Diminishing American Dream

by Travis

One year into the Trump Administration, Congress is entering a fierce debate over the nation’s immigration policy. At the center of the debate is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy which gives people who came to the U.S. as undocumented children a legal avenue to stay. In September 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the U.S. would end DACA. In the ensuing months, the President delegated to Congress the responsibility to protect DACA, and any actions to enforce the end of DACA have been deferred.

Also on the table is a version of the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act, introduced by Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), which would reduce legal immigration to the United States by 50% by halving the number of green cards issued. The bill would also impose a cap of 50,000 refugee admissions a year, end the visa diversity lottery, and limit visa sponsorship to spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens while implementing a point-based merit system to prioritize skilled workers. A version of this bill is supported by President Donald Trump.

All this comes after a series of Executive Orders that vastly expanded the authority of individual immigration officers and dramatically increased efforts to detain and deport undocumented immigrants.

As we watch history unfold on immigration, I wonder: What would the Trump Administration do, if they could do anything they want?

Candidate Trump — circling back on history — proposed a “Deportation Force” during the campaign to carry out his plans, modeled after the 1950s-era “Operation Wetback” program during the Eisenhower administration, which was utilized to enforce the Immigration Act of 1952. That program ended following a congressional investigation, as the military-style operation was both inhumane and ineffective.

But proposals from the Trump Administration hearken back even further. Limits to legal immigration began in earnest with the Immigration Act of 1924 — which was, coincidentally, the height of Ku Klux Klan participation in American politics. The Immigration Act introduced numerical caps or quotas based on country of origin that limited the number of immigrants. While the law was primarily aimed at restricting immigration of Italians, Slavs, and Jews, it severely limited immigration of Africans and banned the immigration of Arabs and Asians. Trump’s Attorney General stated that the 1924 Immigration Act was “good for America.”

Understandably, proponents of legal immigration have little trust in the Trump Administration on the topic.

Executive Orders Review

Trump signed his first two Executive Orders on immigration on January 25, 2017. EO 13767, titled “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements,” directs the immediate detainment and deportation of illegal immigrants and directs the US Customs and Border Protection to hire 5,000 additional border patrol agents, in addition to authorizing (but not appropriating for) the construction of the border wall.

EO 13768, titled “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” increased immigration enforcement along a new series of categories for undocumented immigrants that immigration law enforcement officials should prioritize for removing from the country, a reaction to what was criticized by the right as lax enforcement of immigration law by former President Barack Obama.

“The Obama administration had prioritized expulsion of undocumented immigrants who threatened public safety or national security, had ties to criminal gang activity, committed serious felony offenses or were habitual misdemeanor criminal offenders. But experts say the descriptions include virtually every person in the country illegally and give broad latitude to individual immigration officers to decide who should be detained for deportation.”

EO 13769 was signed on January 27, 2017 (and its rewrite, 13780, on March 16), titled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” aka, in Trump’s words, the “Muslim ban.” Implicated by this order is 8 U.S.C. Sec. 1182, Section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952. In defense of the proposed ban, Trump cited President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s use during World War II of the Alien and Sedition Acts to round up, detain, and deport German, Japanese, and Italian immigrants, saying: “I mean, take a look at what FDR did many years ago and he’s one of the most highly respected presidents. I mean respected by most people. They named highways after him.”

Finally, EO 13776, titled the “Presidential Executive Order on a Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety,” signed February 7, 2017, comprehensively address illegal immigration, drug trafficking, and violent crime. The action directs Attorney General Jeff Sessions to assemble a task force in order to identify new strategies and laws to reduce crime, and to evaluate how well crime data is being collected and leveraged across the country.

The Department of Homeland Security released two memos laying out guidelines for the implementation of his executive orders, detailing the increased authority federal officials will have to detain and deport immigrants in the US illegally and expanding the pool of unauthorized immigrants subject to “expedited removal” — that is, removal that bypasses court proceedings.

Parts of EOs 13768 and 13769 have been declared unconstitutional by Circuit Court judges, and further legal challenges await. With these EOs in place, the White House has widened the net to potentially ensnare more people with minor criminal histories, under the pretext of enforcing “public security.”

“Low-Hanging Fruit” and Sagging Deportations

As a result of these EOs, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) immigration arrests are up nearly 40% since Trump came to office, which they brag about on their website:

“In the 100 days since President Donald J. Trump signed Executive Orders (EOs) regarding immigration enforcement priorities, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has arrested more than 41,000 individuals who are either known or suspected of being in the country illegally. This reflects an increase of 37.6 percent over the same period in 2016.”

The agency arrested more than 28,000 “non-criminal immigration violators” between Jan. 22 and Sept. 2, according to the agency’s records, a nearly threefold increase over the same period in 2016. Likewise, the Justice Department reported that Total Orders of Removal and Voluntary Departures were up 30.9 percent over the same time period in 2016.

But deportations have been slow. The U.S. federal immigration court system faces a backlog of more than 600,000 cases: “It may take years before immigrants arrested under Trump can be deported after exhausting their appeals.”

To boost sagging deportation stats, ICE began deporting immigrants who showed up for their regularly-scheduled “check-ins” with ICE officers: “Under the previous administration, many were allowed to stay for humanitarian reasons if they faithfully appeared for periodic meetings with ICE and didn’t commit crimes.”

This year, an unknown number who appeared for ICE check-ins were arrested or given an ultimatum to leave: “’This is all about the low-hanging fruit,’ said Charles Kuck, an Atlanta immigration attorney who teaches at Emory University. ‘It’s how you can spend the least amount of money to get higher deportation numbers.’”

