By David Benac (MI-06)
“Immigrant” is not a scary word. 43.3 million people in this country are immigrants, a little over 13 percent of our nation’s population. One in nine Americans is native-born with at least one immigrant parent; that’s over 32 million Americans, including President Trump. We know that the United States is a nation of immigrants, a nation built upon Enlightenment ideals, and a nation that reflects what an inclusive society can achieve.
However, in the past months, we have seen all of those values attacked and undermined by xenophobes in government who have proven unable and unwilling to stand up for the most vulnerable among our communities. The Trump administration’s refusal to recognize the human rights of immigrants is contrary to the traditions we claim as Americans. The elimination of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) breaks the promise we made to nearly 800,000 immigrants who arrived in our nation without documentation.
The policies of the Trump Administration are part of a blatantly racist and elitist assault on immigrants and their families for no other reason than that they aren’t white. The primary tool at the President’s disposal is Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an agency Trump has promised to expand by 50 percent. Trump has commanded the agency and its staff to crack down on hard-working families with no record of criminal behavior in the US via heavily armed pre-dawn raids and ambushes.
But increasing our deportation infrastructure has not been enough for this administration. We now see a policy change that exposes the complete disregard for humanity by President Trump and many others in Washington. Homeland Security is now considering Trump’s recommendation that ICE begin separating the families of apprehended immigrants. A pre-dawn raid by militarized ICE agents is no longer enough for Trump. He wants to remove already traumatized children from their parents and ship them to juvenile detention centers. His justification for this? He believes it is what’s necessary to frighten potential immigrants from attempting the journey. Apparently, he does not think the arduous journey (almost 250 people died attempting to reach America in the first half of 2017) or the possibility of apprehension at the border (November saw the highest number of such since Trump’s election) is sufficient to dissuade potential immigrants.
It is time we recognize the humanitarian crisis we are facing. The majority of undocumented immigrants are trying to escape the deadly violence plaguing El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. Those nations have the first, second, and tenth (respectively) highest homicide rates in the world. These immigrants deserve asylum—not apprehension, separation from their families, and deportation. It is time to make meaningful progress on the list of over 600,000 people applying for asylum.
This is a humanitarian crisis and we must take action. Here are the steps we can take:
First, we need to flood the offices of every Senator and Representative with phone calls, emails, and letters, and stage protests at every one of their offices until they commit to supporting a clean DREAM Act in January. Every single legislator who voted for the continuing resolution must be made aware that we will not tolerate this. That vote exposes over 3,500 DREAMers to deportation between now and the expiration of the continuing resolution.
The next step is to contact Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and demand that she refuse to approve the policy change that would encourage ICE agents to separate families.
Finally, let’s take a look back at history and consider the role of President Reagan on this issue. When he signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act into law in 1986, he opened the door for about 3 million undocumented immigrants to gain status as permanent residents and spurred economic growth.
As a congressman, I will fight for the human rights and dignity of undocumented immigrants. I do not believe that anyone, Republican, Democrat, or other, should be allowed to oppress these incredibly vulnerable people who are fleeing a near certitude of death for the chance of creating a better life. I do not agree with Trump’s xenophobic policies or with legislators, including Democrats, who voted to fund the government without securing a clean DREAM Act.
In less than one month, the bill will come due for those legislators. Will they stand up and defend the vulnerable? Or will they kick the can down the road and hope someone else does the hard work of governing in the best interest of all?
David Benac is a history professor and environmental activist running for Congress to represent Michigan’s 6th Congressional District. You can learn more about David’s campaign at benacforcongress.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter, or make a contribution to his campaign here.