Immigration Justice and Advocacy: What You Need to Know to Get Involved

By Uma Ribeiro

Editor-in-Chief 

 

Image Source: ACLU of Maryland

What is happening locally?

Immigration coalitions and advocacy groups, their local efforts, and national impact

After vetoing Council Bill Number 51 which would have ended the contract Howard County had with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) back in October, and after ignoring the urges that followed from county residents to close the Howard County detention center, County Executive Calvin Ball finally decided to end the contract in late March of this year. 

However, it is important to note that this decision was not one Ball came to on his own, but was a result of years of pressure from Maryland immigrant advocacy groups, such as CASA and the Friends of Latin America coalition. With this decision, Ball has not yet proven himself an ally of the immigrant community, but rather the immigrant community and activists in Howard County have proven themselves effective. 

A member of Friends of Latin America (FoLA), an advocacy organization for immigration justice whose mission statement is to promote “…awareness, activism, and social responsibility in the United States for more just relationships with Latin America”, commented on the reasons behind why he thought Ball finally chose to end the contract after vetoing Council Bill 51 in October 2020 and being in favor of the detention center in the recent past. 

“There is a progressive tide in the state. Howard County was one of the few counties that still cooperated with ICE, and then legislation was passed on a state level that was going to put an end to this kind of contract or cooperation between local authorities and ICE, and it became a political liability to be seen as one of the few Conservative counties in the state. It was an embarrassment. Also, the fact that at the end, if there were no longer housing, indiscriminately, immigrants, including the ones who didn’t commit any violent crimes, it wouldn’t be such a profitable enterprise for the county anymore, so [it came down to] political convenience, economic profitability. Those are the kinds of factors that played into Ball’s decision. I don’t see any other reason why, because [Ball] himself kept on saying that it was a non-issue, and then all of a sudden it became an issue when the state legislators decided that it was an immoral thing to keep on cooperating with ICE.”

He continued, “I hope when it comes down to defending immigrants rights in the future, Mr. Ball joins us and supports us from day one.”

Since the end of the Howard County contract with ICE, immigrant advocacy groups have been hard at work on getting policies that would protect the immigrant community approved and discussing solutions to unfair policies targeting immigrants. 

“The [Howard County] Council passed the Liberty Act which prohibits any county employees from inquiring to anyone about their immigration status or to cooperate with agencies such as ICE. That was signed into law by Mr. Ball, but there is an effort by Conservative people, I’d say racist Conservative people in Howard County, to overthrow the Liberty Act by collecting signatures…now there’s going to be a public referendum on the fate of the Liberty Act, so we should all be aware of that,” commented the FoLA member on the next steps advocacy groups have taken following the end of the Howard County contract with ICE.  

The FoLA member and immigrant rights advocate also mentioned ways in which those who are not part of immigrant advocacy groups can contribute to immigration reform:

“You can [contribute to immigration advocacy] by joining our coalitions. There are many organizations that are a part of it from all walks of life, different religious groups, different political groups, all very concerned about making sure Howard County is a safe place for immigrants where we feel welcome and respected. Also, to make sure, if there is a referendum, to vote in favor of the immigrants, to not be misled by the rhetoric that Conservatives tend to use about us, about immigrants in general, and to just recognize that we [immigrants] are just your neighbors trying to make a living,” he said. 

The local efforts by immigrant rights advocates have begun to lead to changes in other states, and potentially could lead to changes on a national level as well:

“I can say that at least in New Jersey, for instance, they are proposing statewide legislation to do exactly what we did in Maryland, so Maryland has already become an example to the country.”

The Biden Administration: What is happening nationally? 

The media often portrays the Biden administration as saviors of the immigrant community, constantly comparing Biden and others currently in office with the Trump administration. 

While it is true that those in the Biden administration have recently begun to make some strides towards helping the immigrant community, such as the removal of the “public burden” clause that would force many immigrants to not seek assistance when they need it, extending deportation relief for Haitian immigrants, and the decision to close two ICE jails that came under investigation, it is important to note that the Biden administration still has much to do and many promises to fill regarding immigrant rights. 

Close to Biden’s 100th day in office, a group of United We Dream (the largest immigrant youth-led network in the country) activists went to the White House in protest of the Biden administrations’s unfulfilled promises, such as creating a path to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants. United We Dream sought out their demands for citizenship, defunding ICE, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the police, immediate protections for undocumented immigrants, inclusive COVID-19 relief, and a moratorium on enforcement

Similar to Ball, the strides that Biden has taken towards rights for immigrants is due to the pressure from the immigrant community and immigration rights advocates. 

As reported by The Guardian, It was also discovered only a couple weeks ago that the Biden administration continues to hold “tens of thousands of migrant children” in overcrowded and unsanitary detention facilities. 

Friends of Latin America member adds, “The situation at the border is still very much complicated. Biden has not done nearly as much as he promised which was already very modest to start with. Also, his policies towards Latin America and the rest of the world are still very much the interventionist types of policies that generate upheaval in foreign countries and end up…creating refugees, basically, and making the countries where we [immigrants] come from less stable, less safe for people to live in, so, unless he seriously overhauls the United States’ policies of interfering with other countries’ affairs, there’s still going to be more and more refugees all over the world.”

Resources: Learn More, Get Involved, and Take Action 

Visit the following websites for information on the issues facing immigrants and their families as well as for guides, toolkits, and advice on how you can protect the immigrant community from deportations, unfair arrests, searches, and more:

  • Follow Friends of Latin America on Twitter and Facebook for updates regarding immigration policies and advocacy efforts, and check out their website to learn more about how to get involved.
  • CASA, “a group of passionate, community-conscious people working to organize, advocate for, and expand opportunities for Latino and immigrant people in the state of Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.”

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