement of introducing legislation that will finally provide needed relief to millions of immigrants throughout the country (but) (a)s public defenders who represent noncitizens in criminal and immigration proceedings, we recognize the pernicious connection between the criminal and civil immigration legal systems that has developed in the past 25 years.

“Every day our offices fight against the devastating impact of criminal and immigration laws that disproportionately punish noncitizens. We witness how the criminal legal system, especially the ‘War on Drugs,’ ‘broken windows’ and ‘stop and frisk’ policing, have long targeted Black people and other communities of color.

“These are the same communities which are the most susceptible to immigration enforcement and deportation. In fact, our immigration system relies on state and local criminal legal systems to find noncitizens, detain them, and subject them to the civil deportation process.”

Noting that existing criminalization bars in the Immigration and Nationality Act are extensive and “can only be characterized as draconian and highly punitive,” the coalition said they are “prime examples: of tough-on-crime “policies that have long resulted in poverty, incarceration and traumatized generations of immigrants and their families.

“(W)e are disappointed to see that the recent immigration reform bills have not addressed these issues. While we strongly support the urgent need to create pathways to legal status and citizenship for noncitizens, these bills further a dangerous divide in our nation’s immigration policy between those the government deems “deserving” and those it does not.

“We urge Congress to repeal the broad and punitive criminal grounds of inadmissibility and deportability, end the arrest to deportation pipeline, end mandatory detention, and ensure the right to counsel for all immigrants facing deportation,” the coalition said.

Criticizing Congress’ failure to address the Immigration and Nationality Act’s extensive and “punitive bars,” the group said it was “dismayed to see that these bills would expand the categories of ineligibility by creating additional criminalization bars to legal status and citizenship, thereby even more broadly excluding Black and Latinx communities.”

They cited examples, including that the measures would make people who have been convicted of either two or three misdemeanors ineligible for legal status, and those would be lifetime bars.

“This type of perpetual punishment subjects Black and Latinx immigrants to live in fear and instability for no justifiable reason. Additionally, provisions in the American Dream and Promise Act include a second layer of review through which applications could be denied under the guise of “public safety.” Public safety has long been used as a pretext for criminalizing immigrants and should not be a determination made by a civil immigration agency,” the coalition added.

“We have an opportunity to lift up immigrant communities by building pathways to legal status and citizenship. Now is the time to stop criminalizing immigrants and to instead build stable, prosperous and vibrant communities for immigrants, their families, and for all of us. It is time for immigrants to stop having to live under the constant fear of incarceration, separation, and deportation.

“We must break from the unjust and outdated practice of granting immigration relief for some in exchange for harsher punishments and criminalization of others. Excluding those with police contact ignores that systemic racism in the criminal legal system inequitably triggered those contacts, resulting in the unjust convictions that are then used to vilify and deport immigrants of color,” the coalition stated.

The defenders do support amendments to the measures, including those proposed by Congressmembers Jesús ‘Chuy’ García, Ayanna Pressley, and Pramila Jayapal, which would “defang some of the criminalization bars.”

“We urge Congress to commit to the creation of new policies that do not disproportionately punish immigrants of color who have been subject to over-policing in their communities, but instead includes them in the opportunities for lawful status and citizenship,” the coalition added.

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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