Salvageable: On Immigrants Not Worth Saving
Dreamers Adrift > Undocublog
Before (or after) reading this post, please take a minute to sign this petition for Manuel and join us on Oct 12, 15, & 16th for call ins. Thank you.
By Rosa Calderon and William Anderson
“Positing decarceration as our overarching strategy, we would try to envision a continuum of alternatives to imprisonment–demilitarization of schools, revitalization of education at all levels, a health system that provides free physical and mental care to all, and a justice system based on reparation and reconciliation rather than retribution and vengeance.”—Angela Davis
Rosa Calderon was recently looking at a website for an immigration rights organization from her home state when the following quote caught her eye: “Organization members work to promote justice for all of Alabama’s immigrants.” She stopped, mulling over “justice for all of Alabama’s immigrants.” Does this organization truly live up to this statement, or does it only promote justice for immigrants that they deem fit? Calderon has sought help to stop her brother’s deportation, but she has been met with a brick wall due to the fact that he has a criminal record.
In the United States today, immigration is demonized with the petty accusation of criminality. Anti-immigrant mouthpieces and organizations often rely on criminality to reinforce their way of thinking to xenophobic troglodytes. This is relevant in every situation of migration on the planet earth today. The irony of this is that immigrant’s rights organizations within the United States often neglect to help immigrants with criminal records; it does not fit the mainstream narrative of comprehensive immigration reform. Apparently, we should only help “non-criminal” immigrants, but denying assistance or access to help for immigrants with criminal records only promotes the view that crime is inseparable from one’s personal worth. To our society, the idea of giving undocumented immigrants with criminal pasts second chances and enabling them to ease into a participatory society seems radical. Furthermore, they are cursed to lose voting rights in several states and have trouble finding jobs. Liberals love to talk about the prison industrial complex and mass incarceration, yet fail to connect those subjects to trying to stop criminal amounts of deportations. I am not able to reasonably say someone deserves to be shipped away from a country, family, and friends because of a mistake. I refuse to follow the illegitimate notion that a history of criminality is on the same scale as one’s worth as a human being. I refuse to punish someone for the rest of their life because of a mistake they made.
Momentarily, Calderon will detail the events leading up to her brother Manuel (unconstitutionally) spending two years in detention. Prior to his detainment he was a green card-carrying immigrant. After traumatic life events, everything changed. This is a story that represents many of us in the black and Latino community. People of color know all too well about the failures of the justice and prison systems. After paying his debt to society Manuel was still not worth saving, he is still not salvageable. Please read about his case and share his story so we can move towards taking action to fight for all of the community, not just the ones who fit a certain image.
Here, Calderon shares her story:
My parents made the difficult decision to migrate from the state of Guerrero, where poverty and lack of education are the norm, leaving me, my older sister, and my brother Manuel in Mexico for over a year before we were able to reunite in the United States. In 1991, even though our father was already a permanent resident, we entered the U.S. without inspection, joining our parents and the newest addition to our family, a U.S.-born baby brother, Javier. For nearly three years our parents worked as strawberry pickers and we lived in a single bedroom in California. Clearly, it was not the version of the American Dream so many chase upon entering the U.S. In June of 1994, we moved to Alabama where my parents were able to find better paying jobs and rent an entire house for the same amount they were paying for a single bedroom back in California.
Adjusting to the Southern way of life was difficult. Spanish was not taught or spoken at the local school, making it more challenging for my siblings and me, who had to act as interpreters for our parents. We had to grow up fast, losing our childhood in the process. My brother Manuel was an active child and did not always know how to fit in at school. It was difficult for him to adjust and to find his identify. Manuel could, however, share his struggles with our younger brother Javier. They were one year apart and they were inseparable.
On September 25, 2004 my brothers were separated as a result of the untimely death of Javier. Our younger brother was the victim of a homicide and his passing was the most terrible event we’ve ever had to endure. None of us knew how to face it, how to react, or how to cope. Watching your family fall apart and being unable to do anything about it was devastating. The worst part was seeing my brother Manuel wrestling with his feelings of guilt. He was present when Javier was shot and felt he should have been able to prevent his death.
One week after Javier’s death, I had to return to college. I had to mourn my brother’s death alone.
One evening I missed a panicked call from Manuel, he was very upset. He reached out to me because we have always been close and have always had each other’s backs. He left a voicemail expressing his feelings of anger and guilt. He didn’t know how to cope with Javier’s death and I was five hours away, unable to console him.
In December of 2006 I received horrible news: my brother Manuel was convicted of third degree burglary and of receiving stolen property. My family had not yet recovered from the death of Javier and now, we had to face this. We came together to help Manuel through the choices he made. Manuel did not have any prior convictions, so the sentencing Judge was lenient with my brother, suspending his10-year sentence for three years’ probation. My brother’s 2006 arrest was the awake up call he needed to get his life back on track. He made drastic life changes and even got married. He and his wife were expecting their first child when again, our family was hit with misfortune. My brother’s wife had a miscarriage and just three months later on April 28, 2010, Manuel was served a Notice to Appear before an immigration judge for his criminal convictions. His Green Card was revoked and he has been in federal detention – rather, let’s call it what it is, federal prison – for more than 28 excruciating months.
When seeking out people to help me put pressure on immigration authorities to give my brother a second chance, someone to help him continue to reside in the United States as a legal permanent resident, why is it that many organizations have turned their back on us, turned their back on a population that needs help? Why doesn’t my brother deserve a chance to continue living in the country he has called home since the age of three? Is it because he made a mistake six years ago when he was stressed, lost, and mourning the death of his brother? Does the belief that “once a criminal, always a criminal” even permeate the organizations that are supposed to help us?
Labeling is something we all do. Once someone is labeled a “criminal,” they are pushed to live on the outskirts of society; they are the unwanted and disregarded. My brother is not societal waste, he is not the label that he has been given. He is a loving husband, a good brother, a respected uncle, and a beloved son. He is a HUMAN BEING. He deserves the empathy and understanding from those who say they work for human rights.
I’m making a public plea: let’s stand together and offer help to those who need it the most. As the sister of a victim of homicide, as the sister of a “criminal,” I say that we open up our hearts and our minds to the humanity of Manuel. He has made mistakes in the past, but this does not makes him unworthy of a second chance.
William C. Anderson is a native of Birmingham Alabama. William attained a bachelors degree in Social Work from University of Alabama at Birmingham in May 2012. At the age of 23, Anderson has over 5 years experience in social justice, community organizing, & non-profit work. The majority of William’s community organizing as of late has surrounded immigration & labor. Anderson is now currently based in Washington DC working for a union, while maintaining a relationship with immigrant’s rights organizations through his affiliation to the National Immigrant Youth Alliance [NIYA] & DreamActivist DC.