“After 5 million criminalizing deportations in less than 10 years, it should be clear that we cannot deport our way to the negotiating table in Congress,” the plan reads. (Sam DeGrave)

A Radical Proposal Calls for a Moratorium on Deportations

The Migrant Justice Platform also offers a simple solution to address the tension between native-born and foreign workers: Protect immigrants’ right to organize.


A version of this story ran in the January / February 2020 issue.

Immigrant advocates are accustomed to losing. From the failure of comprehensive immigration reform to the construction of hundreds of miles of border wall, the pro-immigrant movement has been let down by national Democrats and moderate Republicans over and over. You might think today’s activists would scale back their ambitions, settling for milquetoast reforms. You’d be wrong.

In November, a coalition led by the Texas-based RAICES released the Migrant Justice Platform, a radical proposal aimed at building a new policy consensus among Democratic candidates and advocacy groups. Rejecting the old model of trading border militarization for limited amnesty, the platform is an impassioned appeal from a movement tired of getting screwed over.

As Democratic candidate Joe Biden tries to skate by on Obama’s legacy, the platform takes aim at the former president, who claimed his deportations targeted “felons, not families” and appeared to think harsh enforcement could persuade the GOP to negotiate. “Obama … lent credibility to a pernicious narrative that there are ‘good immigrants’ and bad ones,” the RAICES proposal reads. “But after 5 million criminalizing deportations in less than 10 years, it should be clear that we cannot deport our way to the negotiating table in Congress.”

Instead, the platform calls for a moratorium on all deportations, detention, checkpoints, and raids. The plan demands immediate legal status for all 11 million undocumented immigrants and for decriminalizing border crossings, which Texas’ Julián Castro called for while campaigning earlier this year. Turning an old proposal from ex-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on its head, the platform says the feds should revoke funds from states like Texas that have “sanctuary city” bans.

Rather than promoting “smart” technology-based border security like most Democratic proposals, the plan demands a “stand-alone border de-militarization bill.” Trump’s wall, it says, should become a memorial to immigrants who died crossing the border.

But where the platform truly shines is labor. To address the historical tension between native-born and foreign workers, the plan offers a simple remedy: Protect immigrants’ right to organize. It demands an executive order that puts a firewall between immigration enforcement and workers engaged in union activities and gives workers temporary status based on labor disputes. Rather than exploitative visa programs, it promotes “transnational labor citizenship”—whereby laborers would get a visa through unions or worker centers, not employers, and be required to report illegal labor practices.

The plan opens a policy space where few liberals are comfortable. Of the Democratic front-runners, only Bernie Sanders’ plan comes close. But even Sanders is a recent convert, having spent most of his career as a pro-labor immigration skeptic. Once in office, any Democrat will find it tempting to push immigration to the back burner. (An evergreen truth: The undocumented do not vote.) The platform’s premise is not that the fight will be easy; it’s that the time for half-measures has passed. “Now is the time in history for a policy reset,” the authors write. “But nothing is a given, unless we make it happen.”

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