Julianne Hing, The Nation, January 19, 2018
The logic may seem backward, but it worked. For years, being publicly out and outspoken as an undocumented person could serve as a kind of shield.
The undocumented-youth movement built its political power in part by turning the act of declaring one’s immigration status publicly into a form of resistance as well as a personal defense. During the Obama years, an undocumented person nabbed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement could rally their community around them, involve lawmakers in their campaigns, and shame the federal government into approving their release. Under President Barack Obama, this kind of righteous truth-telling was a powerful tool.
Under President Donald Trump, ICE now appears determined to put those years behind it. Increasingly, ICE seems intent on proving that there is no safety for undocumented immigrants anywhere — not in the shadows and not in the spotlight.
This week, longtime New York immigrant-rights activist Jean Montrevil, who had lived in the US for 31 years and was arrested just a week prior, was deported to Haiti. On Thursday, Ravi Ragbir, a leader alongside Montrevil with New York City’s New Sanctuary Movement, was transferred back to the New York area from Miami after ICE took him into custody during a check-in on January 11. Ragbir, like Montrevil, has been fighting a deportation order pegged to old criminal convictions, and has been an outspoken leader in New York City for immigrants in similar situations.
ICE denies that these enforcement actions are politically motivated. “ICE focuses its enforcement resources on individuals who pose a threat to national security, public safety, and border security,” ICE spokesperson Lori Haley said. “However, as ICE leadership has made clear, ICE will no longer exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement.”
The executive orders that Trump signed in his first days in office demonstrate that even people like Mora Villalpando, undocumented immigrants with squeaky-clean criminal records, will now become targets for enforcement. Indeed, the majority of people swept up in enforcement sweeps targeted at gang members in late 2017 had no criminal record at all. In that way, Mora Villalpando is not unique. Everyone is now on notice.
ICE denies that Jurado’s arrest was politically motivated. But, an ICE field office director, Jeffrey Lynch, acknowledged, “ICE targeted Eliseo Jurado-Fernandez for arrest after he came to ICE’s attention during an investigation into his spouse, Ingrid Encalada Latorre.”
The reality is that it’s people like Ragbir, Montrevil, Latorre, Jurado, and Mora Villalpando, activists though they are, who have become the true targets. While they may now be new targets of the administration, they are among many who’ve been swept up by the administration’s stepped-up raids, sweeps, and enforcement actions in recent weeks. ICE is planning on arresting 1,500 people in upcoming raids in Northern California, the San Francisco Chronicle reported this week. ICE acting director Thomas Homan said in December that he wants to see a quadruple increase of workplace raids (like the recent raids on 7-Eleven stores nationwide, which netted 21 people for the agency’s arrest numbers.)
That doesn’t mean that ICE isn’t also using high-profile arrests to send messages to the immigrant community.