The Trump era is a time of cruelty and fear. The president’s administration has gutted Obamacare, removed vital environmental protections, and rescinded federal protections for transgender children. The biggest targets so far, though, have been immigrants, especially undocumented persons and refugees.
How we act or fail to act to protect these groups is a critical test, not just of American values, morality, and justice, but of our own capacity for empathy and kindness.
The Department of Homeland Security is finally starting to live up to its ominous, Orwellian name. Trump’s DHS has recently issued new “guidance” for deportations that differs drastically from previous policy. In short, they used to only go after those who had criminal records. Now, every single one of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in this country could be subject to arrest and deportation.
The dread that immigrant communities felt when Trump was elected is turning to very real fear of raids, the breakup of families, and deportation back to countries where many are afraid for their lives.
Immigrant communities here in Connecticut are bracing for the worst. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is expected to hire more agents, and the new policy guidance from DHS wants local police to team up with ICE to aid deportation efforts.
If all of this sounds like a blueprint for mass deportations, that’s because it is.
These are our neighbors, our friends, and our co-workers, not some nebulous criminal menace. Most people come here for the same reasons immigrants always have, to work and find a better life for their children and families.
That’s not what the Trump administration wants you to believe. Trump ranted on the campaign trail about Mexican “rapists,” stoking fears of immigrants, and his administration has recently created an entire office to document and issue reports on crimes committed by undocumented immigrants. The only reason for that office to exist is to whip up even more hate and fear.
We must act. A country where police officers can ask for anyone’s papers at any time and then hand them over to ICE for deportation if they lack them is not a country I want to live in. That country is cruel, fearful, and deeply unjust.
Thankfully, at least some states around the country are trying to lessen the impact of these vicious new orders. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) issued an order prohibiting state agencies from cooperating with ICE to detain anyone solely for being an undocumented immigrant. California, home of one of the largest undocumented immigrant populations, is considering legislation that would make the entire state a “sanctuary state,” meaning local government wouldn’t cooperate with federal officials for immigration enforcement.
Here in Connecticut, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Wednesday joined these states by issuing his own guidance for law enforcement and school districts, which clarified existing law and issued instructions for how to work with families and deal with ICE agents.
Connecticut already has something called the Trust Act that only allows individuals to be detained on the basis of an ICE detainer order in very specific circumstances, such as being a gang member, a felon, or presenting an “unacceptable risk” to public safety. The governor’s memos clarify this and suggest policies for police and schools that would ensure that the relevant laws are followed to the letter.
In essence, the governor’s guidance memos make it harder for ICE to do massive sweeps and indiscriminately detain and deport undocumented Connecticut residents. This doesn’t go quite as far as Oregon’s order, which actually forbade cooperation, but it is a message to both the administration and immigrant communities: we won’t just stand by and let it happen.
Unfortunately, some leaders aren’t on board. Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton brushed off the governor’s guidance, saying that his city, which has a large population of undocumented immigrants, stands ready to help the feds.
This illustrates how the governors of Oregon, Connecticut, and other states are walking a very fine line between slow-walking cooperation with the feds and outright defiance. The Obama administration rarely seemed willing to directly confront this kind of resistance to federal law and policy from the states, but I have to imagine the Trump administration will not have the same reluctance.
That means it’s up to the rest of us. Be visible in supporting immigrant communities. Protest raids. Connect your friends, family, and co-workers with legal aid.
This is just one side of the fight we all must engage in against cruel and fearful policies coming out of the Trump Administration, but it’s a vital one. History is watching us.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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