Immigration agents; girls crying
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A New World: Immigration agents arrest a suspected undocumented immigrant in February (left). Sisters in Los Angeles protest the arrest of their father, who is undocumented (right).

CREDIT: Charles Reed/AP Photo (police); Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images (girls)

Should They Stay or Should They Go?

The debate over President Trump’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants

Related content: "My Parents Were Deported"

Immigration Nation

On a recent evening in Phoenix, Arizona, protesters surrounded a van as it was pulling away from a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office. 

The activists were demanding the release of the woman inside the van, who, they feared, was about to be sent out of the United States. Guadalupe García de Rayos, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, had been detained earlier that day after reporting for her annual meeting with immigration officials. She’d been required to attend the meetings since a 2008 arrest for using a fake Social -Security number, which is a crime.

Rayos, a custodian, said she used the false Social Security number to get a job to support her two kids, who were both born in the U.S. (and therefore are citizens). She’d been allowed to stay in the U.S. since then, but now, despite the demonstrators’ efforts, the van departed. Rayos’s family didn’t know where she’d been taken until she called the next morning—from Nogales, -Mexico. She had been deported.

Trump showing an executive order
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President Trump displays an executive order on immigration.

CREDIT: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

Rayos was one of the first immigrants to be removed from the country since President Donald Trump announced new policies on illegal immigration. To many of Trump’s supporters, she was a lawbreaker who got what she deserved. On January 25, he issued an executive order that gives immigration officials greater authority to carry out deportations: Any undocumented immigrant who has committed any crime, even a minor offense such as a traffic violation, can now be deported.

This is a sharp contrast from former President Barack Obama’s policy, which prioritized deporting dangerous criminals, such as murderers. That’s why Rayos, who wasn’t considered a threat, had been allowed to remain here. (Obama did, however, deport more undocumented immigrants—more than 3 million—than any previous administration.)

Because undocumented immigrants break the law just by living in the country illegally, experts say that Trump’s order could easily be applied to all of the estimated 11 million of them who are currently in the United States. 

“Every administration has to prioritize who they will go after,” says Steve Yale-Loehr, an immigration law professor at Cornell University in New York. “This goes further than any other president. To make it simple: If someone is here illegally, they are targets for removal.”

The majority of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. come from Mexico and Central America (see chart). About two-thirds of them have been in the U.S. for more than 10 years, according to the Pew Research Center. However, their numbers haven’t increased since 2009, thanks to tougher border security and an improving Mexican economy. In fact, the number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. has dropped since its peak of 12.2 million in 2007. 

The Trump administration says that undocumented immigrants -“victimize Americans” and disregard the “rule of law.” Trump says the new deportation policy fulfills part of his campaign promise to crack down on illegal immigration, a plan that also includes building a wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border. (See Upfront, April 3, 2017.)

More Enforcement

In addition to expanding who can be targeted for deportation, Trump’s executive order calls for hiring 10,000 more immigration enforcement agents. He also wants to enlist police officers throughout the U.S. to help immigration agents identify the undocumented.

People in favor of Trump’s plan say undocumented immigrants take jobs from Americans, drain the country’s resources, and commit crimes. Others point out that the deportation policy simply strengthens laws that already exist but haven’t been consistently enforced.  

“The message is, the immigration law is back in business,” says Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which supports immigration restrictions.

But others are alarmed by Trump’s stance on deportations. They say undocumented immigrants improve the economy and often take low-paying jobs that few Americans want. Many experts also disagree with Trump’s claims that those here illegally frequently commit crimes. According to the Migration Policy Institute, less than 8 percent of undocumented immigrants in the U.S.—about 820,000 of them—have been convicted of a crime.

“We’re living in a new era now,” says Phoenix immigration lawyer Ray Ybarra Maldonado, “an era of war on immigrants.”

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Some people say undocumented immigrants take jobs from Americans, drain the country’s resources, and commit crimes; others say they’re hard workers who do jobs Americans don’t want to do. 

CREDIT: Nick Anderson/Washington Post Writers Group/Cartoonist Group

‘Incredible Kids’

One group that may be exempt from Trump’s executive order is young people brought to the country illegally as children. In 2012, after attempts to pass legislation protecting them failed, Obama issued an executive order temporarily shielding them from deportation. The program became known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). 

The idea was that these young people are a special category since they themselves didn’t choose to break the law by coming here. Those who qualify for DACA can get renewable two-year permits to work legally in the U.S. 

On the campaign trail, Trump said DACA was unconstitutional, and he vowed to abolish the program. But he seems to have softened his tone since taking office, referring to the young immigrants as “incredible kids.” Trump’s deportation order doesn’t affect DACA. 

Still, many of the more than 750,000 young people protected under DACA are uneasy about their futures in the U.S. (see “My Parents Were Deported”)

In response to Trump’s order, dozens of cities have designated themselves sanctuary cities that vow to protect the undocumented from federal authorities. From New York City to Seattle, Washington, cities are providing safe zones where such immigrants can seek refuge, including churches and schools.

Also, many local governments have ordered their police officers not to assist immigration officials in rounding up immigrants. They say it will make people afraid to report crimes and will take officers away from their primary duty of protecting people. 

‘We Will Not Give In’ 

Trump has threatened to withhold federal funds from sanctuary cities in response. Considering the amount of money the federal government provides to many cities, this is a powerful threat. In New York City, for example, federal funds made up 10 percent of the city’s $80.5 billion budget in 2015—$8 billion that goes to many key services like education and transportation. 

U.S. law gives the president the power to set immigration policy, so Trump says he has the authority to decide who should be deported.

But many cities are prepared to fight. “We will not give in to threats,” Ed Lee, mayor of San Francisco, said in a recent statement he issued with two other California mayors. “[We] will stay true to our values of inclusiveness, compassion, and equality, and united against any and all efforts to divide our residents, our cities, and our country.”

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