USA TODAY US Edition
Immigration lawyer: Why a wall won’t work
In early 2015, I entered a stuffy, packed federal courtroom in Los Angeles. I was the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) trial attorney, doing my best to follow the priorities set by President Obama: to deport felons, not families, and identify people who pose a threat to society.
I took a deep breath as the judge called the first case — a crying baby, no more than eight months old, one of the thousands of unaccompanied minors in immigration court during the Central America border surge. The judge glared at me while trying to figure out how to get an infant on the official court record.
Before then, as a senior adviser at the State Department under Secretary Hillary Clinton, I listened to government officials in Central America express frustration about our mass deportation of hardened criminals, many of whom spoke little Spanish. These native sons and daughters had learned violence on the streets of L.A., and continued the cycle of violence on their return.
Donald Trump portrays America under Obama and Clinton as a lawless nation that allows all criminal immigrants to stay in the country. But his fear tactics distort the reality. I worked alongside ordinary civil servants looking for humane ways to focus our deportation efforts on national security threats, known gang members, violent criminals and recent arrivals to the U.S.
Trump’s hallmark policy is a border wall that he insists Mexico will finance. It would fail miserably. As an ICE officer, I visited the wall along the San Diego and Tijuana border, and saw portions blasted by smugglers only to be rebuilt over and over on the taxpayers’ dime. How many times would Trump try to rebuild his multibillion dollar wall? Once? Ten times?
The steps we really need are in the direction of improved technology, increased resources and reliance on old-fashioned American ingenuity.
In contrast to Trump’s wall-centered policy, Clinton promises to push for comprehensive immigration reform in her first 100 days in office. She has also vowed to defend Obama’s executive actions to keep families together, and ensure that violent criminals are detained and deported.
After being part of ICE, I decided that nobody “wins” or “loses” in immigration court — but everyone leaves feeling scarred. Our system has been overly politicized and our laws are inadequate, forcing certain immigrants into court because there is no ability to seek relief elsewhere. People can languish for years on simple administrative issues that could be solved if only they had the right to an attorney. Finally, our immigration judges are doing Herculean work that remains underfunded and underappreciated.
If we are going to fix our immigration system, we need a president who understands the gravity and complexity of the problem. For this former ICE official, the choice is clear.