The new and bewildering policies of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement seem more aimed at punishing harmless people simply for being in this country illegally, as opposed to going after the truly bad people who deserve to be removed. The ordeals of two families, one in Missouri and the other in Kansas, put a human face on ICE’s inhumane crackdown.
Alex Garcia in Poplar Bluff, Mo., and Syed Ahmed Jamal in Lawrence, Kan., were arrested despite having no criminal convictions. The arrests deprived their families of breadwinners and induced untold stresses. Such arrests have increased substantially under the Trump administration even though deportations have lagged.
The net effect is just to split up families, as if by spite.
Does the nation benefit by forcing people whose only crimes were overstaying visas or entering the country illegally — the two most frequent immigration violations — to separate from their families? Until last year, ICE officers were forbidden by presidential order from arresting immigrants for either violation. Criminals were supposed to be the priority.
Garcia, 36, arrived illegally from Honduras in 2004. He got a job, met and married a local woman and went to work for her father’s construction company. Garcia and his wife have five children between them, ages 3 to 11. He’s a productive and valued member of his southeast Missouri community who was granted stays of removal twice.
For the past six months, Garcia has been living in a Maplewood church, where he sought sanctuary from deportation after immigration authorities denied his most recent request to stay in the county.
Jamal, 55, entered from Bangladesh legally on a student visa in 1987. A chemist, he overstayed two visas before receiving an H-1B work visa to be a hospital research scientist. Jamal taught college-level science for five years on legal work permits. He paid regular visits to ICE offices.
He is married with three children and recently ran for the school board. That didn’t stop authorities from arresting and handcuffing him in his front yard in January as he was preparing to take his 12-year-old daughter to school.
These family men have coped with a dizzying immigration system for years. Their situations are different, but neither tried to hide from authorities. They complied with immigration orders and built meaningful lives. But President Donald Trump changed the rules, issuing executive orders that dramatically expanded ICE’s mission.
The agency shifted from deporting undocumented criminal immigrants to detaining non-criminal immigrants. The agency’s 2017 data show a 41 percent increase in immigrant arrests compared to 2016, with the share of criminal arrests up 17 percent and non-criminal arrests up 171 percent.
Cracking down on men like Jamal and Garcia does nothing to make our streets safer. And for all Trump’s talk, immigration reform remains a distant dream.