We all saw this coming. The collateral damage from President Donald J. Trump’s stepped up detentions and deportations of undocumented immigrants. The moral buzz saw that it has revved up for local governments.
Stories abound these days of families from Riverside, California, to Riviera Beach being torn apart as loved ones are suddenly rounded up and detained as they wait to be deported. The vast majority of these “criminals” are grabbed for traffic infractions as minor as a parking ticket; or even more ironically, when properly checking in with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
We understand the administration’s zeal to push back the criminal element that also makes its way into our country illegally. But these draconian measures, as evidenced by Palm Beach County’s own most recent experiences with detaining and deporting non-threatening immigrants, need to be re-thought and re-prioritized.
It is a prickly question, to be sure. The fact is that if you enter this country illegally, you break the law. That might make the issue of deportation simple for some — especially immigration hardliners. But as we’ve always known, this issue is far from simple. It can’t be, when many of those being deported are otherwise law-abiding, business-building, family-oriented and even church-going folks.
Folks like Gloriana Gonzalez and Milton Perez Gabriel, who ended up in ICE custody after being detained in Riviera Beach.
In May, Riviera Beach Police responded to a woman who said that her clothes had been stolen from a laundromat. When police arrived, they noticed the woman had a boyfriend, Perez. He was asked about his citizenship and found to be an undocumented Guatemalan laborer with no criminal history. Police called ICE and he was locked up.
Earlier this month, Gonzalez was involved in a fender bender. Police arrived at the scene to discover that Gonzalez, a 43-year-old Venezuelan woman who has a master’s degree, has been living in America — crime-free — after her visa expired. Again, Riviera Beach Police called ICE, who locked Gonzalez in a detention center in Pompano Beach, putting her on a path to deportation.
Even checking in with ICE, as required, is no protection for immigrants with no criminal record.
Victor Chavez and his wife, Matias Carillo, were both issued orders of deportation when they attempted to have their annual work permit issued in March. The Jupiter business owners have a 13-year-old U.S.-born son. A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, whose district covers northern Palm Beach County, said the congressman is looking into their case.
And Francisco Javier Gonzalez, the manager of the Pizza Al Fresco restaurant on Palm Beach’s Worth Avenue, was given an 11th-hour reprieve from possible deportation on July 14, a day before he was scheduled to check in with ICE in Broward County. The Mexican-born Gonzalez has a U.S. citizen spouse and three U.S.-born daughters. His reprieve lasts for three months.
To be sure, there are some bad actors. These are the “criminals” who the Obama administration chose to focus on for deportation — managing to send back more undocumented immigrants than any other previous administration.
But the current administration chooses to invoke national security as a pretext for xenophobia, essentially painting Gonzalez, Carillo and Chavez with the same broad brush used for violent criminal gangs like MS-13 and Barrio 18. As part of this effort, it has sought to conscript our local authorities by threatening to remove funding for so-called “sanctuary cities” that don’t aid the federal government in hunting down and arresting undocumented residents.
It would nice if local law enforcement decided their resources are best used to aid their residents rather than a harsh deportation policy. That they won’t call ICE if they encounter an immigrant here illegally who seems non-threatening and doesn’t have a criminal record.
After all, officers exercise discretion every day on our roads when they decide whether to pull over a driver who is speeding versus one who is both speeding and swerving in traffic.
Similarly, law-enforcement resources — federal, state and local — should be focused on deporting the real bad guys.
This is issue is far from that simple. It can’t be when many of those being deported are otherwise law-abiding, business-building, family-oriented, and even church-going folks.