The Trump administration is waging a war on immigrants with many fronts, including: Adopting "zero tolerance" policies at the border, expanding detention, seeking ways to limit legal immigration, making it harder for people to become permanent residents and citizens, and launching a massive review of people who have become naturalized citizens. On all fronts, Trump’s war is being waged using existing policy instruments and institutions. We must acknowledge this reality - as the entire system is deeply flawed. At the same time, Trump has gone to extraordinary lengths to generate fear and make an inhumane system even more intolerable.
As we reported last week, the Trump administration declared that it was unable to locate the parents of over 500 children separated from their families at the border, and suggested that the ACLU would be better placed to find them. U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw said that this was unacceptable:
"Many of these parents were removed from the country without their child," Sabraw said. "All of this is the result of the government's separation and then inability and failure to track and reunite. And the reality is that for every parent who is not located there will be a permanently orphaned child. And that is 100 percent the responsibility of the administration."
Sabraw [also] said the government must identify a person or team to oversee the remaining reunification process, potentially from the State Department or the Department of Health and Human Services, and produce a plan as to how reunification would be accomplished.
Contrary to Trump’s assertion that family separation was simply a by-product of enforcement of federal law - it now seems clear (not that we ever doubted it) that the administration sought to target families for enforcement. The organization Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) has issued a new report, Death by a Thousand Cuts, which documents step by step the policy changes employed by the Trump administration to target children and families for enforcement.
All of this was done intentionally to spread fear and to discourage migration to the United States, and the administration is not done yet, as it seeks to alter the Flores Agreement in order to detain children and families longer. From Newsweek:
The Trump administration had argued last month that in order for it to end its family separation policy, it would need to be able to detain children with their families longer than the 20-day maximum period outlined in the Flores agreement.
The administration's bid to modify the decades-old deal was shot down by Judge Dolly M. Gee of the Federal District Court in Los Angeles, however, with the judge saying there was no basis for changing the agreement and that it was an issue the legislative branch would have to solve.
"They are claiming that much of this is a deterrent, to deter future immigration," [KIND spokesperson] McKenna said. "But, we see it as, if it's a matter of life or death, they are going to come anyway—and for many of the children we represent, it really is a matter of life or death."
Legal immigrants under fire
As reported by NBC News, the Trump administration is expected to issue an order that would make it more difficult for people to become permanent residents and then citizens.
The Trump administration is expected to issue a proposal in coming weeks that would make it harder for legal immigrants to become citizens or get green cards if they have ever used a range of popular public welfare programs, including Obamacare, four sources with knowledge of the plan told NBC News.
The move, which would not need congressional approval, is part of White House senior adviser Stephen Miller's plan to limit the number of migrants who obtain legal status in the U.S. each year.
The plan will move to the Federal Register soon - where some period of public comment should be available. Until then, you can call the White House and let them know that this is wrong! White House comment line: 202-456-1111.
Just in case we thought creating a dragnet at the border, separating children from their families as a matter of policy, and seeking to block legal immigrants from obtaining green cards and or seeking citizenship is not enough, the Trump administration is also launching a “de-naturalization” task force that could potentially strip people of their citizenship. The announcement was made several weeks ago. Vox created an informative background piece on denaturalization, its history, and what the current mandate is (or at least, what it is supposed to be).
On the current mandate of the taskforce, it is really limited to reviewing fingerprint records on some 300,000 + applications, to check if anyone had applied for citizenship under a false name. As explained by Vox:
The denaturalization task force that USCIS is assembling now is the next phase of something that, under the Obama administration, was called “Operation Janus” — and that stretches all the way back to the Bush era.
In 2008, a Customs and Border Protection agent discovered that more than 200 people from four countries had become US citizens despite having past deportation orders — something that should have, legally, disqualified them from naturalization — because the deportation order was under one name and identity and the citizenship had been granted to another. The identity fraud hadn’t been caught because the fraudsters’ fingerprints hadn’t been digitized, and so they hadn’t turned up matches in an existing DHS database.
DHS subsequently launched a task force to figure out just how many fingerprint records it was missing from people who should be barred from citizenship. In 2011, it calculated that the answer was 315,000: people who’d been convicted of crimes or were fugitives, or who had been ordered deported from the US since 1990. About half of the 315,000 print sets ultimately got digitized, but the department ran out of money before it could finish the job.
This does not mean that there are hundreds of thousands of fraudulently naturalized citizens out there. It just means that any one set of missing fingerprints might theoretically match to someone who had become naturalized under a different identity.
In late 2016, the government started accelerating its Operation Janus efforts again. In September 2017, the DOJ filed its first three civil denaturalization suits under Operation Janus. (The first successful denaturalization order under the operation was issued in January.)
In June 2018, the director of USCIS, Cissna, announced that he was hiring a team of attorneys for a separate office in California for the purpose of investigating the remaining Operation Janus cases and making the necessary referrals to the Department of Justice for prosecution.
Every week seems to bring some new horror, some new step intended to make life harder for people who have migrated to this country. The Trump administration’s war on immigration has laid bare the inequities in our immigration system. It must be taken apart and rebuilt with a new set of principles at its heart; principles that recognize the fundamental rights of all people, wherever they are born, to live free of violence, intimidation and economic degradation.