In the yet-to-be-decided SCOTUS case Jennings vs Rodriguez, the highest court will decide whether the government could indefinitely detain plaintiffs challenging a government decision on immigration status or whether a judicial bond hearing must be granted beginning at six months and held every six months thereafter. On August 26, 2016, then-acting Solicitor General Ian Gershengorn informed the Supreme Court that the solicitor general’s office “underestimated the average time that illegal immigrants spent in detention while waiting to appeal their case. The solicitor general’s office had told the court in 2003 that the average detention time was four months. … average detention time was actually more than a year.” A November 2016 Bloomberg report indicated that 41,000 individuals were held in immigration detention facilities.

In many parts of our nation, the Trump Administration’s “widened net” has created a fear society: In places like Owensboro, Kentucky, where the children of a deported immigrant decided to immigrate to Mexico to avoid foster care – only after they were able to crowd-source the funds to do so; and in places like Austin, Texas, children have stopped going to school to avoid ICE officers:

“‘There are teachers who told me they had students missing from school out of fear,’ said Greg Casar, a city council member in Austin, Texas. ‘I was with a constituent, a single mother with kids — good, hardworking everyday folks — and she had duct-taped sheets up and down her windows. ICE had come and knocked on her door earlier in the day.'”

And in places like Detroit, Michigan: Jorge Garcia (pictured above) was one of those recently deported after meeting with ICE as part of a regular check-in in November 2017, where he was informed that he had to leave the U.S. and would be detained. The 39-year old landscaper was deported on MLK Jr. Day:

“Jorge Garcia was brought to the U.S. by an undocumented family member when he was 10 years old. Today he has a wife and two children, all of whom are U.S. citizens. He’s been trying for years to find a path to live legally in the U.S., with he and his wife spending $125,000 in legal costs and fees since 2005, says his wife.

“Garcia had been facing an order of removal from immigration courts since 2009, but under the previous administration, he had been given stays of removal.  But because of the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown, Garcia was ordered in November to return to Mexico. His supporters say he has no criminal record — not even a traffic ticket — and pays taxes every year.”

I recommend you read the whole piece, but this part stuck out:

“Especially painful will be being separated from his children, Soleil (15) and Jorge Garcia Jr., 12. The Garcias said their 12-year-old son has been taking the news hard, not expressing himself, which is concerning his parents.

“‘I’m going to be sad because I’m not going to be able to be with them,’ Garcia said at the table of a friend’s home in southwest Detroit during a farewell party for him. ‘It’s going to be kind of hard for me to adjust, too. Not being there with them, helping the kids with school stuff. It’s going to be kind of hard. But it’s something, I guess I got to find a way to adjust.'”

In any other Administration, the traditional Republican position would champion this cause and fight like hell to get this family’s father back, in support of “family values.” But Trump’s immigration policies are not aligned with “family values.” His policies requires the ability to see other humans as less than human, based on their country of origin and the color of their skin.

That’s not a bug of Trump’s worldview; it’s a feature.

Economic Benefits of Immigration

There are little-to-no ethical arguments to support mass deportation of non-criminal immigrants in this country. Turns out, there’s not much of an empirical argument for it, either.

The fiscally-conservative American Action Forum group estimates that deporting every undocumented immigrant would cause a slump of $381.5 billion to $623.2 billion in private sector output, amounting to roughly a loss of 2% of U.S. GDP.

In his wonderful 2015 piece titled “The Case for Getting Rid of Borders—Completely,” Alex Tabarrok cites two studies, saying:

“Economists have estimated that a world of open borders would double world GDP. Even relatively small increases in immigration flows can have enormous benefits. If the developed world were to take in enough immigrants to enlarge its labor force by a mere one percent, it is estimated that the additional economic value created would be worth more to the migrants than all of the world’s official foreign aid combined.”

Studies also show immigration is a net-benefit for an area, particularly when second and third-plus generation families remain in the United States. From one particular study:

“Immigration is integral to the nation’s economic growth. The inflow of labor supply has helped the United States avoid the problems facing other economies that have stagnated as a result of unfavorable demographics, particularly the effects of an aging work force and reduced consumption by older residents. In addition, the infusion of human capital by high-skilled immigrants has boosted the nation’s capacity for innovation, entrepreneurship, and technological change.”

The George W. Bush Center illuminates how the benefits of immigration outweigh the costs:

“When immigrants enter the labor force, they increase the productive capacity of the economy and raise GDP. Their incomes rise, but so do those of natives. It’s a phenomenon dubbed the “immigration surplus.’”

What’s more, those benefits are felt even if that immigration is illegal.

Finally, construction of the border wall is not only an ineffective and costly method of maintaining border security; it’s also legally difficult. About two-thirds of the U.S.–Mexico border runs along private or state-owned lands. The federal government must either purchase or seize that land through eminent domain to build any border wall. The “process is likely to cost the government millions and could take years of complex litigation,” as was the case for preexisting border walls.

To me, the answer is simple, and defending DACA is not enough: Drop the walls, open the borders, streamline the naturalization process, and let the market decide legal immigration. This country is founded on the idea of opportunity and upward mobility for all those who come to it. That’s the American Dream, and it’s under attack, as Jeff Sessions made clear on Fox News last week:

“What good does it do to bring in somebody who’s illiterate in their own country, has no skills, & is going to struggle in our country & not be successful? That is not what a good nation should do, and we need to get away from it.”

Trump and Sessions are wrong: An influx of new Americans will benefit us all. The foreigner’s desire to become an American is not an insult to our shared culture; it is an exaltation of it.