In the following article, Victoria Law examines the struggles that immigrant workers face against policing, incarceration, and deportation. As anti-immigrant hysteria and repression continues to thrive under the Obama administration, we must take seriously the role that these workers are playing and will play in the fight for a world beyond capitalism. Reposted from Truthout.


vikkilawGiday “Dede” Adhanom is a mother of three living in Seattle. She has worked with the Youth Violence Prevention Network to address youth violence in Seattle. Through AmeriCorps, she has worked with Village of Hope to support people returning home from prison to gain access to housing, employment and other needed resources. When King County proposed rebuilding and expanding a juvenile prison in Seattle, Dede started No New Juvie, a grassroots group that fought the expansion, arguing that a youth prison does not address underlying issues such as underfunded schools, lack of employment opportunities, poverty and racism. She is also a founding member of Seattle Foreclosure Fighters, a community group of Seattle residents fighting to prevent foreclosures.

She is also facing deportation.

In 1993, 10-year-old Dede came to the United States with her older sister, her brother-in-law and their children. Seven years earlier, the family had fled war-torn Ethiopia, where Dede’s parents had been killed. They were granted permanent residency under the 1980 Refugee Act and settled in Seattle. Dede has no memories of Ethiopia, its culture or its language.

Three years later, in 1996, Dede was removed from her sister’s home and placed in foster care. In a recent interview with Truthout, Dede explained that, rather than working toward reuniting the family, the foster care agency severed all ties between Dede and her sister.

At 18, Dede aged-out of the foster care system and was expected to take care of herself. Dede described the process as “overwhelming. You don’t even know where to begin. Being on your own, there’s so much responsibility. It’s a frustrating process. If you have a question, you’re told, ‘You’re not supposed to ask this. You’re 18. You have to figure it out.’ There are few programs to help. It’s bigger than one resource. That [resource] might help me get from A to B, but B to C might be more complicated.

“I tried to live on my own, but that didn’t work out because I couldn’t pay the rent. I ended up sleeping in cars, then came back to Dixie’s,” she recalled, referring to her foster mother’s home.

In 2002, 19-year-old Dede was caught selling $20 of crack cocaine. Because it was her first time in trouble with the law, she took her case to trial. In 2005, she was convicted for controlled substance delivery and sentenced to nine months in a work-release center. She served six months and was released to begin rebuilding her life.

Nearly 10 years earlier, in 1996, then-President Bill Clinton passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Responsibility Act (IIRRA) and the Anti-Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA). The AEDPA expanded the category of  “aggravated felony,” which subjected a convict to deportation. The acts also removed an immigration judge’s ability to consider factors in each individual case, such as family relationships, community ties or the severity of the offense. “Before 1996, an immigration judge could look at non-aggravated felonies and exercise discretion” about proceeding with detention or deportation, said Emily Tucker, director of policy and advocacy at Detention Watch Network, a national coalition advocating reform of the US immigration detention and deportation system, in a recent phone interview with Truthout. “Not many crimes were considered aggravated felonies before 1996.”

These acts dramatically increased the number of immigrants in detention: In 1994, the average daily population in immigrant detention was 5,532. By 2001, that number had more than tripled to an average daily of 13,210.  In 2006, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General estimated that 627,000 immigrants would enter state prisons and local jails while 25,000 more would enter the federal prison system the following year. In addition, these acts applied retroactively. So, even if Dede’s conviction had occurred before 1996, she would still face deportation.