Lack of clarity in Trump’s immigration plans raises concerns, questions
Nov. 19, 2016
Even before Donald Trump was announced the winner of the 2016 presidential election, many Americans have been wondering what a Trump presidency would mean for immigrants -- particularly those who are undocumented and living among us.
When Trump became president-elect, fears of mass deportations and misinformation quickly spread across social media, even causing the Canadian immigration website, full of American residents researching the process of leaving the country, to crash.
During an interview with Lesley Stahl on 60 Minutes recently, president-elect Trump responded to questions about immigration by taking an adjusted stance from what he had promised on the campaign trail.
“What we are going to do is get the people that are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers, we have a lot of these people, probably two million, it could be even three million,” Trump said. “We are getting them out of our country, or we are going to incarcerate.”
The rhetoric was toned down from many of his speeches on the campaign trail, where on several occasions he called for immediate deportation of all of the suspected 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States.
Immigration has long been an important issue in Finney County, where the most recent census data shows 48.6 percent of the roughly 27,000 residents in the county seat of Garden City are Hispanic or Latino, the result of several decades worth of immigration from Mexico and other countries in Central and South America. The true population could be even higher, as undocumented immigrants are unlikely to participate in the survey.
Trump’s proposals have raised many questions. What will become of those undocumented immigrants under a Trump presidency? Will they be targeted, and if so, how? And how exactly would these deportations be carried out?
Whether Trump implements his new plans of deporting just criminal aliens, or reverts to his hardline stance of seeking to remove all undocumented immigrants from the U.S., Garden City immigration lawyer Eloy Gallegos says it would take a lot of time and resources to carry out either initiative.
“What people don’t understand is that a lot of the things he is asking for, it’s not only going to take a lot of time and money, but there are a lot of other legal areas that are involved,” Gallegos said. “If they go after individuals who are criminals, which they should, they need to define what criminal is. Is it someone who has no valid driver’s license, or is it the obvious person who should be deported because they are a drug dealer or rapist? Someone who failed to maintain car insurance? Who would be drawing that line?”
There is a system already in place for deporting undocumented criminals, and as of now, it is limited to when an illegal immigrant commits a felony or violent crime.
“If we arrest someone for a crime, and if Homeland Security determines that the individual is undocumented or in the country illegally because of administrative purposes, that is a Homeland Security issue, that’s not our issue,” said Garden City Police Chief Michael Utz. “The only time it would become a law enforcement issue is if we have someone who has committed a felony or a severe violent act that meets the criteria that they are in the country illegally. At that point, they may become a criminal alien, which would be a violation of federal law.”
In a campaign speech in Arizona on Aug. 31, Trump said he will give local law enforcement the power to detain and deport.
“The local police know who every one of these criminals are,” Trump said. “There’s no great mystery to it, they’ve put up with it for years. And now, finally, we will turn the tables and law enforcement will be allowed to clear up this dangerous and threatening mess.”
Utz said that he will be careful about changing any current policing policies in Garden City without seeking legal counsel.
“It’s hard to comment on a policy until you see it in writing,” he said. “But administrative issues with Homeland Security on undocumented immigrants is not a law enforcement function, nor shall it be a law enforcement function. Now, if they make it (being undocumented) a crime and action is required, before we move forward, we will evaluate it with city counsel and governing body and city manager.”
The risks for holding someone for Homeland Security fall on local government, not the federal level. If Homeland Security asks to have an undocumented immigrant detained for deportation, but fails to come pick up that individual within a certain legal time frame, local authorities are required to release that person.
“Immigration law is civil in nature, it’s not criminal,” Gallegos said. “If immigration does not pick them up after they have a legal right to be released, then they are released. The federal government doesn’t provide any funds to law enforcement or cities for holding someone in their jail. There are cases out there where cities have been sued, and the risk is all on the city and county.”
Gallegos continued by saying that most of these undocumented workers are not picked up by Homeland Security. It is simply too expensive to come all the way to Garden City to pick up one or two people.
“Immigration proceedings can take a long time,” Gallegos said. “For this last year in our district, we didn’t have a sitting judge, and at one time there was a backlog of four, five years.”
This backlog is still at the most efficient the system has ever been. Since 2013, more than 530,000 people have been deported under the Obama administration. Since Obama took office in 2008, he has deported 2.5 million, more than any president in history. The plan Trump presented at the August Arizona rally would seem destined to exacerbate the backlog problem, without changes to the current deportation system, like adding officers, courts and prisons.
“Moving forward,” Trump said at the rally. “We will issue detainers for all illegal immigrants who are arrested for any crime whatsoever, and they will be placed into immediate removal proceedings.”
Non-violent undocumented immigrants Talking to 60 Minutes, Trump added that after the 2 to 3 million criminal aliens are deported, he would shift his focus to the remaining millions of undocumented immigrants living in the United States.
