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Fight for immigration reform continues

Updated: November 12, 2013 6:23AM

A shuttered government hasn’t shut down passion for immigration reform: Thousands rallied in D.C.’s National Mall last weekend, demanding “dignity and respect” for the millions of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. And thousands will take to the streets of Chicago again this weekend, calling for common sense reform — and now.

In the face of the headline-grabbing distractions of a government shutdown, a looming credit downgrade and continued heartbreak in Syria, the fact that the immigration reform movement is this organized is a testament to the passion of the people and the urgency of the issue. But partisan politics and political grandstanding consistently trump common sense and compromise on Capitol Hill. And this dysfunction in our government has stalled progress toward a fix to our long-broken immigration system in the House of Representatives. The lack of movement on reform has rightly moved people into the streets.

But while scores of advocacy organizations — the Latino Policy Forum among them — stand in solidarity with those who have marched and plan to march this weekend, we must continue to raise the volume on other strategies. That’s why we call for a moratorium on deportations, a means to keep immigrants poised to benefit from potential reform in the country while legislation crawls through Congress. This is something that President Obama can do via executive order, thus bypassing the stalemate on Capitol Hill.

The president’s deportation policies deserve a hard look: He’s broken records by deporting an average of 400,000 immigrants a year, a number that is 30 percent higher than the annual average under Bush. And despite his August 2011 policy of “prosecutorial discretion” that promised to focus scarce enforcement resources on those immigrants who commit violent crimes, current data show that less than 15 percent of current deportations are linked to criminal activity, according to numbers crunched by Syracuse University.

Here in Illinois, the deportation of the other 85 percent — the immigrants whose only crime was to come to the United States to look for work — translates to thousands of broken families each year, with U.S.-born children left without a parent — or worse, in foster care. And economically speaking, deportation of Illinois’ undocumented population would cost the state $25.6 billion in economic activity, $11.4 billion in gross state product, and approximately 119,214 jobs, according to a report by the Perryman Group, a Texas-based economic and financial analysis firm.

In both economic and humanitarian terms, we simply can’t afford to keep separating families — and as Chicagoans take to the streets this weekend, that’s the message that both our president and our divided Congress need to hear loud and clear.

Sylvia Puente is executive director of the Latino Policy Forum.

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