Im­mi­gra­tion ac­tions spark fear, sup­port

Res­i­dents on dif­fer­ent sides po­lit­i­cally hope for so­lu­tion

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - DAN HOLTMEYER

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s mixed ap­proach to im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment has cheered some sup­port­ers and sown anx­i­ety among North­west Arkansas res­i­dents who lack valid visas.

Other area res­i­dents on dif­fer­ent po­lit­i­cal sides said they yearn for a bet­ter, more co­he­sive fix to the il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion is­sue.

The U.S. Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity con­firmed in mid-June it would con­tinue the Obama-era de­ferred ac­tion pro­gram grant­ing tem­po­rary work visas to hun­dreds of thou­sands of im­mi­grants who came into the coun­try il­le­gally as chil­dren. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump re­peat­edly said dur­ing his cam­paign he would end the pro­gram im­me­di­ately but hasn’t taken a firm stance on it since his in­au­gu­ra­tion.

The de­ci­sion con­trasts with sharply in­creased ar­rests by U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment around the coun­try, and the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s broader scope on which im­mi­grants to tar­get. Of­fi­cials have point­edly re­jected the stance of for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, who in­structed agents to fo­cus on im­mi­grants with crim­i­nal his­to­ries and gang con­nec­tions.

“If we wait for them to vi­o­late yet an­other law against the cit­i­zens of this coun­try, then it’s too late,” act­ing Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment di­rec­tor Thomas Ho­man told mem­bers of Congress last month. Ad­dress­ing all peo­ple who aren’t au­tho­rized to be in the United States, he said, “You should be un­com­fort­able, you should look over your shoul­der, and you need to be wor­ried.”


The mes­sage has sunk in no mat­ter what Trump does with Obama’s De­ferred

Ac­tion for Child­hood Ar­rivals pro­gram, said Erick Sanchez, who en­rolled in the pro­gram in 2013. Trump has said he will deal with the pro­gram’s par­tic­i­pants “with heart” but can­celed the Obama pro­posal to ex­tend the same pro­tec­tion to many of their par­ents.

“He says one thing and does the other thing,” said Sanchez, 24, who stud­ies busi­ness man­age­ment at North­west Arkansas Com­mu­nity Col­lege and works as of­fice man­ager for the Im­mi­grant Re­source Cen­ter in Spring­dale. His mother brought him to Arkansas when he was 9.

Sanchez and other de­ferred ac­tion par­tic­i­pants said they’re lay­ing low, driv­ing un­der the speed limit at all times to avoid at­ten­tion, for ex­am­ple. The whole fam­ily trav­els less and has made an emer­gency plan and given pow­ers of at­tor­ney to fam­ily friends for his younger sib­lings, who are cit­i­zens and mi­nors, in case the adults are picked up and de­ported to El Sal­vador.

Sanchez’s fa­ther and grand­fa­ther still live in El Sal­vador, but it’s been more than a decade since he has seen the place.

“I would be ly­ing if I said I wasn’t wor­ried,” he said. “I re­ally don’t know what I would be do­ing over there.”

Al­most 6,000 peo­ple in Arkansas ap­plied for de­ferred ac­tion as of March and 2,000 more are el­i­gi­ble, ac­cord­ing to the non­par­ti­san Mi­gra­tion Pol­icy In­sti­tute.

The low-cost Com­mu­nity Clinic, which pro­vides health care on a slid­ing fee scale in Spring­dale and other cities, saw a wave of can­celed ap­point­ments for many im­mi­grant fam­i­lies who wanted to sign up chil­dren or other fam­ily mem­bers who are cit­i­zens or oth­er­wise el­i­gi­ble for Med­i­caid, di­rec­tor Kathy Gr­isham said.

The clinic, much like the other lo­cal hos­pi­tals, doesn’t ask pa­tients about their le­gal sta­tus and doesn’t turn any­one away but asks about in­sur­ance if pa­tients have it and other per­sonal in­for­ma­tion.

Some fam­i­lies have since re­turned to sign up mem­bers for Med­i­caid any­way, Gr­isham added. Other hos­pi­tal sys­tems said they hadn’t seen sim­i­lar changes among pa­tients.

“There’s a cer­tain res­ig­na­tion to a new level of fear and dis­trust,” said Mireya Reith, di­rec­tor of the Arkansas United Com­mu­nity Coali­tion that helps run the Spring­dale im­mi­grant cen­ter. “This is what hap­pens when you don’t take a com­pre­hen­sive ap­proach that’s been well thought-out and an­nounced.”

