From the Field

Human rights groups calls out ‘families, not felons’ framework

Lauren Taylor • Dec 08, 2014

Last week, New York based human rights group Families for Freedom responded to President Obama’s administrative relief announcement. In his response, Executive Director Abraham Paulos challenges the distinction between those with felony convictions and those with families, and makes clear the connections between the criminalization of immigrant communities and continued police violence and impunity. Founded in 2002, Families for Freedom is a “multi-ethnic human rights organization by and for families facing and fighting deportation.”


President Obama, the son of a black man from Kenya, who is part of a mixed status family who had an undocumented aunt and has a formerly undocumented uncle with a conviction, says, “If you’re a criminal – you’ll be deported…Felons, not families … Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mom who’s working hard to provide for her kids.” We denounce the President’s statement and the insensitive and criminalizing language that needlessly pits people, families, communities and movements against one another. People with felonies have families.  People with criminal records have children.  Working mothers and their children have been criminalized through gang databases. We are all family and friends.

Blacks and Latinos disproportionately represent the largest number of people apprehended, convicted and incarcerated in the criminal legal system. Nearly 95% of all felony cases result in guilty pleas. More than one in four adults in the U.S. have an arrest or criminal record that shows up in routine criminal background checks. In the era of mass criminalization and incarceration, dubbed the “New Jim Crow”, there are more black people convicted and locked up now than there were enslaved before the civil war. It’s known the world over that due to mass incarceration the United States’ human rights record is shameful. The “New Jim Crow” and the normalization of such suffering hinges upon the language championed by President Obama. It is the shaming language of respectability, and it denies both redemption and the context in which people of color are criminalized in the US.

Sadly, President Obama’s recent speech fits a historic and racist framework through which we can describe the exclusion and banishment of people with felonies who are detained and deported.

For more, read the full posts at Huffington Post and Families for Freedom.

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