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This Time of Siege

A detailed look at Trump’s sweeping deportation policies. What are we witnessing?

Robert A Stribley
Apr 9, 2018 · 19 min read
Statue of Liberty — Photo by Robert Stribley

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You can’t do it, I squeak from inside.
You can’t make me feel at home here
in this time of siege for me and mine, mi raza.
Legalized suspicion of my legitimacy
is now a permanent resident in my gut.

— from “ICE Agents Storm My Porch” by Maria Melendez Kelson

Imagine you’re Syed Jamal. Fifty years old. Kansas chemistry instructor. You’re standing in your own front yard, about to take your daughter to school, when ICE swoops in to arrest you. Your wife tries to hug you before you’re whisked away and ICE threatens to cuff her, too, for interfering with an arrest. You sit in a jail some 160 miles away from your family. You have lived in the United States for close to 30 years.

That’s just one story from the frontlines of the Trump administration’s sweeping deportation policy, taking place right now, affecting scores of people and warranting barely a peep in our national conversation — with the exception of a few news stories bubbling to the forefront of our attention.

Context is important. Consider first that, yes, deportations increased under Barack Obama. But that was partly due to a redefining of the very term “deportation.” During Obama’s administration that definition was altered to include undocumented immigrants captured and turned away at the border. By 2014, however, deportations of people who had settled here had fallen by over 40 percent. Simultaneously, the number of illegal immigrants entering the country had been falling every year since 2008. (A fact Trump never highlights.)

The number of arrests has risen sharply under the Trump administration. The federal government’s own figures put Trump’s arrest numbers at a 40 percent increase within a year of Trump becoming President. Simultaneously, border arrests plummeted 25 percent within the fiscal year ending September 2017. That means the spike in arrests is among people who have been living here for some time — so-called “interior removals” — not among recent arrivals. In those same months, ICE deported 142,818 immigrants at the border and the U.S. interior: 83,254 of those deportees were criminals. 59,564 were not.

“This isn’t a job I particularly wanted in the beginning. But I’ll tell you what, I’m enjoying it.” — Acting ICE Director Thomas Homan

The administration isn’t hiding this. They’re trumpeting it. Last year, ICE published this flashy feature on their .gov website congratulating themselves on a near 40 percent spike in immigration-related arrests within 100 days of Trump signing his executive orders. They quoted the following figures:

Between Jan. 22 and April 29, 2017, ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) deportation officers administratively arrested 41,318 individuals on civil immigration charges. Between Jan. 24 and April 30, 2016, ERO arrested 30,028.

Perhaps if we assumed a simple, black-and-white immigration policy and that every immigrant’s crimes and backgrounds were the same, we could chalk this up to ICE is just doing their job.

The reality is more complicated. ICE has been deporting undocumented immigrants at much higher rates, who have lived here sometimes for decades, immigrants who have generally kept a low profile upon arrival and proceeded to live as law-abiding residents. What Trump has empowered ICE to do, effectively, is to purge the United States of those immigrants, who both political parties have come to accept as having earned a path to citizenship. Indeed, 80 percent of Americans believe in a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Study after study shows the overwhelming majority of Americans support that path for both undocumented immigrants generally and Dreamers specifically. (A Fox News poll even produced the same result.)

Still, many Trump supporters view these immigrants as undesirables and salute this renewed dedication to deportations. Especially the sort of voters who might complain, “What part of ‘illegal’ don’t you understand?” And in a period where some white Americans are openly expressing their fear of becoming an ethnic minority, these deportations provide a palatable means for many to reduce the number of brown people in the country.

Non-Criminal Deportations

ICE admits they’re not just rounding up the criminal element, too. It’s all neatly packaged in their feature story. Here’s ICE’s Acting Director Thomas Homan:

These statistics reflect President Trump’s commitment to enforce our immigration laws fairly and across the board. ICE agents and officers have been given clear direction to focus on threats to public safety and national security, which has resulted in a substantial increase in the arrest of convicted criminal aliens. However, when we encounter others who are in the country unlawfully, we will execute our sworn duty and enforce the law.

So ICE welcomes this new black-and-white approach.

