Experts say law-abiding migrants at greater deportation risk under Trump

IMAGE: CNS photo/Michael Reynolds, EPA

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The stories come in dribs and drabs on
the evening news or in timelines via Twitter, but they’re steady.

On Aug. 2,
two young popular soccer players, brothers living in Bethesda, Maryland, were
deported to their native El Salvador. In mid-July, Jesus Lara Lopez, a
37-year-old father of four in Cleveland, was deported to Mexico. On Aug. 1, Lourdes
Salazar Bautista, a Michigan mom with three U.S. citizen children also was
deported to Mexico.

At some point, they all had contact with immigration
authorities, but none had criminal records or a violent past, and regularly
checked in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, to inform the
agency of their whereabouts.

During President Barack Obama’s administration, migrants
like them, in the country without documentation, were not priorities for deportation, said John Sandweg, former acting
director of ICE. They had been granted stays or were under supervision by
immigration officials likely for humanitarian reasons — they were taking care
of family or had extenuating circumstances.

“Individuals in this group had mostly been checking in with
us ‘ very rarely are these individuals convicted criminals,” said Sandweg during
a July panel titled “Immigration Policy and Practice Under the Trump Administration:
Understanding What’s New, What’s Not and Why It Matters,” sponsored by the Washington-based
immigration reform group America’s Voice.

Under President Donald Trump, however, the fate of these
migrants has changed, said Sandweg.

“What we’ve seen is lots of those individuals getting picked
up, and the reason those individuals get picked up is they are the lowest
hanging fruit,” said Sandweg. “They are the individuals who ICE can arrest most
quickly and deport within a matter of two, three weeks. They’re also the most
sensitive cases and the cases least likely to pose a public safety threat.”

But it’s part of a strategy, Sandweg believes, by the Trump
administration to increase the total number of deportations to record levels —
a task that will be difficult to match since Obama was given the
moniker “deporter-in-chief” because of the record-breaking 2.5 million
deportations that took place under his administration.

“It’s very clear to me that their mission is to transcend
the number of deportations. How do you do that? You don’t focus on criminals,” said
Sandweg. “Criminals are slow to remove. Criminals who are at-large are very
difficult to find and it’s very time-consuming. It’s time-consuming, difficult

Some migrants and their supporters already are sensing the shift
in focus.

In early August, when Maria De Loera was called to a deportation
hearing in Texas, Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso attended the meeting in her
place so she could stay at the bedside of her cancer-stricken 8-year-old daughter
at the hospital. De Loera left Mexico in 2014 after her husband was assassinated
and fled to the U.S. looking for asylum, which was later denied. 

supporters had feared De Loera would immediately be deported if she showed up
to the meeting with immigration officials, meaning her daughter would be left to
attend cancer treatments alone at the hospital.

After Bishop Seitz met with immigration officials, De Loera
was granted a six-month stay so she could continue to care for her daughter. These
days, it seems as if “the most obvious humanitarian reasons for allowing a
person to stay are no longer sufficient,” said the bishop, while also expressing
worry about the people who seem to be the new focus of deportations.

“The church certainly is going to be very concerned about
action leading to prioritization of people who are really not any threat and who
have not committed any crime, and who are productive members of our community,”
Bishop Seitz said in an Aug. 7 phone interview with Catholic News Service.

The emphasis, he said, should be on criminals “who are
really a threat to our citizens,” not spending time and energy going after people
who are law-abiding.

David Leopold, partner and chair of the Immigration Practice
Group and former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association,
said the Trump administration would like others to believe “we’re focusing on criminals.
That’s our priority.”

But the focus is on “non-criminals, folks who have worked
hard, have done everything they were supposed to do, played by the rules, have
been here for a long time,” said Leopold, who also was part of the America’s
Voice panel. “They’re the easiest to arrest because they comply. They’re going
after those cases.”

And while there may not be much talk about raids taking
place, they’re happening but in the lobbies of immigration offices, he said.

“I call them silent raids because where they’re occurring is
at these check-ins,” said Leopold.

While fathers and mothers and children wait for their ICE
removal officers, meetings that never yielded unusual developments now turn into
meetings in which many have ankle bracelets placed on them, and given a date to
leave, he said.

In a July 31 essay for America, a national Catholic magazine
run by the Jesuits, Kevin Appleby, senior director of international migration
policy at the Center for Migration Studies of New York, said that under the Trump
administration, Catholics must shift their focus toward opposing mass
deportations because it’s clear that under this presidency, steps have been taken
“to implement a major deportation campaign targeted at all undocumented
immigrants, including the population the U.S. bishops have sought for years to
make citizens.”

For fiscal year 2018, the administration has asked for 1,000
more ICE agents, 500 more Border Patrol agents, plus more than 10,000 more
detention beds, not to mention $1.6 billion for a border wall, wrote Appleby.

“It is clear where this administration is headed on
immigration,” he wrote. “The goal is not to legalize 11 million undocumented
persons but to get rid of them.”

While some bishops have been on the front lines during
critical moments involving the deportation of noncriminal migrants who have
been long-term residents and contributing members of certain communities, Appleby
urged the participation of all bishops, so as to have a plan for what to do when
deportations take place in their respective dioceses and to lead other
Catholics to support vulnerable immigrant families.

“We are entering a dangerous time in the history of our
immigrant nation,” Appleby wrote. “The stakes for our immigrant brothers and
sisters, and their children, are high. History will judge whether Catholics
stood up and protected their neighbors during this dark period.”

Parishes are a great place to talk about those issues, to
listen to “unheard narratives,” said Bishop Seitz, while acknowledging that
sometimes it feels as if people are listening to two different Gospels in
church pews: one that says we have limited resources and we have to protect
ourselves from outsiders, and one that says we’re called to love others. But a person cannot call him or herself Catholic without expressing the compassion of Jesus, he said.

When a person loves others and gives of oneself for others “God
will care for us even though there may be sacrifices involved,” said Bishop
Seitz, adding that if we give what’s good and charitable, God will care for us.

“I don’t think those elements are to be found in the dumbed-down
Gospel that’s out and about today,” he said.

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Follow Guidos on Twitter: @CNS_Rhina.


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