By LISA LUINENBURG
Trump’s views on immigrants are well known. Over the past year and some months that he has been president, Trump has attempted to bully Congress into enacting ever more draconian measures targeting undocumented immigrants residing in the U.S. He has threatened to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it. He has threatened to beef up the Border Patrol and other security measures at the U.S.-Mexico border. He has threatened to renegotiate the NAFTA trade deal. He has called Mexican immigrants dangerous drug dealers and rapists.
Although many of Trump’s threats have yet to be implemented, many changes in the immigration enforcement system have been enacted. But are these changes initiated by Trump the result of the racist policies of one man, or are they a deeper symptom of the capitalist economic system we live under?
The Trump administration recently announced that it would be ending the TPS, or Temporary Protective Status program for 200,000 Salvadoran immigrants, 45,000 Haitian immigrants, and 90,000 Honduran immigrants. Other groups—such as immigrants from Nicaragua, Nepal, and Sudan—have already lost their status. In fact, due to the changes initiated by Trump, 98% of the 317,000 TPS holders in the U.S. have now lost their protective status.
The TPS program was created in 1990 to provide legal protections for immigrants coming from countries devastated by natural disasters like hurricanes or armed conflicts and violence. It provides immigrants from the designated countries with legal status and authorization to work in the U.S. Many of the recipients in the program have now lived in the United States for decades and have built a life here. They have jobs, pay taxes, own homes, and have children who were born in the U.S. They send money to support their relatives back home—money that the economies of their countries of origin depend on. According to The New York Times, in 2016, 17% of the economy of El Salvador was built on remittances. Similarly, CNN reports that in 2017 remittances made up 19% of the GDP of Honduras. Removing that flow of income would be devastating to those countries and the people who live there.
Despite the fact that many of these countries continue to experience ongoing violence, economic devastation, and a serious lack of infrastructure, the Trump administration is basing its decisions to end TPS programs on whether the original conditions for the TPS designation, such as the earthquakes in El Salvador in 2001, still exist. But the programs were originally created to protect immigrants and refugees whose countries did not have the resources to reabsorb them, and many of them still don’t have the ability to do so.
The recipients whose TPS status has been terminated must now face devastating choices. Most of them are given an 18-month timeline to leave the U.S. If they choose to stay, they will lose their jobs and join the ranks of the 11 million undocumented immigrants who face deportation every day in order to put food on the table for their families. Originally quoted in The New York Times, Veronica Lagunas, a 39-year-old Salvadoran woman with two U.S.-born children, said that she would rather stay in the United States illegally, losing her job and benefits and risking deportation, rather than return to her home country. She said, “There is nothing to go back to in El Salvador. The infrastructure may be better now, but the country is in no condition to receive us.”
An end to DACA?
Similarly, Trump has also moved to end the DACA program, which protected 800,000 immigrants brought to the U.S. without papers when they were children. Although the program was only a temporary stop-gap solution, it gave young immigrants, often known as Dreamers, an opportunity to live, work, and go to school in the U.S. without constantly looking over their shoulders. After being in effect for five years, Trump announced in September 2017 that he would begin phasing out the program in March 2018 unless Congress passed a replacement, a move that has failed to happen.
In a press announcement issued with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Trump stated that he was motivated by a concern for “the millions of Americans victimized by this unfair system.” Sessions added that the DACA program had “denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same illegal aliens to take those jobs.” Some critics of the DACA program have also contended that it has only encouraged more immigrants to come to the U.S. seeking protections. They have claimed that these children went on to become members of violent gangs in the U.S.
In 2014, there was a surge of immigration across the U.S. Mexico border. Many of the tens of thousand of immigrants who arrived during this wave were in fact children from Central American countries who were fleeing gang violence in their home countries. The fact is that the vast majority of people who come to the U.S. are fleeing economic devastation, wars, and climate disasters that the United States played a direct role in causing.
Four years later, it has come to light that 1500 children who crossed the border into the U.S. from Central American countries like Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador are simply missing. These were vulnerable children who were fleeing drug cartels, gang violence and domestic abuse in their home countries and were taken into government care when they arrived at the border alone. They were then placed with sponsors who were supposed to care for them and make sure they attended school while waiting for their immigration hearings. Government workers were supposed to check in with the sponsors over the phone to ensure the children’s needs were being met, but the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) recently found that they were unable to account for the whereabouts of 1475 children in the program.
