Editor’s Note: This article is the first of a series of guest blog posts written by immigration reform activists, community leaders, and immigrant families.
Our first guest is Chasity Alvarez, an administrator of Families Advocating Immigration Reform & Unity (FAIR Unity), one of the most active immigrant support groups on Facebook.
We hope you like the addition of guest posts to Immigration Law, Policy, And Politics, and encourage you to contact us if you would like to be featured here.
As 2018 begins, there are several issues which all immigrants and their families will need to face in the coming year.
Before jumping in, I would first like to address a point raised by President Trump last year.
My intention is to show it’s hard, at best, to trust his comments on any immigration-related issue.
“Illegal immigration on the U.S.-Mexico border is the lowest in 17 years.”
Donald Trump April 15th, 2017
According to The U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Trump’s April 2017 statement is true. The trend however didn’t start with Trump. It actually started under Obama in 2009 when the recession hit, and has continued to decline since. The reasons for this are a stronger Mexican economy, a lower birth rate, and better educational opportunities in Mexico.
It would be unfair to suggest Trump’s comments on illegal immigration haven’t deterred would be immigrants, but not at the numbers he suggests.
Looking back, it is unclear why Trump mentioned this fact. Perhaps his goal was to claim progress on his promises to curb the number of new immigrants merely three months into his first term.
If the numbers are, in fact, down, then why is a wall needed?
Now for my predictions.
1. The Push For The DREAM Act Will Grow But At What Cost?
On September 5, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that DACA would be phased out as of March 5, 2018. At the time of the announcement, Trump alluded to the fact that if Congress didn’t act within the six month time frame, he would come up with something on his own. We know, then, something for Dreamers is promised, be it another executive order or an act of Congress. What happens remain to be seen.
A full copy of Sessions announcement can be found here: Attorney General Sessions Delivers Remarks On DACA.
“The compassionate thing,” noted Sessions, “is to end the lawlessness, enforce our laws, and, if Congress chooses to make changes to those laws, to do so through the process set forth by our Founders in a way that advances the interest of the nation.”
If we read between the lines of Sessions’ statement, we learn the Trump administration has no desire to forgive anyone, opting instead for more punitive measures, including mass deportations.
What we can expect in 2018 is for deportations to rise, at the cost of families, including those of American citizens and those of Dreamers.
Whereas it’s likely that some form of legislation will be brought to the floor in regards to Dreamers, that legislation will carry a hefty price. The Border Fence will very likely be tacked on to any bill proposed, and enforcement of current immigration laws will be a top priority. In short, an increase to what we are already seeing and have been seeing for years.
2. The Border Wall Will Become Irrelevant But Not In An Mid-Term Election Year
In August 2017, four companies were contracted to build a total of eight prototypes for the U.S. – Mexican border. Looking at the geography aspect of a border wall, two-thirds of the border runs along rivers, namely the Rio Bravo which is protected under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
A full copy of the treaty can be found here: Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
Article VII of the Treaty allows full access to the River by both countries. In other words, to complete the wall, the fencing would have to be built on the banks and not in the river itself, unless Mexico agreed otherwise.
Building a structure on the banks of a river doesn’t work for obvious reasons. Ranchers, living on the Southwestern borders would have their properties seized as part of the border wall construction.
California is home to some very impressive and massive sand dunes. The ecosystem would be severely altered, perhaps even destroyed, which would have serious long term affects on animal and plant life in the region. The length of this area is about 1,000 square miles.
Mountains, deserts and National Forests are all part of the Southern Border. A wall would disrupt the natural habitat of animals, and also require private land from home owners. Erecting a wall would be no small feat, even if the money was allotted, which it still has not been. (We will have to wait until we see the full tax bill, to know exactly what is planned for the fence.)
In the event the details do get worked out, and the funding comes through, I doubt the project would ever be completed. The obstacles are too great.
3. Mass Deportations Will Increase But “Deportations” Remains A Statistical Game
Between 2009 and 2015, close to three million people were deported, earning then-President Obama the title “Deporter-In-Chief”. However the statistics are a little flawed.
