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The Reality of Immigrant Lives


This open letter to John McCain and Jeff Flake was both touching and disturbing in a number of ways:

Thursday night I heard a banging knock at the door. I looked through the window and immigration agents asked me to open the door, conducting an “investigation.” They asked for Maria, my mother, and as soon she stepped out they abruptly, forcefully pulled her out and handcuffed her in front of me and Angel, my 16 year old brother. They also detained my older brother for no cause. Angel pointed out to them that they needed to take her medications because of her cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure. They laughed in his face, then ignored him. I felt helpless. Under this horrific scenario I didn’t know what else to do. I wanted to run and pull them both away from them but I couldn’t.

I spent an entire night crying and lonely. At every corner of my house, my mother and brother’s touches and memories were there. The most important people in my life had been taken from me.

At that point I remembered that I am also an immigrant rights advocate and that I have a national community and youth movement behind me. Within minutes I made calls, typed text messages, and signed on social media to tell friends what had just occurred. Pleading, I made a call to action. Almost immediately, community leaders and elected officials from Arizona, Florida, New York and Washington D.C. activated a national network of political power within the Latino community. The morning after, my brother was released from detention. Three hours later we learned that the bus taking her to the border had turned around and my mother was coming back home.

First, there’s the fact that hundreds of thousands of people in this nation live in fear of every knock on the door. These people who have come to the United States to make their lives better, and to make our country better. So when you hear these individual stories, it’s terrible.

But it gets more disturbing. Erika Andiola, the lead author on this letter, is an immigration activist. She knew what to do when her mother and brother were taken. She tapped into her network and got them freed. But there’s one of two possibilities here. First, her mother and brother were taken without cause and about to be shipped to Mexico for no reason, violating their rights. Or second, the immigration system is so irrevocably broken that even if, under current law, these people could legally be shipped back to Mexico, the system is so arbitrary that a few phone calls can change the status of an individual.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of immigrants don’t have activist family members like Andiola and they get shipped out of the country. It’s stories like these, with cops rounding up people at home and work, which is why we need comprehensive immigration reform as soon as possible.

That leads us to what are at least some interesting words from Marco Rubio. If he’s willing to basically accept the Obama immigration plan, then I think we are in good shape for something real happening. Although it should be noted that massive backlash from the Republican base could make that difficult in the House. But I do think something positive will happen. Part of me wants Obama to use this leverage to move the goalposts more toward immigrant rights. The back taxes thing is absurd–not only do most immigrants pay taxes, but they are ineligible for many services. Maybe the government should pay the immigrants for their wasted taxes. But in any case, the important thing is that something gets passed to give immigrants a path to citizenship.

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  • rea

    they are illegible for many services.


  • commie atheist

    Also worth noting that this episode happened under Obama, who could certainly be directing ICE to not pull this kind of bullshit.

    • rea

      Yeah–the 16 year old in particular–I though Obama had, with much fanfare, prohibited that.

      • Hob

        Obama’s policy might prevent that kid from being deported, depending on whether he meets the DREAM Act criteria. But it doesn’t prevent ICE from arresting him and holding him without explanation for a while. They arrest plenty of people who aren’t deportable.

      • efgoldman

        I though Obama had, with much fanfare, prohibited that.

        Because every agent on the ground, a zillion layers of management below the President, in an agency that attracts true-believing thugs, got the word and immediately snapped to with a brisk “yes, SIR.”

        • commie atheist

          I guess that’s why they keep arresting and prosecuting medical mariiuana growers, too. “We don’t answer to the President of the United States! We answer to a much higher authority than that!”

          • Alan in SF

            I think there’s a law of physics to the effect that harrassment and persecution will expand to fill whatever harrassment and persecution infrastructure you create.

            • RedSquareBear

              Boyle’s law for assholes?

          • pete

            The Coca-Cola Company of America?

        • ChrisTS

          Thank you for this. I get that we always want to blame whoever is ‘at the top.” but that is a rather silly approach in many cases.

    • Manta

      The cossacks work for the czar.

