What’s Really In Those Immigration Executive Orders?
For over a decade, I have looked at detention and deportation issues in the US. As a professor at Stony Brook University, I often find that what policymakers promise that immigration policies will do does not line up with what actually happens. I have also learned to be wary of the hidden influences driving policymakers, such as private interests that make money off of harsh policies. And I have seen again and again how the bashing of immigrants gets votes, even if the policies that are popular are counterproductive.
One such bad policy idea was the proposed DHS policy of separating families in detention. Recently, I wrote a Huffington Post piece protesting this proposal, which would remove even young children from their parents when families are caught trying to enter the US without documentation. After much criticism, such as mine, great news was recently announced: the DHS will not after all adopt the proposed policy to separate these families.
Nonetheless, executive orders about immigration, and two implementation memos issued by President Trump, continue to boost what critics see as an attack on immigrants. What do these documents actually do?
The executive orders take concrete steps to build the border wall (i.e. funding and concrete plans), hire five thousand additional Border Patrol agents, and 10,000 more immigration officials. They significantly expand DHS’s capacity to detain immigrants, by contracting and finding additional spaces in private and public (county/state) facilities. This opens up more private sector detention markets, and will make more public sector budgets dependent on detention. The orders change DHS priorities for detention, so that now basically DHS will detain anyone possibly eligible for deportation, with no exceptions made for humanitarian reasons or for vulnerable groups (e.g. children, families, refugees, ill, pregnant, etc). This doesn’t just affect “undocumented” immigrants; even the status of permanent resident becomes more uncertain.
The executive orders also go after “sanctuary cities” by promising to reduce their Federal funding. The orders compel all police forces (from state to local) to police immigration through the Secure Communities program, which was shut down during the Obama administration due to criticism of abuses and the refusal of many police forces to participate because they said it weakened community trust and therefore their ability to fight crime in general. The orders also create an “Office for Victims of Crimes Committed by Removable Aliens” to publicize any crimes committed by undocumented immigrants.
The two ‘implementation memos’ released on Feb. 18 give more details about how to enforce provision of the Executive Orders. These provisions include: picking up the pace of deportation hearings; making more categories of immigrants into priorities for deportation; expanding how “expedited removal” can be applied (basically cutting off the right to present a case before a judge for more immigrants); and prosecuting as criminals parents who hired smugglers to bring unaccompanied minors into the US.
Few of these changes will actually be effective, if reducing immigration and making the country more “safe” are the goals. Instead, what they will do is make money for private companies, get votes for politicians who capitalize on people’s fears, create more permanent detention facilities to be filled, criminalize more and more immigrants, weaken local police departments’ ability to prevent crimes, terrorize families, divide communities, and erode the country’s role as an international protector of human rights. Keep in mind what these policies actually do, and speak out to your representatives against funding Trump’s plans and any legislation to back them up, express your views locally with law enforcement agencies, don’t spend money or invest in companies that make money off of detention, vote against any local initiatives to provide detention facilities for the Department of Homeland Security, and support local pro-immigrant organizations.