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Unfortunately, Jesus’ case is not an isolated one. The heartbreak that he and his family feel today is the same heartbreak that so many other American families have been dealing with for years – a reality that has only been callously turbocharged under the Trump Administration.
Examining the public’s response to Jesus’ case, we offer the following five conclusions:
1. Many Americans do not want this assault on good people and families carried out in their name. Instead, they want our government to use compassion and common sense. Jesus’s story generated an outpouring of support from Ohio and across the United States. An Ohio Public Radio story by Esther Honigquoted the Lara family’s neighbor, Jennifer Fidler – a Trump voter – saying: “Wasn’t he supposed to deport the people who aren’t so great? The drug dealers, rapists murders all them? Then he turns it around and takes good families like this.’” As Fidler noted, “America could use more citizens” like Jesus and his family. Trump’s deportation agenda, focused on people like Jesus, has very little support from the American people. The recent 40,000-sample PRRI poll found a combined 79% of Americans backed either a path to citizenship (supported by a whopping 64% of the public) or permanent legal residency (15%) for a total of 79%, while only 16% supported the option embraced by the Trump Administration – identifying and deporting undocumented immigrants.
2. In addition to being outraged at the use of a massive, taxpayer-funded government machine to crush American families, more and more people are being called to take action. The case touched a chord with Americans in Jesus’ hometown of Willard, Ohio and across the United States. Jesus’ neighbors, pastor, employers, and children’s teachers authored letters of support to try to stop this tragedy from unfolding. More than 600 people in the 7th Congressional District in Ohio – and 35,000 across the nation – signed a petition demanding action and accountability from Jesus’ congressman Bob Gibbs (R). Hundreds called Gibbs’ office and the office of Senator Rob Portman in Washington, DC, asking them to intervene. As the story blanketed TV, radio, and print media statewide and across the nation, more and more offers of assistance came out of the woodwork. In one day, a GoFundMe account created to help the family pay their mortgage and bills raised over $10,000. This speaks to the better nature of our fellow Americans, and provides some hope that eventually this nationwide nightmare will end, replaced by a compassionate solution.
3. Unless you are an expert in immigration policy, you may not know that undocumented immigrants have no way of ‘getting legal’ or applying for citizenship. A frequently asked question about Jesus’ case is this: why he didn’t just get his paperwork in order and become a citizen? The fact is, he would have done so immediately, if he could, but there was no line, no path, no law that would have allowed him to do so. The Cleveland Plain Dealer even wrote a detailed explainer on the subject. Even if you work hard, pay taxes, and have an American spouse or children, the law doesn’t allow you to legalize your status. This law – just like government’s decision to deport a hardworking taxpayer – defies common sense and basic American values.
4. The solution, though, is clear. The parts of immigration law that do not work should be addressed by Congress. Before and after that, however, our immigration laws must also be enforced with common sense prioritization. In June 2013, the U.S. Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill by a strong 68-32 vote margin. The heart of the reform package was an earned legalization and citizenship process for many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants that would have provided a way for people exactly such as Jesus to come forward, pass a background check, pay any back taxes, and be on the path to legalization and eventual citizenship. Despite the widespread and continued support from the American public for such an approach, House Republican leaders never brought the bill for a vote. Subsequently, the Obama Administration implemented a set of common-sense deportation priorities that focused on public safety threats and not people like Jesus. These priorities have been eliminated under the Trump Administration. As former Acting Director of ICE John Sandweg recently noted, focusing on Jesus and others like him is, “an incredible waste of ICE resources that only make it harder for the agency to identify and remove dangerous criminals … The Administration’s focus on the low hanging fruit of the enforcement system only allows the bad guys to remain at large, weakening our public safety.”
5. Under the Trump Administration, Jesus’s story is the rule, not the exception. The recently unearthedFebruary memo from ICE, stating that “effective immediately, ERO officers will take enforcement action against all removable aliens encountered in the course of their duties,” confirms what we saw in the case of Jesus as well as others across America on a daily basis. It doesn’t matter that ICE has the power to stay these deportations – which in Jesus’ case they did annually from 2012 until this Spring. Their policy is mass deportation, and that includes anyone and anyone they come across – even doting fathers, taxpayers, and homeowners who are working legally like Jesus. Unfortunately, DHS Secretary John Kelly seems either completely ignorant as to the authority his Department has to use common sense while enforcing the law, or gleefully complicit in carrying out Trump’s campaign promise of mass deportation.
See here for a recent assessment from America’s Voice on how the Trump Administration is now going for broke in its focus on kicking out and keeping out immigrants such as Jesus – and why this is cruel, costly, and against our core values.
See also this editorial from the Cleveland Plain Dealer, inspired by the deportation case of Jesus Lara, calling on Ohio’s Republican Senator Rob Portman, Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown, and U.S. House Members to show leadership in re-invigorating a bipartisan fight for immigration reform. The editorial board writes:
A path to citizenship – with clear benchmarks for who can qualify and acceptable penalties for those who entered illegally or wrongly overstayed visas – needs to exist. Brown, Portman, and Joyce must show the way in working to create a fair and sensible immigration policy that functions for everyone.