      • Steve LaBonne

        If only the good king knew what his ministers were doing in his name! But how could he possibly know?

      • This isn’t a monarchy, and the “Kossacks” have their own, Congressionally-granted authority and mission.

  • Murc

    But in any case, the important thing is that something gets passed to give immigrants a path to citizenship.

    Hell, just legal residence would be plenty.

    My fathers extended family doesn’t have a single naturalized citizen in it as far as anyone knows. The network of cousins I’m familiar with are all the grandchildren of people who came here from Sicily and lived here for decades without feeling the need to jump through all the hoops to become citizens. They came over and got jobs and raised families and nobody said ‘boo’ to them.

  • This is a great post, but I have one objection. I don’t like talking about “comprehensive” reform. I get the point – not doing it piecemeal. But something can be comprehensive without being good. I don’t have a pithy way to sum up what I think we need, but I think trying to find a way to say that would be helpful.

  • LeeEsq

    I work as an immigration lawyer and the immigration system is so complex that its a miracle that any of it functions. Technically, if an undocumented alien is arrested by USCIS than that person should not be removed immediately unless there is an existing removal order.* If there is no existing removal order, the alien should be served with a Notice to Appear and placed in removal proceedings in front of an Immigration Judge. The removal proceedings will determine whether an alien could stay in the United States or not. This does not always happen and aliens have been removed without proceedings but the system usually works as designed.

    *Before 1996 immigrants were put either in deportation proceedings or exclusion proceedings depending on how far they were in the United States before the government learned of their presence. IRAIRA combined the two proceedings into removal proceedings.

    • LeeEsq

      And bluntly, I do not see the complexity of the immigration system as a bad thing. The more complex systems are usually more forgiving to immigrants than the simpler systems from my observation.

      • I can see that point. Bureaucratic inefficiency can be a good thing for some.

        • LeeEsq

          Its not just bureaucratic efficiency but American immigration law offers more paths to permanent residency, and therefore citizenship, than a lot of other immigration codes. We also, along with Canada, grant asylum to more refugees by percentage and numbers than most other democratic countries. Plus there are lots of ways to legally stay in the United States for life without a green card. European countries are a lot stricter on this. In many, probably most European countries including Scandinavian countries, asylum seekers are kept in custody until their fate is determined. This allows for quicker deportation if they are denied asylum. In the United States, asylum seekers are generally not detained and remain free for the entirety of their case.

          • Here it’s important to distinguish between two related but different things: 1) asylum grants to people in-country, 2) refugee resettlement. For 1), what matters most of all is % granted, and the US is much better than most countries at that, and better than every European country at treatment post-application and pre-grant. I’m unsure on the raw numbers of grants here compared to Europe or other countries, but don’t think the the US is bad here, either. For 2), the big question is whether the proper number is total grants or grants per-capita. The US has often done very well on raw numbers, but does much less well than many others (particular the Scandinavian countries) on per-capita numbers. Raw numbers in the US went way down for a while post Sept. 11th, but are back up some now. But, given the size and wealth of the US, we could do much more on refugee resettlement than we do, even given our reasonably generous rate of asylum grants. (Resettlement deals, primarily, with people in refugee camps abroad seeking permanent places to live. Asylum, in US law, relates to people who come to to the US on their own and then apply for refugee protection. This is an important groups, but a smaller one than people in camps abroad.)

          • Lurker

            I’d like to disagree on particulars, although not on the sentiment. My country, Finland, has a very strict immigration policy, and a stricter asylum policy. In 2011, 3567 decisions on asylum were made (for roughly a same amount of asylum seekers):
            * 169 persons received an asylum proper, with full regugee status. (This is reserved for cases where a person proves actual personal persecution and results in a status where a person immediately enjoys all social benefits on par with citizens.)
            * 714 persons were allowed to remain as protected persons, due to the internal unrest of their citizenship country which makes deportation inpractical.
            * 143 persons were allowed to remain for humanitarian reasons.
            * 245 persons received residence permit for non-asylum related reasons.
            * 1890 requests were denied, usually resulting in deportation and exclusion from Schengen area.