When the second Bush took office, deportations were classified differently than how they did when he left office. What was once deemed “toss backs” (people caught at the border/voluntary departure) were changed to be considered deportations. Had “toss backs” been considered deportations in 2004, Bush’s numbers would have been much higher.
According to the Associated Press, arrests under Trump are higher than under Obama. Deportations are not. Part of that again falls back to border apprehensions. Illegal entry is down considerably today, than it was just one year ago. According to PEW, border crossings by Mexican Nationals are at net zero. What this does mean however, is more people are being detained.
To simplify what is happening is, there are more arrests and deportations at the interior level, under Trump than there were under Obama, and there were more exterior (or at the border) arrests and deportations under Obama than Trump.
If I had to guess, I would say that deportations will climb under Trump, but so far, the data just isn’t there. Perhaps Trump will use those people who are currently being detained, as leverage for a DACA-like program.
4. Legalization Efforts Grow Cold But Refuse To Die
If the SAFE (Securing Active and Fair Enforcement) Act is any indication of what 2018 holds, it won’t be good for immigrants nor their family members. Under the SAFE Act, a person who is in the country illegally, would receive mandatory detention.
What this bill shows us is that Republicans are still invested in punitive measures, opposed to a pathway to legalization.
It’s my prediction that mandatory detentions will rise at an alarming level. The for profit prison industry is the fastest growing industry in the country. We rank number one in the developed world for most citizens incarcerated per capita. Although it’s fictional, Piper Kerman’s Netflex hit, “Orange is the New Black”, explains how for profit prisons work, or rather how they don’t.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, for-profit companies were responsible for approximately 7 percent of state prisoners and 18 percent of federal prisoners in 2015. That number will only climb as more and more for profit prisons are being built every year.
6. New Court Strategies Will Evolve As Backlogged Cases Grow
Courts are already backlogged. My husband’s case, for instance, started in 2011. We are still not beyond the master calendar hearing stage. The average wait between court dates is two years at the Chicago court. That backlog is only going to grow over the coming years, and the impact of the Obama and Trump enforcement measures will be long felt in court rooms across the nation.
There are not enough judges to handle the number of cases that are coming before them. Not only does that drag out the deportation hearings, but it also strains cases. In a rush to move people through court, it’s hard for immigration judges to take the time necessary to hear cases and make their decisions.
I hear lawyers telling their clients all the time to not put so much into their defense. “The judge will become upset if they are wading through that much evidence.” If I have heard that said once, I have heard it said one thousand times. Less is more. But is it?
[Carlos Batara’s Note: I disagree with those lawyers as well. You should use all that you have to help prove what you need to demonstrate.]
If the courts are so backlogged now, that one cannot defend their case properly, how much worse will that become with an influx of deportation hearings? Much worse.
Under Trump, we know from his campaign promises, his priority is first and foremost militarizing the Southern Border, with mass deportations a close second.
As someone who is watching all these actions unfold from the “American Citizen married to an undocumented immigrant” perspective, I have to admit nothing I see is comforting.
I don’t see the Dreamers “winning”. I don’t see the spouses of United States citizens “winning”.
But I also don’t see total chaos either.
While I fully understand Trump’s desires, I am not of the opinion that he will be successful on half of them.
There is a process he must follow, and we do have the mid-term elections to look forward to. There is hope out there, even though it looks bleak at the moment. The biggest advice I would give to those who are legal voters, is to get out there and vote in the mid-terms. We can’t let the platform of hate spread, and the burden rests with us. I am encouraged by our youth, who are stepping up and out for equality, and therefore, hope lives.
If you’re an immigrant here without authorization, I recommend talking with a immigration defense lawyer who is experienced in such cases. Weigh your options, don’t bury your head in the sand, and do not get comfortable. Keep your nose clean, do not drive, or commit any crimes. Take ownership for your part in this, trust me, accountability will go far.
Realize we are not innocent in all of this. We all made decisions that landed us in this situation, and right or wrong we have to own it. We can’t continue to play the beat down victim routine. We have to get proactive, or give up.
The ball is in our court when it comes to the mid-terms. Again, if you are a legal voter, vote. Become informed.
Edited by Carlos Batara, Immigration Law, Policy, And Politics