Trump’s immigration policy is all about sowing fear and division.
The Progressive Article – Here
An interactive digital satellite map, showing where the remains of migrants were found in Arizona’s desert terrain, is a grim reminder of the deadly toll of Trump’s anti-immigrant policies.
Click on any red dot and words such as “unknown” and “skeletal” and “decomposed” pop up on this map, produced by Humane Borders, an Arizona-based nonprofit that tracks desert deaths.
Since President Donald Trump took office in 2017, the remains of more than 500 people have been found in parts of Arizona alone. These are desperate people fleeing persecution, escaping poverty, and seeking the American dream. On July 31, the Trump Administration set out to drive this death toll even higher.
On that day, dozens of armed Border Patrol agents, accompanied by an armored vehicle, raided the humanitarian group No More Deaths’ Byrd Camp in Arizona, about twelve miles from the border. More than three dozen migrants were detained. The humanitarian group works to provide water, clothing, and other supplies along trails used by migrants crossing the border.
“They view our work as helping people complete their journey,” Paige Corich-Kleim, a spokesperson for No More Deaths, tells The Progressive. “We see it as preventing them from dying and suffering.”
Trump inherited an immigration system geared toward deportation, but he has fueled it with a ruthless mix of xenophobic racism and misuse of executive powers.
The last four years have amounted to a frontal attack on the principles of immigration. Trump started with a discriminatory travel ban that targeted Muslim-majority countries. He has all but closed the doors to refugees and asylum seekers, while putting up obstacles to other avenues of immigration.
Under Trump’s policy of family separation, at least 5,400 children have been torn from their parents, and countless other immigrant families have seen beloved members deported. The number in detention in inhumane conditions has fallen in recent months largely because Trump has closed the nation’s borders to asylum seekers, using COVID-19 as an excuse.
“The system has always had problems, but the sheer cruelty, racism, and disregard for human life that the Trump Administration’s policies have reflected are really unprecedented,” says Sirine Shebaya, executive director of the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild.
Trump’s fear-mongering—maligning immigrants as criminals and a drain on the economy—has put anyone who does not fit into his vision of a white America at risk.
“If you are Latino, you are subjected to immigration enforcement and white supremacy attacks,” says Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights in El Paso, Texas.
On August 3, 2019, at a Walmart store in El Paso, a gunman shot dozens of people, killing twenty-three. “This attack,” the gunman wrote in a document he posted on the Internet, “is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
Under Trump’s detain-and-deport mindset, the number of immigrants locked up in deplorable conditions in more than 200 facilities ballooned from a daily average of 34,376 in fiscal year 2016 to a daily average of 50,165 in fiscal year 2019.
The nation’s detainee population has since dropped to about 20,000, after Trump closed the borders to “nonessential traffic,” purportedly in response to COVID-19. But as Maura, a twenty-year-old asylum seeker from Guatemala, can attest, detention continues to be a life-threatening experience.
Maura has spent the last seven months at the El Paso Service Processing Center, where 181 detainees had tested positive for coronavirus as of late August. In a recent telephone interview, she describes the failure of officials there to diagnose her COVID-19 symptoms in mid-June.
“I had pain in my throat. It was very, very massive pain. My chest was hurting so bad that I felt I couldn’t breathe,” says Maura, who wants to be identified only by her first name. “When I went to the sick hall, they said, ‘Your temperature is normal. There is nothing wrong with you.’ ”
Maura’s requests to stay with a sister in the United States pending the outcome of her asylum case have been denied.
Yimy, a twenty-six-year-old asylum seeker from Honduras, was released at the end of March from the Hudson County Jail in New Jersey, once COVID-19 cases began to show up there.
But a deportation order, now being appealed, hangs over Yimy, who is gay and fled Honduras eight years ago, after being beaten and threatened. “I am afraid of returning to Honduras,” Yimy says in a phone interview. “I suffered so much being there.”
Trump’s badmouthing of undocumented immigrants ignores the $11.7 billion that they contribute annually in state and local taxes, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. It also creates an enforcement climate that puts them at constant risk of deportation.
Marcario Gilberto Reyes-Herrera, who toiled as a farmworker in western New York for almost three decades, found that out in June 2017.
He was a passenger in a truck stopped for traffic infractions by state troopers, who ignored a directive not to use such stops as an excuse to turn immigrants over to Customs and Border Protection. Reyes-Herrera ended up being prosecuted on the felony charge of illegal re-entry into the United States.
U.S. District Judge Charles Siragusa, who presided over the criminal case, told Reyes-Herrera: “I hope by some miracle, you can be allowed to stay.” That didn’t happen.
Deported to Mexico in February 2018, Reyes-Herrera was joined by his wife. Their three children—all U.S. citizens—remain in western New York. Reyes-Herrera is suing the three State Police officers involved in this traffic stop, saying they discriminated against him based on his ethnicity.
