Immigration

The year 2016 began with early January immigration raids on mothers and children, many of whom had come to the U.S to escape violence in Central America. In March, a series of events were held in Washington, D.C., on the one-year anniversary of the deportation of Mennonite pastor Max Villatoro to bring attention to the unfair treatment of immigrants with criminal convictions. Following up on those events, staff drafted an interfaith sign-on letter to President Obama citing several cases of immigrants deported away from their families due to old and minor criminal convictions.

A 4-4 tie by the U.S. Supreme Court in June effectively ended a 2014 executive action by President Obama before it began. The program, known as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) would have protected four to five million undocumented immigrants from deportation. In September, an advisory committee tasked by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with recommending improvements to family detention facilities instead recommended ceasing the practice of detaining families altogether. A few months later, another DHS committee debated the use of private detention facilities with a majority of members citing serious concerns with the practice.

During the summer and fall, a growing number of Haitian immigrants, including families with children, arrived at the U.S. border after traveling from Brazil and Venezuela, where they had fled after the 2010 earthquake. Previously the Obama administration had let new Haitian arrivals stay with family in the U.S. but in October the administration began to detain and deport them. By December, an estimated 6,000 Haitians were detained with approximately 60 deported to Haiti each week. Due to the influx of Haitian immigrants, as well as an increase in the number of families and unaccompanied minors from Central America, 2016 ended with a record number of immigrants in detention–more than 40,000.

In 2017, we can expect to see more enforcement-only approaches in federal immigration policy. President-elect Trump will inherit a well-oiled machine for detaining and deporting immigrants. Rather than end family detention or the use of for-profit detention facilities, Trump is more likely to expand both. There could be a resurgence of workplace raids and an increase in deportations, particularly for individuals with any kind of criminal conviction, no matter how old or how minor. Trump has also promised to punish so-called “sanctuary cities” that do not fully cooperate with federal immigration officials.

Trump ran on a starkly anti-immigrant platform, promising to build a “great wall” along the U.S.-Mexico border and to cancel Obama’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program–though after the election Trump indicated he did not want to deport DACA recipients. In December a bipartisan bill in Congress, the BRIDGE Act, was introduced to protect DACA recipients from deportation and could be reintroduced in January.

In the coming year it will be imperative for individuals and churches to stand with immigrants, to model a culture of welcome–including, for some, by offering sanctuary in church buildings–and to challenge “good immigrant versus bad immigrant” narratives (i.e., DACA recipients versus those with criminal convictions). —Tammy Alexander