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Trump Prioritizes Cruel and Cynical Anti-Immigrant Agenda Over the Need to Save Lives

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During a Public Health Crisis Requiring Deft Policy Responses, Trump and GOP Focus on Politics and Power

We’re in the midst of a once-in-a-lifetime global health crisis that should be the all consuming focus of a presidential administration. Instead, the Trump administration continues to escalate its relentless anti-immigrant political agenda despite the fact it will, quite literally, come at the cost of human lives. 

From keeping thousands of detainees locked up in crowded conditions to deporting Haitians to a country wholly lacking in public health infrastructure to spending billions on wall construction that could instead be allocated toward pandemic response, Trump and Stephen Miller are hellbent on continuing to pursue long-sought nativist policy goals and to keep their preferred 2020 re-election narrative intact. Meanwhile, while the deportation machinery keeps humming, they have suspended other DHS immigration functions, such as moving citizenship applications forward for hundreds of thousands, that don’t fit within their misplaced priorities.

Below are examples that encapsulate their wanton cruelty and colossally misplaced priorities:

  • “We are terrified of dying” – ICE keeping tens of thousands of detainees needlessly locked up in death traps. USA Today highlights that ICE is holding “more than 34,000 detainees, the majority of which — 60 percent — have no criminal record and are only being detained over a civil immigration violation.” This is a threat to these individuals’ lives and the broader public’s health. As U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres wrote in a ruling ordering release of 10 detainees in New Jersey, “The risk of contracting COVID-19 in tightly-confined spaces, especially jails, is now exceedingly obvious.” The fear over these risks is palpable – as asylum seeker Gretchen Romero told USA Today, “we are terrified of dying,” and a Guatemalan man told the LA Times, “I am afraid of my life.” 
  • Deporting Haitians despite the obvious risks of accelerating Covid-19 spread. As we highlighted yesterday, the Trump effort to deport Haitians from the crowded detention facilities is a potential health catastrophe. Indeed, as the Miami Herald reported, a Haitian man exposed to the coronavirus was taken off an ICE deportation flight at the last minute yesterday after having been in close proximity with others. As a separate Miami Herald editorial condemning the deportations noted, the Trump administration “is knowingly lobbing a potential cluster bomb of coronavirus infection into a nation where community spread of the disease has been identified.
  • Trump diverts billions toward border wall construction that should be used for Covid-19 response efforts. Trump’s border wall obsession continues, taking away resources and personnel that are critical to containing this epidemic. They are allocating $18.4 billion for wall construction, most of it diverted from other federal agencies’ programs. As a press release from California Attorney General Xavier Becerra stated, “More than 20 percent, $890 million, of the diverted taxpayer funds [have] been allocated to National Guard units across the country for the purchase of equipment critical to responding to natural disasters and other emergencies,” such as Covid-19.
  • Deporting hundreds of unaccompanied minors to fulfill long-sought policy goal of Stephen Miller. As Reuters reports, “U.S. immigration officials have rapidly deported nearly 400 migrant children intercepted at the U.S.-Mexico border in the past two weeks under new rules … President Donald Trump’s administration implemented new border rules on March 21 that scrapped decades-long practices under laws meant to protect children from human trafficking and offer them a chance to seek asylum in a U.S. immigration court. Under the new rules, U.S. officials can quickly remove people without standard immigration proceedings.” Of note, while the administration justifies these actions as part of pandemic response efforts, we view them as the fulfillment of Miller’s long-sought wishes.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:

“When history takes stock of the litany of Trump’s failures to prepare and respond adequately to Covid-19, it should include the unconscionable choice to keep the deportation machinery humming and the border wall construction moving forward – all in the service of his political survival and at the expense of saving lives. It’s cruel, cynical, divisive and counterproductive. 

Instead of bringing us together to protect our health, he is dividing us to further his interests. Instead of dealing with immigrants in a balanced and thoughtful way, he is setting up his reelection strategy. Instead of calling us to rise as one America to beat back this historic challenge, he is acting tough, acting small and acting foolishly. This is a failure of historic proportions. We can do better; much better.”