Thursday, December 5, 2013

The New Trail of Tears

Almost a century ago, the United States government forcibly deported Native Americans from the Old Southwest, between the Alleghenies and the Mississippi. "Indian Removal" was authorized by federal statutes, and under that fig-leaf of legitimacy the Jackson and Van Buren administrations removed Indians from their homes to detention facilities, and deported them. In the last stages of this effort, the Cherokee were obliged to make their way on foot from Georgia to Oklahoma territory, a voyage that thousands did not survive.

We are in the midst of a similar deportation program in the new Southwest, from Georgia to Arizona. Two million residents of the United States, the majority of whom are Hispanic and roughly half of whom entered the United States as children, or as adults with permission, have been deported since the program was authorized in 1996. Hundreds of thousands of long-term residents, hard working, tax-paying Americans have been "removed" (that term of art has been revived). Hispanic Removal has very little to do with control of the nation's borders or immigration enforcement, but is targeted at millions of immigrants who have settled here, including those whose status as permanent residents and naturalized citizens is being revoked for minor offenses.

Three quarters of the total, 1.5 million, have been deported by the Obama Administration. Although the president has staunchly championed reform of the immigration laws, he has accepted a deeply flawed bargain with Republicans who have insisted on ever more aggressive "enforcement" of the deportation program. Secretary Janet Napolitano constructed a program in which "criminal aliens" were supposed to be deported, but Congressional Republicans demanded that 34,000 detention "beds" be filled at all times, and 400,000 immigrants deported each year. These quotas are buried in appropriations bills, and so have largely escaped notice. The quotas cannot be achieved without deeply violating the norms of due process of law, and 400,000 immigrants guilty of major crimes cannot be found each year. An out-of-control program of mass deportations has resulted, and has created a human rights crisis.

The Hispanic Removal program depends largely on state and local police, who can be deputized to carry out federal law. Few jurisdictions have been willing to turn over their law enforcement resources to the federal government, however, and the Bush Administration created through executive orders something called "Secure Communities," in which local police are required to inform federal officials of the identity of all those they detain who are suspected of lacking proper immigration or citizenship papers. Many states objected to this removal program, but the Obama Administration has made it mandatory, as the quotas for detention and deportation cannot otherwise be met.

Secure Communities, like the detention camps of Indian Removal, a program of doubtful constitutionality, is essential to Hispanic Removal. Congressional Republicans have reneged on whatever bargain Democrats thought they had made, and insist that any reforms in immigration law depend on increased and ever more cruel efforts to deport millions of immigrants; even the comprehensive reform bill passed by the Senate, S 744, in exchange for a grudging path to citizenship for some number of undocumented immigrants, would greatly expand the population subject to summary "removal" and would redouble the graft-laden system of profitable detention centers.

The removal of Hispanics is made possible by the Secure Communities program, which is a creature of Executive Orders and which the President could abolish with a stroke of a pen. There is no longer any excuse for maintaining it. Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter to secure fair winds for his attack on Troy; as Roger Algase at ImmigrationLawBlogs points out,
Has not President Barack Obama sacrificed the lives, hopes, dreams and family connections, if not the physical bodies, of well over a million people during the past five years on the altar of deportation in order to appease the god of "enforcing the law" and to try to gain fair winds for comprehensive immigration reform?
And is Obama not continuing to sacrifice over 1,000 immigrants each day on this deportation altar?