The Leave No One Behind Mural Project calls on First Lady Dr. Jill Biden to help stop the deportation of parents that tears immigrant families apart. Our coalition formed because current immigration legislation in Congress does not go far enough to repatriate deported veterans, protect childhood arrivals, reunite families and stop the separation of children from their parents. We are organized around a multi-sited public art project that seeks to uplift the stories of over fifty (im)migrants currently left out of President Biden's immigration legislation. Our murals are being displayed across various cities in the United States, including a Washington, D.C., installation by a delegation coinciding with the end of President Biden's first 100 days in office.
Dr. Biden's historic visit comes at the heels of the passage of the American Dream and Promise Act ("Dream Act") and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act ("Farm Act") in the U.S. House of Representatives, after a year of the disproportionate impact caused by the pandemic on farmworkers and their families. These policies are long overdue. While immigrant families will sleep with more ease knowing a pathway to citizenship is possible, our coalition believes proposed legislation leaves families at the mercy of an already unjust and punitive immigration system with catch-all lists of deportable offenses. These laws do not go far enough to address the mass criminalization of immigrants.
March 31 is a commemorative holiday that celebrates Cesar Chavez, the civil rights and labor movements. Forty Acres is a special place that housed the Farmworker Movement. Adjacent lies Agbayani Village that housed Filipino union members who played critical roles in the farmworker movement and sought refuge from racist laws that limit their mobility and access to basic labor rights. It is this legacy that the Leave No One Behind Mural Project coalition follows. It is critical connecting these struggles to ongoing immigration movements and to the classroom.
The coalition calls on Dr. Biden to consider the adverse effects on children caused by their parents' detention and deportation. Recently, the United Teachers of Los Angeles, the second largest teacher union in the country, passed a motion supporting our coalition's cause and condemning the separation of immigrant and military families due to the trauma inflicted on their students.
A study in 2014 found about 5.3 million children live with undocumented immigrant parents, of which 85 percent are U.S.-born children (Passel et al. 2014). Studies by the Urban Institute and Migration Policy Institute have found parental deportation causes severe impacts on children, including physiological distress and economic dislocation.
These barriers and fears play a role in Central Valley classrooms. The Public Policy Institute of California found San Joaquin falls behind in student outcomes compared to the rest of the state. In the Central Valley, half of the students are less likely to enter the University of California and California State University system. Many students run into financial barriers to pay for their education. With a lack of career options in farmworker communities, some students look to the military as a means to pay for their education. In 2018, counties in the San Joaquin Valley were identified in the top 500 counties with the highest recruitment rates. When students return as non-citizen veterans, they too are susceptible once again to deportation. That is the story of a few veterans across the region, including my brother.
In Dr. Biden's visit to Forty Acres, we ask her to protect children in the classroom from parental deportation by calling on President Biden and Congress to take concrete steps to end family separation and support family reunification by 1) Passing an Executive Action or a series of actions as outlined by Sen. Tammy Duckworth to begin the process of repatriating deported veterans; 2) Calling on Congress to pass the New Way Forward Act as reintroduced by Rep. Jesus "Chuy" Garcia. This legislation will allow for many U.S. citizen children to be reunited with their deported parents, as well as stopping the separation of families at-risk.
The Central Valley has intensely felt the impact of mass incarceration and deportation. We can look to McFarland to see how fiercely residents fought to keep GEO from expanding an immigration detention center. This is the reason we chose Bakersfield as a site for our Leave No One Behind Mural Installation and Deported Veteran mural unveil. We were honored when the city of Delano Mayor Bryan Osorio showed up in support and shared remarks that demonstrated the need to stop Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from terrorizing our communities.
No one should have to experience family separation, including students. This is the moment for the Biden administration to take bold steps and address the harms caused by the immigration system. The susceptibility to deportation and family separation creates fragmented students.
Jennifer Martinez-Medina is a Ph.D. candidate and Leave No One Behind Mural Project organizer.