Luis Barrios, an undocumented immigrant who lives with his wife and children in Derby, will get to stay in the United States for another 30 days. After that, it’s possible he’ll be deported to Guatemala, where he fears his life will be in danger. This sort of cruelty has become too common. It must stop.
Barrios’s case is a complex one, going back to an asylum hearing he missed in 1998. He’d been able to extend his stay in the United States, but when an ignorant horde of nativists elected a vicious clown to the Oval Office, everything changed. President Donald Trump’s various executive orders meant Barrios and his family were suddenly faced with his imminent deportation. After appeals from Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Sen. Chris Murphy, as well as a protest at the federal building in Hartford, Barrios was granted a stay of 30 days to try to sort out his situation.
His case is not unusual, sadly. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is stepping up raids and arrests of undocumented immigrants, many of whom have no criminal record, have jobs and homes, and are productive, peaceful members of American society.
The raids have been leaving immigrant communities all across the country reeling and scared. Deportations of “Dreamers,” young people who were brought illegally to the United States when they were children, have sharply increased as that group’s protected status vanished.
ICE’s cruelty seems limitless so far. They’ve arrested a father dropping his daughter off at school, and deported a San Diego grandmother who had no criminal record, saying she was somehow a “priority.” They raided a youth shelter to arrest a teen fleeing abuse who was seeking asylum, and deported a mother of four who fled Mexico because drug cartels targeted her family.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much more.
President Trump has so far been mercifully incompetent — except when it comes to immigration enforcement. The “unshackling” of ICE and the Border Patrol has led to an almost fanatical rounding up of people believed to be in the country illegally. ICE was never a particularly kind agency, but one given to overreach, as journalist Sandra Hernandez wrote in the L.A. Times. Now the agency has been given the green light to do whatever it feels is necessary to protect us from what Trump called the “bad hombres,” who apparently include harmless grandmothers, young adults who want to go to college, and sanitation workers with families and a mortgage.
It’s infuriating. What’s just as bad, though, is the airy dismissal of all of this by native-born white Americans who love to tut-tut and say that if only these people had followed the rules, like their own ancestors did, none of this would be happening.
The trouble with this smug line of reasoning is that anyone trying to immigrate to the United States today faces hurdles most of our ancestors never imagined. During the 1800s, when the first huge waves of European immigrants began to arrive, immigration was relatively straightforward. A person bought a ticket on a steamship, answered some questions beforehand so the steamship line could comply with nascent U.S. immigration law, and then, once at a U.S. port, disembarked and were processed somewhere like Ellis Island. Immigrants had to undergo a medical exam and answer legal questions … and then almost all of them were allowed to continue on to start their lives in America. That’s it. No work visa, no green card, they were simply allowed in.
Very few were deported, because there were relatively few exclusion categories in the beginning. This changed, leading to the shameful exclusion of the Chinese and national quotas, which in turn led to today’s byzantine immigration system. Under today’s system, it’s likely that the ancestors of today’s immigration xenophobes wouldn’t be admitted at all.
The deportations and raids have to stop. It was just as wrong to scapegoat immigrants in the days of the Know-Nothings of the 1850s, the Chinese exclusion act of 1890, and the Japanese internment camps during World War II, as it is today. Nativism is an ugly but persistent stone in America’s shoe.
Cities and states need to try and help their immigrant communities, whether they’re here legally or not. Our congressional delegation is to be commended for standing up for Luis Barrios and others.
My fear, though, is that we’ll be so distracted by the president’s latest outrage, by health care and LGBT rights and more, that we’ll forget about the men and women who live in fear of being sent away from the country they call home.
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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