Before the sun peeked above the horizon, dozens of day laborers gathered in the parking lot of a Little Havana Home Depot one morning last week waiting to be picked up to build our homes, mow our lawns or pick the fruits and vegetables we eat.
Similar scenes played out at many parking lots and street corners throughout South Florida, from Homestead to West Palm Beach, despite the spreading climate of fear in immigrant communities stemming from tough measures enacted by President Donald Trump since taking office Jan. 20 — all of which make it easier for immigration agents to detain foreign nationals who have broken immigration laws.
In Homestead, workers in the parking lot of a supermarket near the corner of Mowry Drive and Krome Avenue said neither police nor immigration agents have bothered them. “Our concern is whether we can get a job for the day,” said Gabriel Alavés of Oaxaca, Mexico.
An analysis by el Nuevo Herald of Trump’s new executive orders and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) guidelines, based on interviews with U.S. and local officials, immigration attorneys and immigrant rights advocates, shows that federal immigration agents have recovered the power they partly lost under former President Barack Obama, whose own executive orders shielded from deportation hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants.
Immigration officials are more aggressively detaining foreign nationals, even if they are not convicted criminals. Miami immigration attorney Wilfredo Allen.
Under Obama, for example, Central American children who crossed the Mexican border without their parents were deemed unaccompanied minors even after they were reunited with family members in South Florida and elsewhere in the country. Now, immigration officials have been instructed to verify if such designation should continue when the child’s case reaches immigration court for possible deportation and to deport or prosecute their parents and other relatives if they paid migrant smugglers to bring the minors across the border.
“DHS shall ensure the proper enforcement of our immigration laws against those who — directly or indirectly — facilitate the smuggling or trafficking of alien children into the United States,” new DHS guidelines say. “This includes placing parents or guardians who are removable aliens into removal proceedings, or referring such individuals for criminal prosecution, as appropriate.”
Immigration advocates expressed alarm.
“The DHS border enforcement memo has a devastating impact on unaccompanied children under our immigration policies,” said Michelle Ortíz, deputy director of Miami-based Americans for Immigrant Justice. “It calls for the re-evaluation of unaccompanied minor status, which would effectively strip humanitarian and due process protections for many Central American children seeking refuge and safety at our border.”
Though Trump’s orders and guidelines have sparked fear among immigrants, nowhere do they authorize random raids or mass deportations. But they do expand expedited deportations, potentially affecting any undocumented immigrant detained anywhere in the United States if he or she arrived in the past two years before arrest, Ortíz said. Previously expedited removals were geared against undocumented immigrants detained within 100 miles of the U.S. borders and within 14 days of arrival.
“Immigration officials are more aggressively detaining foreign nationals, even if they are not convicted criminals,” said Miami immigration attorney Wilfredo Allen.
But interviews with more than a dozen migrant workers in Little Havana and Homestead showed that the workers, many of them undocumented, have not been bothered by immigration agents.
Many aliens who illegally enter the United States and those who overstay or otherwise violate the terms of their visas present a significant threat to national security and public safety. From the president’s order
Day laborers in Little Havana complained that Miami police officers constantly order them to move on. A police spokeswoman said cops are not shooing away workers for seeking work or being immigrants, but because they are on private property, where trespassing is not allowed.
A federal official familiar with the new measures said immigration officials do not have any plans to round up immigration law violators in random raids on the streets.
“If we wanted to do that,” he said, “we could go to any Home Depot.”
Fear of losing TPS
The strategy, he said, is to continue and step up targeted operations against people with criminals records or outstanding deportation orders. Where fear is more palpable is among undocumented Central American immigrants who once had temporary protection against deportation, or who are currently shielded by the program but know it will end soon.
“People are fearful,” said Francisco Portillo, president of Miami-based Francisco Morazán Honduran Organization, which assists Central Americans in applying for Temporary Protected Status, or TPS. Hundreds of thousands of Haitians, Hondurans, Nicaraguans and Salvadorans are currently in the program, but the protection expires in July for Haitians, in January 2018 for Hondurans and Nicaraguans and in March 2018 for Salvadorans.
It’s unclear if Trump will renew the program — but if he doesn’t, the Central Americans and Haitians would revert to undocumented status and could be deported.
“Help me renew my TPS,” Noemi Hiraeta, a Salvadoran, urged Portillo during a visit to his office in Miami Thursday. Her TPS protection lapsed last year but she failed to renew it because she did not have money for the fees. She now has the money, and needed help filling out the application.
“I am worried because things do not seem optimistic,” said Hiraeta. “I have friends and neighbors who no longer want to leave their homes for fear of being detained.”
Portillo said other undocumented Central Americans no longer risk driving without a valid license for fear of being deported.
“They have pooled their resources and have hired people who have valid driver’s licenses to take them to work or the supermarket,” Portillo said.
In other highlights, the order explains the rationale for changing immigration policies from leniency under Obama to hard-line under Trump. It brands foreign nationals who violate immigration law threats to the nation.
“Many aliens who illegally enter the United States and those who overstay or otherwise violate the terms of their visas present a significant threat to national security and public safety,” the order says.
It goes on to blame so-called sanctuary communities for protecting deportable immigrants.
“Sanctuary jurisdictions across the United States willfully violate federal law in an attempt to shield aliens from removal from the United States,” the order says. “These jurisdictions have caused immeasurable harm to the American people and to the very fabric of our Republic.”
This is the order that prompted Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Giménez to instruct county lockups to resume cooperating with ICE by honoring detainers on foreign nationals who have been arrested for alleged crimes.
In Homestead, workers in the parking lot of a supermarket near the corner of Mowry Drive and Krome Avenue said neither police nor immigration agents have bothered them. ‘Our concern is whether we can get a job for the day,’ said Gabriel Alavés of Oaxaca, Mexico.
Last Wednesday, the county’s corrections and rehabilitation department released a list of 44 foreign inmates for which ICE issued detainers between Jan. 27 and Feb. 16. The alleged crimes for which the foreign nationals were arrested ranged from disorderly conduct to marijuana possession to murder. The list also noted that detainers for some of the arrestees had been lifted but it did not explain why.
The Trump order also blames governments of the home countries of many deportable immigrants for refusing to take back “tens of thousands” even after American immigration judges have ordered their deportation.
“Many of these aliens are criminals who have served time in our federal, state and local jails,” the order says. “The presence of such individuals in the United States, and the practices of foreign nations that refuse the repatriation of their nationals, are contrary to the national interest.”
The order calls for sanctions against “recalcitrant” countries that consistently refuse to accept the repatriation of their nationals. The order does not spell out the possible sanctions, but refers to an immigration law clause that allows the State Department to deny U.S. visas to travelers from those countries.
The “recalcitrant” countries include Cuba, which for decades has refused to take back more than 28,000 convicted felons — including 2,000 murderers — who have final orders of deportation. So far, though, the Trump administration has not taken steps to force Cuba to take back the convicts or punish it for not doing so.