The Ugly and Obvious Truth About Trump’s Immigration Policy, and the Flawed Thinking Behind It

Armed with bigotry, vitriol, and shoddy reasoning, the Trump administration is waging a full-on fear campaign, largely against Latinos

By Carlos Guevara, Senior Policy Advisor, UnidosUS

Donald Trump is keen on bucking “business as usual” in Washington — or at least appearing to. Nowhere is this truer than on immigration policy, where President Trump, armed with bigotry, vitriol, and shoddy reasoning, has not-so-subtly transformed a campaign promise to curb illegal immigration into a full-on fear campaign, largely against Latinos.

The president insists that the crackdown is aimed at “bad hombres,” but the government’s own figures suggest otherwise: New Immigration and Customs statistics show that between the time Trump took office and the end of fiscal year 2017, arrests spiked more than 42 percent over the same period the year before. What’s more, immigration arrests of undocumented people with no criminal convictions more than doubled over the last fiscal year.

For all his posturing about “love,” “national security,” and protecting Americans from “violent criminals,” Trump’s immigration message is frighteningly clear: Almost any Latino is fair game.

Consider this.

Credit: Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Many of his most recent targets are decent, hard-working, longtime residents who were given refuge by previous administrations, going back to George H.W. Bush in 1990, from countries experiencing war, civil strife, or natural disaster, and they were allowed to work legally in the United States under the Temporary Protected Status program. They’re Americans in all but name. They’re also arguably the most vetted people in the United States.

Unlike most other Americans, TPS-holders had to pass background checks, not just initially, but every 12–18 months when they renew their status. Under the program’s terms, people who commit serious crimes are ineligible, and authorities keep information about participants on file.

The same rules applied to recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, who were shielded from deportation during the Obama years.

The program also gave work permits to the nearly 800,000 so-called DREAMers who came to the United States as children. Not only did they undergo criminal and security screenings to qualify for the program, but they had additional checks every 24 months. So, contrary to sensational claims made by Trump administration officials and some in the media, convicted criminals were never eligible for protection under either program in the first place. To borrow a phrase from a certain Bush-era secretary of defense, these folks are the proverbial “known knowns” of the immigration world.

Unlike his predecessors, though, Trump has little interest in humanitarianism. He’d rather rile up his base and tap into their economic and cultural anxieties by conflating immigrants with criminals. Witness the attack ad his campaign issued recently. Taking a cue from George H.W. Bush — who used a race-baiting spot about a convicted murderer named Willie Horton to torpedo democratic rival Michael Dukakis as soft on crime in 1988 — Trump’s new (Latino) version stars an undocumented immigrant charged with killing two cops, and calls Democrats “complicit” in “every murder committed by illegal immigrants.”

By that questionable logic, the GOP is to blame for every gun murder in the country, as many people were quick to point out.

In fact, there’s no evidence linking immigrants to higher crime rates. In fact, the National Academies for Science, Engineering, and Medicine — the recognized “gold standard” for scientific studies — found that neighborhoods with large concentrations of immigrants had lower crime rates than comparable low-immigrant communities. What’s more, there’s a century of data to back up those findings.

There’s growing evidence, however, that the administration’s crackdown is eroding immigrants’ trust in law-enforcement agencies and driving large segments of the undocumented population underground. In Los Angeles, for example, immigrant communities are reporting fewer crimes: sexual assault and domestic violence complaints by the city’s Latino residents have plummeted 25 percent amid concerns that undocumented immigrants in the country could be deported or detained if they interact with police or testify in court. Such fears tend to breed more crime, not less, and they undermine policing efforts.

The Trump Administration’s Flawed Thinking

If that’s not enough to dispense with Trump’s claims that his concern is fighting crime, not fighting Latinos, consider this: When looking for criminal “needles” in a haystack, you wouldn’t add more hay, especially hay that’s already been sorted by background checks.

Yet the Trump administration is doing just that: For the first time in our country’s history, our government is going to dizzying lengths to grow the undocumented population by revoking the lawful status of more than a million people. First, announcing the end of DACA in September 2017, then, in November, rescinding protections for many of the hundreds of thousands of people currently registered under temporary protected status.

