Immigration

In some ways, the first year of the Trump administration was a shift away from Obama-era policies toward immigrants. In other ways, it merely built on an extensive detention and deportation system, expanded the criminalization of immigrants, and sought to further militarize an already heavily-militarized southern border.

Barely a week into his presidency, Donald Trump signed his first executive orders to increase immigration enforcement and border security and to impose a refugee and travel ban. After multiple courts blocked the initial bans, the Supreme Court allowed modified versions to go into effect in November, with lawsuits still pending. The administration set the maximum number of refugees to be admitted to the U.S. in Fiscal Year 2018 at 45,000–the lowest level in U.S. history, at a time when a record 65 million people around the world have been forced from their homes.

Throughout the year, the Trump administration ramped up immigration enforcement, making everyone without documentation a priority for removal, including long-time residents and parents with young children. After efforts to punish “sanctuary cities”–where local law enforcement limit cooperation with federal immigration officials–were blocked by court rulings, immigration raids began targeting these cities. Not only are asylum seekers being turned away at the border, in violation of U.S. and international law, but some sponsors of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum have been charged with criminal smuggling if they paid someone to bring the minor to the U.S., regardless of whether those minors’ lives were in danger in their home countries.

In late summer, MCC helped break the story of a couple targeted for deportation at a hospital in Texas, in violation of Department of Homeland Security guidelines regarding immigration enforcement operations at “sensitive locations” such as schools, churches and hospitals. We helped draft two congressional letters demanding answers in the case, signed by 20 senators and 84 House members.

In September, the Trump administration announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program would be terminated in six months, putting nearly 700,000 youth and young adults at risk of deportation and separation from their families. Multiple bills have been introduced in response, including the bipartisan Dream Act, but the White House has insisted on a long list of anti-immigrant policies as part of any deal to pass DACA-related legislation. As of this writing negotiations are ongoing with the threat of a government shutdown over the issue.

In November, the U.S. announced that Temporary Protected Status (TPS) will end for Haitians in 18 months and for Nicaraguans in 12 months, with decisions pending for Hondurans and Salvadorans.

Other significant activities in the Washington Office in 2017 included hosting the winner of our high school essay contest, Isabella Madrid, who spoke with Senate offices about immigration policy. Staff began publishing monthly immigration updates in February which, along with a number of articles and action alerts, are translated into Spanish. In September, David Boshart, moderator for Mennonite Church USA and executive conference minister for Central Plains Conference, participated in Faith Advocacy Days in Washington, D.C., to call for reduced funding for immigration detention, deportations and border militarization.

Looking ahead to 2018, if a solution for DACA recipients is not found by January, it will need to be addressed early in 2018 as, beginning March 5, nearly 1,000 people per day will lose protection and work permits. Members of Congress need to feel a strong push for a “clean” Dream Act–a bill that is not tied to greater enforcement or other onerous measures.

It will be important to continue monitoring annual budget debates, as the White House has made clear its desire to increase spending on border militarization, detention and numerous other anti-immigrant policies. As of this writing, no major anti-immigrant legislation has been signed into law. The increased enforcement, termination of DACA and TPS, reduced refugee numbers and increased restrictions on asylum seekers have all come from Trump administration directives rather than from Congress.

Sensitive locations must continue to be protected so that all feel safe taking a child to a hospital or school or attending church. The need for sanctuary churches and “rapid response” rallies will likely increase as enforcement intensifies and as those with TPS (and, possibly, DACA) will have to make the terrible choice between voluntarily leaving a country they have called home for many years or staying as an undocumented person at risk of deportation.

Just as important as pushing back against bad policies is pushing back against the rhetoric and racism that portray immigrants as criminals and as burdens on society–when multiple studies show immigrants commit fewer crimes than U.S.-born citizens and contribute as much or more economically as they consume in services. Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle need to hear more pro-immigrant messages from their constituents, including stories of how immigrants are vital members of our families and communities. –Tammy Alexander

Immigration advocacy resources here.