Deportation orders keep one promise, but break another

Chris Magno holds a pro-immigration sign during a “Build Bridges Not Walls’’ immigration vigil at Perry Square in of Erie, Pennsylvania,
Chris Magno holds a pro-immigration sign during a “Build Bridges Not Walls’’ immigration vigil at Perry Square in of Erie, Pennsylvania, AP

Congressional District 24 is an immigrant-rich community and home to a large population of people from across the globe. We call it the little United Nations. Immigrants are so tightly woven into the fabric of our district that it’s sometimes easy to forget the enormous risks that millions of them across the nation take every day to build bright futures for themselves and their families.

Now, as part of an effort to deliver on campaign promises to strictly enforce immigration laws, the Trump administration is considering sweeping new guidelines that will drive undocumented immigrants into hiding.

What was initially a plan to target dangerous criminals now threatens to snag hard-working, law-abiding people in a cruel web. More important, the guidelines, if adopted, would be a massive betrayal of America’s history and values as a welcoming nation.

The policies are already having a profound impact on families, forcing them to live in fear and worry that a parent or other family member who left home for school or work in the morning might not return that night. People are changing their daily routines to avoid being rounded up on the street. An unexpected knock at the door is cause for panic. In the most extreme cases, some people are not leaving home at all or are seeking sanctuary in local churches.

Until now, I have been hesitant to openly criticize this new White House, preferring to leave the door open to finding common ground while its occupants take their first tenuous steps in governing. But it is in situations like this that my thoughts go back to the 1980s when I had to fight the government to help free newly arrived Haitian immigrants from the Krome Detention Center, where they were being held under deplorable conditions. Whenever we see injustice in this world, it is our obligation to say something.

The administration’s deportation guidelines are opening wounds that had healed. In addition to tearing apart families, these proposals put both legal and undocumented immigrants in untenable positions. If, for example, they witness a crime on the street, they may be unwilling to report it to police for fear of jeopardizing their freedom or that of someone else. For that same reason, women and other victims of domestic abuse may not seek help. That is not fair, and the repercussions will affect entire communities, not just those facing deportation.

The proposed guidelines also will cause the trust we’ve worked so hard to build between immigrants and law enforcement to quickly erode, in part because of the untenable position our police officers will be put in if forced to act as Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. In addition to raising concerns about the potential for an uptick in police abuses and racial profiling, these proposals also increase the possibility of undocumented immigrants being detained after getting pulled over for something as negligible as a broken tail light. Under the administrations of both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, national security threats and immigrants living in the United States illegally who had serious criminal histories were prioritized for deportation. The Trump administration significantly widens that net.

The nation’s economy also will pay a heavy price for these new proposals, which call for 10,000 new ICE agents and 5,000 additional hires at Customs and Border Protection, in addition to expanded detention centers and courts. Moreover, removing millions of immigrants from the American workforce will adversely affect key economic sectors, including construction, hospitality and manufacturing.

Who will pay? Everybody!

Massive deportations are not a substitute for comprehensive immigration reform. Instead of spending millions to deport undocumented immigrants, wouldn’t the money be better spent on helping them find paths to live in the United States legally? In doing so, the administration will be able to honor both its campaign promise and America’s promise to the world.

U.S. Rep. Frederica S. Wilson represents Florida’s 24th congressional district.