            Asylum seekers are not detained automatically. Instead, they are only detained if they have committed crimes or it is assumed that they would not surrender for eventual deportation. However, all asylum seekers are offered immediately upon application voluntary accomodation (and meals) in accommodation centers, and their social benefits are clearly inferior if they choose to live elsewhere. In practice, most applicants are paupers and have no choice but accomodation in asylum seeker centers.

            And yes: Finland deports everyone who is in Finland without legal permission, as far as this is practically possible.

        • Timb

          Especially for we of the legal profession

    • L.M.

      Since this system is unfamiliar to most people, I’d also just like to highlight two other things that might not be intuitive or obvious:

      1. Immigration proceedings occur in the jurisdiction where the Notice to Appear is filed (and not, for instance, in the jurisdiction where a noncitizen is taken into custody). This is often far away from the place where the noncitizen has lived (and may have family, etc.); it’s also often far away from a potential lawyer. This is also important because immigration adjudication is extremely uneven, depending on where you are and what Immigration Judge you get.

      2. The people we call Immigration Judges aren’t actually members of the federal judicial branch. They’re employees of the Executive Office for Immigration Review, an office in the Department of Justice. They’re just DOJ attorneys, appointed by the attorney general.

      • LeeEsq

        The law of venue still controls unless the immigrant is detained. The alien is supposed to be in the immigration court closest to his or her home address. The majority of people in the immigration court system are not detained because it would be way to expensive to do so.

        I think its a good thing that Immigration Judges are only appointees of the attorney-general. Getting anyone confirmed through Congress would be a struggle. Also, both the United States government and immigrants have reason to want proceedings to be as fast as possible and my clients frequently complain to me about how long things are taking. This requires relaxed evidentiary rules. In immigration proceedings, nearly all evidence is admissible. The IJ could give it great, little, or no weight but evidence is rarely excluded. Testimony is also much more important, especially in asylum cases, than it is in more typical court.

  • Alan in SF

    I just want to mention the often overlooked fact that this takes place all along the northern border too. The pleasant vacation towns of the Olympic Peninsula, just to name one locale I’ve experienced personally, are overrun with border patrol.

    Moar Cop Cars!

    • Warren Terra

      And unless you count a couple of ferry ports, it’s not like the Olympic Peninsula actually borders even our friendly (and wealthy) neighbors to the north.

  • Michael H Schneider

    “First, there’s the fact that hundreds of thousands millions of people in this nation live in fear of every knock on the door.”

    Other than the 1%, is there any one who doesn’t fear the knock on the door at night? Immigrants certainly have more to fear, but even as a well off old white guy I certainly felt fear when stopped by a bunch of guys with automatic rifles and big dogs at a checkpoint in Arizona – and I was carrying my passport in anticipation of exactly such an event.

  • Gareth Wilson

    Does Maria Arreola have the right to live in the United States?

    • Xenos

      She may have such a right. There is a process to determine this. That process does not involve dragging her from her house and putting her on a bus to Mexico.

      • Gareth Wilson

        So you would support her being deported, if all the proper procedures were followed?

        • Xenos

          As a legal matter, yes, of course. As a moral and political matter, no. But a system that strictly follows the law and only removes people when full due process has run its course is nothing to sneeze at.

          The only sensible policy at this point is to take the 25 year back log of family unification cases from Mexico and the the Phillipines and give them all green cards toute suite. Then look at the fairest and best approach for the cases like Maria Arreola.

          • Gareth Wilson

            OK, so you don’t think deporting Maria Arreola would be morally right. What about stopping her from entering the country in the first place?

            • Xenos

              What about it? Is there any indication she entered the country illegally?

            • Murc

              What about stopping her from entering the country in the first place?

              I’m not Xenos, but I think just about anyone who wants to come here and make a life for themselves should be allowed to.

              The vast majority of Americans are descended from people who had to meet immigration requirements much looser than what we have now. My own great-grandfather was an illiterate Sicilian with no job skills; the people at Ellis waved him on through without a second thought. I wouldn’t exist if not for him. I find denying other people this opportunity to be problematic.

