The Department of Homeland Security’s so-called deportation memos this week implementing President Trump’s executive orders to eject unauthorized aliens in the country didn’t, after all, enlist the National Guard to conduct mass deportations or even require the creation of a special federal deportation force, as many had feared. They actually do something far more insidious and hideous: They empower thousands of potential Joe Arpaios around the country to terrorize Latino communities.
Arapio, readers will recall, is the former Arizona sheriff whose harsh tactics to hunt down, detain and eject undocumented Latinos – including forcing a detained Latino woman to deliver a baby in shackles — earned him nation-wide notoriety. But Trump touted his endorsement as a badge of honor repeatedly during the campaign. Arpaio went down to an ignominious defeat, losing his seat by double digits in the last election. But the DHS memos now hand him a huge victory – and a blow to a decent, humane and rational immigration policy.
Study after study has shown that immigrants, including the undocumented variety, are far less crime prone than the native born. Between 1990 and 2013, the foreign-born share of the U.S. population rose from 7.9 percent to 13.1 percent and the number of unauthorized tripled from 3.5 million to 11.2 million. What happened to crime in this country? Violent crime went down by nearly 50 percent. And property crime fell by 41 percent.
In immigrant gateway cities such as El Paso, San Antonio, Austin, San Diego, crime has diminished as the unauthorized population has risen. Indeed, the 2010 American Community Survey found that the incarceration rate of the native-born 1980, 1990 and 2000 was two to five times higher than that of immigrants overall. And what about compared to less-educated aliens, many of whom are undocumented? In 2010, 18-39 year-old native-borns had an incarceration rate of 10.7 percent – three times more than foreign-born Mexicans, and five times more than Salvadaron and Guatemalan, many of whom are undocumented. And the undocumented incarceration rates are so low despite the fact that between 2000 and 2010, thanks to the post 9-11 hysteria, more immigrants were thrown into jail for ever more minor immigration-related, a 2015 American Immigration Council study by Walter Ewing and others points out. (For example, illegal reentry was reclassified as a criminal – as opposed to a civil – offense worthy of imprisonment before deportation.)
Given this backdrop, in a remotely rational world, law enforcement resources would be refocused away from immigrants to those who pose an actual threat.
But not in Trump’s America where a head is in even greater short supply than a heart.
The DHS memos state that the agency will prioritize the removal of “dangerous” undocumented criminal aliens. But there are not too many of those left given that Obama already expelled 2.5 million illegals, starting with the hardened criminals and then moving up to ever more minor transgressors in order to use up all the deportation dollars that Congress had thrown his way. (In fact, not only had Congress authorized dollars exclusively for the deportation of 450,000 aliens annually but also mandated that 34,000 detention beds be filled every day. Every. Single. Day.)
So in order to meet Trump’s ambitious deportation promises to his immigration-hostile base, the DHS had to go further. And it did.
It declared an end to the Obama-era policy of exempting certain narrow categories of undocumented aliens from enforcement. These categories included those who didn’t have any criminal convictions but had lived in the country for decades and therefore put down deep roots in the country, forming families, having children. Now, with the possible exception of 750,000 Dreamers (those who were brought to the country as minors), every, single undocumented will be fair game. In fact, they already are given that even before the DHS memos were released, the agency had launched immigration raids in six-plus cities and rounded up close to 700 people over the course of a week. Not even spared were folks like an El Paso domestic abuse victim who was arrested in the court where she had gone seeking an order of protection!
Nor is the administration mincing words about any of this. Says Trump Press Secretary Sean Spicer: “The message from this White House and from the DHS is that those people who are in this country and pose a threat to our public, or have committed a crime, will be the first to go, and we will be aggressively making sure that that occurs. [But] everybody who is here illegally is subject to removal at any time.”
But of course deporting 11 million people through federal immigration raids like the recent ones would require a vast and expensive enforcement machinery. How vast? Much vaster than the 25-50 percent increase in border patrol and ICE agents that DHS Secretary John Kelly demanded pronto in his memos.
Kelly’s expansion will cost $4 billion, which is not nothing, but, according to the American Action Forum, a right-leaning think tank, this will be less than a drop in the ocean. AAF crunched some numbers and concluded that fully purging all undocumented immigrants using current levels of personnel would take at least 20 years and cost the government $400 billion to $600 billion. Trying to accomplish this in just two years, as Donald Trump originally proposed, would cost even more because that would require ratcheting up the apprehension of the aliens from 4,844 to 90,582, immigration detention personnel from 5,203 to 53,381, federal immigration attorneys from 1,430 to 32,445 and immigration courts from 58 to 1,316. Warehousing an immigrant costs the feds $125 per day. (This is all in addition to the $1 trillion economic loss of shrinking the labor force, notes AAF).
Clearly, even a Congress fully inhabited by nativist-restrictionists such as Senators Jeff Sessions and Tom Cotton wouldn’t be able to scrape up anything close to that kind of change from the federal treasury.
So that’s why instead of doing it all federally, the DHS is planning to essentially identify the Joe Arapaios lurking in cities and municipalities and deputize their cops to go after undocumented folks.
To that end, the agency is dusting off two programs:
One is the 287 (g) program that was created in 1986 but wound down by the Obama administration after its abuse by Arpaio surfaced. Under this program, local law enforcement agencies can voluntarily sign up to be DHS agents and acquire nearly the same powers as federal agents to access federal databases, check immigration status, interrogate, and arrest non-citizens and issue detainers till they are whisked away by ICE agents to be deported. 287(g) cities are the exact opposite of sanctuary cities.
The other tool that President Bush created, President Obama mothballed in 2009, and now the DHS is saying it’ll restore is the SECURE Communities program. This program, of questionable constitutionality, requires local law enforcement to check the fingerprints of anyone they detain, no matter how minor the crime, against ICE databases. If these folks turn out to be illegal, ICE issues a “detainer” requiring the person to be held for 48 hours till it can whisk them away for deportation. Basically, something as minor as unpaid tickets can become grounds for deportation, breaking families, ruining lives. This is the program that triggered the sanctuary cities movement.
These are far from the only tools at the DHS’s disposal to go after undocumented workers. But the beauty of these two programs is that neither will require immigration raids for mass round ups (although those too will happen from time to time just so that President Trump can give his nativists supporters something showy to cheer). Along with the agency’s guidance that all the undcoumented are now fair game, they’ll just give local cops free rein to pick off their targets at will just so long as they bide their time.
The Joe Arpaios in America are about to have a field day. The double tragedy of this is that they’ll make life hell for America’s Latino community without making other Americans one iota safer.