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Since Donald Trump was elected President in 2016 on an anti-immigrant wave, at least twenty-four migrants have died in U.S. government custody, and many more have been struck down with illnesses like chickenpox, shingles, mumps, and influenza. Viruses spread quickly in overcrowded camps and prisons with limited access to running water and fresh food. 

In the summer of 2018, children were taken from their parents at the southern border and despite a national outcry, some families remain separated to this day. With many billions of dollars at their disposal and an unfailingly supportive administration behind them, one could ask why Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) are not doing a better job. 

In fact, this business of criminalizing immigrants predates Trump, feeding on a steady diet of money, resources, and staff, and growing stronger every year. While immigration reform stalls, border enforcement continuously expands. 

To ask that question is to assume that the job of these agencies is to keep migrants in their custody alive and well, but that assumption is inaccurate. Their goal, rather, was articulated by then-Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen in September 2018: “We are building the toughest homeland security enterprise America has ever seen.” 

Nielsen was later fired by the President, reportedly for not being tough enough.

In fact, this business of criminalizing immigrants predates Trump, feeding on a steady diet of money, resources, and staff, and growing stronger every year. While immigration reform stalls, border enforcement continuously expands. 

In October 1994, President Bill Clinton launched Operation Gatekeeper along the southern border. This militarized the region, with increased numbers of Border Patrol agents, new interior Border Patrol checkpoints, more beds in detention, and new border walls and other infrastructure. 

President George W. Bush oversaw a staggering rise in “crimmigration”—that is, the blending of the immigration system with the criminal justice system. Between 2007 and 2008 alone, a Pew Research report noted, prosecutions for illegal entry rose by more than 250 percent.

President Barack Obama also enabled the legal and operational escalation of deportation and detention, prioritizing recent border crossers for deportation. His administration shifted its focus to immigrants who are subject to removal and banishment, effectively criminalizing immigrants who would not previously have faced criminal charges—thus earning him the nickname “Deporter-in-Chief.”

Deportation is an enormous federal power, and it comes with an enormous human cost. According to a 2018 article in the American Journal of Community Psychology, “Deportation has numerous detrimental impacts on individuals who are deported, and on the families and communities they are forced to leave behind.” It goes on to say: “Many of those deported are forced to return to dangerous, turbulent environments, and deportations have resulted in kidnapping, torture, rape, and murder.” 

And what about the families they leave behind? In 2015, the Migration Policy Institute and the Urban Institute traced the effects of parental deportation on children, “finding significant and long-lasting harm can occur at emotional, economic, developmental, and academic levels.” 

Deportations have a negative effect on the wider community, too, not just immigrants. In a 2018 report, the ACLU stated that “arrests in courthouses and a general fear of deportation are impacting the ability of the justice system to operate fairly and protect public safety.” In other words, immigrants are increasingly too scared to report a crime for fear that they may be arrested, which puts others at risk. 

It’s perhaps pointless to think about what the $27 billion earmarked for ICE and CBP in 2020 could do if it were put to use in the country’s schools, hospitals, or other civic infrastructure. We know what the agencies will do with this money: Hire more lawyers, build more prisons, and buy more guns for new agents that are employed under lower standards than before. 

So, what is going to happen? Will the country stay paralyzed on immigration reform? Will private companies continue to make huge profits from imprisoning migrants? Will more children die on the floors of those prisons? And are Americans safer because of this? Is this truly the best way to spend all these billions of dollars? 

Citations

[1]https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/immigration/24-immigrants-have-died-ice-custody-during-trump-administration-n1015291[2]https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/05/us/border-patrol-deaths-migrant-children.html[3] Family separation at the border: what you need to know about Trump’s alarming immigration policy - Vox ➤ https://www.vox.com/2018/6/11/17443198/children-immigrant-families-separated-parents[4] Immigrant families still separated and kids are in U.S. custody | The Texas Tribune ➤ https://www.texastribune.org/2019/07/13/immigrant-families-separated-kids-custody-despite-end-zero-tolerance/[5]https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/FY20-Fact-Sheet_Immigration-Border-Security_FINAL.pdf[6]https://www.dhs.gov/news/2018/09/05/secretary-nielsen-remarks-rethinking-homeland-security-age-disruption[7] Kevin McAleenan is taking over DHS. Will he be ‘tough’ enough for Trump? - The Washington Post ➤ https://www.washingtonpost.com/immigration/kevin-mcaleenan-is-taking-over-dhs-will-he-be-tough-enough-for-trump/2019/04/08/50d7ae22-59a9-11e9-b8e3-b03311fbbbfe_story.html[8] Operation Gatekeeper - Wikipedia ➤ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Gatekeeper[9] Federal criminal prosecutions of immigration cases surge under Trump | Pew Research Center ➤ https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/09/27/far-more-immigration-cases-are-being-prosecuted-criminally-under-trump-administration/[10] Article: The Obama Record on Deportations: Deporte.. | migrationpolicy.org ➤ https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/obama-record-deportations-deporter-chief-or-not[11] play ➤ https://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/upfront/2017/01/barack-obama-deporter-chief-170113105930345.html[12] The Effects of Deportation on Families and Communities - Community Psychology ➤ https://www.communitypsychology.com/effects-of-deportation-on-families-communities/[13] Deportation of a Parent Can Have Significant and L.. | migrationpolicy.org ➤ https://www.migrationpolicy.org/news/deportation-parent-can-have-significant-and-long-lasting-harmful-effects-child-well-being-pair[14] New ACLU Report Shows Fear of Deportation is Deterring Immigrants from Reporting Crimes | American Civil Liberties Union ➤ https://www.aclu.org/press-releases/new-aclu-report-shows-fear-deportation-deterring-immigrants-reporting-crimes[15]https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/FY20-Fact-Sheet_Immigration-Border-Security_FINAL.pdf[16] Customs and Border Protection agents and officers are less trained and more unqualified than ever before | The Outline ➤ https://theoutline.com/post/8444/customs-and-border-patrol-is-cutting-corners-to-put-boots-on-the-border?zd=1&zi=l5eynnmn