              • Gareth Wilson

                So how many people, to the nearest million, do you think would immigrate to the United States under that policy?

                • Malaclypse

                  Probably a lot, but probably fewer, in percent-of-population terms, than came in the 1ate 1800s, back when we went from an agricultural backwater to the greatest industrial power the world had ever seen.

                • Murc

                  So how many people, to the nearest million, do you think would immigrate to the United States under that policy?

                  I don’t know. Is that relevant?

                  Serious question. The country doesn’t have a very high population density to begin with, there’s an awful lot of work to be done here, and we have, historically, proven ourselves able to absorb truly staggering numbers of people both in absolute and relative terms.

                • Gareth Wilson

                  Malaclypse,the immigration peak around that time was 1.3 million in 1907. US population in 1910 was 92 million. So that’s the equivalent of about 4 million per year now, most of whom will be poorly educated and have poor English. I’m not sure that would benefit the economy much.

                • Malaclypse

                  Then why did it work so very, very well then? Do we suck that much more now?

                • Witt

                  We don’t have to guess. Gallup has done some pretty extensive polling. Worldwide, there are about 640 million adults who would migrate to another country if given the opportunity.

                  About 150 million of them would come to the US if they could

            • rea

              Gareth, as long as we have an economy that employs people like Maria Arreola by the millions, we’re going to have people like Maria Arreola in this country. The only question is whether we tret them decently.

    • Bruce Baugh

      Gareth, even though you’re being – or trying to be – a bullying fuckwit here, I wouldn’t support throwing you on a bus for deportation if you were accused of a crime. The same is true for Ms. Arreola, who was apparently not trying to be a bullying fuckwit.

  • Mike G

    Angel pointed out to them that they needed to take her medications because of her cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure. They laughed in his face, then ignored him.

    And if she’d died in custody from her medical problems, there’d be a few shrugs, a quick whitewash inquiry and no repercussions.
    Is being an asshole a requirement for law enforcement? Do they screen for it – will they let you in even if you’re not a bullying douchebag?

    • RhZ

      Yes they do and no they won’t.

    • Pestilence

      It’s just one of those fields that assholes naturally gravitate to – not all law enforcement are assholes, by any means.

    • JL

      I’ve met some cops who are not assholes, even in the most unlikely places/under the most unlikely circumstances. But there are way too many that are…and most of the non-assholes are either naive about what the assholes are doing, or don’t do anything about what the assholes are doing.

      You could argue that that means the non-assholes are actually assholes. But I think the real problem there is a broken system rather than individual personalities.

    • JL

      Oh, and cops denying medications or medical treatment to people is about what I’d expect, unfortunately.

      I was once at a protest where the cops took an Epi-pen from a young woman (who was deathly allergic to peanuts) who was arrested and laughed when she asked to have it back. Then they put her in a cell where, for some reason, the toilet was filled with peanut shells (my source on this is one of my fellow medics who was in the same cell and had witnessed the arrest). The police behavior at this protest was reported by the media as having been exemplary and a model for the nation.

      In the protest context (I don’t mean to imply that the medical needs of activists are more important than those of immigrants minding their own business, it’s just that the protest context is the one I’m personally familiar with) this is why after mass arrests you have medics waiting at the jail as arrestees are released, so that the arrestees can get first aid and be screened for serious damage and be assisted in getting to a hospital if need be.

  • There is no doubt that immigrants even if legal are subject to a lot more arbitrary police action than citizens. But, the real problem is deeper and has two main roots. First, legal immigration to the US while much easier than into the racist and “progressive” European Union is still far too difficult for qualified people. There is no reason for educated people who speak English and have skills as well as relatives that are US citizens should have to wait years or even in some cases decades to get visas from the US embassies in Mexico City or Lima. I personally know of some cases just like this in Mexico and Peru that have taken over a decade. While there are lots of complaints about illegal immigrants and lack of rights for immigrants one thing that would help on both fronts would be greater legal immigration.