The report continues:

The arrest of aliens at-large in the community increased by more than 50 percent, from 8,381 last year to 12,766 arrests this year during the same period.

Presumably, that figure for “aliens at-large” includes any undocumented immigrants, regardless of how long they’ve lived in the United States or their particular circumstances: the size of their families, their marriage status, or the number of U.S. citizens in their immediate family. Certainly, no such delimiting factors are mentioned in the feature.

According to the report, ICE’s activity has resulted in approximately 400 arrests per day. That figure is followed by just five bullets briefly describing “egregious and violent offenders” who’ve been arrested. That’s a deft propaganda technique: Highlight a large number, then cherry pick a few examples as if they’re truly representative of the much larger group. Of course, they’re not. But that’s precisely the sort of sweeping generalization Trump himself enjoys making regularly from the bully pulpit. We also know that early last year, then-Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly ordered ICE to portray immigrants as criminals to justify mass raids across the country.

ICE dances around this deceptive conflation, again admitting they’re going after any immigrants deemed to be here illegally.

While these data clearly reflect the fact that convicted criminals are an immigration enforcement priority, Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly has made it clear that ICE will no longer exempt any class of individuals from removal proceedings if they are found to be in the country illegally. This is evident by the rise in non-criminal arrests over the same period, which increased from approximately 4,200 in 2016 to more than 10,800 in 2017.

That’s a rise of arrests of non-criminal undocumented immigrants of some 247 percent ICE is boasting about. Clearly, ICE feels liberated under Trump to do their job.

Again, let’s let ICE speak for themselves:

We applaud the three executive orders [Trump] has issued to date, and are confident they will make America safer and more prosperous. Morale amongst our agents and officers has increased exponentially since the signing of the orders. — Joint Press Release Between Border Patrol and ICE Councils

Most Americans understand the immigration situation isn’t a binary problem — illegal versus legal — even if ICE is treating it that way. Which makes it all the more important that we better understand the enormous scale of what’s going on under our noses now.

Let’s examine how ICE is going to new and — importantly — questionable lengths to clear the United States of undocumented immigrants.

Courthouse Arrests

Imagine you’re Jasmine Rowe. Forty years old. Single mother. You’ve been served with a misdemeanor crime but you’re protesting it. You have no prior criminal record. The judge at the Brooklyn courthouse is merciful. Tells you to return to caring for your 16-year-old son. Come back in the New Year. Relieved, you leave the courtroom. You’ve bought some time. Your lawyer hangs back to confirm details with the judge, and while you wait, ICE arrives, arrests you and takes you straight to a holding facility in Jersey without letting you explain to your son or your lawyer where you’ve gone.

ICE arrests of immigrants outside courthouses soared by 900% in New York state in 2017. That’s a spike from 11 in 2016 to 110 by November of 2017. Most of these arrests have occurred in New York City, a so-called “sanctuary city.” Arresting immigrants under these circumstances might sound legitimate to those who suppose it means that ICE is likely apprehending violent criminals. Again, the truth is more complicated. Twenty percent of those arrested by ICE had no prior criminal record. Some 16 percent were in court for low-level offenses, which could include, for example, traffic tickets.

We’ve also learned that ICE not only plans to continue this practice, but they’ve codified it. In a four-page document dated January 10th, ICE claims their actions are limited to “specific, targeted aliens with criminal convictions, gang members, national security or public safety threats, aliens who have been ordered removed from the United States but have failed to depart, and aliens who have re-entered the country illegally after being removed.”

Jasmine Rowe hardly fits that description, but ICE allows itself some wriggle room, citing “special circumstances, such as where the individual poses a threat to public safety or interferes with ICE’s enforcement actions.”

Additionally, The Village Voice recently highlighted how ICE have drawn a bead on sex workers, who appear at human trafficking courts. These women are not intended to be subject to prosecution but to “intervention.” Nonetheless, presuming that these at-risk women are more likely to be undocumented immigrants, ICE preys on these victims of trafficking outside of our court rooms.

