Immigration Enforcement

On January 25, 2017, Donald Trump signed Executive Order 13768. This order enforces a law that’s been around since 2002. But Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama chose not to fully enforce immigration law. If an illegal immigrant was more than 100 miles away from the border, or had been here longer than two weeks, in effect, they were safe under those presidents. So long, of course, that they didn’t commit violent crimes that attracted the attention of immigration authorities. In essence, they simply weren’t ‘looked for’.

One effect of Donald Trump’s new order is to erase the protection that illegal immigrants previously had. Now, enforcement is everywhere, and the immigrant must prove that he, or she, has been in the country more than two years.

A second aspect of the presidential order is that it targets any crime, no matter how minor. Enforcement that used to focus on violent crime now could target someone for jaywalking, or for littering. Also, simply being here illegally is, itself, a crime. In addition, if an illegal immigrant has previously applied for benefits they weren’t eligible for, they have broken the law. Keep in mind that these people are new to this country, and many don’t yet speak English fluently.

Frighteningly, ICE officers have stationed themselves outside of courthouses in Albuquerque in order to detain people as they left court after their hearings. These are people who arrived at the courthouse of their own free will, to take part in the laws of the land. This kind of heavy-handed enforcement can only interfere with the state’s criminal justice system. After all, who is going to willingly attend their hearing, or respond to a subpoena, if they know ICE is going to be there to pick them up?

And recently in a Las Cruces neighborhood ICE officers knocked on doors in the early morning hours in order to surprise people and force them to prove their legal standing. In one reported incident ICE officers demanded proof from a man who was, in fact, a citizen. Because of this heavy-handed approach, people are afraid. They aren’t going out of their homes, they are afraid of simply being accused of some crime. They are afraid to go to the police, even when they are the victims of a crime. For many, it’s a very scary time.

From a Federal standpoint, where does the money come from for wide sweeping enforcement? How do we pay for the new agents required? I believe this is the primary reason Donald Trump has sought to expand to police-based enforcement with the program called 287(g). This program requests local and state officers to act as immigration agents. It also pushes the burden of financing the Presidential Order into state and local coffers. Those are already strained to the breaking point, and most are refusing to sign on to Trump’s request. Santa Fe has already declared itself a sanctuary city. And the Mayor of Albuquerque has not instructed the APD to work with ICE. In fact, as of March 2, no New Mexico law enforcement body has been directed to enforce the immigration law.

Enforcing this order is also going to require more detention centers, more border patrol, more ICE agents. Where does this money come from?

Still another aspect of the order is that ICE and border patrol agents may detain a person, and then deport them without a hearing. This raises due process questions. Perhaps one of the greatest fears is the rise in this so-called ‘curbside justice’. Our country fought long and hard against police overreach. The police are being asked to return to acting as both judge and jury. This is a frightening return to possible civil liberties infractions by ICE and border patrol agents, and police in jurisdictions which might go along with 287(g), who have been given a lot of discretion. In losing due process, people can be sent back to their home countries without a judge making that decision. All one has to do to get a feeling for what could happen is to watch Born in East LA, a 1987 film, a comedy, about a US Citizen who is deported simply because he can’t prove he is who he is. It might seem far-fetched, but at this juncture, who knows?

In the meantime, it’s important that people who are here illegally make arrangements in case they are caught up in the sweep. It might be that one person is being sought, but someone else gets caught up in the dragnet. Our illegal immigrants: mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers, in many cases, to US Citizens, need to prepare for the possibility that they may be deported.

And yes, even illegal aliens are entitled to due process. To life, and liberty, and to equal protection. This is extended to them via the 14th Amendment which states that the United States and individual states “shall not…deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; not deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Of course, it’s important for people to be here legally. And we need those people to want to be US Citizens. This is most evident in public opinion concerning Dreamers. At least so far, immigration officials haven’t targeted undocumented children. So, at least for the moment, Dreamers are safe. This is significant in our state, because we have approximately 10,500 Dreamers in New Mexico.

As for Dreamers, I will propose, in Washington, that we institute a nationwide program for high school students. As an elective course, all Dreamers would have the opportunity to complete a Naturalization program—in school. As they achieve their high school diploma, they will also earn their citizenship.