National Security or Criminalization?

Protesters gather at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta on January 29, 2017.

By Nidia Corona-Gonzalez, NYU Florence

The immigration policies that President Trump’s administration has put forth thus far communicate a defensive stance towards migrants and have produced much civil unrest. On January 25, he introduced his first executive order regarding immigration: Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements. This order calls for the building of the wall Trump has so long promised, the hiring of 5,000 additional Border Patrol agents to more heavily police the southern border, and nearly doubling the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. How this order will be funded remains uncertain. What is certain is that ICE will be taking a much more aggressive approach towards detaining and deporting undocumented immigrants. They recently signed a 10-year contract with GEO Group, a private prison company, to build a new 1,000-bed immigrant detention center outside of Houston. This contract is especially alarming to immigrant activists because private detention centers are notorious for inhumane living conditions and limited access to health and legal resources. Private corporations make more profits when they spend less on detainees, so there is little incentive to offer these resources. There have already been noticeable shifts in the rate of arrests and who is arrested. According to The Washington Post, there has been a 32.6% rise in arrests from the same period last year. Additionally, individuals who were previously considered low-priority subjects for removal—meaning that they have committed minor offenses or none at all—are now much more likely to be deported. The number of undocumented immigrants without a criminal record who have been deported thus far has more than doubled since last year.

On January 27, Trump introduced Executive Order “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry to the United States.” This order soon became known as the “Muslim ban” as it halted refugee admissions from all countries for 120 days, indefinitely banned Syrian refugees, and barred the admission of individuals from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days. These countries included: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. One of the most prevalent points of criticism for this executive order was that since 9/11—when all hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, or Lebanon—there have been ten acts of terrorism carried out by radical Muslims, none of whom were from one of the seven banned countries. This new policy also banned individuals with citizenship in both a banned and non-banned country. There was also a lot of confusion about whether permanent legal residents–Green Card holders–were allowed to enter. Many were held in detention for hours, but were eventually allowed into the U.S. The methods immigration enforcement officers used to determine if immigrants posed a threat became increasingly invasive, with reports of phones and social media accounts being searched. The Islamophobic undertones of this policy, which in essence equated the Islamic faith with terrorism, infuriated individuals across the nation. From January 28 to January 31, nearly 50 federal cases were filed challenging the travel ban. On February 3, the order was suspended and it was eventually deemed unconstitutional on February 9.

Although Trump’s first policy regarding immigration was short-lived, it incited a will among residents of the United States to stand in solidarity with one another, and in particular with targeted migrant communities. While the ban was in effect airports were bursting with protesters and lawyers working pro bono cases for those being denied entry. This solidarity was most visible on February 16, when individuals across the nation participated in A Day Without Immigrants. During this demonstration, many immigrants abstained from going to work and school, and several businesses closed in support of their migrant workers. This day was meant to show how valuable and indispensable immigrants are to the social and economic makeup of our country. Without the immigrant population, the United States would be missing a crucial component of its workforce, mainly in the agricultural and service sectors. While the statement of A Day Without Immigrants was successfully conveyed across the country, several workers were punished for participating. According to The Atlantic, about 100 absent workers were fired from their jobs. While the companies they work for mainly claim that they are only following protocol by firing these individuals, the legality of the situation remains to be determined.

Trump’s most recent immigration policy is a revised version of his first travel ban. This new version hardly strays from the original, with the most notable differences being the removal of Iraq from the list of banned countries of origin, allowing entry of current Green Card and visa holders, and placing a 120 day freeze on the admission of Syrian refugees instead of indefinitely banning them. This new “Muslim Ban” was immediately blocked by a Hawaiian district judge because it still targeted Muslim individuals, but the federal court has yet to decide whether or not the new Executive Order will eventually be implemented.


My Take:

Trump’s immigration policies during his first 100 days of presidency have shown that he is determined to set hostile policies against immigrants, policies that assume criminality. His approach only serves to promote xenophobic generalizations that can too often lead to hate crimes and the dehumanization of immigrants. Our country has experienced periods of heightened hostility towards migrants in the past that led to mass deportations in which too many innocent people were racially profiled, too many families were torn apart, and too many US citizens were mistakenly deported. We should aspire to prevent, not repeat, events such as the internment of Japanese citizens and descendants during WWII, mass deportations during Operation Wetback in 1954, and the Muslim registry after 9/11. While I fear that history might repeat itself, I also remain hopeful and optimistic when I see solidarity, such as A Day Without Immigrants, and all the other countless demonstrations that have taken place since Trump’s election.


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