Confronting Immigration Enforcement under Trump: A Reign of Terror for Immigrant Communities

By Greene, Judith | Social Justice, Spring 2019 | Go to article overview

Confronting Immigration Enforcement under Trump: A Reign of Terror for Immigrant Communities


Greene, Judith, Social Justice


When Donald J. Trump first announced his candidacy for the presidency, he instigated a national moral panic by broadly denouncing US immigration policy with rhetoric designed to criminalize all immigrants--be they naturalized, documented, or undocumented. His public pronouncements on this topic throughout his campaign set a firestorm of public fear and resentment ablaze, greatly aiding his effort to amass enough votes to win victory in the electoral college. One of his first acts as president was to issue executive orders designed to broaden and strengthen the immigration enforcement dragnet across the nation.

This article examines the recent surge of anti-immigrant fervor in the United States and argues that immigrants and their allies struggling to survive the federal zero tolerance campaign need all the protection and support our citizenry can muster.

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THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE MARCHED FROM THE SOUTH SIDE OF Milwaukee to the county courthouse on May 1, 2017, to protest Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. and President Donald J. Trump's plans for a massive crackdown on immigrants. Marchers organized by Voces de la Frontera, a grassroots organization that advocates for racial, civil, and workers' rights, were joined by teachers, students, and residents from more than 11 cities across the state of Wisconsin.

Clarke had applied to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to become the first sheriff in his state to be granted 287(g) powers, which would allow his deputies to enforce the nation's tough immigration laws. He asked DHS to train county jail personnel to identify and detain people suspected to be deportable by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). He also wanted ICE to empower his detectives to arrest such people on the streets as part of their regular duties (Bice 2017).

Sheriff Clarke boasted that he favored criminal prosecution for the mayors of so-called sanctuary cities. He had boosted his national profile as a conservative hard-liner in 2016 by campaigning for candidate Trump at rallies across the country. Back in Milwaukee, he was also known for the cruel treatment of people housed in his jail. In April 2016, Terrill Thomas, a man with mental health problems, had been placed in solitary confinement for punishment in the Milwaukee County Jail. Jail deputies turned the water off in his cell for a week and the man died of dehydration (Ford 2017).

Clarke had been a featured speaker at the 2016 Republican Convention. After Trump's election, there were rumors (perhaps spread by Clarke himself) that he would be appointed secretary of homeland security. But in May 2017, a grand jury called for indictment of two jail supervisors and five deputies in connection with Thomas's death (Associated Press 2017). By August, Clarke had not landed any position in the new administration, and he resigned his job as Milwaukee County sheriff.

Perhaps Clarke had been trying to emulate Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff in Maricopa County, Arizona. Arpaio had won fame a decade ago for being "America's toughest sheriff," but Arpaio's ultimate disgrace should have served as a warning to Clarke that he was no role model.

Arpaio's international profile as a tough lawman had begun to rise after he signed a 287(g) agreement with ICE. Sheriff Joe, as he was known, flamboyantly deployed his new powers to conduct random street raids across Maricopa County, locking up arrestees without probable cause.

In April 2008, he unleashed his troops in Guadalupe, a town of 5,500 founded more than a century ago by Yaqui Native Americans. Fanning out from a military-style command post set up in a Family Dollar parking lot, squadrons of Arpaio's deputies--some on horseback--made traffic stops for such offenses as improper use of a horn. They halted pedestrians--Latino and Yaqui alike--who were simply walking along city sidewalks in order to question them about their immigration status. …

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