The question I am asked over and over lately: “how do I get temporary guardianship for my children in case I am detained and deported?” The fact that I hear this question, or some similar form of it, so frequently in recent weeks is indicative of the level of fear in the immigrant community. This fear is a direct result of the new policies of our President, his executive orders, the follow up memoranda from Homeland Security, and the waves of “targeted enforcement” by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that have been unleashed nationwide.
Let’s be clear, ICE has been carrying out its daily work of initiating deportation proceedings long before this presidency. That has not changed. ICE currently has the same number of officers and the same amount of resources. There is no “deportation force” over and above what we already had – at least not yet. However, the tone and tactics being used have clearly changed. Virtually any undocumented immigrant is now a priority for removal, regardless of whether they have a criminal record. Media recently reported that ICE detained a domestic abuse victim in El Paso, Texas after going to court to file a restraining order. ICE also detained a young Dreamer from Argentina in Jackson, Mississippi just after leaving a press conference where she spoke out against these changes. People hear reports of these high-profile cases and wonder if they will be next.
It is the beginning of a campaign of fear directed towards not only the undocumented, but immigrants in general. Fear feeds rumors, which can turn fear into panic. This is the first step. Order a travel ban for Muslim-majority countries in the name of protecting us from terrorists. Call for more deportations of undocumented immigrants while labeling them as criminals. This scares immigrants, but also creates fear of the “other” among the wider general population. Is this the America we want to be?
The next step that appears to be coming is equally concerning. The executive order calls for the hiring of an additional 10,000 ICE officers and 5,000 border patrol officers. If this happens, the actual number of deportations will surely increase. It also encourages and promotes the use of a program called 287(g). Under this program, local law enforcement agencies can apply to have their officers trained and authorized to enforce federal immigration law. Milwaukee County Sherriff David Clarke has recently sent a letter to ICE requesting to participate.
The 287(g) program raises two major concerns. First, it will almost certainly lead to increased racial profiling. In Arizona, Sherriff Joe Arpaio infamously utilized this program to terrorize the immigrant community. A high-profile discrimination lawsuit finally settled with the DOJ in 2015 with agreements to prevent future violations of constitutional rights. Second, using this program will further erode trust between law enforcement and immigrants. Many immigrants who are victims of crime will be too scared to come forward and report if they are afraid doing so will lead to their deportation. Fortunately, most of our local law enforcement agencies, including the Milwaukee Police Department, have made it clear that they have no interest in enforcing immigration law and are committed to protecting all members of our community.
The executive order also calls for increased use of “expedited removal.” This raises huge due process concerns. In most cases, an undocumented immigrant who is placed in deportation proceedings is entitled to a hearing with an immigration judge. However, expedited removal allows immigration officers to enter a deportation order without the immigrant ever having a hearing. In the past, expedited removal has only been used if the immigrant was detained within 100 miles of the border, or within 14 days of entering the country. The executive order announced the administration’s intention to use expedited removal anywhere, and against any immigrant who cannot affirmatively show they have lived in the U.S. for at least two years. With the stakes so high, are we comfortable with large numbers of people being deported without ever getting their day in court?
In the midst of these aggressive actions, we are seeing another campaign taking shape as well. It is a countervailing and concerted effort to educate, inform, and empower immigrants. Groups like the ACLU, the Mexican Consulate, churches, unions, non-profit organizations, private attorneys, activists, and many others are engaged in workshops and know-your-rights presentations. Lawsuits have blocked the first travel ban and now the revised ban; there will undoubtedly be others.
Many of us are engaged in this campaign because we care about the rights of immigrants and won’t stand to see them trampled; because the Constitution applies to everyone residing in this country and we can’t allow that to change; because the immigrants of today are no less deserving than my own relatives who came from Ireland, Poland and Luxembourg several generations ago. Our efforts can help quell the fears. We can help some of the immigrants who will be affected in their individual cases. But the only way to truly fix this problem that has been festering for decades, is for Congress to finally pass comprehensive immigration reform that will bring our embarrassingly outdated immigration laws into harmony with the social, economic, and moral needs of our country today. Convincing Congress to actually do this is the great task for us all.