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The Trump Administration to Latinos: Show Me Your Papers or Be Deported

Katherine Culliton-González

With the Trump effect, we have now entered into a new era of exacerbated racial discrimination against Latino, Asian and black immigrant communities in the United States. This week, the nation learned that a 23-year-old “Dreamer” Juan Manuel Montes, who had been granted immigration relief, was deported to Mexico because ICE agents would not let him get a copy of his papers from his friend’s car; the parallels with a police state are unmistakable. As Juan Manuel’s case shows, under this administration, walking while Latino can lead to deportation.

While Juan Manuel might be the first person deported while under the protection of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, this type of legally questionable treatment isn’t uncommon among Latinos today. Similar cases where Latino U.S. citizens and Legal Permanent Residents were detained based on perceived unlawful immigration status show that the system is not based on any reasonable form of legality. As I wrote during the post-9/11 era, even Latino judges driving to work have been detained for questioning by border patrol agents.

While racial discrimination has always been in embedded in our immigration system, the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant and racist rhetoric and policies are greatly exacerbating it. During his campaign, Trump said that a federal judge Gonzalo Curiel’s Mexican-American heritage and membership in a Latino law association presented “an absolute conflict” to being able to do his job. Coincidentally, Juan Manuel’s case against the Trump administration was just assigned to Judge Curiel.

Trump also promised to “build a wall” and get rid of “bad hombres.” These policies are clearly not focused on national security or public safety—the majority of the 54,741 persons his administration deported by the end of March had no criminal record—they are disproportionately focused on Latinos and other people of color.

Meanwhile, high numbers of Europeans visiting the U.S. overstay their visas, but the current Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids do not target them for their immigration law violations. In fact—in 2015, an estimated 99,906 Canadians illegally overstayed their visas while during the same year, less than half (45,272) of that number of Mexicans overstayed. But none the less Latinos are targeted unfairly.

As immigrants have become less white, immigration policy has become more restrictive: in 1960, almost 75% of U.S. immigrants came from Europe, but by 2015, only 11% of U.S. immigrants were European. This is largely due to the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, which ended racially-based immigration quotas and instead mandated that each country in the world receive an equal amount (7%) of available visas. The new system left imbalances among people from Mexico, China, and other countries with large populations, who must wait decades longer for a legal visa than people from smaller countries. Still, the 1965 law stopped outright discrimination and led to much more racially diverse generations of immigrants coming to America. But by 1996, a backlash against immigration led to a series of restrictive laws making it virtually impossible for persons to become “legal” through marriage or employer sponsorship. Currently, the way that prior generations became citizens—entering with or without papers and then being legalized—has been effectively cut off for the majority of immigrants. That’s why comprehensive immigration reform is needed.

Juan Manuel’s case is emblematic of how Trump’s policies are exploiting racialized fears and taking advantage of the broken immigration system, rather than fixing it. In addition, Attorney General Sessions and the Department of Homeland Security have widened the definition of “the border” to include the entire country, allowing them to exploit relaxed rules against racial profiling and practices such as “expedited removal” and other forms of deportation without due process. Reportedly, within only 3 hours, and after being refused the opportunity even get his papers from his friend’s car, 23-year-old Juan Manuel found himself in Mexico.

Trump has increased requests for local law enforcement to assist in the detaining of immigrants by over 75%, and recently revised these request forms and the underlying policy in a meritless attempt to say they are warrants based on probable cause. But they are not based on probable cause of a criminal violation, which is the standard that local police must follow in arresting or detaining people. And because most immigrants are not criminals, state and local police lack the probable cause necessary to arrest and detain them without violating the due process protections of the U.S. Constitution. It’s critical that we continue to support immigrant sanctuary laws under which local officials can exercise their constitutional rights to refuse to be forced into participating in these discriminatory law enforcement actions.

Major due process and equal protection concerns have arisen in the era of Trump. While federal law nominally requires immigrants to carry proof of legal status, fundamental human rights and principles of nondiscrimination should allow a person to get their papers from a car before being expeditedly deported to Mexico. And chances are, if Juan Manuel were white, he would have never needed to show any papers at all.