On Sunday, May 16, 2010, Pomona College will celebrate the One Hundred and Seventeenth Commencement ceremony in the College’s history as we graduate the Class of 2010. This year’s commencement speaker will be Janet Napolitano, head of the Department of Homeland Security, the primary federal official responsible for the US immigration system.
As members of the faculty of the College, and as members of the Department of Chicano/Latino Studies, my colleagues and I are honored to participate in a ceremony that celebrates the achievements of the graduating seniors. But we would not be doing our job as members of an institution of higher education–or as people of conscience who have dedicated their lives to advancing understanding for the betterment of our society and world–if we let this moment pass without recognizing the opportunity for learning it provides.
That is why we composed the following, which is being distributed as I write these words:
“They only are loyal to this college who departing bear their added riches in trust for mankind.”
James A. Blaisdell, President of Pomona College (1910-1927)
As we celebrate the Pomona College class of 2010, we wear white stoles as a symbolic statement in support of immigrants’ fundamental human rights. As people of conscience, we call for 1) an immediate end to the current practice of raids, detentions, and deportations that divide families and violate rights, 2) meaningful legislation which enables real immigration reform, and 3) a fair path to citizenship.
IMMIGRANTS ARE AMERICANS
Before 1965, immigration to the US was regulated solely on the basis of “racial fitness.” Northern European migration was easy while migration from Asia, Africa, and Latin America was limited or banned. Still, workers were “imported” from the Third World to do a host of undesirable jobs.
Approximately 14% of the current US population is foreign-born. (US Census Bureau) “Unauthorized” migrants are individuals who either reside or work in the US without authorization. They comprise less than 4% of the US population, but more than 5.4% of the US workforce. (US Dept. of Labor)
17% of US construction workers are unauthorized migrants. 25% of the people who pick your food are unauthorized migrants. (Passel 2009)
IMMIGRANT RIGHTS ARE HUMAN RIGHTS
According to the Government Accounting Office, on average, ONE person dies everyday while trying to cross the US-Mexico border.
The US does NOT imprison most unauthorized immigrants for criminal violations, because being an unauthorized immigrant is not a criminal offense but a civil violation.
More than 350,000 immigrants are detained by the US each year, including asylum seekers, survivors of torture and human trafficking, lawful permanent residents and the parents of U.S. citizen children. (US Dept. of Homeland Security)
Immigrants can be detained for months (even years) without any form of judicial review of their status. More than 80% percent can not obtain legal representation. (Human Rights Watch)
Detainees often do not get timely treatment for their medical needs. 74 people have died while in immigration detention over the past five years. Detention facilities standards are not legally binding. With little oversight for abuse or neglect, many US practices violate international standards. (Amnesty International)
IMMIGRATION REFORM IS FAIR, AFFORDABLE, AND HUMANE
The average cost of detaining an immigrant is $95 per person/per day, but alternatives cost as little as $12. Despite the proven effectiveness of these less restrictive alternatives, the US chooses imprisonment. (Amnesty International)
Congress should pass legislation ensuring detention be used as a measure of last resort. When it is used, all detained persons should have access to individualized hearings on their detention.
Reporting requirements should be fair, non-invasive, and not difficult to comply with, especially for families with children and those of limited financial means.
The US government should ensure the adoption of enforceable human rights detention standards in all detention facilities. There should be effective independent oversight to ensure compliance with detention standards and accountability for any violations.