More than criminals are being deported

Miami Herald Editorial Board

Foreign nationals at the Krome detention center in Miami-Dade, where those with criminal records and deportation orders are often held.
Foreign nationals at the Krome detention center in Miami-Dade, where those with criminal records and deportation orders are often held. EL NUEVO HERALD

President Trump is not about to take control of his vociferously delivered, and wildly resonant, campaign promise to relentlessly pursue violent illegal immigrants. And that borders on tragic.

He now is presiding over a messy, inconsistent follow-through that has snagged undocumented immigrants caught, say, driving without a license; made others afraid to report to the police violent assaults and other crimes against them; left children without a parent; and even detained for deportation, according to Human Rights Watch, those with no criminal history at all.

But this president doesn’t do nuance.

Yes, yes, America is a nation of laws. It has also been a nation, despite some huge lapses over the centuries, that makes adjustments, recalibrates, when those laws sometimes overreach, as long as there’s is no harm done to the greater society. Indeed, U.S. law has been applied, fairly or no, with discretion.

In 1996, Congress passed laws making even people who hold green cards and those with lawful status subject to deportation after a criminal conviction. The range of crimes is exceedingly broad, from shoplifting to intentional homicide.

The Obama administration called the hounds off of undocumented immigrants convicted of nonviolent crimes who had strong connections to the United States through family and stable employment, green cards or military service.

President Obama got nuance, mostly. After all, he still was derisively nicknamed Deporter in Chief. However, that administration understood that there was more harm than good to be done by needlessly separating families

But here we are.

Alison Parker, the director of U.S. Program for Human Rights Watch, hears the horror stories. “The executive order and the memos on internal immigration enforcement seem as if the administration is interested in deporting people with no criminal history,” she told the Editorial Board.

As a nation, yes, of laws, we should declare this overreach unacceptable.

And once in the deportation system, the process pretty much railroads people out of the country. “The 1996 laws exempt a lot of people with convictions from being able to talk about their family or military connections in front of a judge,” Parker said. “The judge can only look at a checked box.”

The box that says, in essence, “undocumented.” End of conversation.

Congress must resolutely insert itself. After all, lawmakers’ irresponsible inaction, their failure to have thoughtful debate, their tolerance of Trump’s scapegoating, helped get us to this sorry juncture.

Provide oversight and accountability to ensure Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Border Patrol officers treat people fairly. HRW reports that too many Border Patrol agents are unwilling to listen to claims of asylum, claims they are obligated to take seriously.

We’ve called on Sen. Marco Rubio in the recent past, and do so now, to grab this issue that was once his and insist that his colleagues pay attention. Obviously, he’s not the only one in Congress who can take up this challenge. But he’s been here before.

There’s no Democrat in the White House to fight against anymore. Instead, there’s a demagogue, from the party of the majority, so lawmakers still have a fight on their hands — a righteous one.