This week marks the fifth anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and immigrants who took great risk to press for its creation need to act to protect our victory.
We’re also nearing of renewal dates for the Temporary Protective Status for people who have found relative safety in the U.S. after being displaced from their countries of origin, in some cases escaping violence or catastrophe.
Both programs are under attack. Texas Attorney General Paxton issued a September 5th ultimatum before suing the federal government to end DACA and former DHS Secretary and now White House Chief of Staff John Kelly has signaled that TPS recipients could see that protection pulled out from under them.
As someone who came out of the shadows, participated in civil disobedience, and ultimately received DACA myself, protecting the programs that already exist is of the highest priority in the ongoing struggle for our rights and our families.
And as we defend those things that protect some of us, we need to also look at the agencies that we’re protecting ourselves from and that our families and communities are vulnerable to every day.
Shortly after President Trump’s inauguration, he visited the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and told the agents present: “This is a law enforcement agency and for too long your officers and agents haven’t been allowed to properly do their jobs.”
Since then, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has reported a 150 percent increase in the use of force. It has rescinded any guidance on prosecutorial discretion making every single undocumented person a target for removal. And even before the promised 15,000 additional agents, ICE’s arrest rate rose 40 percent in the first hundred days of Trump’s administration alone. It is metastasizing and it is doing so with impunity.
As Trump stated in his visit to DHS, the agency is his very own federal police force and since his inauguration it has shown itself ready to carry out the anti-immigrant politics that he campaigned on.
In Maryland, ICE demanded a teenager who was granted a stay of removal in 2013 to come into its office. He went to report that he would be going to college on a soccer scholarship but the agents he reported to detained him and his older brother, quickly deporting them to El Salvador. In Chicago, a grandmother and union member who was originally turned over to ICE after a questionable traffic stop is being called in for a similar check-in at the end of this month.
As much as the president or ICE’s new director, Tom Homan, may insist on its public safety mission, their own rhetoric and the evidence say otherwise.
Marking the shift in culture, a concerned agent told the press, “We’re going to get sued… You have guys who are doing whatever they want in the field, going after whoever they want.”
At the same time, the agency is increasingly pairing up with the Department of Justice (now headed by a man who was three decades ago some called too racist to be a judge) to combine their powers in an all out pursuit of immigrants.
As cities scramble to both protect their immigrant residents and also avoid liability for the unconstitutional aspects Trump’s enforcement plan, Sessions is threatening them if they don’t comply. It is Sessions who is putting people in jail for crossing the border for survival in increasing numbers.
The new attorney general is making the Department of Justice into a weapon in ICE’s holster, demanding each U.S. attorney hire a new position dedicated strictly to prosecuting immigrants and for the maximum sentences possible.
All of this has a precursor in the past administration but with the keys to the deportation machine handed over to the new White House, it is being expanded upon and pressed to full tilt.
Acknowledging the mutation of ICE into a national political police force shows not only the urgent nature to prevent those protected by DACA and TPS from being thrown back to the wolves. It is evidence of the need to actually expand deportation relief, as has been previously proposed, and to reduce ICE's budget under this administration.
The current situation calls on Congress to investigate what is an unhinged and unchecked public danger and to bring scrutiny to the growing threat that is ICE and it’s too willing partners at the Department of Justice.
Tania Unzueta is the legal and policy director for Mijente, a national racial justice organization. She is an undocumented leader in Chicago, IL.
The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.