Supporters of ICE and Trump’s deportations will shrug these arrests off, chalking it up to “Well, they wouldn’t be in court if they weren’t guilty” or something similarly disingenuous, but it’s important to understand that fear of such arrests contributes to a dangerous dynamic wherein undocumented immigrants fear reporting serious crimes if, in doing so, they may be discovered and deported themselves.

Collaborating with Hotel Chains

In January, Motel 6 became the hotel chain with the dubious distinction of allowing ICE access to all of their customer’s personal information — names, dates of birth, ID numbers, license plates — in Washington state if they possessed a Latin or hispanic name. Four hotels supplied info on over 9,000 guests. No suspicion of illegal behavior. No proof of dubious immigration status. Just a questionable name. And that sifting exercise was left to the judgment of random hotel employees, apparently.

If Americans aren’t distressed by this, they should at least consider that their own personal information may be forwarded to ICE in such situations. It’s a towering, inexcusable breech of privacy. This operation, we know about. Can anyone seriously believe this was an isolated incident and not a page from ICE’s playbook?

Targeting Immigrant Leaders

Recently, another disturbing practice emerged: ICE appears to be singling out immigrants rights leaders across the country for arrest. The Washington Post listed several activists who had been detained, including Maru Mora Villalpando in Washington, Eliseo Jurado in Colorado, and Jean Montrevil and Ravi Ragbir in New York, NY.

The Post quoted New York’s Jerry Nadler, the ranking Democrat of the House Judiciary Committee, who put it bluntly:

They’re trying to intimidate people. These are well-known activists who’ve been here for decades, and they’re saying to them: Don’t raise your head.

Certainly seems that way. In early January, ICE detained and eventually deported Jean Montrevil, a father of four who has lived in New York for 31 years. He was arrested in 1990 for selling cocaine, but the Haitian man since became a small business owner and an immigrant rights leader in his community — the founder of The New Sanctuary Coalition, an interfaith network supporting families and communities at risk of detention and deportation. ICE made no attempt to show Montrevil committed recent crimes (there’s no evidence he has) and ignored his pending legal appeal.

“This latest tactic is something we might expect from generals in a tin-pot dictatorship, not federal officers in a 240-year-old democracy,” Kica Matos of the Fair Immigration Reform Movement told the Post. “Arresting immigrant activists who speak up is meant to sow fear in immigrant communities and stop political protest.”

Immigration activist Tania Unzueta Carrasco agrees. Writing in USA Today, she says members of her organization Mijente are being targeted:

As I prepare to defend myself and my family against potential prosecution and deportation, I see this increasingly overt retribution as a warning sign that the right to political dissent is under threat for every person in the United States.

She names eight immigrant rights activists across the country who have been detained and/or deported by ICE and Border Patrol officers. She says she criticized President Barack Obama for deportations but “he did not systematically target those of us leading campaigns against his policies for our political views, dissent or actions.”

In early March, ICE detained another immigrants right activist in Tucson, AZ. Alejandra Pablos was arrested during a “good-faith” visit and allowed no bond. Alejandra still languishes in the Eloy Detention Center in Southern Arizona. A petition calls for her release.

“I need you to fight for me,” she said in a video from the detention center. “As I am fighting inside, you fight outside. They are retaliating against all activists and organizers.”

Small Business Raids

If previous administrations seemed reluctant to penalize or even scrutinize companies for their hiring of undocumented workers, the Trump administration may be swinging the pendulum the other way.

In early January, immigration agents descended upon 100 7-Eleven stores nationwide. Twenty-one employees were arrested under the suspicion they were working here as undocumented immigrants.

“[Y]ou’re going to see more and more of these large-scale compliance inspections,” Derek Benner acting head of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations told AP News.

In late February ICE conducted raids in the Bay Area which lead to 150 arrests. ICE Director Homan complained that they had intended to gather another 864 and blamed the Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf for warning immigrants the raids were coming. The idea that Schaaf was singularly responsible for ICE’s inability to round their bounty up to 1000 seems absurd.

