Recognize the Sacredness and Dignity of All Families

Susan Reed is the Managing Attorney of the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (the organization leading Welcoming Michigan). She recently shared her thoughts on President Obama's Nov. 20, 2014, Executive Actions and what she hopes for in the coming months. The bond between parents and children is an experience of divine love. The mystery of filial love is explored deeply in many faiths as I understand them, and is at the heart of my own as a Catholic. The Genesis story of God's asking Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, the son he loved and had so longed for, prefigures the central event of Christianity. And of course, it's sacred Jewish text that forms a part of Islam as well. For 12 years, I've practiced immigration law, and I've been doing it for half that time as a parent. Not everyone has to become a parent to have their understanding of love and of life expanded, but I absolutely did. When I held my daughter for the first time, a part of my humanity that was sitting dark and dormant just lit up -- it was electrifying and it's exponential. Especially since becoming a parent, it has been more difficult for me to have conversations with clients and callers desperate to have the sacredness of their bond with their children recognized. I've had to explain over and over that most of the time the impact of their deportation on their children does not matter under our law. Some accept this news quickly and graciously. Perhaps they do so in deference to my education, my experience, my privilege. Perhaps they are just accustomed to bad news. Others push back, arguing from a place of moral certainty that their families matter. And so I've explained to people that they can and will be deported in spite of how it will affect their children and their communities. I've explained how in the vast majority of circumstances, the circumstances don't matter. There are a handful of defenses to deportation and paths to family-based immigration status that consider hardship. But even if you happen to be in a category where hardship matters, the law is clear that it can't be "ordinary hardship." In some cases you must show "extreme hardship" and in others "extreme and exceptionally unusual hardship" to certain "qualifying" relatives. In some cases children count -- in others, they don't. As we lawyers love to say, "it depends." And to be clear, it doesn't just depend on who hears your case (although that matters a lot too when there is a "discretion element"), it depends on the inconsistent and often arbitrary way that Congress chose to set up the law. So for years, when people facing deportation told me about their hardships and their struggles and their children's need to be safe, healthy, educated, and together with their parents, in so many cases I have had to try to find a clear but not cruel way to say, "that doesn't matter." From November 20, 2014, when the President announced the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) until the injunction in Texas v. United States, on February 16, 2015, which halted the implementation of the program, all of a sudden, it did. It mattered! Children mattered. The relationship between ordinary children and their ordinary parents was being recognized and treated as special, as sacred, as important. It felt like our country was living into the faith-filled values that we so frequently proclaim. Yesterday, a few weeks after the injunction, I spent the morning in Southwest Detroit with a group of men and women, almost all parents, with so many questions about the program, questions about their families' futures. In many ways, they were questions about their city's future, our state's future, our country's future. But with DAPA on hold, I found myself saying, over and over, it depends. We don't know if their children will matter or not. The people I spoke with seemed understanding and incredibly resilient, perhaps accustomed to the ups and downs and the permanent state of uncertainty. I hope I get to go back in a few months, forms in hand, ready to help them apply and help my country finally recognize the sacredness and dignity of their families.