Federal authorities are snatching immigrants with seemingly little coherence, taking them from outside of schools and inside courtrooms, and depositing them in a shadowy court process where they are at deep disadvantage. That’s not a way to make the country safer – it’s a recipe for chaos and suffering.
Maine received a whiff of it last week as a 28-year-old Somali immigrant was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents following a court appearance in Portland.
It is concerning that, as in other cases across the country, Abdi Ali, an asylum seeker who lives in Westbrook, was picked up in a courthouse, where others with vulnerable immigration status go to seek justice and otherwise participate in our legal system.
Ali appears to have a long criminal history, although it is unclear just what triggered last week’s detention – the Trump administration hasn’t exactly been open with the rules of what is already an opaque process, just adding to the uncertainty.
And there have been countless others caught up in the ICE dragnet who have not committed any serious crimes, people with real connections to their communities who have seen their lives torn apart for no good reason.
A woman and small-business owner in Lawrence, Massachusetts, who raised three children here. A man arrested while dropping his children off at school. A woman in El Paso, Texas, who was picked up while seeking a protection from abuse order.
Violent criminals have rightly been detained, too, continuing the policy of the Obama administration.
But for many, their only crime is being in the country at all, or for some, a misdemeanor or two. And when it is unclear who is being targeted for deportation, everyone feels like they are in the crosshairs.
That is sending a chilling message to millions of noncitizens who now fear that any misstep, or even leaving their house, can lead to deportation. Do we really want to rip apart families, or send asylum seekers back to their war-torn countries, for a violation that barely warrants probation?
It’s also critical that we ask what we want of the immigrants, documented and otherwise, who have laid down roots here, had children, worked, and paid taxes. Do we want them to trust our institutions, to come forward as crime victims and witnesses, or do we want them to avoid the authorities at all costs?
Do we want them to participate in their communities, start businesses, and take part in their kids’ education, or should they remain forever separate until the day ICE takes them off a sidewalk?
The increased enforcement by the Trump administration has answered both questions in the most counterproductive way. The cold-hearted arrests of people who pose no undue risk to public safety, and certainly no risk to national security, when taken alongside the president’s well-known inflammatory rhetoric against noncitizens, are making it harder for immigrants to contribute in the way we expect.
We’d be much better off if President Trump threw his energy into creating an immigration system that moves people who are already integrated into American society clearly and fairly toward citizenship, or at least allows for the stability of legal status, and which provides protection for those seeking asylum.
Trump, too, could do better than his predecessor in dealing with the deportation of violent criminals, a problem that vexed President Obama.
At least then he would be making the U.S. more safe, rather than strafing anxiety and fear through a population that only wants safe harbor and opportunity.