A Growing Litany of Stories

Imagine you’re Lukasz Niec. A Polish immigrant, you have lived here since you were five years old. That’s nearly 40 years ago. In your teens you committed two misdemeanors: malicious destruction of property under $100 and receiving and concealing stolen property over $100. The latter charge was later expunged from your record. Still. You’re 43. You earned a green card. Now, you’re a lawful permanent resident. You’re a doctor. Nonetheless, on a frigid day in Kalamazoo, MI, ICE officers arrive shortly after your daughter has left for school and arrest you. You’re detained locally — in a jail — while the decision over whether to deport you hangs in the air. Potentially for months.

“He can’t be deported,” Lukasz’s wife told the Washington Post. “He can’t speak Polish. He wouldn’t know where to go. He would be lost.”

One story among many: Mike Padmore and family

It’s not just Syed and Jasmine and Jean and Lucasz, who have been detained and/or deported. I began tracking the many real life stories of how Trump’s administration has ratcheted up the deportation of immigrants, who would not have been deported under previous administrations. The sheer number of stories began to overwhelm this piece. Rather than cutting them all, I’ve listed 15 individual stories of arrest and deportation in this companion piece Litany: Stories from the Trump Deportations to bear witness to each story, the people affected, and their unique situations. The immigrants in these stories were fortunate enough to be featured via the press or social media.

Does this makes you wonder, Who won’t ICE deport? Turns out there’s an answer. ICE won’t deport the Jakiw Palij, Queens resident and the last confirmed living Nazi war criminal residing in the United States.

It’s difficult to keep up with all the developments, which enable the newly unleashed ICE agency to expand its power. To all of the above ICE activities, for example, you can also add the following developments:

And the stories keep coming.

Mass Deportations

It’s not just ICE, however, that Trump leverages for these deportations. The administration has focused also on singling out large groups of immigrants to end their status here — developments that could lead to hundreds of thousands of immigrants being deported, regardless of their individual family situations.

Last November, the administration announced it was ending temporary protected status (TPS) for almost 59,000 Haitian immigrants who came here after the devastating 2010 earthquake, which left an estimated 220,000–300,000 people dead. This action came despite reports that conditions have not sufficiently improved in Haiti to receive the immigrants. The government also ended protected status for some 5,300 Nicaraguan immigrants and 1000 Sudanese. Some 86,600 Hondurans await a decision on whether their status will be extended. And in late March, the Trump administration announced the deportation of approximately 4000 Liberians, who have been living here under Deferred Enforcement Departure (a different program than TPS) beginning in 1999. The administration did extend the status for South Sudanese and Syrian refugees, due to ongoing military conflicts.

The largest group affected, however, are some 200,000 Salvadorans, who have lived in U.S. for almost 17 years, since earthquakes wreaked havoc there in 2001. The Trump administration ended temporary immigration status for Salvadorans in January. It also affects their 190,000 American children. “We’re not getting involved in individual family decisions,” a Trump official claimed in response to concerns about these children.

All told, these actions mean many hundreds of thousands of immigrants and children will be removed from their homes in the United States. Over 440,000 people are living in the United States under temporary protected status. Some have lived here for up to 20 years. So far, the administration has ended TPS for four of the ten nations granted it.

We shouldn’t forget the Dreamers, too, who currently have to leave the country on a rolling basis, since Trump unnecessarily ended DACA and Congress and the President have yet to agree on a solution to their status. DACA provides protected status to approximately 800,000 people across the country, who came here as children.

Combine these figures and, conservatively, more than 1.4 million lives stand to be affected by these types of mass deportation— and that’s without accounting for all the American children of these immigrants. In fact, estimates vary. The LA Times put the potential grand total for deportations of all kinds under the Trump administration at up to 6 to 8 million. Trump himself, of course, promised to deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants — clearly an unreachable goal.

The Muslim Ban

Consider one of the first actions Trump attempted upon becoming President: His infamous Muslim ban. Despite being rejected by the courts repeatedly, it lead to a precipitous fall in Muslim immigrants, refugees, and visitors in 2017. That was also impacted by a cap on refugees the administration placed at 45,000 for the fiscal year. For context, Amnesty International had recommended a cap of 75,000, and previously, the ceiling had never gone below a 67,000 cap, set by Ronald Reagan. These are slashing reductions. Specifically, the number of refugees coming from Muslim countries fell by 94 percent from January to the end of November in 2017. And remember that Trump repeatedly owned up to his desire not just to ban people from a handful of specific countries, but to ban Muslims, period.