    Second, and here is where I think Dr. Loomis might have more insight than me is that a lot of US companies like to hire illegal immigrants because they do not have to abide by things like minimum wage and other labor laws. They also tend not to form unions as frequently as citizens or legal immigrants. Hence illegal immigration becomes a way of importing a “helot caste” of workers with no legal protections. If companies hiring and abusing illegals were actually prosecuted for these violations on a regular basis it would improve things. If no company will hire illegals because it is a crime and if legal immigration is made easier you will see a reduction in illegal immigration which will among other things benefit the immigrants themselves.

    • David Nieporent

      Second, and here is where I think Dr. Loomis might have more insight than me is that a lot of US companies like to hire illegal immigrants because they do not have to abide by things like minimum wage and other labor laws.

      Yes, they do.

      • Malaclypse

        Small words, Davey – undocumented workers won’t report employers who break the law. That is true, and you knew that was true.

        That said, it really is rather difficult to employ undocumented workers (for any number of undocumented greater than very, very few) without engaging in some fairly obvious accounting/payroll fraud, of the sort that is painfully easy to detect.

        • Murc

          Er… is this true?

          There are millions of undocumented workers in-country and a couple industries that are explicitly built around abusing them as an economic model. SOMEONE is employing them.

          • Malaclypse

            My belief was that most are in small construction companies, small domestic service, places that deal a lot in cash. You can hide a lot dealing with cash. But (and this is a hypothetical) if my boss came to me this afternoon with a plan to replace half our employees with undocumented workers, my response would be “I can’t hide this. In six months, the workers comp audit will shut us down. And if that auditor manages to miss it, which s/he won’t, the CPAs will catch it on review.”

            Payroll is a number that gets looked at. A lot. By multiple entities. Some of which are specifically looking for fraud. And the fraud that would be needed to hide it is pretty high-risk.

          • There was a huge amount of the type of fraud Mal talks about that was not very well prosecuted in Arizona when I lived there. The authorities occasionally would bust a place up and find a huge number of undocumented workers. But, there were lots of places that they just turned a blind eye towards. In particular in the agricultural, construction, and food service industries some places hired large numbers of undocumented immigrants. I have heard that the situation is similar in California where my parents live.

          • Timb

            Contractors constantly hire my SS clients for cash — large and small. Most of the illegals my family knows work in agricultural, especially food processing plants

            • Malaclypse

              I’m genuinely curious – large company employers, or relatively small?

              • Aidian

                In a lot of cases it will be large companies that contract with smaller companies who technically employ the workers — in some cases that means the workers basically work for company x, but their paycheck reads company y, giving x deniability.

        • Timb

          No, David knows that employers ALWAYS follow the law. I mean, he’s an attorney who is –somehow — unaware that most immigration assistance organizations have to beg immigrants to report crimes and abuses, but he also beIeves being a courtesan to the upper class is his only path to success.

          • Dave

            Well, he’s probably right on the last point.

            • Anonymous

              He certainly isn’t going anywhere based on brains or talent.

              Or charm, for that matter.

              An odious little shit.

              • Rhino


          • David Nieporent

            Perhaps you’re confused. We’re not talking about “reporting crimes,” for which the only thing the illegal immigrant gets out of it, I guess, is the satisfaction of seeing the malefactor punished. We’re talking about employment law, where there’s money at stake for them. And unlike Tim, whose main contribution to life is proving that he can be an asshole while hiding behind Internet anonymity, I actually represent illegal immigrants in these lawsuits.

        • David Nieporent

          You don’t know what the hell you are talking about. My file cabinets at work are filled with employment cases brought by illegal immigrants. (Courts are extremely protective of them; their immigration status is not only deemed inadmissible, but not discoverable at all.)

  • Josh G.

    What is the current legal procedure for dealing with suspected illegal immigrants? I’m guessing that “put them on a bus straight to Mexico” isn’t it. Doesn’t there have to be some sort of legal hearing to verify if the person has the right to be in the U.S. or not? How common is it for border patrol / ICE agents to take these kind of “shortcuts”?

