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What should happen when a person living in our country seeking asylum has their case heard by the court, is found not to be eligible for asylum and is ordered to be removed from the country?
That question, posed by José Díaz-Balart during the recent Democratic debate, deserves a discussion longer than what was allowed for in the debate format. Afterall, every case is different.
What if the person has been a productive member of the community for a decade or longer? What if he or she is the sole provider for Americanborn children? What about the Dreamers who were brought here by their parents when they were young children? What if the person is a member of the military or a first responder serving their hometown?
It’s estimated that there are more than 1 million people who have remained in the country following a court order of removal. Some of them, like former Mexican journalist Emilio Gutierrez Soto, have incredibly compelling cases to make. His reporting on corruption in the Mexican military resulted in death threats that forced him to flee to Las Cruces with his son, where they have lived for nine years.
There’s no benefit to our country to be derived from the deportation of those who have lived and worked here for years. But, there is no remedy offered by Congress that would provide a legal way forward.
And so, lacking the political will necessary to reform an asylum system that was designed for the Cold War, both sides have settled into an uncomfortable status quo in which we simply ignore laws instead of trying to fix them.
In his failed attempts to get Congress to act, former President Barack Obama argued for years that he did not have the power to offer protection to Dreamers through executive action. Then, when it became clear that waiting for Congress was hopeless, Obama did what he said he couldn’t.
Republicans are now challenging that action in court, while at the same time assuring that they don’t really want to see all those kids get deported.
Everybody understands that we’re not going to have a mass roundup and forced deportation of the more than 1 million people with orders of removal. But, any attempt to sort out that situation and come to some kind of reconciliation is immediately denounced as amnesty.
Without the ability to legislate, we’re left with political theater.
President Donald Trump is threatening mass deportations … again. He originally sent a tweet in June threatening “millions” of deportations, with raids focused on cities that have opposed his hardline immigration policies. He now says the raids will be coming “fairly soon.”
Obama deported more than 400,000 people in 2012 and hoped nobody would notice. Trump has yet to deport as many as 300,000 in any one year but is drawing attention to the issue every day.
His administration has routinely violated courtordered restrictions on the detention of children. Federal facilities used to hold immigrants lack basic necessities. A recent General Accounting Office inspection of four facilities found “immediate risks or egregious violations of detention standards,” including inadequate medical care, significant food safety issues and overly restrictive segregation.
Obama tried to find a compassionate solution but ended up being the deporter-in-chief. Trump clearly desires a more hardline solution. But his zero-tolerance policy has inflicted cruelty on children and families without slowing the flow of new immigrants.
Congress shakes its collective head in disapproval and does nothing.
Walt Rubel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.