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Trump may be on the ropes, but ICE is building its own wall

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Image: Adobe Stock

Surely, it would be folly to suggest that ICE’s hardened reputation as a home-wrecker was earned by the Trump administration alone.

Our bloviator-in-chief may be fond of the anti-immigrant dog-whistle [2], and his quixotic obsession with a doomed border wall may yet again drive his party to a moral and political implosion [3] come shutdown time on Friday, but ICE romped through the Obama years too.

The federal agency – tasked with enforcing the country’s immigration laws – helped to initiate 400,000 or so deportations [4] under the Obama administration in 2012, still a high-water mark for an organization that, despite its most oblique assurances of priorities, often detains undocumented immigrants without a criminal background.

And complaints of mistreated border detainees – virulent stories of dehydrated children left to drink from a toilet bowl [5] – haunted the Obama years as well, even if those stories did not resonate as much with national media outlets and a nearsighted John Q. Public. Suffice to say, Obama’s “compassionate” approach to immigration, as recalled in Stacey Abrams’ State of the Union rebuttal [6] this month, is due for a reappraisal.

All this is to say that, despite Trump’s bluster, despite his razor-toothed demonization of undocumented immigrants, local and state resistance has slowed deportations in these fearful Trump years [7].

But in North Carolina, ICE is fighting back. Emboldened ICE agents are on the move, aggressively so, arresting 200 or more across North Carolina last week alone [8], not including more than two dozen scooped up in a raid at a Sanford gun manufacturing plant last week [9].

ICE Atlanta Field Office Director Sean Gallagher, who oversees enforcement in North Carolina, ditched the niceties last week, all but acknowledging that last week’s rampaging raids are comeuppance.

In some of North Carolina’s largest counties last year, voters chose sheriffs who pledged to jettison partnerships with Gallagher’s feared immigration hawks. Among those partnerships, the agency’s 287(g) program – in which local law enforcement can, with ICE’s help, kick-start deportation proceedings – has a hellish reputation with progressive voters and advocates for terrorizing local immigrant communities [10]. Police in 287(g) counties were often accused of racially profiling, bullishly arresting Latinx residents to start the deportation process.

No surprise then, when sheriffs in Wake, Durham and Mecklenburg counties moved with some urgency to sever ties with ICE [11], which seems to have taken on the role of vengeful ex.

“This is the direct conclusion of dangerous policies of not cooperating with ICE,” Gallagher told reporters last week [12]. “This forces my officers to go out onto the street to conduct more enforcement.”

The Republican Party – waking, it appears, from a particularly nasty case of Trump-induced Stockholm Syndrome – may desperately be seeking a way out [13] of the president’s hell-or-high-water crusade to shutter the government over a $5 billion wall most Americans don’t particularly want.

But ICE is building its own wall, brick by agonizing brick, in North Carolina communities, cordoning off immigrant families from the schools, churches, stores and roads in their adopted homes.

ICE crackdowns have a well-documented effect on students’ absenteeism and academic performance [14]. And as Policy Watch’s Melissa Boughton reported last week [15], simulating “Zero Dark Thirty” raids in North Carolina plants may play well at a MAGA rally, but it’s hell on families and communities.

“Are they going to come get us?” one woman told Boughton last week, after ICE seized her mother during the Sanford raid. “Are they going to come to our house? You just never know.”

We’ll take former ICE Director Thomas Homan at his word, and assume this is precisely the reaction he’d hoped for when he forecast a newer, meaner ICE in 2017. “If you’re in this country illegally, and you committed a crime by entering this country, you should be uncomfortable. You should look over your shoulder,” Homan told Congress.

In an interview with a Bloomberg writer last May [7], David Leopold, the ex-president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said the Trump-era ICE seems to revel in “tearing apart families.”

ICE’s tactics are not only reactionary theater, they’re misguided as well. North Carolina law enforcement leaders – those elected on a promise to spurn ICE – aren’t likely to be cowed, but immigrant families – those who fear that their mother or father will be plucked without warning – will.

Their undocumented family members may not have a criminal record, but if, as Gallagher so placidly put it last week, they are “in the wrong place at the wrong time,” ICE agents won’t deign to pass them by.

Nevertheless, Gallagher assured us last week that his agency is not in the business of plotting “indiscriminate” arrests, even if a third of those taken into custody last week were reportedly unconnected to any ongoing criminal investigation, so-called “collateral” arrests.

We have nothing to fear, it appears, except ICE itself.

An unleashed and unfettered ICE draws us no closer to immigration reform, a debate hijacked by fringe elements in the Republican Party that reject a reasonable path to citizenship, or asylum for those fleeing extraordinary violence in their home countries [16].

It delivers no long-term certainty for Dreamers [17], undocumented children brought to the U.S. when they were children, children who’ve grown up in America’s schools and on its playgrounds, children enrolled in America’s universities, children who deliver their time and talents to America’s economy, and, indeed, children just as American as you or I.

And, worst of all, it ostracizes a population stirred into America’s melting pot long ago, alienating those crudely dubbed aliens with some of Trump’s most damnable lies and misinformation. A rise in illegal immigration does not mean a rise in violent crime [18], period, full stop.

Trump’s wall may be little more than miles of artless fencing when the negotiators in the U.S. House and Senate complete their horse-trading this week, but make no mistake, America’s tolerance for intolerant and cruel immigration policing fashions a wall too, making brick and mortar from our adopted Americans’ fear and harassment.

Mr. Trump, tear down this wall.