Immigrants are in a state of panic

Miami Herald Editorial Board

Demonstrators in Los Angeles express their displeasure with Donald Trump’s immigration policies.
Demonstrators in Los Angeles express their displeasure with Donald Trump’s immigration policies. AP

Immigrant communities across the country — including South Florida — are in a state of panic. We can’t blame them. They have a right to be fearful of what the future holds under President-elect Donald Trump and the encouragement he offered to the kind of haters who seem to enjoy shouting the mantra “deport ’em all.”

The atmosphere of hate that came into the open during the campaign has exploded since Mr. Trump’s victory. In a six-day period beginning Nov. 9, the day after the election, the Southern Poverty Law Center recorded 437 reports of hateful intimidation and harassment, 136 directed at immigrants, and 900 by late last week. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Mr. Trump did his best to evoke anti-immigrant hysteria among voters and then capitalized on it to coast to victory. We criticized him then and still believe he was wrong. His rhetoric was loaded with misinformation, demagoguery and racial animus.

In his first post-victory interview, however, Mr. Trump toned it down a bit. He told “60 Minutes” that as president he would deport or jail up to 3 million criminal immigrants. This sounds like a huge threat, but the sad reality is that the Obama administration has already set records for deportation, nearly 2.7 million since 2008. And if Mr. Trump is referring to those who have committed crimes, the number available is only about 820,000, out of the estimated 11 million people living in the country illegally, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

It’s telling that Mr. Trump has named Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama to be his attorney general. Sen. Sessions is the leading foe of immigration reform in the U.S. Senate. His nomination to the federal bench years ago, before he was elected to the Senate, was stymied by accusations of racism. There will be time later to examine his credentials for the post of the nation’s top law-enforcement officer. Suffice it to say for now that his nomination offers little reassurance to dampen well-founded fears of what a Trump presidency will bring for immigrant communities and those who cherish civil liberties.

Mr. Trump is entitled to pursue the policies he advocated in his campaign, but he may want to consider that a more conciliatory approach is better for the country and for the success of his own tenure in the White House.

Mass deportations of the kind imagined by Mr. Trump’s most fervid supporters are highly unlikely. The deportation force required to round up millions of immigrants does not exist. The turmoil this would cause in virtually every major city in the country would rattle the political system to its foundations.

Already, Mr. Trump has aroused push-back from friend and foe. Republican Speaker Paul Ryan said flat-out it’s not going to happen. GOP leaders know mass round-ups would be political poison. Several cities are defiantly remaining places of “sanctuary.”

And some Catholic prelates let the president-elect know he’s in for a fight if he wants to pursue such senseless ideas.

The newest American cardinal, Joseph Tobin, whom the pope just appointed archbishop of Newark, said in Rome recently the church will not retreat from its policy of welcoming migrants and refugees into this country.

At the same time, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops offered a resonant amen: It named Archbishop José H. Gómez of Los Angeles, an immigrant from Mexico and naturalized U.S. citizen — and one of the church’s strongest advocates for immigrants — its vice president.

That’s a message directed to Mr. Trump. We hope he listens.