Immigration raids—political theater of the absurd

Over the weekend, ICE threatened to launch a much-publicized series of raids around the country in order to round up removable non-criminal immigrants by the thousands.

This was yet another example of spectacle over sound policy, and it does nothing to make the country safer.

When the president tweeted about the imminent raids in June, it was clear that he was interested only in showing that he was being tough on immigration. In reality, the only thing “tough” about the plan is the quality of the red meat being served to a base frustrated by recent setbacks, such as the failure to add citizenship to the census questionnaire and the long-stymied efforts to build a useless wall.

Regardless of the legal merits of these raids, announcing them ahead of time serves no practical purpose. As someone who is intimately familiar with the aims and challenges of enforcement of orders of removability, it is obvious to me that even if these raids took place — and it’s “if,” because at the time of writing, we have seen nothing like what the administration threatened — they would never prove to be an effective deterrent. Nor would they force Democrats in Congress to come to the negotiating table, as some conservative pundits claim.

If, as the president would have us believe, this administration is fighting a war on “illegal” immigration, his announcement was the equivalent of Churchill getting on the wireless to tell Germany to prepare for D-Day … and then giving the time and coordinates for the beaches the Allies planned to land on. That’s because these raids, typically carried out at worksites, require the element of surprise. If anything, they really affect only those facing orders of removal and their loved ones.

As a reminder, these are not hardened criminals. The vast majority of them have been living in compliance with the law, even as the sword of deportation hung over their heads. Those who have remained in their homes, awaiting the inevitable pounding at the door, deserve our respect for their bravery. Because if history has taught us anything, it’s that there is much to fear when groups of armed men are sent out into the night to round up frightened people. And those immigrants who did go into hiding ahead of these raids didn’t need to look very far to find something to motivate their flight. In recent weeks the news has been filled with heartbreaking reports of families in cages and children left hungry and uncared for.

One unexpected consequence, however, is that immigrants and their citizen allies have become better informed than ever. We have seen widespread efforts from organizations and individuals across the country dedicated to letting people know their rights, particularly when it comes to warrantless seizures. Those allies have been telling immigrants what they can do to protect themselves should ICE come knocking.

These are rights that need to be as self-evident today as they were 250 years ago.

No one is arguing that we simply forget about removability, nor is anyone advocating for “open borders.” If we are going to enforce removability, though, we have to make sure that it serves a purpose and is in compliance with the law. It cannot just be retribution, because the president didn’t get what he wants on some form.

We can be humane. We can be kind. We can be smart. We can be the Americans that so many people came here wanting to be. Let’s not punish them for that.

About the Author
Michael Wildes is the mayor of Englewood, a member of Congregation Ahavath Torah there, and the author of 'Safe Haven in America: Battles to Open the Golden Door.' He is a former federal prosecutor and an adjunct professor of immigration law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.
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