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ICYMI: Julia Preston: 'Trump: The New Deportation Threat'

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Longtime and former New York Times immigration reporter: Trump’s new deportation threat “has begun to look like an attack on entire communities.”

In the New York Review of Books, the longtime New York Times immigration reporter Julia Preston, now working as a freelance reporter, pens a piece assessing the Trump Administration’s approach to immigration enforcement and the new deportation threat he poses.

It’s a must-read, fully available online here, with key excerpts below:

…Trump, with his executive orders and his ominous warnings about the dangers “illegals” pose for Americans, is eliminating Obama’s restraints and spurring agents to use the tools they have to deport as many people as possible.

…while the actual numbers remain unclear, there is no doubt that Trump’s demonization of immigrants is driving a widening crackdown. ICE is moving much faster and more aggressively than it did during the Obama years. Agents who chafed under Obama now feel unchained. In California, ICE actions at courthouses prompted the state’s chief justice, Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, to demand in a letter on March 16that agents stop “stalking undocumented immigrants in our courthouses to make arrests.” Secretary Kelly responded that the courthouse arrests would continue. Reports described many immigrants being detained while dropping off their children at school. In Fort Worth, Texas, ICE agents arrested twenty-six immigrants who turned up for a work detail at the county sheriff’s office, complying with sentences for low-level offenses.

The effects of the push for deportations have been far-reaching. In many cities and towns, immigrants say they feel besieged and are retreating from public life. In their communities, shopping has ebbed and church attendance has dropped. Legal clinics are packed. Mexicans have crowded into their consulates to update passports for themselves and their Mexican-born children, so that they will not be separated in the event they have to leave the United States in a hurry. Israel Rocha, the chief executive of the New York City hospital in Elmhurst, Queens, said immigrants were staying away from its facilities. “People leave their loved ones in the emergency room and run away,” he said at a public meeting in the hospital.

Trump’s homeland security secretary has at times seemed surprised by the level of alarm. A retired four-star Marine general who came from an exemplary forty-five-year career in the military, not law enforcement, Kelly says his agents are only following the law. “You have to remember…we don’t deport anybody,” he said in Detroit, an assertion that startled his listeners. “American law deports people,” he explained. “And once these people, illegals, for whatever reason, go into the system,” Kelly said, “they have all of the protections, typical, all American protections. It’s the law that deports them.”

Kelly’s statements misrepresent the nature and practice of immigration law. It is a rigid code with few gradations of punishment, regardless of the offense, short of the severe penalty of deportation. But in enforcing those statutes ICE agents are given broad leeway to exercise their own judgment, what is known in legal terms as prosecutorial discretion. Trump’s executive orders in January provide virtually unrestricted authority to enforcement agents, while expanding the category of people who should be targeted for deportation to include anyone without papers. “Many aliens” without legal status are “a significant threat to national security and public safety,” one order warns. Agents should deport immigrants convicted of or even charged with “any criminal offense”; immigrants who “have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense”; and, finally, immigrants who “in the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security.” In other words, carte blanche. A fast-track procedure that eliminates any opportunity for a hearing in immigration court was expanded to apply nationwide to undocumented foreigners who have been in the United States less than two years. By the plain letter of the orders, many immigrants will not have “all American protections.”

Trump has said that the enforcement offensive is necessary to expel outlaws who have been pouring across the Mexican border. But illegal border crossings overall have fallen sharply since 2000, even with the surge of migrants from Central America since 2014. Also, most undocumented immigrants didn’t come here recently; they are part of settled families. According to the Pew Research Center, two thirds of those immigrants have lived in the United States for ten years or more; among those from Mexico, 78 percent have been here for at least a decade. Many are in mixed families that include citizens or legal immigrants; about 4.1 million American children are citizens who have at least one undocumented parent, the Migration Policy Institute has reported. As ICE deports more people like Catalino Guerrero—people who are integrated into American society and whom the public doesn’t recognize as “bad ones”—Trump’s campaign has begun to look like an attack on entire communities.