Gruesome reports from Mexico highlight hardship of family separation

For nearly a week news outlets worldwide have been buzzing with the gruesome reports from Mexico that 49 decapitated bodies were found on Sunday in what appears to be yet another sadistic show of strength by the country’s powerful and violent drug cartels. For many mixed-status families that include immigrants from Mexico, this violence is much more than a frightful story from a faraway place.

Reasonable observers will acknowledge that the growing violence in Mexico has many sources, and among them are drug policies in the United States that focus more on criminalizing all drug use than on treating drug addiction and taking a realistic view of recreational use of substances such as marijuana. In this analysis, U.S. drug policy quashes domestic production of drugs that are in high demand, creating a powerful financial incentive for producers and traffickers based in Central America to supply the U.S. market at a lucrative premium. The result is powerful, well-financed, and determined drug cartels that have proven so entrenched and brazen that even the Mexican military struggles to contain them.

The U.S. “War on Drugs” focuses on the consumers of those drugs, or on the demand-side of the equation; on the other hand, U.S. immigration policy is mostly targets immigrants, which constitute the supply-side. And so while the U.S. has waged a demand-side War on Drugs, it has been relatively lax in its enforcement of sanctions on employers who constitute demand for undocumented labor. If only the two strategies were reversed, we might have an immigration system that functions better and drug laws with fewer negative spillover effects.

In this context is the reality of gaining legal status in the United States. Those undocumented workers who were lured from Mexico to the United States by better wages and quality of life (and loose employer sanctions) now find themselves between a rock and a hard place — increasingly harsh anti-immigrant policies targeting them in daily life, and a home country increasingly marked by merciless conflicts between drug cartels and security forces.

As we have explained elsewhere, for many undocumented immigrants the only path to legal status involves returning to their country of origin and applying for an I-601 waiver of inadmissibility. This process can take months or even years before it yields a favorable result, and in the meantime families are either separated or must face together the frightful realities of life in a country increasingly overrun by cartels. The American Immigration Lawyers Association has compiled several anecdotes of violence affecting families separated by this lengthy adjudication process. In some cases applicants or even their U.S. citizen relatives have been kidnapped, injured, or killed while waiting for permission to return to the United States.

President Obama’s administration has proposed changes to the I-601 process that would make it possible for families to request pre-approval of the waiver needed for undocumented immigrants to be permitted to return to the United States, and we are making a push for this proposal to be realized and even expanded. You can read more about our support of provisional waivers and stateside adjudication elsewhere on our Northern Nevada immigration services blog.

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