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The cruel reality of Trump criminalizing immigration


With Congress nearing a March 5 deadline to codify protections for Dreamers, many dangers lie in their path: inaction, punting, conceding funding for a needless wall. But one set of dangers, further trade-offs with mass deportation hard-liners, need to be explored further and more publicly before legislators go down that path.

The case of Sofia Ramirez (her name was changed for the sake of the family) and 25 workers from Buffalo, New York highlights what is at stake if Congress makes the mistake of moving away from a clean DREAM Act and begins to consider trade-offs.

In October 2016, ICE agents raided a chain of restaurants, a tactic that Thomas Director Homan says he plans to quadruple. Last month, the agency prosecuted one of the family members and deported her along with her two U.S. citizen children on a commercial flight back to Mexico.

{mosads}This has been a harrowing ordeal. Our group, Justice for Migrant Families, first came together after the raids to reunite children with their parents after they were placed in foster care, fundraise for their groceries, and help them move when the ongoing proceedings banned them from working and meant they couldn’t pay for their small apartment.


ICE didn’t just arrest Sofia’s husband at work and then come to her door, but also added additional criminal charges for “re-entry” — with Alejandro being taken to a county jail two hours away. Clearly, recognized something larger was afoot.

Together, Homan and Attorney General Jeff Sessions are trying to completely transform our country’s immigration enforcement practices in a way that fuses civil immigration and federal criminal prosecutions into one. And the extreme wing of the Republican Party see the Dreamer negotiations as an opportunity to make their efforts permanent through multiple proposals pushing for mandatory minimums along with the criminal charges.

For all their talk about public safety and the party’s larger rhetoric about government spending, we saw the future of what they were really promoting at the sentencing of Sofia. Her husband had already been convicted of “re-entry” and held in prison for eight months before being deported. Her daughters, ages 2 and 4, sat in court holding toy brushes, a toy curling iron and an envelope with a number to call with instructions in case their mother was taken immediately. The prosecutor argued that not only should this working mother who had come to be an integral part of our community be deported, but that she should serve jail time before her removal.

This is the result of an executive order from President Trump to make immigration offenses “high priority.” Sessions ordered each district to increase the number of attorneys to prosecute and to seek maximum sentences. The surge is not just occurring at the border, but throughout the country. 

In May of 2017, cases like Sofia made up 93 percent of all charges brought by US prosecutors in magistrate courts. In an already faulty criminal justice system, this new focus will have devastating consequences if this becomes mandatory under the law.

For those of us in Buffalo, who live in a community that ICE has targeted with its raids — it’s embarrassing. It goes against our values. When we meet families, we apologize on behalf of our government.

We do the little we can but ultimately, we need our members of Congress to remove the cruelty from their debates and recognize the humanity in our families. Instead of finalizing the transformation of our laws to the full criminalization of migrants, they should commit to preventing harsh laws from getting even harsher.

Getting the Dream Act passed is urgent and should’ve happened a long time ago. But members of Congress who want to see it done should know they already have the majority of the country’s support. They don’t need to concede to making things worse as part of their effort to make them better. 

Carra Stratton works with Justice for Migrant Families in Western New York.

Paromita Shah is the associate director of the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild based in Washington, DC.

Tags DACA Deportation Donald Trump Donald Trump Dreamers Immigration Immigration and Customs Enforcement Jeff Sessions Jeff Sessions

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