DAVID SALGADO may be deported within a few months. Then again, he might not. As the Obama administration made two major, seemingly contradictory, immigration policy announcements this month, the fates of undocumented Portlanders like Salgado, 25, are up for debate.
On August 5, the president announced that despite pushback from several states and city mayors, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would continue to roll out Secure Communities, a program that checks the immigration status of all people booked in county jails. The program caused a stir when it launched in Oregon in spring 2010 ["Criminal Aliens," News, June 24, 2010]. But two weeks later, on August 18, Obama made a second announcement, saying that DHS would review on a case-by-case basis the deportations of young students, veterans, and immigrants with no criminal records.
That puts Salgado in a tricky place. Since he graduated from an American high school after his parents brought him to the country 11 years ago, Salgado would qualify for the Dream Act (an unrealized plan to grant citizenship to undocumented kids who grow up in the US). But Salgado is slated to be deported to Mexico after an arrest for drunken driving in Washington County alerted authorities to his illegal status.
"I really don't know anything about my country," says Salgado, referring to Mexico. "I'm hopeful that my case will get dismissed. I never had a problem with authority. I never get into trouble."
Deportations have increased under the Obama administration by nearly 10 percent, to 393,000 people deported from the US last year.
The feds pitched Secure Communities as a national security measure meant to deport immigrants who pose a "serious risk to public safety." But in practice, the majority of people who wind up deported under the plan are not high-level criminals.
In Multnomah County, only 29 percent of the immigrants deported under Secure Communities were convicted of serious crimes. Statewide, 624 people have been deported under the program, two-thirds of whom have no criminal record or have only been convicted of less serious crimes like traffic violations.
Jaime Guzman, 25, an organizer with the recently formed Northwest Immigrant Youth Alliance, is cynical about the chance to give some deportations a second look. "It's just Obama trying to win the Latino vote," says Guzman.
Guzman says his group is working on four cases of Dream Act eligible youth in Oregon who are still facing deportation proceedings despite Obama's announcement. Part of the problem is that deportations are being reviewed on a case-by-case basis, not systematically.
"There's no procedure, there's no system put in place to review those cases," says Guzman. "This is causing a lot of confusion within our community, with people thinking that deportations are over when they're not."
The group sees building visibility and support for undocumented youth as the best way to change national policy. On September 17, they're planning to host a "Coming Out of the Shadows" action where undocumented immigrants will tell their stories outside the region's deportation holding center in Tacoma, Washington.