The Trump administration unveiled on Tuesday memos outlining broader, more aggressive immigration enforcement policies that allow the federal government to deport millions of immigrants who are in the country illegally, even if they have not committed serious crimes.
The new enforcement directives come with what will certainly be an enormous price tag — such as billions of dollars to hire thousands of new border agents and to build more detention centers. A Department of Homeland Security memo calls for achieving complete operational control of the border with Mexico. We question whether such a goal is attainable, but it is in keeping with the objectives of another promise by President Trump: to build a border wall along the entire southern border. That also will come at a staggering cost.
The U.S. has every right — indeed every obligation — to protect its borders and to enforce its immigration laws, and we certainly do not advocate open borders. But in focusing only on more aggressive enforcement and not on a broken immigration system overall, the new Homeland Security directives do little to make us safer or to fix larger problems. They also overlook the valuable roles immigrants play in a healthy economy and in our way of life. Let’s face it: The estimated 11.2 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally are intertwined in our communities, schools and workplaces.
Consider the Texas economy. It needs undocumented workers, according to a report this month by the Perryman Group, which estimated that the state’s undocumented population generates net benefits — subtracting costs for public services — of $32.9 billion to federal, state and local government, including $11.8 billion to Texas.
An estimated 100,000 undocumented immigrants live in the Austin-Round Rock area, a figure that ranks as the 20th-highest among all metro areas nationwide, according to data from a new Pew Research Center report.
Nicknamed the “deportation force,” the DHS directives replace more sensible policies that focused on deporting the most violent criminals and keeping families together. Now, every immigrant can be a target. That’s bad policy.
While we support the removal of immigrants who are dangerous criminals and threats to our safety, the new policies don’t make that important distinction. Several studies — including research by scholars from the University of Massachusetts and Northwestern University — show lower crime levels among immigrants than among native-born Americans. In fact, large cities with substantial immigrant populations have lower crime rates, research shows.
Indeed, the new enforcement policies are a far cry from those of previous administrations— Democrat and Republican — that seemed to acknowledge to some degree the pull of immigration, our nation’s economic dependence on immigrants and America’s historical role as a nation of immigrants.
President Ronald Reagan, for example, in 1986 signed into law a bill that gave more than 3 million undocumented immigrants who’d entered the country before 1982 a path to citizenship. President George W. Bush expanded the use of a law that allows the president to indefinitely delay deportations and prioritized whom to deport.
President Barack Obama deported a record number of immigrants, but besides putting a priority on removing criminals, his executive actions also allowed millions of undocumented immigrants — especially those with citizen children — to continue to work and contribute to society without fear of deportation.
Nonetheless, all failed to get Congress to approve comprehensive immigration reform that secures our borders and provides a variety of programs that could eventually offer legal status for undocumented immigrants and new arrivals under certain circumstances.
That’s what Trump should aim to deliver. Instead, the president wants to spend more to deport more.
We also have concerns about a provision in the new policies that allows enlisting local law enforcement officers as immigration enforcers. All deputized officers and federal agents are allowed to arrest anyone they believe to be “a risk to public safety or national security.” We fear such discretion could lead to policing abuses, racial profiling and the absence of due process.
We are encouraged, however, that for now Trump has seen fit to maintain the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects certain immigrants who entered the country as minors. This program should be codified into law.
President Trump is intent on ramping up border enforcement with more aggressive strategies. Already during his nascent administration, Trump has issued an executive order — since struck down by a federal appeals court —temporarily banning immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the country. The administration is working on a replacement order.
Another executive order denies federal funding to so-called sanctuary cities – jurisdictions that choose not to cooperate with federal efforts to deport undocumented immigrants.
Earlier this month, federal immigration enforcement officers conducted sweeping raids in Austin and in cities across the country. Advocates for immigrants said the operation struck fear in their communities.
As a testament to the presence of immigrants and their families in our everyday lives, more 20,000 Austin school district students — nearly one in four of the district’s total population — missed classes on the recent Day Without Immigrants, which was intended to spotlight the contributions of immigrant workers. Though it was unknown how many of those absent students were from immigrant families, it was clear that many used the day to express their fears that deportations could separate them from family members.
Protecting our borders is smart. Going after hard-working immigrant families instead of addressing our broken immigration system is not.