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On February 20th, the Department of Homeland Security released two new memorandums for its agents. The memorandums increase the arbitrary authority of the agents in the field and reduce the rights of those who are arrested to almost zero. The ghost of immigration policies past is slowly creeping into our national dialogue once again. Though the Obama administration racked up a high tally of undocumented immigrants it deported, those who were deported were criminals or those who had deportation orders issued.
Over the last week, the Trump administration has begun a crackdown on undocumented immigrants of all sorts and those who had been able to come out of the shadows of fear and anxiety are quickly heading back to those all too familiar places. We have only begun to see what steps the current administration is willing to take to carry out campaign promises of "building a wall" and getting rid of some "bad hombres."
The memorandums addressed different topics of the same issue. The first, “Enforcement of the Immigration Laws to Serve the National Interest” deals with hiring more immigration agents for both Customs and Border Protect (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and expanding the controversial 287(g) program which “deputizes” local law enforcement officers as CBP or ICE agents.
The second memorandum, “Implementing the President's Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements Policies” expands the already broad powers of the agents to detain and deport many more suspected undocumented immigrants without the need for deportation orders, trials in front of immigration judges, or the immigrant having done anything illegal at all.
North San Diego county is home to many undocumented immigrants. People have been able to find peace and relative security in neighborhoods of Escondido, Vista, and Oceanside. Surprisingly, there are other large enclaves of immigrants in cities such as Solana Beach, Carlsbad and San Marcos. The presence of these communities in cities which would be otherwise thought of as American-only shows not only the ability of immigrants to blend into the existing lifestyles found in north San Diego, but shows the desire of these individuals, to come to a place where they can work hard and support their families.
But, with the Trump's new crack down on immigrants, the face of north San Diego, along with the face of many other communities, is changing. Reports of increased US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) presence are making their way through both regular and social media. Fear has brought out stories of checkpoints which don't exist and other activities which have proven to be false. The fear is grounded is fact; there have been actions taken by CBP in the past and very recently which should cause the immigrant community concern.
The fear is justified. In the wording of the second memorandum, “Implementing the President’s Border Security,” expands the powers of the agents to make “in-field” determinations about who they are detaining. The document lists seven categories of expanded consideration for priority removable aliens “regardless of the basis of removability.” The memorandum states:
“Additionally, regardless of the basis of removability, Department personnel should prioritize removable aliens who: (I) have been convicted of any criminal offense; (2) have been charged with any criminal offense that has not been resolved; (3) have committed acts which constitute a chargeable criminal offense; ( 4) have engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter before a governmental agency; (5) have abused any program related to receipt of public benefits; (6) are subject to a final order of removal but have not complied with their legal obligation to depart the United States; or (7) in the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security.”
Of note are categories two and three. The power to detain and deport immigrants who have, in the opinion of the agent, “committed acts which constitute a chargeable criminal offense” or “have been charges with any criminal offense that has not been resolved” is scary. Anyone who the agent believes to have done something wrong is free to detain and deport the person under these new guidelines. And the agents are taking this opportunity enthusiastically.
The Los Angeles Times reported on a case of two women who were in their car outside of a home in Escondido. The women were watching a CBP action taking place at home where a relative of one of the women lived. They were approached by CBP officers and subsequently deported, leaving the daughters of one of the women behind in Escondido.
The woman claims the officers were in plain clothes, did not identify themselves as CBP agents and would have had no reason to approach the women. (The women were not targets of the operation the CBP was conducting at the time.) The women did not have criminal records and, by all rights, should not have been approached or arrested. While in CBP custody, according to her, she was coerced into signing a Voluntary Deportation Order and was denied the right to speak with an attorney or make a phone call.
In Oceanside, there have been two reported cases of CBP stopping cars to ask about immigration status. In two videos posted to social media, CBP agents have stopped suspected undocumented immigrants to perform immigration status checks and, in one, the agents search the car of the driver. While the video purports the action of the agents is illegal, the CBP is authorized to search vehicles, persons and other items, such as phones, within 100 miles of a border or coastline.
We should expect this to be only the beginning of actions by CBP. With the confusion around the Trump travel ban affecting majority Muslim countries and these new memorandums coming out of Washington, it seems those who are out in the field are operating with greater impunity and little-to-no direction. Combine this with the possibility of having more local law enforcement agencies acting as immigration agents under the expanded 287(g) program, the level of fear and anxiety felt by residents of north San Diego county cities will be palpable.
The 287(g) program is a provision under the Immigration and Nationality Act which authorizes the Director of DHS to enter into agreements with states and/or local law enforcement agencies to have “qualified officers” act “to perform the functions of an immigration officer in relation to the investigation, apprehension, of detention of aliens.”
Currently, in California, the only agency which has entered into an agreement with DHS is the Orange County Sheriff. But, others, like Escondido PD, which is already known for providing space for DHS agents in their headquarters and having a very friendly working relationship, could hop on board very quickly with the approval and encouragement of its city council.
Our vigilance is called for in these times if we want to see the American Dream made possible for all who wish to come to our country to escape poverty and problems. Groups like Alianza Comunitaria are working to keep people alerted to possible checkpoints and other enforcement measures and are also verifying the reports of CBP checkpoints.
Hopefully, moving forward, we can come stop the wholesale persecution of those who come seeking a better life and those who come feeling dangerous circumstances in their own countries. We need to continue to fight for comprehensive immigration reform and sensible immigration policies.
Photo credit: Los Angeles Times
All opinions expressed are those of Don Greene and not necessarily his employer.