A similar fate could face Eladio Beltran, another western New York farmworker who crossed the border in 2000 at the age of fourteen to escape his life of poverty in Mexico. Beltran has worked long hours in apple orchards, as he and his wife raised four children.
A deportation proceeding against Beltran was administratively closed in 2016, because it was not considered a priority. But then, in 2018, his case was reopened and he was ordered deported—a decision he is now appealing.
“Trump does not understand that we are humans,” says Beltran, who wants his children to have an opportunity “to pursue their dreams.”
The seeking of safe haven in a house of worship, also known as sanctuary, has become a necessity for undocumented immigrants such as Jeanette Vizguerra, a forty-eight-year-old labor and immigrant rights activist who came to the United States from Mexico in 1997 to escape gang violence.
“One day I will have my freedom,” Vizguerra tells The Progressive in a recent interview.
With Trump in office, Vizguerra sought sanctuary in a Denver, Colorado, church. After almost three months, she was able to get a stay of deportation. But in March 2019, Vizguerra returned to the church when she realized immigration agents were following her and her legal stay was expiring.
“The government tries to paint us as criminals,” Vizguerra says. “In reality, we are just people looking for a better life.”
Trump’s war against immigrants, according to the Migration Policy Institute, has been waged through more than 400 immigration-related executive actions—ranging from the diversion of $10 billion of Defense Department appropriations to be used instead for border wall construction to directives disregarding the basics of asylum law.
While many people are allowed to continue crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, asylum seekers are considered “nonessential” traffic under the March 20 border closure directive.
By early September, 148,000 undocumented immigrants had been “expelled”—either by being turned around at the border by Border Patrol or by being temporarily detained, with the help of a private company, MVM. They are then put on deportation flights, often to Central America or Mexico City.
These exclusions are in addition to the 173,916 court-ordered deportations that occurred between last October and this July. The vast majority of the deportees arrived before the border closings.
In addition, at least 177 unaccompanied children were detained in hotels before being expelled in July alone, according to court papers challenging this practice filed in August by the Center for Human Rights & Constitutional Law and the National Center for Youth Law. It says, for instance, an eleven-year-old boy was held at two hotels for seven days and by MVM Transport for another day before his expulsion.
Hotels have become an unregulated extension of the detention system. In another case, cited in court papers, a girl under the age of nine was detained seven nights in a hotel with strangers.
“These detention sites lack fundamental protections required by state licensing, such as child abuse checks for adults overseeing the children, and basic requirements around food, sanitation, recreation, and access to medical care,” says Neha Desai, who as director of immigration for the National Center for Youth Law is one of the attorneys in this case.
In September, a federal judge ordered the administration to stop using hotels instead of licensed facilities for expulsion of minors because such a practice skirts “fundamental humanitarian protections.” At least 577 unaccompanied children had been detained in hotels since March.
While running roughshod over immigrants’ rights, Trump considers immigration courts as needless obstacles to deportation. In 2018, for example, he spoke of his desire to oust undocumented immigrants caught crossing the borders immediately “with no judges or court cases.”
Trump has made immigration judges, who are part of the Justice Department, an arm of immigration enforcement through directives that limit what can be considered an asylum claim and sharply curtail judges’ discretion to administratively close cases.
“Under this administration, we have seen how easily immigration courts can be manipulated,” says Laura Lynch, senior policy counsel of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
Assembly-line justice is to be expected from an administration that requires immigration judges to complete at least 700 cases a year. Still, the backlog in immigration courts has doubled under Trump—it now stands at about 1.2 million—as closed cases have been reopened and ICE agents reach deep into neighborhoods and workplaces to round up immigrants.
No immigrant can have peace of mind under Trump. And that’s exactly how he wants it.
Even after the Supreme Court in June rejected Trump’s attempt to dismantle the popular Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects from deportation almost 650,000 undocumented immigrants who came here as youths, the administration has defiantly refused to accept new DACA applications.
Trump has also greatly limited immigration through established avenues by creating what has been called an “invisible wall” of obstacles, including needless delays in the approval process for permanent residency and expanded grounds for rejecting visas.
“Unfortunately, this administration has been extraordinarily successful in stopping legal immigration,” says Margo Cowan, a public defender in Tucson, Arizona, and veteran of immigrant rights struggles.
The number of immigrants attaining lawful permanent residency is projected to drop from 1,183,505 in fiscal year 2016 to 601,660 in fiscal year 2021, according to an analysis in Forbes magazine.
Trump wants to replace the current system of legal immigration with one based on merit, as determined by a rating system. That’s not at all what Emma Lazarus envisioned when she wrote: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Asked last year about these foundational words, Acting Deputy Secretary for Homeland Security Ken Cuccinelli suggested tweaking them to add, “who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.”