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Trump’s Immigration Policy deconstructed and a vision of Immigration Justice

February 8, 2018

During the State of the Union address, President Trump addressed some of his administration’s plans for dealing with immigration. However, like all politicians, we should not take what they say to heart, rather, we need to look more closely at the details of any policy.

The details of the new administration’s immigration policy were released on January 25 and can be found in a document entitled, White House Framework on Immigration Reform & Border Security

There are four segments within this policy, including Border Security, DACA Legalization, Protecting the Nuclear Family and Eliminate Lottery and Repurpose Visas. The section on Border Security is the longest and is prefaced with the following statement:

The Department of Homeland Security must have the tools to deter illegal immigration; the ability to remove individuals who illegally enter the United States; and the vital authorities necessary to protect national security.

This statement is then followed by these 9 tools:

  1. $25 billion trust fund for the border wall system, ports of entry/exit, and northern border improvements and enhancements.
  2. Close crippling personnel deficiencies by appropriating additional funds to hire new DHS personnel, ICE attorneys, immigration judges, prosecutors and other law enforcement professionals.
  3. Hiring and pay reforms to ensure the recruitment and retention of critically-needed personnel.
  4. Deter illegal entry by ending dangerous statutorily-imposed catch-and-release and by closing legal loopholes that have eroded our ability to secure the immigration system and protect public safety.
  5. Ensure the detention and removal of criminal aliens, gang members, violent offenders, and aggravated felons.
  6. Ensure the prompt removal of illegal border-crossers regardless of country of origin.
  7. Deter visa overstays with efficient removal.
  8. Ensure synthetic drugs (fentanyl) are prevented from entering the country.
  9. Institute immigration court reforms to improve efficiency and prevent fraud and abuse.

Everyone of these tools are designed to not only strengthen border security, they are designed to target undocumented immigrants and to expedite the process of arresting, detaining and deporting undocumented immigrants. In addition, the language used, particularly in points 5 and 8, emphasizes a very negative image of who immigrants are. This language essentially criminalizes immigrants and is part of the government effort to make undocumented immigrants seem as though they are all violent criminals. 

Many of the other points listed in the White House document on immigration talk about adding more immigration judges, more ICE officers and attorneys. These measures are only designed to further target undocumented immigrants and speed up the process of arresting, detaining and deporting people.

The only point that identifies a dollar amount ($25 billion) has to do with the border wall system and ports of entry. Two things are important to note here. First, there already exists roughly 700 miles of border wall and fencing along the US/Mexican border. Much of the existing wall and fencing was built and expanded during the Clinton administration in the 90s. Secondly, walls and barriers of any kind don’t ultimately work as a deterrent to immigration.

The other three areas – DACA Legalization, Protecting the Nuclear Family and Eliminate Lottery and Repurpose Visas – all are framed in a negative way, further criminalizing immigration and making it almost impossible for people to achieve permanent resident status.

What Would Immigration Justice Look Like?

Immigration Justice can never be achieved unless we acknowledge that immigration justice is intertwined with economic & trade policies, militarism, white supremacy and colonialism. In oder to achieve immigration justice we have to work on dismantling white supremacy, colonialism, militarism and economic/trade policies that are rooted in capitalism.There is the common phrased used by immigrants, particularly Mexican immigrants, that says, “we didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us.”

In fact, the very notion of borders is a nation state creation that is ultimately rooted in imperialist expansion. Mexicans would say that a third of the continental US used to be their land and indigenous communities would argue that is was all their land before the European conquest began more than 500 years ago. Thus, the statement, “we didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us,” is not some facetious notion, it is rooted in the historical reality of US imperialist expansion.

Immigration justice would acknowledge that people fleeing their home countries often do so out of economic desperation. This economic desperation is connected to the following dynamics; inequality in their country of origin; World Bank and IMF policies that force austerity measures on countries in the global south; capitalist expansion into new markets, which often undermines localized economies;  and trade policies that are by their very design, meant to benefit large corporations, often displacing people because they can no longer make a living off the land they once owned. The North American Free Trade Agreement is a good example, which has displaced millions from Mexico.

Immigration Justice would also require the US to stop providing weapons to countries like Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras that are used to suppress the populations of those countries; stop providing military advisors and training and stop US military intervention. All these forms of militarism contribute to the displacement of people who often end up coming to the US out of fear for their very lives. A great analysis of US militarism in Mexico is explored in Dawn Paley’s marvelous book, Drug War Capitalism.

Immigration Justice also would encompass things like:

  • Ending the policy of targeting, detaining and deporting immigrants just because they are undocumented.
  • Dismantling the massive detention centers in the US, which are part of the large prison industrial complex.
  • The recognition that if the 11 million undocumented immigrants were all detained or deported, that the US economy would collapse.

The Immigration Justice Movement is growing and challenging policy around DACA, TPS (Temporary Protected Status), and the overall unjust and repressive practice of ICE raids and arrests that create tremendous fear in the immigrant community.

The Immigration Justice Movement is primarily being led by the immigrant community and is no longer asking for reform, but demanding long term solutions. As the Movimiento Cosecha says, “Make no mistake, our movement is stronger than ever. We have structures, strategy, strength, support, and spirit of resilience that it’s rooted in the sentiment of our community so that we will win permanent protection, dignity and respect for ALL immigrants!

However, this movement also need allies and collaborators – those of us with privilege. We need to stand in solidarity with immigrants, educate ourselves about this struggle, provide support and mutual aid to the immigration justice movement, take risks, offer sanctuary and work to prevent the violence and harm that the state – through the courts, ICE, border patrol, local police, detention centers – does to immigrants.




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