“After the border is secured and after everything gets normalized,” Trump said. “We’re going to make a determination on the people that you’re talking about who are terrific people, they’re terrific people, but we are gonna make a determination at that. But before we make that determination ... it’s very important, we want to secure our border.”
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who previously had been named as a potential Trump pick for U.S. Attorney General, did not return calls seeking comment for this story. But speaking with FOX News last week, Kobach said he would like to see an enforcement crackdown tough enough to convince undocumented immigrants to voluntarily leave.
“A lot of people who may not be criminal aliens may decide it is getting hard to disobey federal law and may leave on their own,” Kobach told FOX. “Five thousand deportation officers are being chained to their desks by the Obama administration. When we release those untapped resources, you’re going to see deportations go up immediately.”
Kobach was the author of the controversial Arizona 2010 SB-1070 law, which allowed law enforcement to demand to see the papers of anyone they suspected of being in the country illegally. Many critics of the law said it encouraged racial profiling.
When asked how his office would fight to uphold the constitutional rights for documented and undocumented immigrants from laws like Arizona SB-1070, the office of Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt issued a statement saying that the office refuses to speculate on hypothetical situations.
“There are many important interests involved in this complex debate, including many in Kansas,” said Jennifer Montgomery, public information officer with the Kansas Attorney General’s Office. “The diverse interests of our state in immigration reform are best served when Kansas voices in Congress are part of the solution.”
Gallegos is skeptical there will be raids and mass deportations in Garden City, but said it is possible, and that undocumented immigrants need to have a plan.
“In our immigration history, that has happened, so we can’t say that it won’t happen. The only thing we can say is to have a plan,” he said. “Go speak with an immigration attorney. Go talk to an attorney about what happens if you were deported. Who are your kids going to go to? Who has rights not only over your children, but also rights to possibly take care of your property? I think that is one of the most important things an individual can do right now is prepare.”
Talk of mass deportations oftentimes leads local residents and officials to question how such a policy might affect the Finney County and southwest Kansas economies that many believe depend somewhat on undocumented immigrant labor.
Finney County Economic Development Corp. President Lona DuVall said that determining the exact impact is impossible because it is unknown how many undocumented immigrants are in the local workforce.
“There’s no way to know how many, if any, undocumented workers are taking part in our workforce today,” she said. “We do know that we are experiencing continued workforce shortages as our community continues to grow. All workers in our community are a very important component of maintaining a healthy, growing economy.”
Gallegos adds that undocumented immigrants have roots in the economy, and he believes the Finney County economy would take a hit if mass deportations occurred.
“The ramifications of deporting this many people have a lot more effect than just getting rid of undocumented people,” he said. “Many of these people have homes, vehicles, loans. There is a lot of buying power within the immigrant community. There are also a lot of funds that are directed towards certain programs and communities based on numbers, which are inflated because of undocumented people.”
Sister Janice Thome, of the Dominican Sisters Ministry of Presence, helps the poor, which in Garden City includes undocumented families. She said many immigrants are afraid of mass deportations.
“Even people with (immigration) papers were absolutely sad the day after the election,” Thome said. “Because of all the negative kinds of things being said about newcomers to our country, no matter if they are legal or not, refugees or immigrants, they feel like they are less welcome because of that. If they don’t have documents, they tell me they are always looking over their shoulder just in case something would happen that would put them on somebody’s radar.”
Thome adds that she is hopeful that Trump’s recent comments are a sign that immigrants in Garden City should not fear extreme measures.
“It could become as bad as they think it is, yes. I have heard what Trump is saying now, and I would say that if you don’t have a felony, start breathing again. Nothing is going to happen fast,” Thome said. “He is planning it as he goes, and possibly as he takes on the role of president, you’re going to become less of a priority to much bigger problems.”
The Garden City Police Department is taking steps to educate the public about its true role in enforcing immigration law, and how police are not a deporting force that undocumented immigrants should fear. This education is happening in diverse neighborhoods during monthly community meetings, and when Utz meets with community leaders.
“First of all, it is not the procedure of the police department to find out or ask or determine if someone is undocumented,” Utz said. “It will not change. We will continue to work as we have. I think we are making inroads about getting word out about what GCPD is.”
Misinformation about law enforcement, immigration laws and constitutional rights are rampant in the aftermath of election season. It also remains uncertain exactly how President-elect Trump will proceed with immigration reform. Gallegos said everyone needs to critically analyze what they hear about immigration, and know their rights as someone living in this country.
“The harsh reality of what is going on right now is depending on which channel of TV or which newspaper you are reading, or who you are friends with on Facebook determines either how good or how bad that information is,” Gallegos said. “We all know an individual or even a family that is a good family. Those are the individuals who are the bigger half of the population of immigrants in our community. Not the criminal, not the rapist. The system will take care of them. We need to take care of our neighbors.”