May 25, 2018

Trump may not have built his wall but he is effectively deterring immigration through detentions, deportations, separations, threats and a culture of fear, writes Bette Browne.

WITHOUT putting up a single brick of his proposed wall against immigrants, US President Donald Trump is deterring them from entering the country by deporting thousands of other immigrants already in America for decades.

More than 1m immigrants, many among the poorest in the US, have now been told they face deportation because the White House wants to end their protected status.

These include some 800,000 young people brought to the country illegally as children by their parents decades ago and protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and about 300,000 holders of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) that was granted to immigrants, mainly from Central America and the Caribbean, after natural disasters hit their countries.

Nearly 200,000 Salvadoreans protected by TPS, for instance, have been allowed to live and work in the United States for nearly two decades after earthquakes ravaged that country.

“Even if no concrete is ever poured, the wall is effectively already being built through executive orders, procedural changes, detentions and deportations,” according to the advocacy group Americans for Immigration Justice.

Most of these immigrants are poor and tend to do the jobs Americans don’t want to do, and in the process they’re contributing billions to the US economy. It’s been estimated that TPS holders from El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti contribute a combined $4.5bn (€3.8bn) in pre-tax wages or salary income annually to America’s gross domestic product. Their total social security contributions have been estimated at more than $6.9bn over a decade.

While Trump’s predecessors, presidents Obama and Bush, focused on deporting criminals and those who posed threats to national security, Trump has now made all undocumented immigrants priorities for removal.

Arrests of non-criminal undocumented immigrants increased by 150% in early 2017, compared with the same period the previous year.

Many of these people have lived and worked legally in the United States for decades.

Even immigrants eligible for green cards are threatened with deportation while their cases are pending.

Federal courts have put a temporary hold on some of Trump’s directives, but the president has a great deal of discretion on immigration matters.

“Despite family ties and productive lives created here, immigrants are seeing their deportations expedited at the expense of due process,” according to Americans for Immigration Justice.

“Arbitrary deportations have left thousands of United States citizens without mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, and siblings upon whom they depended for emotional and financial support.”

In essence, these immigrants have become human pawns in a cynical chess game between the White House and Congress.

Trump is telling Congress that it needs to change immigration laws and fix a “broken” system. But he also says that any legislative fix that might halt deportations must include funding for his “big, beautiful” wall, the price tag for which is about $25bn.

So far, Republicans, who make up the majority in Congress, have refused to fall in line and are continuing to argue among themselves over the kind of bill to introduce.

Republican lawmakers in states like Nevada and Arizona with large Latino populations of voting age are arguing that those protected by TPS and DACA who’ve been in the United States for decades should be given a path to citizenship.

But, on the other side of the Republican divide, those in the far-right Freedom Caucus favour a hardline immigration bill authored by judiciary committee chairman Bob Goodlatte, boosting interior enforcement and reducing legal immigration.

Minority Democrats are part of the equation too. They are supporting a bipartisan bill authored by Republican Will Hurd of Texas and Democrat Pete Aguilar of California that would offer a clear path to citizenship for hundreds of thousands of these immigrants who came to the country illegally as children.

But if one of these bills is voted on and gives a fast-track to citizenship but fails to include a chunk of funding for his wall, Trump is unlikely to sign it. The likelihood of a vote increased on Wednesday after procedural wrangling in the Senate that gave those who want a vote the upper hand.

Meanwhile, the president is increasing the pressure for legislation and funding for his wall by refusing to continue to let the immigrants stay.

“I find the approach inhumane,” says Jill Bussey of the advocacy group Catholic Legal Immigration Network.

“The administration has a choice. Any statements they make claiming that their hands are tied under the law are meant to distract people from what is really going on here. It’s part of a political agenda that aims to end humanitarian immigration programmes that save peoples’ lives.”

But the White House doesn’t appear to be listening and Trump, who branded Mexican immigrants during his presidential campaign as “rapists” and “criminals,” is firing up his base with an eye to a 2020 re-election bid by continuing his anti-immigrant onslaught.

As recently as May 17, for example, he used the term “animals” when discussing illegal immigrants in California. “These aren’t people. These are animals, and we’re taking them out of the country at a rate that’s never happened before.” The White House said later he was referring to California’s MS-13 criminal gangs, but in his live remarks he made no distinction between such violent gangs and all immigrants.

He’s also taken aim at “sanctuary cities” in California, New York, Florida and other states that give undocumented immigrants refuge. “Soooo many sanctuary areas want OUT of this ridiculous, crime infested & breeding concept,” he tweeted last month.

He’s also threatening to cut off billions of dollars in federal aid to these cities. The cities’ mayors insist their job is to protect their communities, not to do the work of assisting federal immigration officials.

In the meantime, in a further effort to deter immigrants, a new justice department policy is insisting on family separation at the US–Mexico border.

“Separating parents and children in an attempt to deter people who are fleeing violence from legally seeking asylum is cruel to families, harmful to children and wholly contrary to American values,” said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum.

About 11m illegal immigrants, including thousands of Irish, live in the United States without permanent legal status.

Hopes were high five years ago that immigration reform could be achieved when the Senate passed a bill backed by Democrats and Republicans that included an eventual path to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants. But the House, run then as now by more conservative Republicans, said the bill made too many concessions to undocumented immigrants, and doomed it by refusing to vote on it.

Then, in late 2015 and early 2016, came Trump’s rise, powered by a campaign that vilified immigrants and was fuelled by his insistence that immigration policies needed to be hardened and a wall built against them.

Yet for a man who says he wants to “make America great again,” he might do well to consider the economic contribution to the country of illegal immigrants.

Altogether, according to the state and local tax data analysis published by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, undocumented immigrants contribute about $11.6bn to the economy annually, including nearly $7bn in sales and excise taxes and $3.6bn in property taxes.

He might also do well to remember that there are 58m Latinos in the country and many of them are young citizens, with an estimated 66,000 turning 18 each month — the voting age in America.

Read it on The Irish Examiner here.