Last Sunday, The Boston Globe editorial board offered a dystopian portrait of the United States with Donald J. Trump as president. Highlighting quotes from Trump’s past speeches, the Globe’s mock headlines envisioned a future in which US army troops refuse orders to kill Islamic State group family members, protectionist trade policies threaten the world economy and a xenophobic wave of deportations sweeps the country.
The Globe’s satire seems intended to take a stand against Trump’s rise by showing undecided voters how a Trump presidency could negatively impact the country. The centerpiece in particular suggests an alarming situation: “Deportations to begin,” the headline blares. “President Trump calls for tripling of ICE force; riots continue.”
While Trump’s stance on immigration absolutely deserves questioning and scrutiny, an executive-mandated increase in deportations would be nothing new for this country: Under the Obama administration, the number of people ejected from this country through legal proceedings, collectively known as “removals,” has drastically increased. An average of 301,000 people per year were removed over President George Bush’s second term, according to data from the Department of Homeland Security. In 2013 – the most recent year for which the statistics are available – the number jumped to more than 438,000. President Barack Obama should be criticized for the harm his policies have caused to families, parents and children across the country.
Obama’s supporters have pointed to other aspects of his immigration policy, saying the uptick in removals was necessary to buy the political capital for more positive immigration initiatives. These other priorities included Obama’s pushing the DREAM Act and issuing executive orders that temporarily ease deportation orders for adults whose family members hold citizenship.
However, the supposed victories won in this tradeoff have been tepid at best. Neither the DREAM Act nor any other expansion of education opportunities for non-citizens ever passed Congress. This election cycle has eliminated virtually all national openness to compromise on immigration policies, if it even existed before. Executive deportation relief, known as DAPA, is facing a challenge in front of the Supreme Court from 23 states, led by Texas, who claim the action overstepped the bounds of presidential authority. In the likely event the court deadlocks at 4-4, a lower court decision will strike down the measure.
Even if DAPA stands, the order contradicts its own stated intention. Averting the destruction of mixed-status families – which are typically composed of at least one non-citizen parent and one or more children who do have citizenship, though can refer to any family whose members have a mix of citizenship statuses – is common sense and common decency. But shifting resources to “criminal deportations” is a false and misleading distinction.
Politicians, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials and scores of Americans are quick to paint any undocumented immigrant who goes through legal proceedings as dangerous, violent menaces. This is far from the case. The category of “criminal deportations” includes people pulled over for DUIs, drug use, disturbing the peace, public nuisance violations and all manner of low-level misdemeanors that pose no threat to this country or its citizens. Particularly insidious are federal-local partnerships like Secure Communities, a program which tracks the immigration status of people booked in county jails across the country and cages anyone without citizenship in ICE detention centers. Under the program, ICE officials have escalated raids targeting scores of non-citizen adults who are detained for any reason, many of whom are longtime, employed residents with families arrested for minor offenses. In the past, the program swept up domestic violence victims, people with outstanding speeding tickets and at least one US citizen, according to a 2015 Frontline report.
The impact of such draconian and predatory policies extends far beyond the people ripped from their homes and held in detention centers with little due process and no guaranteed legal help. According to 2011 study, more than 5,000 children in 22 states were in foster care as a direct result of their parents’ deportation; the same study predicted more than 15,000 children would be in the same situation by this year. Thousands more children have their childhoods thrown into turmoil. Many face the equally damaging prospects of being deported along with their parents or remaining in the US with little prospect of ever seeing a deported parent again.
The Obama administration has said its executive actions will dispatch with Secure Communities. While technically true, this is a specious claim: Data including immigration status and biometric scans will still be collected on people who encounter local law enforcement. The only real change is in how federal agencies will use the data, which they claim they will restrict to pursuing high-level offenders. Some cities, including Cambridge, have proclaimed themselves sanctuary cities and refused to participate in the program or aggressively enforce immigration law. Such cities should be applauded. However, real change must come at the national level. In his last year in office, Obama holds a moral duty to offer relief – in spirit, not just name – and humanity to this country’s non-citizens and their American children.
Photo courtesy Justin Sloan, Creative Commons.