Do all of these activities — the ICE deportations, the mass deportations of temporary protected status groups, the Muslim ban — begin to sound like a concerted effort to manipulate the United States demographics yet?

What Are We Witnessing?

“As long as Stephen Miller is in charge of negotiating immigration, we are going nowhere.” — Lindsey Graham

Deploying terms like “purge” and “ethnic cleansing” may seem unnecessarily incendiary. Increasingly, however some critics of the administration are using such language. Knowing that ideologues like Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller and Sebastian Gorka have long guided Trump’s thinking, and knowing Trump’s own thoughts on immigrants — “They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists; they come from “shithole countries” — the case can be made that beneath these activities lies a concerted effort to ensure the United States remains a white majority.

Given that context, some critics have begun using stronger language to describe these deportations. In the middle of a live discussion about Trump’s immigration policies recently, CNBC commentator Ron Insana reached a blunt conclusion:

“I hesitate to use this expression, but it almost feels like there’s a little ethnic cleansing going on in the United States right now. Insofar of people of color are in danger here and this is something that disturbs me greatly.”

Padded as it was with qualifiers, Insana’s comments still drew the ire of the Breitbart cesspool. There you’ll find one commenter directing people to report anyone they suspect to ICE. Another says, “If following the law is considered ‘ethnic cleansing,’ then sign me up!” Overall, they do little to dispel the notion that this particular section of our society would be fine, even happy with a little ethnic cleansing.

Last March, at a public forum in Sacramento, CA, 90 year-old Auschwitz survivor Bernard Marks touched on the concept, too, when he confronted acting ICE Director Thomas Homan with this brief but electrifying speech:

When I was a little boy in Poland, for no other reason but for being Jewish, I was hauled off by the Nazis. And for no other reason I was picked up and separated from my family, who was exterminated in Auschwitz. And I am a survivor of Auschwitz and Dachau.

I spent five and a half years in concentration camps, for one reason and one reason only: Because we picked on people. And you, as the sheriff, who we elected as sheriff of this county, we did not elect you for sheriff of Washington, D.C. It’s about time you side with the people here.

And when this gentleman [Homan] stands up there and says he doesn’t go after people, he should read today’s Bee. Because in today’s Bee, the Supreme Court Justice of the State of California objected to ICE coming in and taking people away from the courts.

Don’t tell me that this is a lie. We stand up here, Mr Jones, don’t forget. History is not on your side.

Again, too, Trump’s supporters mind discharging words like “purge” to celebrate his policies.

Those tweets were all directed at the activist and undocumented immigrant Jose Antonio Vargas. Vargas pulls no punches in his own assessment of Trump’s work. On MSNBC’s morning show AM Joy, Vargas described the administration’s activity as “blatant ethnic cleansing and a racist political policy.”

Similarly, immigration activist Tania Unzueta Carrasco hints at a master plan, saying, “The way the Trump administration is using law enforcement agencies at their direct disposal is further evidence of a white supremacist agenda.”

If that sounds like a stretch, consider the Washington Post’s recent analysis that the Trump administration’s plans for reducing legal immigration could ensure whites remain the majority in the United States for up to five additional years. (So far.) The plan would explicitly reduce the scale of so-called “chain migration” and would completely eliminate the existing diversity visa program, effectively blocking many immigrants from Africa and Latin America. The Center for Global Development estimates thatHispanic and black immigrants would be roughly twice as likely to be barred by the immigration cuts as white immigrants” and that “the cuts would bar the majority of Muslim and Catholic immigrants.” Despite White House claims that we should be admitting more qualified immigrants, it’s believed these cuts would also significantly reduce the number of college-educated immigrants coming to the States.

With all the recent publicity over whites losing their majority status in the United States somewhere around 2040, it’s hard to believe these elements of the plan aren’t included by design. Given the trending demographics, chances are they’ll never succeed. But this may be the last-ditch effort by anti-immigrant ideologues to do as much harm as possible to an increasingly diverse and pluralistic society.

