“I came to America to be free. This is not freedom.”
The new cover story of The Atlantic is a must-read piece by Frank Foer, “How Trump Radicalized ICE.” Making several trips to Columbus, Foer uses the example of Mauritanians, who fled ethnic cleansing for safety in the United States—and now face deportation under Trump—to illustrate the broader dysfunction of the current administration’s “zero tolerance” mass deportation policy.
ICE, as currently conceived, represents a profound deviation in the long history of American immigration. On many occasions, America has closed its doors to both desperate refugees and eager strivers. But once immigrants have reached our shores, settled in, raised families, and started businesses, all without breaking any laws, the government has almost never chased them away in meaningful numbers. In 1954, Dwight Eisenhower’s Operation Wetback—this was its official designation—removed more than 1 million Mexican immigrants. It is remembered precisely because it was so dissonant with America’s self-styled identity as a nation of immigrants.
…The Trump administration made explicit its policy that every undocumented immigrant is unsafe with the executive order that Trump signed during his first month as president, repealing Obama’s policy of prioritizing the deportation of immigrants who had committed serious crimes. As Thomas Homan testified before Congress last year, “If you’re in this country illegally and you committed a crime by entering this country, you should be uncomfortable … You should look over your shoulder, and you need to be worried.”
The administration has attempted to encode the spirit of that warning across the spectrum of immigration enforcement. For years, such enforcement has abided by a policy intended to give undocumented immigrants a sense of safety in “sensitive locations.” ICE has, for instance, refrained from apprehending immigrants at schools, places of worship, and hospitals. The theory is that even if an immigrant might be at risk for deportation, she shouldn’t think twice about, say, visiting a doctor. But anecdotal evidence suggests that ICE has been operating more often in the vicinity of sensitive locations: Agents arrested a father after he dropped off his daughter at school, and detained a group soon after it left a church shelter. ice has also attempted to undermine so-called sanctuary cities, which decline to hand over undocumented immigrants whom their police happen to arrest. ICE has loudly trumpeted its escalation of raids in those cities, sending the message that any notion of sanctuary is pure illusion.
As a companion to the article, The Atlantic also released a short documentary, “Fear and Anxiety at Refugee Road.” The video profiles one of the roughly 3,000 Mauritanian immigrants in Columbus fearing deportation. The man recently sold his house and now lives in a friend’s basement, his entire life packed in a small suitcase — his clothes, his family’s paperwork, and his books.
In reporting the piece, Foer spent time with Julie Nemecek, the unnamed Columbus immigration lawyer present at the ICE check-in and quoted, and a number of her clients. She is available to speak with media about her current group of clients from Africa, many of whom are detained in Morrow County, Ohio and face imminent deportation, despite living in the United States for decades and being at grave risk for enslavement if they are removed. David Leopold, Cleveland-based immigration lawyer and a national expert on ICE, is also available for media interviews.