This has raised concerns that the children may have fallen into the hands of human traffickers. According to The New York Times, in 2016 Health and Human Services officials placed eight children with human traffickers who forced the children to work on an egg farm in Marion, Ohio. As a result, Homeland Security and the DHHS signed a memorandum of agreement to put new guidelines in place to prevent similar episodes from occurring in the future. But two years later, these guidelines have still not been implemented.
In early May, the Trump Administration announced that it would enact a policy of “100% prosecution” at the border, meaning that they would refer anyone caught crossing the border without papers for federal prosecution. This new policy will effectively separate parents from their children at the border, because children are not allowed to accompany adults who are taken into federal custody. In April of this year, Trump announced the “extraordinary” measure of deploying the National Guard to the border to protect national security and support the Border Patrol agents already working there. But this measure wasn’t extraordinary at all. In fact, thousands of National Guard troops were also deployed to the U.S.-Mexico border by President George W. Bush and even President Obama himself, the “deporter in chief.”
Meanwhile, families continue to be ripped apart on a daily basis by an escalation in raids and deportations. As of May 31, more than 10,800 migrant children are being held in federal custody, according to the Department of Health and Human Services—up 21 percent from a month earlier.
ICE raids on the rise
Although the wave of ICE raids has been nationwide, one area that has been particularly hard-hit has been Philadelphia. It was recently reported by The Philadelphia Inquirer that ICE agents rounded up 49 undocumented immigrants there in a raid that lasted seven days. ICE claims that it targeted “dangerous criminals,” people who had been previously deported, or those released on an ICE detainers. Detainers are issued to local authorities (such as county jails) when ICE asks them to hold immigrants booked on other charges (or sometimes people who haven’t been charged with any crime at all) until ICE can come and pick them up. That is a common way that undocumented immigrants who are booked into jail on minor charges, such as traffic violations, end up in deportation proceedings.
The Inquirer reported that that city and federal governments are now battling in court over whether Philadelphia, which is a “sanctuary city,” must honor detainers issued by ICE. And battles like this one are being waged in cities, large and small, across the U.S. The truth is that despite Trump’s recent crackdown on undocumented immigrants, the U.S. economy depends on the cheap and easily exploitable labor of the many immigrants, undocumented or living with precarious immigration status, who make up the fabric of our communities.
The immigration system isn’t broken. It is working exactly as it was intended to, and policies like the ones Trump promotes are designed to keep immigrants afraid while keeping their potential allies in the U.S. working class alienated from their struggle. Hence the constant claims that immigrants are out to steal U.S. jobs and the xenophobia common in corporate media.
Throughout U.S. history, there has always been a scapegoat immigrant class. From the Chinese who built the railroads crisscrossing the U.S. landscape, to the Eastern Europeans who worked in the Chicago packing houses in Upton Sinclair’s classic book “The Jungle,” although the countries of origins and skin colors of immigrants coming to the U.S. have changed over the years, the virulent attacks against immigrants have remained the same.
But that doesn’t mean that immigrants and their allies today are taking all the attacks that Trump has leveled against them without a fight. Many of Trump’s immigration policy changes have sparked heated debate and protests in the streets. On May 1, thousands of people marched in the streets in modest demonstrations across the U.S. for International Worker’s Day and in support of immigrants’ rights.
In Minneapolis, the Immigrant Movement for Justice recently organized a panel discussion on the TPS issue. J. Rivas from Immigrant Movement for Justice said, “It is time to raise our voices and fight together for our brothers and sisters who are part of this country because their family should be considered part of this country too. Together we will create resistance to the injustices of incarceration and deportation that our communities are facing.
“We stand with those who immigrated to the U.S. Those with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) status. Those with Temporary Protected Status (TPS). Those who have Deferred Enforced Departure (DED). Those who have received political asylum. Those who came here as refugees.
“The Immigrant Movement for Justice stands together, and we will continue to defend the rights of all people, including those who don’t have legal status and are fighting for amnesty to stay and live here without fear of one day being deported and torn from their family and community. Let’s build a movement!” It remains to be seen what the spark will be that will set that movement afire.