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A Year of Trump on Immigration: The Radical Vision, Cruel Implementation, and Nationwide Resistance of the Past Year

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“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best . . . They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” – Donald Trump, during speech announcing presidential campaign in June 2015

“You think the country is giving us their best people? No . . . They give us their worst people.” – Donald Trump, speaking about visa lottery program in December 2017

As these two quotes remind us, and as the first year of his Administration underscores, Donald Trump’s attacks on immigrants and “the other” have been a core and defining feature of both his candidacy and his presidency. As we reach the end of the first year of the Trump Administration, we offer up the following recap of his actions on immigration: the radical vision at work; the cruel implementation of the agenda that we’ve witnessed; and, the ongoing nationwide resistance that offers a powerful and hopeful counter to the Trump Administration’s dark version of America.

The Radical Vision

Under the direction of President Trump, and with the guidance of officials and advisors such as Jeff Sessions, John Kelly, and Stephen Miller, the Trump Administration has been advancing a radical vision that seeks to kick out and keep out immigrants and refugees – in order to reverse the demographic diversification of America. A series of Trump Administration policy memos, practices, and comments make explicit that their immigration enforcement vision is to deport or exclude anyone and everyone they can.  Consider the following:

  • Trump’s interior enforcement executive order. The details in Trump’s executive order on interior enforcement made clear that just about all of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in America are at risk of deportation. Even Breitbart agreed, noting that the Trump immigration executive orders are “much broader than expected,” and stating that the key deportation measures are “hidden in the details.”
  • DHS immigration enforcement implementation memos. Released in February, these DHS memos admit they “will not exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement.” Similarly, a February memo from ICE stated that “effective immediately, ERO officers will take enforcement action against all removable aliens encountered in the course of their duties.” In December, ICE Director Thomas Homan stated to the Associated Press: “The president made it clear in his executive orders: There’s no population off the table. If you’re in this country illegally, we’re looking for you and we’re going to look to apprehend you.”
  • False assertions about having no discretionary powers in individual deportation cases.  When serving as DHS Secretary, John Kelly falsely asserted that he does not have discretionary powers to intervene in individual deportation cases. This combination – ramped-up indiscriminate enforcement and Kelly’s inaccurate “my hands are tied” rap – means that deportations have been purposefully sweeping and indiscriminate by design.
  • Reliance on “silent raids.”  The Administration has made a practice of going after some of the easiest undocumented immigrant targets to locate – the formerly “low priority” immigrants showing up for routine appointments at ICE and other DHS departments (a practice we’ve deemed “silent raids”), and those attending hearings at our nation’s courthouses.

The Cruel Implementation

In our name and with our tax dollars, the Trump Administration is engaged in a massive operation to sow fear and separate families, by deporting as many people as possible. The length of time that immigrants have resided in the U.S., their history of contribution, support for U.S. citizen children, and lack of criminal history no longer matter.

ICE arrests of immigrants without criminal records has doubled under Trump and overall “interior removals” – the phrase capturing deportations away from the border –  jumped 37 percent compared to the previous year.

These statistics capture just one disturbing piece of the larger plan that has been put into practice. In addition the Administration has:

Of course, it’s the real people and real families affected by the above-mentioned policies that bring home their devastation, in a way that statistics and policy summaries cannot. Unfortunately, there are no shortage of heartbreaking stories of families torn apart by Trump’s immigration extremism this year.

Tens of thousands of mothers and fathers like Lourdes, Jesus, Maribel, and Roberto are being banished from their homes and families. These are people who have lived in America for decades, many of whom have U.S.-born children, and who have dutifully complied with government-ordered requirements for years. These are not the “bad hombres” Trump promised to deport, but the immigrants who are following the government’s rules.

From caregivers to young immigrants, the Trump Administration’s enforcement actions have been indiscriminate, relentless, and cruel (see this link for a recap of troubling examples). Among the most disturbing targets of enforcement have been Dreamers, including DACA recipients like Pennsylvania’s Osman Enriquez, who was recently detained by ICE after losing his DACA status due to delays at the post office associated with the arbitrary October DACA renewal deadline.

The Administration’s cruelty against young immigrants was also vividly captured in the arrest and detention of 10-year-old Rosa Maria Hernandez, who has cerebral palsy and has lived in Texas since she was three months old. CBP agents followed the ambulance Rosa Maria was riding in from a border checkpoint to a Corpus Christi hospital, where five fully armed uniformed agents waited outside her hospital room before detaining her without her parents or guardian. Rosa Maria, and other young immigrants like her, would qualify for the Dream Act – and no one in their right mind could argue that she should be a priority for deportation.

Year One of the Resistance

Despite the disturbing policies being put into practice and the heartbreaking stories of the families and lives affected, this year has also demonstrated that millions of Americans are in firm disagreement with the Trump Administration on this issue. They are getting active in new ways, standing up for immigrants and a more inclusive, welcoming America.

The response from the immigrants and allies has helped check and rein in some of the excesses and cruelty of the Trump administration while helping pick up the pieces of the lives adversely affected. One story out of Iowa shows how a local family decided to make a difference in the life of a young girl whose parents were recently deported by this Administration. As the Des Moines Register highlights in a new video and article, school Superintendent Thomas Ahart and his wife, Jami Bassman Ahart, invited a local student to live with them and complete her education, after her parents were deported to Guatemala.

This example is far from isolated – from the overwhelming breadth of support for Dreamers across ideologies to the widespread airport protests against Trump’s Muslim ban; and from lawmakers in states such as California and Illinois enacting pro-immigrant policies to ongoing lawsuits that have delivered court rulings against Trump to nationwide campaigns on behalf of immigrants facing deportation; millions of people are standing up for an America that values immigrants.

While numerous ugly incidents of Trump-inspired racism and violence prompted us to track them on the Trump Hate Map here, lately we’ve been seeing more and more compassionate acts of kindness towards immigrants and refugees, which we are documenting here.  This gives us hope.

Instead of mass deportations, Americans overwhelmingly back legalization and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. In fact, in the face of President Trump’s radical immigration agenda, Americans’ support for immigrants and a path to legal status isgrowing. And, standing up for immigrants is increasingly becoming a focus of organizations beyond those that traditionally operate in the immigrant rights space. Fighting for immigrants and refugees is firmly central to the broader Resistance and People Power efforts that have sprung up in response to Trump.

We’re pushing back, we’re taking the Administration to court, we’re making them fight at every step of the way, and we’re working to channel energies and outrage at the ballot box in order to ultimately reclaim the political power that will lead to legislative and policy breakthroughs, and a return to a pro-immigrant America that we aspire to.

As recent elections in Virginia and Alabama help demonstrate, those fighting for an inclusive vision of immigrants in America are mobilized and on the march.  It’s been an exceedingly difficult year for immigrants and refugees, but we believe eventually the kind-hearted, fair, and compassionate side of America will prevail.