President-elect Donald Trump told CBS’ “60 Minutes” on Sunday that he intends to deport or “incarcerate” 2 million or “even 3 million” people “that are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers.” That’s a far cry from the president-elect’s campaign promises to deport all 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the US, but it’s still likely put the US on course for massive rights violations.
We know this because it’s been done before. Targeting people for immigration enforcement through the criminal justice system is not new policy. Neither is deporting millions of people. In the first six years of the Obama administration, officials deported 2 million people purportedly targeting, as Obama said in strikingly similar terms, “criminals, gang bangers, [and] people who are hurting the community.” But that is not what happened.
Instead, the government criminalized migrants and used minor infractions to target them. The New York Times found in 2014 that two-thirds of the Obama’s administration’s then nearly 2 million deportations involved people who had committed minor infractions, including traffic violations, or had no criminal record. Many deportations were initiated via the administration’s now-terminated program – Secure Communities – which enmeshed local policing with immigration enforcement and in some ways actually made communities less safe as a result.
When immigration agencies try to deport millions of “criminals,” people like Melida Ruiz and her family pay the price. Melida, a lawful permanent resident, is a grandmother who has lived in the United States since 1981. She was held in immigration detention for seven months in 2011, fighting deportation based on a 2002 misdemeanor drug conviction, her sole conviction in more than 30 years in the US. In allowing her to remain in the US with her family, an immigration judge found that her one conviction was “out of character.” Many thousands of people with similar ties to this country have not been so lucky.
US communities also pay the price. President-elect Trump has said he would bring back Secure Communities and other programs to help “identify hundreds of thousands of deportable aliens in local jails.” These programs may have identified people to deport but there is no evidence that they made communities safer. Instead, they made unauthorized immigrants terrified of the police – to the point that they avoid officers even when they desperately need police protection. That means that crimes aren’t reported, investigated, or prosecuted. As San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón has said, “When victims are afraid to come forward and cooperate with authorities because of their immigration status the whole community suffers.”
President-elect Trump should turn away from his plan to deport millions. Experience shows that the people caught up in that net will be long-time residents often with US citizen families who are needed, loved, and achingly missed by their children, parents, and communities.