Home > Uncategorized > Deporting way more than “bad hombres” – posted 2/7/2018 and published in the Concord Monitor on 2/14/2018

Deporting way more than “bad hombres” – posted 2/7/2018 and published in the Concord Monitor on 2/14/2018

This piece ran in the Concord Monitor on 2/14/2018 under the title “Jorge Garcia is no ‘bad hombre'”.

When President Trump ran for the office of president, he promised to get rid of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. He also, in his typical contradictory fashion, said folks who have DACA status have nothing to worry about. It has been impossible to get a straight answer on DACA from Trump.

Last September Trump terminated the DACA program. Trump gave Congress six months for a legislative fix. That time is almost up and there is no agreed-upon solution.

Trump is responsible for stripping deportation protections from 800,000 people who have been raised as Americans. Never in my lifetime has a president messed so carelessly with so many lives.

Lately, Trump, in playing to his base, has been badmouthing immigrants and he has repeatedly cited crimes committed by immigrants. Appealing to nativism, he has been advocating much more restrictive legal immigration.

Deportation of “bad hombres” has been a central Trump theme. Bad hombres were ostensibly those who had committed multiple criminal violations.

In practice, the Trump administration’s pledge to deport bad hombres has turned out to be lip service only. They have gone after any immigrant classified as “illegal” they could get their hands on. The tag “illegal”, regardless of circumstance, has been the acid test for deportation.

The single best example to support what I am saying is the deportation of a Michigan man, Jorge Garcia. That happened on January 15. The government deported Garcia back to Mexico.

Garcia was brought to the United States illegally when he was ten years old. He lived in the United States for 30 years. He married and he and his wife Cindy have two adolescent children. Garcia’s wife and children are U.S. citizens.

Garcia worked as a landscaper. He has no criminal record. For years he fought unsuccessfully to gain legal status paying lawyers over $100,000. A lawyer he hired took retainer money and then filed wrong paperwork, setting back his case. For 13 years, he checked in regularly with Immigrations, Customs Enforcement officials. He never left Detroit, where he lived, without permission from immigration authorities.

He had received multiple stays of removal during President Obama’s presidency although he was one year too old to qualify for DACA. He always paid his taxes.

In the end, 30 years of good behavior counted for nothing. You have to ask: what happened to the focus on bad hombres? The Jorge Garcia example has been replicated over and over. A more accurate characterization of Trump’s approach to immigration is family-wrecking. It is beyond callous.

I know there are those who will say Jorge Garcia was “illegal” but I would suggest illegality in immigration is not such a simple or clearcut matter. The circumstances of illegality vary dramatically. Much depends on the underlying facts you consider when drawing conclusions about illegality.

In her book Undocumented, Aviva Chomsky gets at the complexity:

“Most of the citizens who brag that their ancestors came here “the right way” are making assumptions based on ignorance. They assume their ancestors “went through the process” and obtained visas, as people are required to do today. In fact, most of them came before any legal process existed – before the concept of “illegality” existed.”

Chomsky points out that illegality as we now know it did not come into existence until after the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. Before that, immigration was not depicted in negative terms nor did the public demand legislation about it.

Until 1924, the border between the United States and Mexico was essentially unpoliced and migration flowed without limitation. U.S. business interests required the labor of Mexicans. Employers depended on that labor in a wide variety of industries including agriculture, mining, automobile factories and railroads.

Mexican migrants came to the Southern border without papers and were admitted into the country. Later the U.S. government created the Bracero program. From 1942 to 1964, millions of Mexicans migrated seasonally, especially for farm labor.

Where Congress had concerns about illegality in the 19th century it was not about Mexicans because they were needed for the economic development of the Southwest. There was a racist focus on the Chinese, resulting in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. This kind of racist focus was repeated in the 1924 Immigration Act when quotas were instituted, in part, to stop European Jewish immigration to the United States.

I would point out that many of those excluded from immigrating to the United States by the 1924 Act ended up in the Nazi death camps. Anne Frank was one of these. In this instance, immigration “legality” fed innocent victims to a machinery of death. Historical experience with racism in immigration policy suggests a need to be circumspect so there is not a repetition of past experience in a different context.

I think of Ellis Island when I think of immigration to the U.S.. Ellis Island was established in 1892. People did not wait in line or follow some legal process before they came to Ellis Island. They gathered their family members, got the money together for the trip, and headed to America. They just showed up at Ellis Island.

My family emigrated from Russia and my father showed me a name change document from 1915 where our family name was changed from Bardichevsky to Baird. At that time the United States had minimal entry requirements for European and Russian immigrants. The U.S. Public Health Service tested for infectious diseases. They also looked at whether you might become a public charge but practically everyone who came got into the country.

Many undocumented who are trying to enter the United States now have fled countries because of a fear they will be persecuted, tortured or murdered if they are returned to their home country. Following World War II, the United Nations established a principle of international law known as refoulement or non-return. The principle forbid the return of asylum seekers who were likely to be tortured or murdered.

This principle which became enshrined in the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees as well as the 1980 Refugee Act is frequently being ignored by Customs and Border Protection officers. Many refugees are not even getting to see an asylum officer. This reality was devastatingly portrayed by Sarah Stillman in an article “No Refuge” that appeared in the January 15 New Yorker.

The Trump Administration has been in such a hurry to deport people they see as “illegal” that they are massively violating human rights. Our government has not been keeping track of how many people who have been refused asylum have ended up dead once they were returned to their home countries.

To put the matter of immigration illegality in a truly correct context, we have to consider a matter that is almost universally overlooked. English colonizers aggressively displaced a large network of Native American nations when they invaded the North American continent. They seized land and resources; waged a savage war; forced the Indian nations into treaties and then systematically violated those treaties. We are the inheritors of that genocide.

While victors typically write the history, American historical experience weighs against any self-righteousness where immigration is concerned. Crime and immigration are a tricky subject.

The immigration crime narrative cooked up by Trump is a toxic stew of sensationalism and xenophobia designed to appeal to racist instincts. We must resist a deportation policy which is out of control.

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