IMMIGRANT RIGHTS: Trump’s policies are undermining American exceptionalism
Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey (U.S. Senate Photographic Studio-Rebecca Hammel/U.S. Senate Photographic Studio-)
After only one month of the Trump presidency, immigrant communities have come under assault as the administration translates nationalist campaign rhetoric into actual policy.
President Trump’s unconstitutional Muslim ban and mass deportation agenda are instilling fear and chaos in communities that are likely to keep children out of school, families from going to church, and immigrants from reporting crimes.
The administration’s inherently flawed and inward-looking approach to immigration means we no longer prioritize deporting serious criminals or violent gang members that threaten our nation’s security and public safety.
Instead, Trump’s policies make every undocumented immigrant fair game and at risk for deportation. They will push families into hiding, erode police-community relations, and ultimately make us all less safe.
I believe most Americans agree that treating an immigrant mother the same as a violent criminal is irresponsible and a waste of resources.
And yet, Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers last month were following their new marching orders when they arrested and deported Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos as she was doing a periodic check-in with her local ICE office in Arizona.
As victims of Trump’s mass deportation plan, this family has been torn apart. Garcia de Rayos’ young U.S. citizen children are now forced to grow up without their mother despite her living here for two decades while posing no threat to anyone.
Her deportable criteria? Using false documents to get a job to provide for her children, while paying taxes. The well-being of an estimated 4.1 million U.S. citizen children across the country is now in jeopardy simply because they live in a household where one parent is undocumented.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is deputizing local and state law enforcement to act as federal deportation agents to carry out these misguided polices and round up immigrants.
Resurrecting failed programs like Secure Communities will only serve to open the doors to racial profiling, and silence some of the most vulnerable among us.
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) safeguards immigrant victims of domestic violence against deportation if they meet a set of strict requirements. These protections only work when there is a separation between ICE and local police in order for cops to build trust and encourage victims to report crime.
But trust crumbles when a domestic abuse victim, like the case in Texas, is picked up at a courthouse after her abuser tipped off ICE. We should all be outraged. It is reprehensible to empower abusers to continue their cycle of violence by allowing them to prey on their victim’s fear and immigration status.
Past Presidents – Republicans and Democrats alike – have recognized that only certain undocumented immigrants should be a priority for deportation by considering humanitarian factors when exercising prosecutorial discretion.
But the Trump deportation agenda makes no sense from a fiscal, practical or humane perspective; it is disturbing to see DHS chart out an execution strategy that will surely lead to the unlawful and erroneous detention of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents. These policies will demonize the immigrant community at a high human and economic cost.
New Jersey has the fifth-largest immigrant population, according to a report from the New American Economy, with 1.9 million residents – or 22% of the state’s population.
In 2014, these immigrants paid $19.6 billion in taxes and wielded a spending power of $54.6 billion. Undocumented immigrants in New Jersey paid $1.2 billion in taxes, leaving them with a spending power of $8.5 billion. These undocumented immigrants also contributed $179.4 million to Medicare and $695.3 million to Social Security in 2014.
As the son of Cuban immigrants who, like today’s wave of immigrants, came to this country for a better life, I have always believed that our nation’s ability to embrace diversity was not only a character strength, but something that made us more competitive in the global marketplace.
Americans from across the entire political spectrum must come together and take a realistic look at what we can do to uphold our founding principle of welcoming "huddled masses yearning to breathe free." Those of us who believe deeply in the American Dream and the need for immigration reform cannot be complacent.
We must let our voices be heard, speak truth to power and use this moment to mobilize and stand in solidarity with those being unjustly targeted.
We must reject mass deportations and invest in our nation’s multiculturalism, embrace hard-working immigrants, and rise up to protect our democracy.
Robert Menendez is the U.S. Senator (D.) for New Jersey.