President Donald Trump’s claim that his administration would focus its massive deportation efforts on removing criminals isn’t proving all that reliable.
The decision by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials early this month to rein in a little-used congressional privilege exposes the hard-liner ideology behind statistics that show many of those being trucked out of the county aren’t bad actors.
ICE’s policy change also complicates celebration of the agency’s sensible agreement to stop deportation orders on Denver’s Jeanette Vizguerra and Arturo Hernandez Garcia. The stayed deportations suggested the agency meant to mute its chilling message in its arrest and plan for the deportation of Hernandez Garcia last month. (How else to interpret seizing a well-known sanctuary seeker who in July 2015 left a Denver church basement with a letter from federal officials informing him he was good to go?)
Similarly, the agency’s crackdown led Vizguerra into sanctuary. Her story made her one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world.
ICE freed them from deportation concerns for about two years, as The Denver Post’s John Aguilar recently reported. The agency did so out of respect for a long-standing practice of allowing stays when members of Congress go to bat for those living in the country illegally. Officials honored private petitions from the Democrats in Colorado’s congressional delegation: Sen. Michael Bennet and Reps. Diana DeGette, Ed Perlmutter and Jared Polis.
Had the Trump administration decided to leave it at that, broader concerns about how to interpret the pressure put on Vizguerra and Hernandez Garcia would have been lessened. Instead, the administration changed procedure to make future pleas from members of Congress far less powerful.
Before the rule change, ICE dropped deportation actions, as it did with Denver’s sanctuary celebrities, if a member or members of Congress interceded before the House or Senate judiciary committees or subcommittees. Time limits on the stays were tied to congressional terms and were renewable. Now, ICE will stop deportation action only if a chair of those committees makes the request. Stays are limited to six months, with a possible one-time 90-day extension, should the ICE director agree to the extra time requested, again, by judiciary chairs.
The upshot is that with this procedural change, ICE is sending an even more chilling message: Going forward, even if a U.S. senator or congressman intercedes, even if several members of a state’s congressional delegation do so, ICE doesn’t care.
Hard-liners may cheer the news. And certainly it’s possible members of Congress from liberal districts could or have abused the privilege. But it’s also unlikely that even the most softhearted among liberal and progressive elected officials would advocate for allowing a dangerous criminal to run free.
Clearly, the Trump administration is right to target criminals. Further, ICE officials and agents face a difficult task in trying to enforce a broken immigration system that has allowed the exploitation of an underclass created by a lack of sound lawmaking.
What’s needed is for Congress to enact meaningful immigration reform. While we wait for that — and wait, and wait — we urge ICE to resist caving in to Trump’s campaign-trail xenophobia and return to the more thoughtful and nuanced polices of his predecessor.
Many of those living here illegally but otherwise peacefully have American families and deep roots in their communities. Deportations tear at the fabric of those communities. The signal we should be sending ought to be more compassionate.