Posted by Ryan Suto on June 22, 2019 in Blog

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Beginning early tomorrow morning, federal immigration officials will begin conducting a mass roundup of migrant families in and near ten cities: Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, and San Francisco. According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) acting director Mark Morgan, the agency plans to target 2,040 families who have received deportation orders for failure to appear to court hearings as part of an expedited docket at immigration courts.

While about 99% of migrant families appear for their immigration court dates, the expedited nature of the proceedings for these families may have made preparing for immigration hearings more difficult. Migrant families need time to find pro bono lawyers or advocacy organizations to help prepare their cases and generally do not maintain a set living address in order to receive legal notice of court dates. Migrant families often face other challenges to compliance which are specific to their circumstances, such as fear or interacting with any government institution, difficulties in understanding the meaning of official documents, and inflexible work schedules.

Despite how targeted these raids may sound, they will surely impact migrant communities more broadly. ICE officials have noted that they may conduct “collateral arrests” by finding migrants at target locations or near target families. An ongoing ICE operation continues to target migrants with criminal backgrounds, and another operation targeting worksites is planned, as well. The announcement of the raids ahead of time, along with the raids themselves, were designed as a show of force to deter further migration into the United States. However, like previous attempts by this administration to deter migrants such as the family separation policy, it will prove to be cruel, unnecessary, politically motivated, and ineffective.

A crisis of choice.

While Mark Morgan claims that ICE has “no choice” but to conduct such raids, there are less than 1 million migrants with deportation orders in a country with a population of nearly 330 million. And while the Trump administration attempts to dangerously scapegoat immigrants at any opportunity,  the Marshall Project and the New York Times found no link between increased illegal immigration and higher crime rates. This administration, like others before it, has chosen to ignore the root causes of why so many people are willing to risk such horrible conditions to leave Central America to enter the U.S. by any means necessary. Instead, this administration has chosen to run concentration camps for migrants and has chosen to systematically violate the basic human rights of migrant children. And this weekend, ICE has chosen to target over 2,000 families when the agency has only 800 available beds in family detention centers. This administration does have a choice, and it has chosen to target the most vulnerable among us.

In escaping extreme violence and poverty, for which U.S. policies are partly responsible, migrants knowingly risk unimaginable suffering and death for a glimmer of hope that a safe and stable future might be possible somewhere, perhaps in the United States. The raids this weekend, which resemble raids conducted under the Obama administration, constitute the latest attempt by the Trump administration to opt for the least humane ways available to re-victimize newcomers. Along the U.S. southern border, guards in U.S. detention facilities hand toddlers to detained teenagers for care. The U.S. government argued in federal court that the government need not provide soap or beds to children that the government chose to detain. Four toddlers were rushed to the hospital after lawyers observed the inhumane conditions at a U.S. government facility. Thousands of children have reported being sexually abused by U.S. facility staff. And at least seven children have died in U.S. custody in less than a year.

The role of Congress.

Congress has a moral obligation to act and ensure that those in custody are treated with dignity and compassion. Last month, the Trump administration requested a $4.5 billion increase in funding for the southern border, including $33.7 million for increased removals and $340 million for more beds in detention facilities. Earlier this week The Senate Appropriations Committee, in a bipartisan vote, approved a spending bill that is largely responsive to the administration’s request.

The House appears likely to try to limit funds to humanitarian purposes, stipulating that appropriated money cannot be used for a border wall, for example. It is difficult to predict whether such limitations would actually tie the hands of the Trump administration from simply detaining and deporting more migrants without improving the conditions of those already in government custody. However, House leaders expect their version to see a floor vote as early as next week, which will likely differ from the Senate spending package and require further negotiations ahead of the Independence Day recess.

Regardless of what Congress decides next week, the legislative branch has already failed to address over two years of unprecedentedly callous and cruel immigration policies. As some elected officials maliciously stall nearly any legislative efforts and others spend more time on the campaign trail than at the southern border, more families will surely be destroyed and more children will likely be killed. If we have ever asked ourselves, what would we do if our government committed systematic, widespread human rights violations of choice targeted at already victimized communities, we now know the answer.