Washington Witness: The same, and worse

Apr 24, 2017 by

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“America’s deportation machine: The great expulsion.” “Undocumented mom of 3 U.S. citizen kids deported.” “Study: 5,100 kids in foster care after parents deported.”

Tammy Alexander

Alexander

These may sound like recent headlines, but they are from articles written during the Obama administration. Though President Trump’s policies have caused heightened fears in immigrant communities, this administration’s actions are an extension of the previous eight years.

Under Obama, more than 2.5 million immigrants were deported, more than under any other U.S. president. Though Obama officials said they were deporting the “worst of the worst” criminals, they actually deported mostly immigrants with old and minor convictions.

Policies for asylum seekers were abysmal, placing women and children fleeing violence in Central America into newly opened family detention centers and denying many their day in court. By 2016, they had drastically increased the number of individuals and families in detention facilities.

The Trump administration is continuing and building upon these policies. So what, if anything, has changed?

Under Obama, some constraints were put in place to make immigration enforcement more humane and fair. Officials were instructed to look at the circumstances of each immigrant — such as time in the U.S., family ties and whether the person was a threat to public safety. Though these policies were implemented inconsistently under Obama, under Trump those policies have been completely rescinded.

The current president broadly paints immigrants as criminals who pose a threat to our communities, even though multiple studies show crime rates among immigrants are much lower than among the U.S.-born population.

Since January, parents with no criminal record have been deported. Families from Central America are being turned back at the border in violation of the law. Many more immigrants are facing detention. Enforcement operations are happening near places previously considered off-limits, such as churches and schools. The impact on children such as 13-year-old Fatima Avelica, who watched her father being taken by immigration officials on his way to drop her off at school, is heartbreaking.

Rhetoric such as “deport criminal immigrants,” “get legal” and “build the wall,” hide complex truths and ignore the humanity of immigrants. Should a man caught with marijuana 20 years ago be deported now? What about a young woman who put a false Social Security number on a form to get the heat turned on in her apartment? Should she be convicted of fraud and deported away from her children?

Admonitions to “get legal” deny the reality that, for the vast majority of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., there is no path to legal status — until Congress passes immigration reform legislation. Telling mothers “it’s dangerous to send your children to the U.S.” fails to acknowledge the risks those children face of being killed at home. Calls to build walls fail to grasp the root causes of migration — or the determination of someone seeking to escape violence, persecution or poverty.

The U.S. should have immigration laws. But those laws should be based on common sense, reality and fairness and reflect biblical principles of welcoming the stranger and caring for the vulnerable. This administration, not unlike the last, is letting policies be influenced by oversimplification, misinformation, fear and racism. This must change.

Tammy Alexander is senior legislative associate in the Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office.


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