Immigration advocates called President Barack Obama the “Deporter in Chief.” His administration deported record numbers of immigrants while Republican critics insist he was soft on illegals. Now comes Trump, with his vastly expanded list of immigrants who could be subject to deportation and his proposed cut-off of federal funds to sanctuary cities refusing to help ICE officials deport immigrants accused of low-level crimes. The impact of Trump’s ham-handed approach is all around us. He says he wants to focus on gangbangers and bad hombres, but his executive order covers not only terrorists and violent criminals but those “present in violation of immigration laws.” Trump also referred to the deportation process as a “military action.”
My own hometown, Newton, MA, a city of 88,000, where 22 percent are foreign born, just passed an ordinance declaring itself a “welcoming city.” The ordinance formalizes Newton’s longstanding, informal policy wherein police and other officials would help the feds enforce civil immigration in only limited circumstances. These, logically, are where an individual has a prior conviction for a violent felony, is suspected of terrorism, or has an outstanding criminal warrant. Newton now stands shoulder to shoulder with other cities in Massachusetts and elsewhere that have similar policies but label themselves sanctuary cities. The new Trump executive order on immigration threatens to withhold federal dollars from such communities. If his authority to do so withstands court challenge, could cost Newton a not insignificant $12 million.
According to the Newton TAB, local police have, over the last six years, detained three people in cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The new ordinance is a rational one, designed, as are other sanctuary policies, to foster good community relations and not scare undocumented immigrants from cooperating with law enforcement investigations or calling in reports of domestic abuse and other crimes.
Public debate has tended to be binary: either pro-immigrant or anti-immigrant, without differentiating nuances or distinguishing legal immigrants (including students, doctors, high tech workers and more) and the various categories of illegal immigrants. Many restaurants across the country observed a Day without Immigrants, leading to some restaurants unable to serve the public, including the U.S. Senate coffee shop. The Davis Museum, on the campus of my alma mater Wellesley College, removed or covered 120 works of art either created by or donated by immigrants. The empty walls told a compelling story of how immigrants have contributed to our culture.
Even if a policy attempts to focus on illegals, it’s complicated. For now, Trump is not deporting the so-called “dreamers,” minors bought here illegally by their parents. But these young people don’t know if their status under DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) will be renewed when it expires in two years. There’s no sign that Congress is prepared to make to make it permanent, and this could all be part of a Trump/Bannon strategy to slowlykill off the program.
Two thirds of undocumented immigrants have been in the United States for a decade or more, most functioning as productive members of the work force. All this argues for a comprehensive immigration reform, not unlike the Simpson-Mazzoli law of 1986. This doesn’t seem likely to happen in 2017.
The Trump policy is sweeping and ambiguous, justifiably concerning the foreign-born among us, including those with incontrovertible legal status. Even the revised iteration of Trump’s immigration proposal reinforces the sense that our Chief Executive is a thoughtless authoritarian.
He’s probably happy that a new Quinnipiac poll says that by a two-to-one margin, the American people see him as a strong person. But the same percentages say he’s not level headed and doesn’t share their values. His overall approval rating has slipped to 38 percent, but, while 91 percent of Democrats disapprove, 83 percent of Republicans do approve. And we know which party is in the driver’s seat in Congress. Things won’t turn around, on immigration or any other issue, until Congressional Republicans recognize what a danger Trump is to this country and see it in their self-interest to find ways to blunt his most toxic actions.
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