Vulnerable immigrants still have time to prepare for Trump
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President-elect Trump ran on a hardline anti-illegal immigration platform. He maintains that he will begin deportations of “2 million, it could even be 3 million” criminal aliens his first day in office, but deportation is not an immediate process. It takes time, money, and manpower. His words do not comport with reality — but there is ample reason to be concerned.

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It's not that Trump can't start the process; it's that he can't run it so fast. And a hastily run process invites a whole slew of problems that few seem to be talking about.

 

Picking people out of their lives isn't easy. Even if you know where they are, they must be apprehended, processed, and detained. They must be fed and receive medical treatment. They usually must be given a hearing, and allowed to apply for relief from deportation. With the nation's immigration courts backlogged — sometimes for more than 5 years — this means lengthy detentions which raise constitutional questions. Appeals only add to the time and complexity — it is not uncommon for a single case to be remanded, only to be re-appealed.

True, the legal process underlying removal proceedings could be overhauled to excise due process of law. But this will induce lawsuits on a wide scale, meaning that won't be quick, either.

The specter of a poorly-run, constitutionally deficient deportation machine is truly horrifying. Where due process fails, abuses occur. This is nothing new: Common features of our current system include mislabeled notices, improper service, coercion, and woefully inadequate legal representation. Many immigrants, even those with supposedly “final” deportation orders, may well have qualified for relief from deportation — but were not given a chance to fairly make their case.

Trump's current advisory team does not inspire confidence in maintaining due process, in particular, Kris Kobach.

Kobach is the author of Arizona's infamous SB1070 “show me your papers” law. Kobach has left legal wreckage in every community he visits. Rumors that hardliners Rudy Giuliani and Sheriff Joe Arpaio (facing criminal contempt charges for defying a court order not to engage in systemic discrimination against Latinos) may be given positions in the Trump administration are equally disheartening.

On the other hand, these are all policies that have been executing under the Obama administration. There are horrific denials of due process, detention of women and children asylum seekers, and more deportations than any other president.

True, executive actions such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and provisional waivers helped hundreds of thousands of immigrants, but the Obama immigration legacy is far from exemplary.

Against this complex backdrop, the big question for immigrants now is, “What will happen?”

The short answer is — we don't know. Trump's words are unequivocal, but since they don't comport with reality, there is little reason to expect that things will be as he says. Overhaul of the nation's immigration laws to make deportation faster and more efficient will still take time, but with Kobach at the helm, it is likely to get done. In the meantime, expect that he will advise Trump to implement his own executive actions on immigration just like Obama did — only pointed in the opposite direction.

There is a great deal of uncertainty. Uncertainty compounds an already horrific prospect. Even immigrants with solid legal status are worried.

The answer is preparation. Yes, there are things people can do to arm themselves with knowledge.

First, every family with undocumented members needs a specific deportation plan on what to do if ICE comes knocking.

Second, every immigrant must know their status. And get an updated opinion from a reputable and experienced lawyer, based on current laws, their current personal circumstances, and the condition of their home country. Many things can affect one's eligibility for immigration benefits, and they change over time.

Third, every immigrant must know their rights. ICE must have a warrant. Immigrants are not required to give answers to questions. They must not sign waivers of their right to a hearing.

Fourth, every immigrant must be prepared to make sometimes drastic changes in order to better their chances at normalizing their status. Immigration law isn't the same in every place. Some states make it easier to get driver's licenses, lessening the chance of being dragged into the deportation machine by a traffic stop.

Fifth, it's time for the communities to stand together with this vulnerable population.

There have always been U.S.-citizen children ripped from their parents, but the numbers may be truly staggering. Not everyone will have a plan, and extended families can only help so much. There is a severe and immediate trauma when a family member is apprehended.

The remaining family may not know where to turn, or lack the resources to get the right advice. They may lose their incomes, having been dependent on the detained family member. People will need help. A good start would be safe spaces in houses of worship, know your rights seminars, and workshops on the heart-wrenching work of creating a family deportation plan.

The government will control the action. But the immigrants control the response. 

Ahmad is an immigration lawyer in Northern Virginia. He tweets at @HMAesq.


The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.