An estimated 50,000 Haitians and 2,550 Nicaraguans who have been legally living under TPS for a decade or more have been thrown into legal limbo and face deportation in 2019. In January, the Trump administration ordered nearly 200,000 El Salvadorans who have lived in the United States for almost 18 years to get out or be deported next year. It’s still poised to decide whether to cast out 57,000 Honduran immigrants with TPS this spring, a proposition that looks increasingly likely.

Never mind that terminating protections for more than 1.1 million people — who have come forward and are known to authorities, have passed multiple criminal background checks, and are productive members of society with deep ties in the United States — undermines public-policy objectives like averting purported threats to national security and public safety.

What’s more, this administration’s moves make little economic sense. Trump says DREAMers are a drag on the economy, but the facts paint another picture. For starters, they are well-educated — a survey of DACA immigrants found that about half were in school, and an overwhelming majority (72 percent) were pursuing a postsecondary or graduate degree. They’re also employed at high rates — 90 percent of DACA recipients and some 81–88 percent of El Salvadoran, Haitian, and Honduran TPS immigrants are in the U.S. workforce. In fact, experts estimate that the national GDP would lose a whopping $624 billion over the next decade without DACA and TPS.

A permanent legislative fix for DREAMers can’t wait. Beginning March 6, some 1,400 DACA youths will lose protection from deportation each business day. A recent injunction by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is already being challenged, might buy a temporary reprieve for the 22,000 DACA recipients who weren’t able to renew their status before the deadline imposed by the Trump administration; but the need for a solution is still urgent. Indeed, the Trump administration has taken the “rare step” of asking the Supreme Court to weigh in before the Court of Appeals has had a chance.

Moreover, the decision to end DACA impacts another often-overlooked group — namely, the hundreds of thousands of youths poised to “age in” to it when they turn 15. The Migration Policy Institute has estimated that some 110,000 youths were 5–8 years old in 2012 when DACA was implemented. This administration’s aggressive efforts to end DACA means they can’t apply for protection. Neither can the 170,000 or so kids who were then between ages 9 and 11 — and the court injunction does not cover either group. That brings the true tally of children impacted by the DACA decision to almost 1 million.

The Tip of the ICE-berg

According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as of May 2016, there were 939,056 people with final removal orders on its “non-detained docket,” meaning they were released at the government’s discretion and under stringent reporting conditions. During the Obama administration, people with removal orders dated before January 2014 and no criminal record were a low priority for removal. This was sound policy, as many of them have built significant family and community ties over the years.

Yet a growing number of people arrested and detained by ICE since the start of the Trump administration are on the “non-detained” docket. Recent data show that 70 percent of those taken into custody during the first 100 days of this administration were complying with immigration proceedings and/or ICE reporting requirements. This tracks with a growing number of disturbing anecdotal reports suggesting that this administration is using routine check-ins to arrest and remove undocumented but otherwise law-abiding immigrants.

On a related front, the Trump administration is asking immigration judges to reopen closed removal-proceedings cases, too. While having a case “administratively closed” does not confer legal status on an individual, it generally indicates that the person is no longer a removal priority. Between 2012 and 2017, the government administratively closed about 81,000 cases and put those people on its non-detained docket. Since Trump took office, however, ICE attorneys reopened 1,329 closed cases. This at a time when ICE is already arresting and deporting higher numbers of law-abiding people from the U.S. interior, according to the agency’s own year-end data.

Try as this administration might to convince Americans that it’s only prioritizing the deportation of undocumented people currently living in the United States, the facts are the facts.

While many have characterized the Trump administration’s enforcement policy as “indiscriminate,” it’s hard to see it as anything but discriminatory — as a recent article in The Atlantic suggests. Given this administration’s scare tactics and the people being targeted, it’s clearly designed to intimidate and instill fear in the hearts of all Latinos in the United States, not just those living outside the system.

A Sign of Things to Come?

Unfortunately, things could get worse. One Trump administration official has publicly drawn lines between native-born and naturalized citizens, suggesting that, in his mind at least, there are two classes of Americans. In a May 2017 press statement about the U.S. prison population, Attorney General Jeff Sessions explicitly noted that the segment of foreign-born inmates includes 3,939 people who have “naturalized or derived” American citizenship.

In addition, reports have surfaced of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents getting snagged by ICE’s aggressive enforcement activities. Those encounters have raised alarms about racial profiling in Latino communities across the country.

It’s easy to see why.