The Irish Times view on the US migrant crackdown: cruel and vindictive

Every US president deports undocumented migrants, but Trump’s approach goes far beyond merely applying the law

Protesters march to offices of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) on Saturday in  Chicago. The rally called for an end to criminalisation, detention and deportation of migrants ahead of planned Ice raids. Photograph:  Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

Protesters march to offices of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) on Saturday in Chicago. The rally called for an end to criminalisation, detention and deportation of migrants ahead of planned Ice raids. Photograph: Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

 

These are anxious times for the estimated 12 million undocumented migrants living in the United States. A series of countrywide raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) officers at the weekend may not have amounted to the large-scale show of force that was initially threatened, but the move reflects an apparently broadening clampdown linked to President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” deterrence policy. With an election on the horizon, the pressure is unlikely to ease.

For the undocumented Irish, the darkening atmosphere is encapsulated in the story of Keith Byrne, a 37-year-old from Fermoy, Co Cork, who was jailed after Ice officers in unmarked cars arrested him while he was on his way to work outside Philadelphia last Wednesday. Byrne has lived in the US for 10 years. He owns his own business and is settled with his wife and children, but despite having engaged “openly and honestly” with US authorities since 2010 in the hope of regularising his status, according to his wife, he now faces deportation arising out of a minor charge of cannabis possession dating back to his time in Ireland. If Byrne’s case is illustrative of a pattern, it suggests the authorities are going after easy targets so as to increase the overall deportation rate, deter others and demonstrate a tough approach to the wider population.

Every US president deports undocumented migrants. “Removals”, the term used for someone who has been issued a court order or directed to leave the country, increased under Barack Obama, leading immigrant advocacy groups to call him “deporter in chief”. Removals as well as “returns” – when someone is released back across a US land border without receiving a formal order of removal – were also high under George W Bush and Bill Clinton. But Trump’s vindictive and cruel immigration policies go beyond merely applying the law. Inhumane conditions at detention camps on the border, the removal of deportation protections from nearly one million people who were brought to the US as children or through humanitarian schemes, the scaling back of guarantees that military veterans’ families will not be deported – these are not about deterrence but about the systematic targeting of the vulnerable and the exploitation of immigration for political gain.

The Irish Government must be careful in its approach. Its record on those who are undocumented in Ireland is lamentable, and any attempt to secure a special deal for the Irish in the US is justifiably seen by other states as unacceptable. What the US needs is a comprehensive legislative package aimed at regularising the millions of migrants, including many Irish, who have made the US their home and have contributed through their work and their taxes for many years. Unfortunately, as long as Trump remains in the White House, the chances of such a deal look remote.

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