Beyond the scandals, Trump’s enmity for immigrants is becoming institutionalized

Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in Phoenix on June 18, 2016. Photo by Gage Skidmore | Flickr

One of the problems with Trump’s scandal-ridden administration, aside from the scandals themselves, is that the media frenzy about the scandals makes it harder to notice the long-term damage being done to vital government agencies.

A case in point: the U.S. immigration system.

We’ve all read the headlines about Trump’s incessant demands for billions to build his “big beautiful wall” and related threats to shut down the government if he doesn’t get his money. Likewise, the President’s decision to send thousands of troops to “guard” the Southwest Border against a fabricated menace has sucked up endless hours of news coverage and wasted, at last count, about $200 million dollars.

None of us is any safer, of course, but it meets Trump’s goal to shore up support with his loyal MAGA-lytes.

Instead of focusing on make-believe invasions or a multi-billion-dollar wall that won’t work and almost certainly will never get built, it’s critical for those who care about the human toll of Trump’s policies and the long-term health of our economy not to lose sight of what average immigrants are facing every day just beyond the media spotlight.

The country’s Dreamers, for instance, are still in limbo. Dreamers are young people who arrived in the U.S. undocumented before they were 16. According to USA Today, about 800,000 children, teens and young adults have formally applied for the temporary status called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Another 1 million are eligible but have not yet applied.

For now, the Dreamers’ fate is bogged down in the courts. Trump wreaked havoc on their young lives last year by ordering the termination of the Obama-initiated program. Many Dreamers have spent almost their entire lives in the U.S. and have little or no familiarity with the countries they left behind.

Try to imagine the psychological trauma Dreamers must be facing because of the program’s uncertainty. Hundreds of thousands of them have grown up to launch careers, get married, buy homes, graduate from college or serve in the military. For those with U.S.-born children, deportation would likely mean the forced separation from their families.

Trump is nevertheless determined to deport them, or at least continue using them as pawns in his push to take an ever-tougher line against immigrants – especially immigrants of color.

As for asylum seekers, Trump remains fixated on the estimated 5,000 people who trekked 2,500 miles, much of it by foot, from Central America and are now stalled in Tijuana. Border Patrol officials defend using the tear gas they lobbed into Mexico to stop a rush of migrants from entering the U.S. last month, and the Trump Administration is doing all it can to bottleneck the asylum application process.

At one point, Trump declared refugees could only apply at official ports of entry. A federal judge rejected the president’s flip directive and affirmed that existing law says anyone seeking asylum can cross the border into the United States anywhere to apply.

Instead of sending troops to the border, the humane act would be to send an army of case workers to speed up the asylum application process.

Trump also takes a dim view of most legal immigrants, Norwegians notwithstanding. Monday was the last day for the public to offer comments to Department of Homeland Security about a proposed plan to make it harder for legal immigrants to get a coveted “green card”, which grants recipients legal permanent residency. In short, if Trump thinks you might use public benefits, like food stamps or Medicaid, and become a “public charge” then you don’t deserve a green card. The rule change could affect hundreds of thousands of immigrants and their families.

In other Trumpian anti-immigrant news:

  • Federal agents are arresting more undocumented immigrants at work, but rarely punishing their employers.
  • Administration efforts to cut overall legal immigration are expected to hit U.S. employers hard, including industries already facing labor shortages, such as housing and agriculture. Our country today has nearly 7 million unfilled jobs, and our aging population, especially among whites, forecasts even greater labor shortages. The truth is, we don’t need fewer immigrants, we need more and soon, or our economy will suffer.
  • Trump has slashed the number of people granted refugee status by the U.S. from nearly 100,000 people annually to just above 30,000, and about one-tenth as many Muslim refugees are being allowed to enter the U.S. now as compared to the last year of the Obama administration. And if you’re from Iran, Syria or Yemen, you’re out of luck.
  • According to a recent report in the New York Times, the number of migrant children being held in federal detention facilities has increased nearly five-fold to about 12,000 children since September 2017. That figure includes about 170 children who were among the more than 2,500 snatched from their parents in the spring and summer. A judge ordered the children returned, but those still in federal custody may never see their parents again.

Finally, let’s not forget the estimated 10.3 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. who live and work among us every day, some whom have been here upwards of 20 years. In truth, most of them have no plans to ever leave and hold out hope that Congress may one day pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill that includes a permanent path to citizenship.

For now, at least, immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers in the U.S. seem destined to live under a president with a penchant for finding ways to make their lives miserable.

James E. Garcia is a journalist, playwright and communications consultant. He is the editor and publisher of Vanguardia Arizona, which covers Latino news statewide. As a journalist, he has worked as a reporter, columnist, editor and foreign correspondent. He was the first Latino Affairs correspondent for KJZZ, and the first Latino editor of major progressive news weekly in the U.S., The San Antonio Current. James has taught writing, ethnic studies, theater and Latino politics at ASU. He is the producing artistic director of New Carpa Theater Co. and the author of more than 30 plays.

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