De­port­ing ‘the good ones’

Sta­tis­tics un­der Mr. Trump show roundup ru­mors threaten to be­come re­al­ity.

The Washington Post - - WASHINGTON FORUM -

HAV­ING DE­CLARED that “the shack­les [are] off” de­por­ta­tion agents, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has made clear it in­tends to ac­cel­er­ate ar­rests and re­movals of un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants. Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary John F. Kelly says agents will fo­cus en­force­ment on un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants with crim­i­nal records, but num­bers from the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s first weeks in of­fice sug­gest a dif­fer­ent, and con­cern­ing, pat­tern.

As The Post’s Maria Sac­chetti re­ported, ar­rests of unau­tho­rized im­mi­grants with­out crim­i­nal con­vic­tions more than dou­bled through mid-March un­der the new ad­min­is­tra­tion, com­pared with the same span last year. Ar­rests of those with crim­i­nal records in­creased by a more mod­est 15 per­cent.

The sta­tis­tics of­fer a snap­shot of less than two months of en­force­ment ac­tiv­ity, not a pre­dic­tive trend. None­the­less, the num­bers are jar­ring: Some 5,400 non­crim­i­nal un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants were ar­rested in seven weeks or so, and many of them were picked up not along the bor­der but in cities such as At­lanta, Dal­las, Philadel­phia and St. Paul, Minn., where large num­bers of such im­mi­grants have been in the coun­try for more than 15 years, and many have chil­dren and other rel­a­tives who are U.S. cit­i­zens. In the Dis­trict, non­crim­i­nal ar­rests for that pe­riod spiked from 38 a year ago to 174 this year. And given the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pro­posal to hire 10,000 new Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment agents, plus 5,000 new Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion of­fi­cers, it’s fair to won­der if the next four years will be marked by the sort of in­dis­crim­i­nate roundups that Pres­i­dent Trump at times threat­ened in his cam­paign rhetoric.

Start­ing in late 2014, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion ex­plic­itly tar­geted il­le­gal im­mi­grants with se­ri­ous crim­i­nal con­vic­tions for en­force­ment, leav­ing those with clean records rel­a­tively, though not en­tirely, safe from the threat of de­por­ta­tion. Be­fore that, it is true that de­por­ta­tions did spike, lead­ing some im­mi­gra­tion ad­vo­cates to refer to Pres­i­dent Barack Obama as the “de­porter in chief.” But the spike then was driven largely by im­mi­grants picked up and de­ported along the south­west­ern bor­der; many of those de­por­tees had only re­cently en­tered the coun­try.

Now, ICE agents, hav­ing heard the mes­sage about their “un­shack­ling,” may be act­ing with a freer hand. Mr. Kelly as­serts that pol­icy has changed to tar­get un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants with even a sin­gle non­vi­o­lent crim­i­nal con­vic­tion (such as drunken driv­ing), and he ac­knowl­edges that no unau­tho­rized im­mi­grants are im­mune from ar­rest — in­clud­ing those with no crim­i­nal record, whom the pres­i­dent has re­ferred to as “the good ones” and “ter­rific peo­ple.”

Stepped-up en­force­ment will shat­ter fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties. Ev­i­dence sug­gests it is al­ready de­ter­ring Latino victims of sex­ual as­saults and other of­fenses in cities such as Houston and Los Angeles from re­port­ing the crimes to the au­thor­i­ties, for fear they will end up be­ing de­ported.

Law en­force­ment in­volves pri­or­i­ties, as Mr. Kelly ac­knowl­edges; he is also right that it is up to Congress to re­form a dys­func­tional sys­tem. In over­see­ing en­force­ment for this ad­min­is­tra­tion, how­ever, he will be judged by whether pol­icy is mea­sured, sen­si­ble and hu­mane. Early signs are not en­cour­ag­ing.

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