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In 2017, Senators Schumer and Harris Blasted Trump Immigration Policies. They Should Listen to Their Words Again Now

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In March 2017, Senator Chuck Schumer and then-Senator Kamala Harris were among leaders to join advocacy groups and affected families to oppose a proposal then wreaking havoc and fear in immigrant communities: funding indicted former President Donald Trump’s deportation force. Some speakers at the UnidosUS (then known as NCLR) event, like 13-year-old Fatima, had already experienced the horrific devastation of family separation months before Trump made it into a matter of policy. 

“My dad was detained in front of me on my way to school,” she said. “It was the hardest thing to watch, but I still went to school because my father showed me the importance of education. I knew I’d have someone to support me there.” Senator Schumer noted the Trump administration would be better off investing in jobs and infrastructure, “not in separating American families, harming kids and local economies who are without workers who work so hard.”

But today, a number of Senate Democrats and the Biden-Harris administration are considering similar interior enforcement that could lead to further family separation. Among the cruel, ineffective, and permanent Trump immigration policies reportedly under discussion as a prerequisite to continue funding for our allies across the globe is an effort to expand expedited removal to the entire country.

“As a practical matter, this would mean anyone across the United States could be targeted for deportation if they are suspected of being in the country for less than two years,” America’s Voice said in a previous statement. This policy would make it necessary for anyone (especially anyone who is not white) to carry documents in order to prove their presence here. But, truncated deportation proceedings with limited access to due process and legal representation still pose a threat. Remember, the U.S. has mistakenly deported its own citizens in the past.  

Other draconian, permanent changes to immigration laws demanded by Republicans as a precondition for temporarily funding the defense of democracy in Ukraine would do absolutely nothing to address actual “border security” in the U.S. or our long-broken immigration system. It would instead create more dysfunction and cruelty by gutting decades of asylum law, reducing legal immigration avenues, and requiring the indefinite jailing of children and families until their asylum cases can be resolved.

But, the Biden administration and Senate Democrats have been receiving pushback to this Trump immigration proposal, including from their own caucus. 

“What we hear is on the table in these quote-unquote negotiations — a return to Trump-era policies — is not the fix, in fact it will make the problem worse,” Senator Alex Padilla said during a press conference last week. “Mass detention, gutting our asylum system. Title 42 on steroids. It is unconscionable. That is not the way to fix our immigration system.” Rep. Chuy García said, “We’re not ready to dismantle the Statue of Liberty.” Lorella Praeli, co-president of Community Change and Community Change Action, also wrote in an op-ed that “Congress is on a path to enact the most xenophobic changes to our immigration laws in a century. And it may do so with President Biden and Senate Democrats‘ blessing.”

Democratic leaders admitted during that 2017 press conference that these sort of proposals are not the way forward in addressing a system that’s been long out-of-date. Then-Senator Harris “said Trump’s immigration enforcement orders are too broad, sweeping up nonviolent offenders or people accused of the civil offense of being in the country illegally,” the Los Angeles Times reported at the time. “She called the executive orders, which vastly broadened who can be targeted for deportation and leaves a lot of discretion to local immigration officials ‘misguided and misinformed.’”

“Immigrants are an integral part of this country,” Senator Schumer said in remarks reported by the Post. “Democrats will be vigilant and strong in our commitment to upholding the promise of America and shielding immigrants from President Trump’s policies. Senate Democrats are prepared to fight this all the way.” 

We still need our champions to fight all the way and remain strong in their commitment to upholding the promise of America and our history as an immigration nation. If our own words for some reason do not seem to be breaking through, they should at least listen to their own. It wasn’t that long ago and, as the Post’s Greg Sargent noted, Trump is still calling the shots: 

As one Senate Democratic source told me, Republicans started acting as though Trump and his immigration policy adviser Stephen Miller were “looking over their shoulders.”

So those 2017 words from Senator Schumer and Vice President Harris about Donald Trump’s cruel immigration policies should still apply today.