Published June 29, 2019
On June 17, 2019, President Donald Trump tweeted one of the scarier official presidential communications I have heard in my lifetime:
“Next week ICE will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States. They will be removed as fast as they come in. Mexico, using their strong immigration laws, is doing a very good job of stopping people…….”
Once I read this, I was trying to figure out exactly what that meant. I know there are approximately 12 million foreign nationals residing in the U.S. in violation of law, either having overstayed their visas or entered without visas. Among them, there is a small percentage who have already been ordered removed by an Immigration Judge but who have not departed, and others who may be deportable also because of some criminal past. Then there is the separate situation at the border, where thousands from Central America have been seeking protection under U.S. asylum laws due to a fear of persecution they face in their home country.
What did the President mean here and what was he trying to accomplish with this tweet, I wondered? First, it has been 2 ½ years since the President has taken office, and for certain enforcement of our immigration laws has been robust. In many regards, as reflected in federal court challenges, sometimes these measures have crossed the line of what is legally permissible. In those 2 ½ years, nothing has kept the President from seeking to round up and start deportation or removal proceedings against 1, 2 or all 12 million of these folks. After all, such an initiative was among the hallmarks of his campaign leading up to his election. So why now? And why this number?
Politics, I would guess. Issuing tweets like the one above is a potent unifying force for his target audience of die-hard constituents. Most notably, the June 17 tweet came the day before the President kicked off his re-election campaign for 2020.
First, we have the sheer cruelty of the threat. Then there is the part where the immigration enforcement community looks at an announcement like this with great frustration since it gives an unnecessary heads up to the targets of such an enforcement operation. Advance warnings like the President’s violate basic rules of any government agent’s operational handbook. Furthermore, the logistics of such an operation, both financially and staffing wise, were not thoughtfully considered, if considered at all. How would the current corp of approximately 6,100 deportation officers coordinate and carry out the arrest of a million or more people? Furthermore, where would a million detainees be housed while deportation and/or bond proceedings would be pending, including mothers and their children, with many of the children of targeted families being U.S. citizens. The result: the operation was called off, because, according to the President, the Democrats asked him to.
Next, in the days that followed the initial tweet, the President changed the terms of this initiative significantly. The threat/incentive/bartering tool presented to implement his vision of appropriate asylum processing was no longer a million undocumented, but just 2,000 – all of whom are already the subject of a final deportation order and more easily locatable and detainable.
Is there a problem with an initiative to enforce our laws, including our immigration laws? Absolutely not. It was not a problem under President Obama –who’s deportation numbers in many ways were as great or greater than the current President’s- and it’s not a problem now. Is there a problem when the initiative is premised on an announcement that terrorizes a population of otherwise law abiding residents (aside from immigration laws) and further politicizes an already overly politicized societal issue? Yes. Is there a problem when the potent words of our President on issues impacting millions of people cannot be taken at face value and the difference between 2,000 and “millions” becomes meaningless? You can answer that.
PUBLISHED June 29, 2019– “IMMIGRATION LAW FORUM” Copyright © 2019, By Law Offices of Richard Hanus, Chicago, Illinois