Gabino Sanchez: A Canary in the Coal Mine

In case you haven't heard, this past Tuesday, May 15 a rally was held in support of Gabino Sanchez, in order to stop his deportation. Over 300 people from community and advocacy organizations, the faith-based community, and Occupy Charlote showed up and stood in solidarity with Gabino, before he went into his immigration hearing. Gabino also had the support of illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez, who has for months been working with him.

We heard passionate speeches from young people like Action NC's Rossana Simón, who said "Gabino is a role model to me, because even though he is undocumented he still works hard for his family, in order to bring food to the table. He does not give up. . . Gabino is an inspiration for us all".

Gabino Sanchez came to the US as a child, when his family immigrated here in search of a better life. He is now 27 years old and married with 2 US-born children. Last year, he was stopped by the police, while driving into the community where he lives. He was arrested for not having a driver's license. This is what Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is basing their need to deport him on.

After the rally, Gabino, his lawyer, and Gutierrez went into the hearing. When they came out, we found out that the judge agreed to let him stay in the country for now. He will be getting a drivers licens and a work visa, while his case continues. His next court date is February 2013.

Unfortunately, Gabino is not the only victim of our broken immigration system. In the last 3 years, through programs like 287(g) and Secure Communities our government has deported record numbers of people (according to some estimates, more than the last 2 administrations combined). Last year, we reached the 1 million mark.

There are over 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, who have left their countries and braved sometimes hazardeous journies, in order to have a chance at a better life for themselves and their families. Some have left extreme poverty and others have come here fleeing wars or other socioeconomic hardships. In all, the vast majority of these individuals or families are living in the shadows, out of fear that they will be repatriated back to their countries of origin.

Many have tried to go through official channels to come here. But, the waiting list is long and many cannot wait 10+ years, in order to escape economic hardship or violence in their home countries. In the meantime, they have come here and put down roots. These new neighbors in our communities have bought homes, openned local businesses, pay taxes, and are raising children born here. You cannot look at someone and divine their immigration status.

In an attempt at a solution, last year, the Obama administration issued a memorandum announcing a new process whereby anyone who came to the US as a child, has children who are US citizens, and/or who has no serious criminal background (not a violent offender or a threat to national security) would have their deportation cases reviewed and administratively closed. This memo came as a response to a push by immigrant advocate's around the country who have been lobbying for our government to find a positive solution to the debate over what to do with the 11 million unauthorized immigrants now residing in our country.

Gabino is a perfect example of someone that should qualify for relief. He has no criminal record, he came to the US when he was a child, and he has children who are United States citizens. Gabino's case is a testing ground for whether the memo issued last year works or not. The campaign in support of Gabino will not only benefit Gabino. It will set a precedent that will hopefully help others caught in our broken immigration system. To a certain extent, he is the canary in the coal mine.

Unfortunately, the memo does not go far enough. It gives local ICE agents prosecutorial discretion in deciding whether to process an immigration case or not. In other words, it leaves it up to the local agent to decide whether to continue with a case or administratively close it. In many cases, local ICE agents have pushed harder for deportations than before. The memo also does not ensure that immigrants will not be processed again in the future. In the end, the cases are only closed until the next time.