Among other things, the order seeks the construction of a wall, terminates the “catch and release” procedure whereby undocumented immigrants are detained and released, adds 5,000 border patrol agents, calls for a report quantifying all foreign aid provided by the United States to Mexico annually during the past five years, and makes provisions for greater coordination between federal, state and local governments in implementing immigration policy.
But while these raids are not new in and of themselves, advocates and others watching these raids unfold are right to worry whether this President is casting a wider net and expanding the objective in ICE enforcement beyond national security. Of the 160 illegal immigrants arrested during the Trump raids, the vast majority had felony convictions and merited deportation. To be sure, the federal government has a solemn obligation to secure the borders and to protect the public. But there are questions as to the other arrests. The concern from a justice perspective, then, is not the enforcement effort itself. The executive branch enforces the law, and any President is entitled to do so in the manner he deems most effective in keeping with his philosophy. Instead, the concern lies in whether enforcement will be over broad and unduly aggressive.
There’s reason to be concerned. Homeland Security Director John Kelly testified before Congress last week for the first time. In doing so, he noted that morale among ICE officers was down under the Obama administration, because they felt like their hands were tied. He further suggested that morale would be boosted under the new President. The implication then, is that the Trump administration will enforce immigration laws more aggressively than previous administrations have.
Where the raids lead to arrests of those with existing deportation orders, or who are violent criminals, or are deemed detrimental to the security of US interests, the President will be on firm legal footing. But simply kicking “them” out because “they” don’t belong here in the first place raises other issues. Fortunately, there are immigration courts that will serve as a check on executive authority.
Why? Yes, Garcia had a felony conviction. Yes, she violated the law. Yes, there was a valid underlying deportation order that justified her removal. But was it really necessary to take her away from her husband and children in the interest of national security? And so the question remains, how many cases like Garcia’s are out there, and how will they be handled under what looks like a new era of aggressive enforcement? And are people like Garcia the type of people whom the President seeks to deport under his tough new immigration policies? What public safety and border security interest does that serve?
It’s one thing to be tough on immigration. It’s yet another to be fair. Those watching closely are right to be worried about current trends, but should take comfort in knowing that immigration courts will serve as a check upon any overreach by ICE in conducting these raids and carrying out the President’s enforcement initiatives. But we should really reality-check ourselves, too, and ask whether a country like the United States, which sets the standard for the world in human rights, can’t provide a better example to the world.