Trump Fires Up I.C.E.
By CRISTIAN ZARAGOZA | June 1, 2017
The marriage between Trump and the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is a growing threat to American society. During his campaign for office, candidate Trump made it clear that undocumented immigrants would be a focal point during his tenure in office. On January 25, 2017, just five days into his presidency, President Trump signed and put forth an executive order that emboldened ICE and its agents. This order unleashed a flood of detainments and deportations. Under the present administration, ICE has increasingly turned to the expulsion of non-criminal undocumented immigrants. This is a change from the previous administration’s policy. At such an early point in his presidency, the trajectory of ICE activity is taking a steep climb. Non-criminal immigrants have become targets for Trump and ICE. This ought to be cause for concern for all, regardless of one’s documentation status, as it puts the immigrant community in fear.
Before Trump, deportations were certainly no unheard-of phenomenon. Obama’s administration deported a record-breaking 2.7 million foreign nationals. When targeting potential deportees, the Obama administration directed ICE to concentrate its efforts in the detainment and expulsion of undocumented immigrants with a criminal record. This set an exceptional standard for ICE activity, allowing the agency to focus on real threats to the public. In addition, Obama pushed forward the DREAMer program which gave young undocumented immigrants who have lived the majority of their lives in the United States certain protections from deportation.
During his campaign, Trump initially sought to replicate the strategy that existed under Obama. In an event in Iowa with Sen. Ernst on last August, Trump expressed this plan in general: “On Day One, I am going to begin swiftly removing criminal illegal immigrants from this country”. If Trump remained true to this strategy, there would be no issue. Such a strategy is apolitical in the immigration debate. However, the President and his administration strayed from that position with the signing of the two executive orders in the days after his inauguration. One of the orders outlines how the administration wants la frontera secured. The other covered how the administration would expand and invigorate ICE.
In the press briefing following the executive order’s release, Press Secretary Spicer explained that the order’s goals included hiring more ICE agents and officers, providing funding towards missions, and growing the agency’s legal staff. Trump is empowering ICE. Spicer went on to assert that this order would “take the shackles off” of ICE agents in their pursuit to round up illegal immigrants. Instead of keeping with the status quo, Trump has propelled ICE onto a crueler trajectory. This empowerment and unshackling for ICE and its agents is oppressive and disenfranchising towards the residents of the United States.
Since the order, ICE has arrested 21,362 immigrants. In 2016, during the January mid-March period, 16,104 arrests were made – a 32.6% increase. Most concerning about this escalation is the 5,441 arrests of immigrants with no criminal record – twice as many as that of the previous administration. The Atlanta ICE field office has been a prime contributor, with 700 arrests in 2017 (during the aforementioned period) of non-criminal immigrants when it had previously arrested 137 in 2016. This signals to the immigrant community that anyone can be a target. It is no longer enough to keep one’s head down, work hard, and stay out of trouble to feel safe. To ICE agents, the immigrant family appears no better than a violent criminal. This creates a fear that any day, ICE agents may come by one’s home or place of work and take them away without cause.
This fear is justified in ICE’s most recent activities, which include arresting immigrants outside of federal courthouses. This is problematic because it can make undocumented immigrants wary of participating in a criminal trial as witnesses. ICE uses this strategy to circumvent the blockade that sanctuary cities use to protect their non-criminal undocumented communities.
The current climate and the fear stemming from ICE is harmful towards the immigrant community. Cities like Houston and Los Angeles have seen a gross reduction in the reporting of domestic violence crimes. In Houston, the number of Latinos reporting rape dropped 40% this year from the same period last year. In Los Angeles, domestic violence between Latino couples dropped by 10% and reports of sexual assault by 25% from a year ago. Los Angeles chief of police, Charlie Beck, expressed that it stems from a fear of the federal government. This is a very dangerous climate to foster. Victims are becoming too fearful to seek help in a volatile environment. This a clear and alarming signal that the immigrant community is being driven underground and lives in fear.
An empowered ICE with a willingness to go after non-criminal undocumented immigrants is problematic. With the push from his base to round up immigrants and the intense media scrutiny surrounding every aspect of his presidency, Trump seems bent on delivering a desperately needed win. Keeping this trajectory will further put the immigrant community in fear and drive key members and contributors of the American community underground.