What are we witnessing then? Do these arrests and deportation rise to the level of ethnic cleansing? To the level of purges?

Some Context

It’s worth noting that arrests do not mean deportations. In fact, deportations under the Trump administration didn’t pace with arrests in 2017, partly because immigration courts are now clogged with cases due to the spike in arrests. Trump has promised, however, to send more judges to more courts in order to expedite deportations due to this “historic backlog.” You can imagine how overworked and unqualified these new judges are proving to be.

Jeff Sessions also vowed to ramp up deportations by over-riding judges, who have been putting cases on hold. And in January, ICE Director Thomas Homan expressed his hope to arrest politicians in cities who promoted sanctuary legislation, which has also impeded Trump’s deportations.

Arguably then, just because Trump’s administration hasn’t had the success he envisioned doesn’t mean these deportations aren’t driven toward something, which approaches ethnic cleansing.

I recently spoke with Tanya Golash-Boza, the author of Deported: Immigrant Policing, Disposable Labor and Global Capitalism, who helped me consider some additional context.

First, she reminds us that the numbers for both Trump’s arrests and deportations only appear to be a spike when compared to the tail-end of Obama’s Presidency, but certainly not compared to the first years of his Presidency — and that includes interior removals. “You can’t deny the claim that during the Obama Presidency,” she says, “we saw the absolute peak of interior removals.”

Golash-Boza attributes this partly to the creation of ICE under the Department of Homeland Security back in 2003 and the creation of the Secure Communities program, which enabled ICE to work with local enforcement agencies.

So is all of this activity just the result of a larger pattern of an anti-immigrant sentiment, which emerged after 9/11? Perhaps. And perhaps Trump is just tapping into and liberating those dynamics again.

What about Trump’s ending residency for people from so many TPS nations? “Of the menu of things that the President can do, that’s just an easy one. Like ending DACA,” Golash-Boza says. “That’s on the menu of things that anti-immigrant strategists [in the White House] wanted and that’s one of the things they could push through.”

She’s skeptical about the success of Trump’s Muslim bans, too. “I saw Muslim ban 1.0 as a spectacle of enforcement,” she says. “Not an ethnic cleansing, not a purge, just a spectacle.” Versions 2 and 3 weren’t any more successful. (One study even shows the bans have backfired and that voters find them “un-American.) Golash-Boza believes they’re superficial moves by the administration to ensure people “they are doing something about immigration, that they’re not being soft on immigration.” So if some thought the ban an example of the administration’s ineptitude, perhaps it was intended to be strategic, an act of shock and awe or rapid dominance on their part. “If you look at the numbers,” she says, “it doesn’t affect a large number of people.”

So is using terminology like “ethnic cleansing” or “purges” just inflammatory then?

“Yes,” she say, “I think it’s inflammatory and inaccurate. You’d have to see the numbers. How many people have actually been removed from the United States under the Trump administration? Is that really making a dent in the overall population? How many people are prevented from coming? If you wanted to talk about an ethnic cleansing or a purge it would really have to be a fairly significant number of people. Otherwise, it’s more a fear tactic, a scare tactic.”

Golash-Boza isn’t defending the Trump administration: She’s just demanding evidence to support such a verdict. “I wouldn’t say the term is not fathomable,” she concludes. “It’s just that I haven’t seen that data that would lead to that conclusion.”

So if that’s what the Trump administration intends — ethnic cleansing, purges — the data doesn’t indicate much success. Still, we shouldn’t underestimate the impact policies such as ending DACA and sending TPS recipients back to their countries have upon hundreds of thousands of innocent immigrants and their families.

What I believe we can safely say is that this administration seems to harbor the most determined passel of openly anti-immigrant ideologues to convene at the White House in many decades. Let’s just hope the gap between what they’d like to do and what they succeed in perpetrating doesn’t begin to close.

Immigration in America

Examining the state of undocumented immigration and the immigration industrial complex in the United States

Robert A Stribley

Written by

Writer and photographer with interests in immigration, privacy, security, culture and digital design. Day jobs in UX at SapientRazorfish and faculty at SVA.

Immigration in America

Examining the state of undocumented immigration and the immigration industrial complex in the United States

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