Parts of the im­mi­grant com­mu­nity have be­gun avoid­ing law en­force­ment, she said, and some fam­i­lies have re­turned to their home coun­tries. Lo­cal po­lice de­part­ments have said they won’t ask about res­i­dents’ im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus or make im­mi­gra­tion ar­rests, but Ben­ton and Wash­ing­ton county jails screen de­tainees for their sta­tus and will turn them over to fed­eral au­thor­i­ties if re­quested.


Im­mi­gra­tion ar­rests na­tion­ally from Jan­uary to April jumped by 11,000, or 38 per­cent, from the same pe­riod last year un­der Trump’s new ap­proach, ac­cord­ing to Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment. The agency’s field of­fice in Louisiana, which cov­ers Arkansas and four other south­ern states, ar­rested about 2,100, up 50 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to an anal­y­sis of ar­rest data by Ge­orge Joseph at the lib­eral-lean­ing re­search group Demos.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion and its sup­port­ers say Trump’s harsher stance on im­mi­grants has led to a steep drop in border ap­pre­hen­sions, which give a sense of how many peo­ple are try­ing to cross. Cus­toms and Border Pa­trol re­ports ap­pre­hen­sions from Jan­uary to May this year dropped by more than 100,000 com­pared with last year, cut­ting the to­tal in half.

“The re­al­ity is they have backed down a bit from what they used to be, and I think that’s a good thing,” said Jim Estes, chair­man of the Wash­ing­ton County Repub­li­cans. “If we’re go­ing to have laws on the books, we ought to abide by those laws.”

A spokes­woman for Sen. John Booz­man, R-Ark., called Trump’s ac­tions a “pos­i­tive step” for sim­i­lar rea­sons, though the sen­a­tor op­poses de­ferred ac­tion be­cause it comes from a pres­i­dent’s de­ci­sion, not laws passed by Congress. Arkansas At­tor­ney Gen­eral Les­lie Rut­ledge on Fri­day called on the ad­min­is­tra­tion to phase out de­ferred ac­tion, call­ing it un­law­ful.

“Even for­mer Pres­i­dent Obama ac­knowl­edged many times that he did not have au­thor­ity to uni­lat­er­ally grant this type of le­gal sta­tus to over one mil­lion aliens,” she said in a state­ment.

Estes said he be­lieves His­panic im­mi­grants are in­dus­tri­ous, hard-work­ing peo­ple, and he doesn’t mind de­ferred ac­tion stick­ing around de­spite Trump’s ear­lier prom­ises.

“I think there needs to be con­sid­er­a­tion for [child­hood ar­rivals]. But here’s the thing we’ve got to do first: We’ve got to stop il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion,” he said, echo­ing Booz­man.

Reith ad­vo­cates for a path to le­gal­iza­tion or cit­i­zen­ship for im­mi­grants who don’t have visas and said she op­poses the fo­cus on en­force­ment to the ex­clu­sion of all else.

“We have a bro­ken sys­tem — you don’t fix it by ad­dress­ing one spoke of the wheel,” she said, point­ing to a le­gal im­mi­gra­tion process that can take years or decades to clear for im­mi­grants who aren’t spon­sored by an em­ployer or spouse.

Oc­tavio Sanchez, a Ben­tonville City Coun­cil mem­ber and mem­ber of the Ben­ton County Repub­li­cans, agreed with Reith in some re­spects. Many fam­i­lies un­der­stand­ably won’t wait 10 years for visas, he said. But they also cut in line and find sup­port and work in­side the U.S. that shouldn’t be avail­able.

He hopes for a so­lu­tion that re­jects “non­sense” at both ex­tremes of the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum, he said. Sanchez said he is a nat­u­ral­ized ci­ti­zen who im­mi­grated from Mex­ico for a high-skill job at Wal-Mart.

The border must be more se­cure and the gov­ern­ment should keep track of all who en­ter, he said. On the other hand, de­por­ta­tion should be a lim­ited tool for crim­i­nal im­mi­grants, and other im­mi­grants here with­out visas should be able to be­come le­gal res­i­dents — not cit­i­zens, and only af­ter the se­cu­rity im­prove­ments, he said.

Sanchez stressed the ac­tual so­lu­tion can only come with ne­go­ti­a­tion among many sides of the de­bate but said it must above all deal with mul­ti­ple facets of the is­sue. He called Trump’s widen­ing of the ar­rest net “good and bad” and de­ferred ac­tion “in­ad­e­quate” be­cause it can be can­celled at a pres­i­dent’s whim.

“There’s a cer­tain res­ig­na­tion to a new level of fear and dis­trust. This is what hap­pens when you don’t take a com­pre­hen­sive ap­proach that’s been well thought-out and an­nounced.”

— Mireya Reith, di­rec­tor of the Arkansas United Com­mu­nity Coali­tion

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