“CRIMINAL”: Think about who we lose when we say that.

Originally posted on August 24, 2011 in response to the Obama Administration’s announcement to prioritize “Criminal Aliens” for detention and deportation. 

“I entered the United States as an infant, made my mistakes as a juvenile and was punished for those mistakes as a young adult. And as I now embrace life as a reformed, working civilian and father, the actions of my past still haunt me with what my fate might be. I can only implore mercy from a system in which I trust forgiveness and second chances still exist.”

This was written by Chally Dang on December 4, 2010, while he was detained at York County Prison in Pennsylvania. After 253 days of detention he was deported to Cambodia, a country he fled as a child refugee. Now, as a 30 year old man, he is separated from his wife, four young children, his house, his job, and Philadelphia, the only place he calls home – all for a crime he committed when he was 15.

1Love Movement believes in a system that recognizes the value of family, the value of offering the best we can for our next generation, the value of learning from our mistakes, and the value inherent in the right of a child to grow up with their parents. We do not believe in a system that uses words like “illegal” and “criminal” to divide communities that are fighting for all of these values in unity. We do not believe in a system that divides us into categories of those who are deserving and those who are not.

We stand in solidarity with families around the country who find hope in the Obama Administration’s recent announcement. We are inspired by the heart and relentless defiance of our allies who have taken great risk to elevate issues that effect all of us. And we view this announcement as proof of the power we have to shift unjust policy in a humane direction.

However, we strongly urge caution moving forward. Genuine victory can only be achieved through reform that provides due process and human rights to all people in spite of their immigration or criminal history, and that puts family first. We are deeply saddened and alarmed by the blanket usage of language such as “criminal” that strips individuals of their humanity by classifying them as “threats to society” without taking into consideration their individual circumstances.

We call on the Obama administration to consider the flaws in the criminal justice system, the undeniable presence of racial profiling in law enforcement, societal failures that encourage juvenile delinquency, national economic instability, xenophobia, poverty, and the state of our public education system. We call on the Obama administration to consider the flaws in the immigration system, which orders people deported for misdemeanors and minor crimes, retroactive enforcement, mandatory detention, and lack of individualized review based on merit and character. We cannot simplify individuals who live through all of these contexts to one word – “criminal”, and are therefore expendable, without considering the implications for the next generation and the implications of how we choose to view people, particularly ex-offenders, in our society.

We view efforts to label immigrants as either criminal or non-criminal as dangerous and offensive – as it justifies, under the false premise of keeping our communities safe, the continual denial of human rights to people who will now be increasingly targeted for deportation under pre-existing and unjust law, and further supports a system of inequality that tears families apart in communities across the country.

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