At a casual glance, Donald Trump’s immigration policy looks similar to Barack Obama’s. Immigrant activists nicknamed our last President “Deporter In Chief” because his commitment to deportations was far greater than expected. While Obama used ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) muscle to boot hundreds of thousands of immigrants out of the country in 2012 alone, there at least was a clear protocol when it came to sweeps and raids he commissioned. Exemplified by his unjust and disorganized Muslim Ban, President Trump’s combination of hardline rhetoric and sloppy implementation when it comes to immigration has ushered in an era of confusion and fear in migrant communities across the country.
Under President Obama, there were plentiful ICE raids, but they seemed fairly well targeted toward illegal aliens who were also happened to be convicted criminals. In 2016, 90% of those detained by ICE had criminal records. After Donald Trump’s first round of raids, following his January 25th executive order, it was calculated that only 74% of those detained had criminal records.
Under Obama, there was also a focus on what kinds of crimes were committed by potential detainees. In the Obama administration, ICE made a priority of targeting those who had felonies or multiple misdemeanors who had entered the country after January 1, 2014. This doesn’t seem to be the case in the Trump administration. The story of deportee Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos, who was deported after using a false social security number to get a job, will likely become more common. This “crime” is one millions of adult immigrants are guilty of, and if it is included in the Trump administration’s “priorities” for deportation, nearly 8 million illegal immigrants will become priorities. Under Trump’s broad definition, “crimes” as minor as having a child who benefits from government subsidized “free lunch” could become a deportable offense.
What is even more troubling than stretching the definition of crimes that make an illegal immigrant a deportation priority, is that in raids conducted last month ICE officials also rounded up a number of non-criminals. The justification, according to an ICE press release was that, “During targeted enforcement operations, ICE officers frequently encounter additional suspects who may be in the United States in violation of federal immigration laws.” Being in the vicinity of an illegal immigrant isn’t usually enough to justify probable cause, but apparently it is enough to justify rounding you up for a potential an undesired 3,000 mile one-way ticket.
This approach has already resulted in some terrible stories. A 23 year-old “Dreamer,” Daniel Ramirez Medina, who had been protected by the DACA under Obama, has been rounded up by ICE under Trump. The El Paso Times reported this week that a transgender woman was arrested by ICE just after she had been awarded a protective order against an abusive partner, meaning that the abuser may have reported her. The changes in policy to prioritize those with little to no criminal record have led many immigrants to reconsider many aspects of their lives: attending court dates, picking up children from school, and even taking certain routes home from work have become causes for concern.
Confusion and concern don’t seem to be hang-ups for the Trump administration; in fact, it seems that a chaotic environment is what they are actively working to create. One immigration advocate, Sarah Owings, of the Georgia-Alabama chapter chair of the American Immigration Lawyers Association said, “[ICE] just doesn’t want to tell us what’s going on, because they don’t want to say the wrong thing and then be held to that word. Because none of this was discussed with the appropriate agencies prior to the pronouncement of these orders.” ICE is shutting down communications with liaisons to immigrant communities; they are pulling out of conferences; the agency is actively developing a hostile “us vs. them” environment as the administration takes daily steps towards a more nationalist, authoritarian mold.
Far worse policies may be on the horizon, as the AP reported Friday that the Department of Homeland Security was floating a proposal to deploy the National Guard in immigration roundups. The eleven-page document suggested mobilizing up to 100,000 National Guardsmen in eleven states, seven of which are nowhere near the Mexican border. Though the Trump administration distanced itself from the proposal, it certainly foreshadows darker days to come. Administration insiders report that this distancing only happened once they realized that the policy paper wasn’t going to go over well with the public.
It is heartening that many cities with large immigrant populations are taking steps to become “sanctuary cities” that offer protections to undocumented immigrants, and organizations like United We Dream are training Deportation Defense Teams to help fight back against invasive ICE actions in their communities.
Sadly, it seems that these communities will need all the help they can get as they cope with four years in an America with a xenophobic regime at the helm.