Trump’s immigration trap destroying lives

By Rong Xiaoqing Source:Global Times Published: 2018/6/28 18:33:40

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Last week, President Donald Trump's flip-flop on the policy of separating immigrant families at the US border with Mexico drew a lot of attention. The policy required immigration law enforcement to separate children from their parents when they crossed the border without permission as a deterrent to illegal immigration. When it triggered a national and international outcry, Trump at first pointed fingers at the Democrats and claimed only Congress could change the policy. But himself realizing that "crying babies don't look good politically," he signed an executive order to halt the practice on June 20th, only five weeks after enforcement had begun.  

Now the administration is scrambling to locate 2,300 children who were pulled away from their parents during the period to allow them to rejoin their families. It is not clear whether every child will be relocated and united with parents or how long the process will take. But at least, in many people's eyes, the ugly episode of family separations under Trump's zero tolerance policy against illegal immigrants has been suspended.

Or has it?

On June 18, I met Yu Mei Chen, a Chinese woman from Fujian Province at a rally in New York. It was a protest that included activists and elected officials from the Chinese and many other communities calling for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement to release her husband Xiu Qing You.

You was smuggled into the US in 2000, five years before Chen. They are both from the same town in the coastal Chinese province. He applied for political asylum immediately after he arrived, but the application was rejected in 2002 when the court issued a deportation order. But like many other immigrants who received deportation orders in the pre-Trump era, You stayed anyway, worked hard, obeyed American laws, and hoped one day he'd find another opportunity to get legal immigration status.

That opportunity seemed to have come when he fell in love with Chen and married her a few years ago. Chen, a naturalized US citizen, sponsored You for a marriage-based green card, and the application seemed to have been going well till Chen was told to go to the immigration services in May for an interview, the last step in a green card application that few people fail. Then, to the surprise of his lawyer and his wife, You was arrested in the middle of the interview and put in an immigration prison to await deportation. He had gone from being a hopeful future citizen to prisoner in a few moments.

When I met Chen, a petite and thin woman, she couldn't stop sobbing. The tears were more for their two young children than for herself. Both born in the US, their six-year-old daughter and four-year-old son had been crying every day since You's arrest and demanded to know where their father was. Chen had to lie to them by saying their father had to go to a faraway place to work. The children didn't believe her.

You was not the first immigrant with young kids to be arrested for no other reason than his immigration status. Not long before You's arrest, Pablo Villavicencio, a pizza delivery man, was arrested while delivering pizza to a military base in Brooklyn. He too, has a US citizen wife, two young children, and has filed his green card application. And as Trump's immigration policy keeps getting tighter, You and Villavicencio won't be the last either. While it may look like family ties are respected at the border for now, immigrant families have been torn apart elsewhere and will continue to be.

It is true the US law (or the law of any other country) doesn't allow people to cross the border without a visa. And a deportation order means one must leave this country voluntarily or involuntarily. But the US hasn't been seriously enforcing these laws for a long time. Law enforcement officers had been closing their eyes to undocumented immigrants who were able to provide cheap labor to businesses in the US.

A country, of course, has a right to enforce or not enforce its immigration law any time it likes. But right and wrong is often not clear cut when human lives are at stake. In the decades of leniency, undocumented immigrants who had worked hard in the US were also able to start families, have children, open businesses and build their American Dreams. By the time Trump's zero tolerance policy was suddenly introduced they were already deeply rooted in society here. And cutting off the roots can be devastating and, in some cases, fatal.        

You was released a few days after the rally through a writ of habeas corpus granted by a court. But it doesn't protect You from being arrested again for the same reasons and being deported. For now, the family just wants to stay out of the limelight and pray that the situation changes.

Tens of thousands of families like You's are living in fear. They have nowhere to run or hide. They are trapped.

The author is a New York-based journalist.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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