Week one: The new White House seems, with the stroke of a pen, to have turned every immigrant’s worst fears into reality. Trump has kick-started the construction of his long-promised border wall, and expanded “domestic” security by resurrecting previous policies that Obama had tamped down. His executive orders promise to triple staffing of federal immigration authorities while pressuring local officials to help Washington arrest and deport millions. He threatens to slash funding for cities that refuse compliance with federal enforcement actions, while demonizing immigrants through publicly reporting criminal allegations against noncitizens—flouting due process in a crude shaming ritual.
But is the president above the Constitution? While Trump revels in playing sheriff on his social media–fueled crusade, whether his war on immigrants turns out to be more spectacle than reality remains an open question, as long as grassroots activists refuse to let the Trump train derail their fight for justice.
Yes, Trump’s first several executive orders do seem to shift the legal landscape. The Obama administration instituted a vague framework in place for “priority enforcement” that provided some weak assurances that federal authorities would focus on detaining and deporting immigrants with criminal records. Obama also enacted critical deportation-relief programs for hundreds of thousands of undocumented youth. But in a recent online forum on Trump’s executive orders, National Immigration Law Center attorney Melissa Keaney described a “new non prioritization world.” Trump’s decrees do not formally change the law, but do illustrate the sweeping, potentially devastating powers the executive branch wields through immigration policy.
On the ground, the way the government uses and abuses the law when dealing with immigrants is determined by how seriously people are willing to comply, or to resist on the community level.
Trump’s impending crackdown centers on collaborating with localities to arrest, detain, and deport undocumented immigrants, particularly through reviving and expanding 287(g), a program that enables the deputization of local police officers as immigration agents. Although participation in such programs is largely voluntary, advocates fear that under Trump the most anti-immigrant jurisdictions will be spurred to sign on and encouraged to engage in mass civil-rights violations with Washington’s backing. Under the new executive action, Keane notes, “this lack of prioritization at the federal level really incentivizes the racial profiling…in the community. And it essentially sends a message to local law enforcement and local leaders that by arresting someone on whatever trumped up charge they can come up with…now ICE is basically signaling that they’ll pursue enforcement against anyone,” regardless of whether there’s ultimately a conviction.