Immigrants in Trump’s America Now Deported for Running a Red Light

Immigrants in Trump’s America Now Deported for Running a Red Light

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Immigrants in Trump's America Now Deported for Running a Red Light
Immigrants in Trump’s America Now Deported for Running a Red Light

Just before 7 a.m. on May 11, Jonatan Palacios quietly closed the door to his apartment in Haverford, Pennsylvania, to avoid waking his wife. In the parking lot, he got into his car to drive to the restaurant where he works as the head cook. But as he pulled out of his parking space, Palacios saw two law enforcement officers in his rearview mirror walking toward his car. As they got closer, Palacios, who is an undocumented immigrant, could see the small logo on the upper left side of their chests—and knew they were from immigration. He checked the door handles, and felt a moment of relief when he realized the doors had locked automatically.

The immigration agents knocked on the window and asked him to get out of his car. Palacios froze. After a few seconds, he told the agents through the glass that he needed to make some phone calls. He called his boss to tell him he wouldn’t make it to work, his lawyer, and his wife, an American citizen, who was still asleep in the apartment. She came to the parking lot to ask the agents if they had a warrant to arrest her husband.

They didn’t have an arrest warrant, they told her, but they did have a deportation order issued by a judge in 2008—a couple of years after Palacios had arrived in America from Honduras when he was 17. Seeing no way out, Palacios opened the car door, hugged his wife, and allowed the officers to bind his arms behind his back with plastic zip ties. They brought Palacios to a processing center in Philadelphia before moving him to Pennsylvania’s York County Prison.

“I was so panicked,” Palacios says. “I was trying to think through every little detail. Eventually, there was nothing else we could do and I just got out of the car, gave Lillie a hug and went with them.”

For the 11 million immigrants living illegally in the United States, fear of deportation isn’t new. Former President Barack Obama deported 2.7 million undocumented immigrants, the majority of them with criminal records, during his eight years in office — more than any other president before him —causing some immigration groups to nickname him “deporter in chief.” Yet barely six months into Trump’s presidency, immigrants like Palacios —people without criminal records who are working and raising families, and who have been living in the U.S. for a long time—are feeling even less secure. That’s because although Trump campaigned on an immigration policy that he said would target the “bad hombres,” his executive orders don’t fall in line with his candidate promises. In the time since Trump has taken office, immigration lawyers and advocates in cities such as Philadelphia have seen a spike in the number of people detained whom they say fall outside of the realm of the “bad hombre” definition.

In a statement to Newsweek, a spokesman for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said the agency is focusing first on detaining people who post a threat to national security, but he added that officers would also pick up anyone they encountered who had entered the country illegally.

Under Obama, the White House issued clear policy memos that directed ICE agents to prioritize criminals when sifting through the mountains of files of people facing deportation. The policy directed agents to focus on deporting only recent arrivals, repeat immigration violators and people with multiple criminal violations. Under the former administration, about 1.4 million people were considered priorities for removal.

Trump has taken immigration enforcement in a different direction. His orders effectively overturned Obama’s policy. Whereas before, agents had to follow a specified list of priorities, they can now go after any undocumented immigrant they deem to be a “risk to public safety or national security” —a deliberately vague mandate, say immigration experts, that gives individuals in the agency a lot of leeway to make their own choices. “With his executive orders, Trump played into [ICE officers’] worst instincts,” says Matthew Archambeault, Palacios’s lawyer, adding that officers “feel like they can be mean and not give any breaks to anyone.”

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