    • When I lived on the border of Arizona and Mexico in Arivaca the border patrol would round up hundreds of people each day and put them on a bus down to Nogales. They collected them at the corner of the two main roads. Some people turned themselves in after running out of water. Others were drug smugglers who had made their drop off and wanted a free ride back to Nogales and turned themselves in. The vast majority were people apprehended in the area by the Border Patrol who had no documentation, spoke no English, and knew no local residents. I do not think they bothered giving most of these people any type of formal hearings. It was pretty evident that they had recently crossed the border from Mexico without US permission and were headed towards Tucson.

    • Witt

      The procedure can be extraordinarily quick and cursory. Here’s an official explanation from the Dept. of Homeland Security.

      Expedited Removal – The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 authorized the DHS to quickly remove certain inadmissible aliens from the United States.

      The authority covers aliens who are inadmissible because they have no entry documents or because they have used counterfeit, altered, or otherwise fraudulent or improper documents.

      The authority covers aliens who arrive in, attempt to enter, or have entered the United States without having been admitted or paroled by an immigration officer at a port-of-entry.

      The DHS has the authority to order the removal, and the alien is not referred to an immigration judge except under certain circumstances after an alien makes a claim to lawful status in the United States or demonstrates a credible fear of persecution if returned to his or her home country.”

      In practice, if someone does want to request asylum (that’s what the “fear of persecution” refers to), they are often put in immigration prison for months or years to await a hearing. There is no right to counsel.

  • RhZ

    One aspect that I can add is that the evangelicals seem to be getting on board as well, at least some leaders (or so I read the other day). The evangelicals must be quite demoralized at this point, and many I suspect will turn inward, away from big P politics. Some may well start to focus on social justice and other similar areas, others may just disappear from these debates entirely.

    So, I feel a reasonable outcome would be passage of a bill based on limited GOP support and limited evangelical support. I would assume the broader GOP is more racist than the religious, although perhaps not significantly more so.

    So, limited optimism.

  • To those that think the problem is made worse by things like workplace safety or minimum wage laws, the solution is obvious – extend those laws to everyone. That makes the position of ALL workers stronger, as opposed to eliminating those laws, which obviously puts many workers in a worse position.

    • Malaclypse

      Technically, as Davey points out above, the laws already do apply to all workers. But practically, an undocumented worker is unlikely to report a violation.

      I’d argue that the answer is more I-9 audits.

  • Joe

    Voices of actual people in the system. Helpful.

    A Dream Act supporter is Reyna Grande, e.g., the author of a few books, including the autobiography The Distance Between Us. She — after two times failing — came over via coyote at age ten with her father (who came over years earlier and worked at a retirement home using a bought SS card) and two siblings. She obtained her legal residency per the changes set forth during the Reagan Administration and became a citizen years later.


  • Epicurus

    I must take issue with your use of the term “taken without cause.” I am quite certain that there was some reasonable suspicion that Mrs. Andiola had entered the country without inspection. Like it or not, that is still a violation of Federal law. The “Dream Act” kids should not be treated the same as those who knowingly broke the law. I am not apologizing for any overreach or less-than-respectful treatment during her arrest/detention, but let’s stop splitting hairs here. I can make no comment regarding the brother’s detention, as there are not enough facts in evidence. Yes, we need to reform our laws, and yes, we need to find some “path to citizenship,” especially for those who were brought here as children. They had no choice in the matter; their parents most certainly did.

    • Malaclypse

      I am quite certain that there was some reasonable suspicion that Mrs. Andiola had entered the country without inspection.


    • Joe


      The letter itself doesn’t say the mother was taken without cause … it says the brother was. The reference to the mother comes from commentary on the letter.

      • Joe

        They also detained my older brother for no cause.

        is the OP reading “also” as meaning both the mother and brother was detained w/o cause? That isn’t a necessary reading and given the apparent facts, somewhat of an unwise one.

  • Aidian

    Why the hell did he open the door? Everyone, immigrant or native, needs to remember there’s only one thing you say when finding cops on your doorstep:

    “slide the warrant under the door or get the off the property.”

    If possible, roll video of the situation, preferably using that ACLU app that provides instant upload to an offsite host.

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