Donald Trump promised a deportation force, and in a six-month-old administration that has broken promise after promise, it’s one of the few things he’s been able to see through so far. While past administrations set the deportation machinery in place, it’s Trump who slammed on the gas and made just about any undocumented immigrant in the U.S. vulnerable to deportation. For many of the ICE agents who opposed Barack Obama’s efforts to prioritize the deportations of only immigrants who actually do pose a threat to public safety, Trump is the president they’ve been waiting for. The shift in culture at ICE has been so dramatic, that a “disillusioned” veteran agent is now anonymously speaking out through the New Yorker:
The agent, who has worked in federal immigration enforcement since the Clinton Administration, has been unsettled by the new order at ICE. During the campaign, many rank-and-file agents publicly cheered Trump’s pledge to deport more immigrants, and, since Inauguration Day, the Administration has explicitly encouraged them to pursue the undocumented as aggressively as possible. “We’re going to get sued,” the agent told me at one point. “You have guys who are doing whatever they want in the field, going after whoever they want.” At first, the agent spoke to me on the condition that I not publish anything about our conversations. But that has changed. Increasingly angry about the direction in which ICEis moving, the agent agreed last week to let me publish some of the details of our talks, as long as I didn’t include identifying information.
“We used to look at things through the totality of the circumstances when it came to a removal order—that’s out the window,” the agent told the New Yorker. “I don’t know that there’s that appreciation of the entire realm of what we’re doing. It’s not just the person we’re removing. It’s their entire family. People say, ‘Well, they put themselves in this position because they came illegally.’ I totally understand that. But you have to remember that our job is not to judge. The problem is that now there are lots of people who feel free to feel contempt.”
The reasons cited by the agent for speaking out include the treatment of Central American refugees who arrived to the U.S. as unaccompanied minors. Many of these children and youth—who have escaped unspeakable horror and gang violence in their home countries—have been placed with relatives already in the U.S., and have become a part of their neighborhoods and schools. But now that many are turning 18 and are entering adulthood, they are falling onto the radar of Donald Trump’s deportation force. Just weeks ago, New York high school student Diego Ismael Puma Macancelawas arrested by ICE on the same day as his prom:
“I don’t see the point in it,” the agent said. “The plan is to take them back into custody, and then figure it out. I don’t understand it. We’re doing it because we can, and it bothers the hell out of me.”
The agent went on, “The whole idea is targeting kids. I know that technically they meet the legal definition of being adults. Fine. But if they were my kids travelling in a foreign country, I wouldn’t be O.K. with this. We’re not doing what we tell people we do. If you look next month, or at the end of this month, at the people in custody, it’s people who’ve been here for years. They’re supposed to be in high school.”
The agent also cites the administration going after families who are trying to reunite in the U.S.:
The agent was especially concerned about a new policy that allows ICE to investigate cases of immigrants who may have paid smugglers to bring their children or relatives into the country. ICE considers these family members guilty of placing children “directly in harm’s way,” as one spokeswoman recently put it, and the agency will hold them “accountable for their role in these conspiracies.” According to ICE, these measures will help combat “a constant humanitarian threat,” but the agent said that rationale was just a pretext to increase arrests and eventually deport more people. “We seem to be targeting the most vulnerable people, not the worst.” The agent also believes that the policy will make it harder for the government to handle unaccompanied children who show up at the border. “You’re going to have kids stuck in detention because parents are too scared of being prosecuted to want to pick them up!” the agent said.
And none of this is making us any safer, or finally finding a fix to our nation’s broken immigration system. What it is doing is padding deportation numbers on the backs of immigrant families trying to realize the American Dream. Meanwhile, Donald Trump keeps claiming he’s targeting only dangerous people and “bad hombres” for deportation. That’s a lie, like so much of everything else coming out of his mouth.