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In the summer of 2014, President Obama delivered the commencement speech at the University of California, Irvine. During his remarks, the President called upon young people to “speak out” and “push those in power to do what this American moment demands.” He profiled the stories of three UC Irvine graduates who exemplified the type of tenacity necessary to hold the United States accountable. I was one of those graduates.

Protecting Immigrant Children

He spoke about me being the daughter of a single mother who worked as a seamstress and housekeeper. He spoke about me being the first person in my family to graduate from high school, college, and law school. He mentioned that my decision to attend law school arose from my desire to advocate for others. Most importantly, he highlighted my commitment to service.

Our message was clear: we oppose the due process violations committed against immigrant communities and denounce the use of deportations as a strategy to punish youth and families seeking protection.

Over the course of my professional career, I’ve had the privilege to serve. While at UCLA, I served as the first Latina Student Body President. As a law student at UCI School of Law, I served on the University of California Board of Regent. While I’ve served in various leadership capacities, I’ve come to realize that the fight for social justice requires action that shakes the very foundations of governance.

On March 21st, alongside ten other attorneys, I spoke out against the detention and deportation of immigrants whom are denied due process and legal protections. To push those in power to do what is required of this American moment, we sat in at the Federal Building in Downtown Los Angeles, home to the Department of Homeland Security. Our message was clear: we oppose the due process violations committed against immigrant communities and denounce the use of deportations as a strategy to punish youth and families seeking protection.

As attorneys, we felt it our duty to shed light on this issue and demand the Obama Administration recognize the unjust processing of immigrant communities in court. Access to legal representation can significantly increase a person’s ability to win his or her case in immigration court. Detained immigrants represented by legal counsel are more than five times as likely to succeed in court than their unrepresented counterparts. Further, mothers with children represented by legal counsel are more than fourteen times as likely to win their case.

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While we recognize the importance of access to legal counsel, we also understand the need to push back against the dehumanization of immigrant communities:

  • The kind of dehumanization that normalizes detaining unaccompanied minors feeling violence and poverty at the border.
  • The kind of dehumanization that separates mothers and children in detention centers.
  • The kind of dehumanization that justifies deporting youth to “send a message” to their countries of origin.
  • The kind of dehumanization that turns a blind eye to the injustices transgender immigrants face while in detention.
  • The kind of dehumanization that penalizes the most vulnerable populations for seeking refuge.

It is this dehumanization that informed the Obama Administration’s decision to launch a second wave of raids aimed at detaining and deporting Central American immigrants. Rather than rectify the damage caused by aggressive immigration enforcement, the Obama Administration has decided to continue to dehumanize immigrant communities.

As President Obama asked of me at my graduation, we now ask that he do what is required of this American moment. We ask President Obama immediately: stop all the raids on undocumented and documented immigrants, respect the legal rights of immigrants during any enforcement action, provide indigent immigrants facing deportation with legal counsel, recognize, provide Central Americans with temporary protected status (TPS), and exercise prosecutorial discretion based on the individual facts of each case.

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Until these demands are met, we will continue to organize and fight for the humane treatment of immigrant communities.

Cinthia N. Flores