The Action Away From the Border
Terry H. Schwadron
April 9, 2018
For a moment, set aside the deployment of as many as 4,000 National Guardsmen to the southern border. The larger scale actions about immigration are happening elsewhere.
While that deployment order from President Trump is drawing much public attention, relatively speaking, it feels more like political theater than significant policy-making to attack illegal border crossings that already are at historic lows. Yes, the deployment will prove expensive, since the president wants it to last until an unapproved Wall is built, and it will prove confusing, since Guardsmen cannot actually police the border, but it is a strong statement by the president to appeal to base fears among his supporters,
It looks like real action.
Meanwhile, away from the border:
· The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is increasing its visible workplace raids in search of undocumented workers. ICE arrested 97at a meat-processing plant in rural Tennessee last week, largest such raid in a decade. Agents are under order to increase worksite inspections and raids by four or five times this year.
· Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions has ordered a “zero tolerance”policy aimed at people entering the United States illegally for the first time on the Mexican border. A directive last week advised federal prosecutors in border states to put more emphasis on charging people with illegal entry, which has historically been treated as a misdemeanor offense for those with few or no previous encounters with border authorities. Smugglers and repeat offenders are usually charged with more serious crimes.
· Sessions also vowed to attack the backlog of such immigration cases in the nation’s 58 immigration courts essentially by imposing a quota system on judges to clear three cases a day, on average. Nationwide, the average wait for a hearing date in immigration court is about two years, according to data analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a research organization at Syracuse University. The Washington Postfound a judge in Virginia where new cases are being scheduled for 2022, and even then the docket says he has 1,000 cases scheduled to begin on the same day.
· The Justice Department also has rolled backa requirement to hold full hearings for asylum seekers. Instead, a judge is given authority to dismiss cases that are likely to prove unsuccessful without a hearing. This is in an attempt to cut into the immigration court backlog of 650,000 cases.
· The courts also are the arena for a fight over federal policies to separate children from their parents at the border. The ACLU is suing the government over practices that the group says unfairly uses children as a lever to get undocumented parents to surrender for deportation. Also in court are federal attacks on states like California with “sanctuary cities” and counterclaims from states about withholding federal money.
· The well-reviewed DACA issue about the fate of those who were brought into the United States illegally as children remains unresolved.
· And, both legal immigration and requests for travel visas to the United States are down as various anti-terrorist, and seemingly anti-Muslim policies have been codified.
It has been clear for some time that the president, the attorney general, ICE and the Department of Homeland Security are working in harness on the single issue of stopping illegal immigration. It is obvious that Trump uses illegal immigration as a campaign tool, a rhetorical whip for Democrats, and a vehicle for anti-Muslim and anti-Latino sentiment. All this is happening without significant leadership from Congress, which neither will approve funds for the Wall and solve DACA, nor step in to protect the rights of those feeling victimized.
It is also clear that America’s immigration fetish is having an effect on how this country is viewed in the world. As the Syrian situation continues to spiral downward — this week there were new reports of government chemical attacks on its own people — no one any longer expects that the United States will be part of any solution for the millions of refugees in the region.
So, those without documents increasingly are hiding in fear. Trump and the government say they are aiming to find serious criminals, but then raid a meat-packing plant. Ten people were arrested on federal criminal charges, one person was arrested on state charges and 86 immigrants were detained for being in the country illegally. Most were from Mexico.
But there were no charges for the plant owners.
In January, ICE fanned out to 7-Eleven stores in the District and 17 states, including California, Maryland, Michigan and New York. Agents arrived at 98 7-Eleven stores to interview employees and deliver audit notifications, making 21 arrests. Again, none involved 7-Eleven corporate owners.
For a government that has seemed pretty loose about getting the details right, illegal immigration has proved different. The tight weave among enforcement agencies seems focused on that intersection between effectively spreading fear, reducing attempts to cross into the United States, and engaging the legal issues. If there are unwanted effects on legal immigration, no one in the government seems worried.
The desire to fix a slow pace of immigration court actionsmeans we will see more defendants dismissed and deported without legal representation, elimination of full hearings, a broader definition of “criminal behavior,” and, of course, more judges (there are 344 slots now, but 100 are vacant) and more jails.
To me, these raise serious questions about how this effort reflects our American values. Like other authoritarian leaders, Trump has found popularity in targeting “the Other” in undocumented immigrants. But there is a stink here about a lack of caring, and a lack of real problem-solving.