Mass deportation based on perceptions of threat to national security, without the necessity of proof, were a common feature of the past century. It can happen again. In the 1930s when the economy was in turmoil, as many as 2 million people of Mexican origin were deported in boxcars from states across the South and West so as to shift jobs to unemployed Anglos and presumably lower welfare costs. Up to half of these individuals were U.S.-born citizens and millions were invited back into the U.S. once WWII started and field workers were needed, a more than ironic policy twist.
Last week the Department of Homeland Security issued directives to implement the domestic immigration policy of the new administration. These call for deputizing local law enforcement to assist federal agents and expanding “expedited deportation” of all undocumented persons apprehended within 100 miles of the border. If such people can’t demonstrate residence in the U.S. for the previous 14 days, they are deported. As the process ramps up, 11 million long-time undocumented will be subject to deportation, excepting only the 740,000 protected by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The only way for the detained to get a legal hearing is to claim asylum. When that happens, they receive an initial screened for having a credible threat and if that’s found, they see a judge. While they may be detained until those proceedings take place, If they have a lawyer they have a better chance to qualify for refugee status.
What can Burlington do? We know our economy has come to rely on kitchen workers, roofers, and above all farm employees who may lack visas. If we want to stand up for the the human rights of recent immigrants, our neighbors who were often pushed out of their home country economies by NAFTA and CAFTA, the “free trade” programs that destroyed their local small farms economies, we can do three things. First, our officials must make it clear to Washington that our police department is not a “force multiplier” for DHS or ICE. Second, they must coordinate with local attorneys to see that every migrant claiming asylum is represented by an attorney, if necessary at public expense. Finally, we citizens we can protest the new deportation policies in favor of a rational and humane approach to both trade and immigration. We may not want open borders but we can’t separate families and uproot our friends who have lived and worked in this country for years, often for decades.