Mass Deportations Will Not Make America Safer

Mass Deportations Will Not Make America Safer

Deporting Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos — 35-years old, mother of two — will not make America safer, but it does pose a fundamental question about the type of country we want to be.

As part of his campaign pledge to deport up to 3 million undocumented “criminal” immigrants, President Donald J. Trump signed an Executive Order (EO) on January 25 expanding the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Civil Immigration Enforcement Priorities (CIEP) to include Garcia de Ravos, and the many like her who pose no danger to the national security of the United States. The “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States” EO also threatens to withhold billions in federal funding from state and local governments, whose law enforcement do not “perform the functions of an immigration officer to the fullest extent of the law.”

Let’s call this what it is: a crackdown dressed up as a public security measure that puts hardline enforcement ahead of civil liberties and federal diktats above state’s rights. It’s a textbook example of how fiery campaign rhetoric can translate into bad policy.

According to the Pew Research Center, there were 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States in 2014. A majority (66 percent) have been here for at least a decade and, like Guadalupe, are likely to have children who are American citizens. Of that total, the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) estimates that 820,000 have both criminal records and final orders of removal – meaning they have exhausted all legal recourse to remain in the United States.

The new CIEP directs Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to also prioritize undocumented immigrants making their way through the U.S. legal system but do not have a final order of removal. It also includes those charged but not yet convicted of a crime, including minor offenses, and apparently a category of individuals who White House Advisor Stephen Miller would remove arbitrarily to “prevent crimes before they happen.” Combined with what Trump outlined on the campaign as a policy of “zero tolerance for criminal aliens” and you begin to see how the math works: 800,000 becomes 3, 8, maybe even 11 million…the actual number then becomes a function of bandwidth at ICE and the immigration courts, the latter of which is underfunded and backlogged.

Senator Chuck Schumer wisely pointed out that treating a traffic violator the same as a murderer will not keep the country safe and is a waste of government resources. Further, the expanded CIEP coupled with the recent raids has had a terrifying and chilling effect on the undocumented immigrant population, eliminating any willingness for them to engage with government authorities, or to report crimes in their communities for fear of deportation.

There is a better policy response. President Trump should abandon the practice of policy-by-EO and place the onus on his Cabinet to present him with options that will actually help make America safer. When Central American migrants surged across the Southwest border in 2014, President Obama marshaled a whole-of-government response. As a Special Advisor to Vice President Biden, I lost track of all the internal White House huddles, and the countless Deputies and Principals Committee meetings. We vetted proposals with Democratic and Republican members alike and civil society stakeholders, all in an effort to provide the President with the best possible policy recommendations. One or two bad ideas still made it to the National Security Council chaired by the President, which he thankfully killed.

The outcome can be summarized as follows:

  1. DHS focused its limited enforcement resources on non-citizens who had been convicted of serious crimes, were threats to public safety, were recent illegal entrants, or had violated recent deportation orders;
  2. FEMA led an inter-agency Unified Coordination Group to streamline the processing and placement of unaccompanied children arriving at the Southwest border in large numbers;
  3. We surged resources to the border and the Justice Department reprioritized dockets to streamline removal proceedings; and
  4. We piloted a program to allow children fleeing harm who have parents/relatives with legal status in the United States to avoid the dangerous journey through a refugee-like or parole process.

Vice President Joe Biden led the international effort to reduce irregular migration at the main source. He engaged Mexico on its Southern Border Strategy, and partnered with leaders from the Northern Triangle of Central America (Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras) to address the drivers of migration by tackling the region’s security and developmental challenges with a strategy they called the Alliance for Prosperity (A4P). Vice President Biden also secured a $750 million appropriation thanks to the support of key Republicans and Democrats like Senators Lindsay Graham, Patrick Leahy, Barbara Mikulski, as well as Representatives Kay Granger and Nita Lowey. Then-head of Southern Command General Kelly accompanied the Vice President to a March 2015 meeting in Guatemala that produced concrete political commitments from regional governments. A Capitol Hill maven, Kelly was also instrumental in building Republican congressional support for the strategy.

Our targeted immigration enforcement combined with a robust international response achieved positive results: By the end of Fiscal Year 2016, DHS removed 344,354 unauthorized immigrants, 90 percent of which had been convicted of serious crimes and 85 percent of which were recent border crossers. Northern Triangle countries budgeted $1.6 billion in their own resources for the A4P in 2016, collaborated with us on numerous operations against human traffickers and gangs operating in both the United States and Central America, and an anti-corruption regime began to take hold throughout the region.

Secretary Kelly rightly argues the January 25 EO provides DHS with the necessary tools to enforce U.S. immigration laws. In practice, the broad net cast by the EO and the proposed militarization of migration enforcement lends itself to abuse and all but guarantees families will be separated and many will be deported solely for the crime of migrating irregularly to the United States in search for a better life.

There are also those — an increasingly vocal minority in this country — who would use the federal government as a cover to exercise hostility against the undocumented immigrant population. They’re the Joe Arpaio’s, who would round up and remove anyone who is different in appearance, culture, or religious belief. They forget (or choose to ignore) our 240-year history as a nation of immigrants from all walks of life. And while they are pondering the right questions about American identity and values, their answer is absolutely wrong.

Photo credit: DREW ANGERER/Getty Images