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Attorney General Jeff Sessions visited the US-Mexico border yesterday, where he spoke of Trump’s efforts to crack down on immigration violations and talked about border crossers in biblically apocalyptic terms.
“It is here that criminal aliens and the coyotes and the document-forgers seek to overthrow our system of lawful immigration,” his prepared remarks said, though his actual speech differed somewhat. “It is here, on this sliver of land, where we first take our stand against this filth.”
At the border, Sessions only referred to immigrants as “aliens” and did not once recognize that individuals might have good reasons for crossing – such as seeking a better life, seeking asylum, reuniting with family, or escaping danger. Of course, this is a hostility shared by Sessions’ boss, Donald Trump, who famously kicked off his campaign by calling Mexicans “criminals” and “rapists”, and seems to believe it.
Now that the two are in power, Trump and Sessions — abetted by Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly — are enacting an immigration enforcement strategy that is dehumanizingly cruel. They are allowing ICE to conduct indiscriminate raids in which immigrants are detained for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. They have casually considered separating parents and children at the border, saying that it would be for their own good. They are deporting parents of US-citizen children who check in with ICE in good faith, just because old removal orders exist. And they are de-legalizing immigrants — taking away gains that some individuals have earned, that in previous administrations have provided some measure of protection, clearly believing that undocumented immigrants in America deserve nothing.
Advocates and Dreamers have always known that, legally speaking, DACA has never been permanent protection against deportation. But the promise of deferred action in the Obama era seemed clear: grow up in the United States, go to school, stay out of trouble, and be allowed to legally work and live without fear of removal.
In the two months that Trump has been in office, however, more than half a dozen Dreamers have been detained, and most were released shortly afterward. But Daniel Ramirez Medina of Seattle was in detention for over a month, spending his 24th birthday locked up even though he had DACA. He was a “collateral” arrest — picked up when his father was detained, then held because ICE kept insisting he was in a gang even though he wasn’t.
Daniela Vargas of Mississippi, similarly, was briefly handcuffed when ICE came for her father and brother. ICE then came back for her after she spoke out about her case during a press conference. Daniela was detained for two weeks, during which time ICE threatened to deport her without a hearing. Though she’s been released now, Daniela could still be deported at any time.
Though DACA continues to stand (as it should), the Trump Administration’s refusal to properly de-prioritize recipients is weakening the broadest, most robust form of protection currently available to any group of undocumented immigrants in the United States. Since Daniel Ramirez Medina’s arrest, some immigration lawyers have been advising that would-be-first-time DACA applicants hold off for the time being. The program has brought some 728,000 young immigrants out of the shadows. But now, the Trump Administration seems to be pushing those who are or would be eligible for DACA back into the darkness.
Because of a Republican-led lawsuit against Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (
Roberto Beristain of Indiana crossed the border in 1998, married a US citizen, and had four children. He came across ICE’s radar in 2000 after a wrong turn during a trip to Niagara Falls led to his brief detention at the US-Canadian border. For decades, ICE declined to forcibly remove him, allowing him instead to drop by for annual check-ins. Roberto was allowed to obtain a driver’s license, social security card, and work permit; he also bought a small restaurant business that employed 20 people. Unfortunately, Roberto’s contributions to his community and reasons why he should be allowed to stay in the US — we call them equities — don’t seem to count for much in the Trump era. Roberto was detained during his annual check-in this year and was deported in April.
A similar case is now unfurling in Ohio: Maribel Trujillo has lived in the US for nearly 15 years, and has four US citizen children and no criminal record. She had originally applied for asylum and has a work permit, but ICE picked her up anyway as she was walking to catch a ride to work. The Archdiocese of Cincinnati has tried to stop her deportation, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) has personally called ICE to ask them to reconsider her case, Ohio’s Republican Governor John Kasich has said that he doesn’t want her deported, and attorneys have asked a federal appeals court to intervene. But ICE seems unmoved by all of these reasons to let her stay, and she could be deported this week.
Also from Ohio is Anabel Barron, who came to the US when she was 16 and has been here for more than 20 years. She originally came here with the man she intended to marry, but then separated from him because he was an alcoholic and once threatened her at gunpoint. She has been checking in with ICE since 2013, has a work permit, and has applied for a U-visa (which is offered to victims of crimes). But in March 2017, her routine check-in with ICE led to an ankle bracelet and a warning that she could be deported.
Eliseo Pereyra arrived in the US in the ’90s, self-reported his status to ICE in 2011, and has had a work permit and been checking in since then. He has a son with multiple disorders who needs physical and occupational therapy and could face deportation in October. His family and friends are in shock about why ICE would want to deport him now, after he’s been doing everything they asked for years. As his wife said, “We were in total shock to find out that they did not grant his stay again and that they will be deporting him. It’s been granted for the last 5-6-7 years. And he hasn’t done anything different. He’s still paying taxes, he’s still jumping through the hoops. He’s still paying the money to file everything.”
David Chavez-Macias has been part of the Reno community for over 30 years. He’s been trying to obtain legal status since the 80s, but was unable to during the Reagan administration due to a filing error by his attorneys. He has Marfan syndrome, no criminal record, and has been working legally on a permit. Since hearing that a renewal of his work permit would most likely be denied, David has been making plans to take sanctuary in a Reno church, living away from his family and home until ICE decides on his future.
The Trump Administration’s actions have made it clear that all undocumented immigrants in the US are fair game for deportation, without consideration for priority. When this includes the few who possess even the semblance of legal status, Trump seems more than willing to toss out the rights they’ve earned, de-legalizing them before he deports them.