8 Immigration Horror Stories From Trump’s Radicalized And Empowered ICE Agency
Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.
During his eight years as president of the United States, Barack Obama deported a staggering 2.5 million people. That figure represents a 23 percent increase over the Bush administration, without including the hundreds of thousands who self-deported or were turned away at the border. In 2014, Janet Murguía, president of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), labeled Obama the “deporter-in-chief.”
The title seems almost quaint in the age of Donald Trump.
Within weeks of his taking office, arrests by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement increased 32.6 percent. By mid-March, the number of arrests of immigrants with no prior criminal record had doubled. Dan Satterberg, head prosecutor in King County, Washington State, asserts that ICE has been “emboldened in a way that I have never seen.” NCLR and other immigrants’ rights groups are the first to say that the U.S.’ immigration system is badly in need of reform. But under Trump, ICE has terrorized immigrant communities, discouraging them from reporting crimes or working with law enforcement.
Here are eight ICE horror stories from Trump’s seven-plus months in office.
1. Iraqi Refugees Who Helped U.S. Government Detained at JFK Airport
Shortly after taking office, Trump issued an executive order targeting travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Sudan, Somalia and Yemen. Two of the order’s victims were Hameed Khalid Darweesh and Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi, Iraqi refugees who had assisted the U.S. government during the Iraq War. Alshawi’s wife worked for a U.S. contractor, while Darweesh had been an interpreter for the U.S. Army in Baghdad and Mosul.
Both men had flown in and out of the U.S. without issue during the Obama administration, but were detained at New York City’s JFK Airport in January under Trump’s “Muslim ban.” The ACLU filed a habeas corpus petition on their behalf shortly thereafter.
2. Mexican Transgender Woman Arrested After Reporting Domestic Violence
In February, Irvin Gonzalez, an undocumented transgender woman from Mexico who was staying in a domestic violence shelter in El Paso, Texas, appeared in court to obtain a protective order from her alleged abuser, who she claimed had punched, strangled and kicked her on multiple occasions. The judge in the case complied, but Gonzalez was detained by ICE agents outside the courtroom and has since been indicted on charges of illegally reentering the U.S. Gonzalez’ alleged abuser, she said, had alerted ICE to her whereabouts. According to the Huffington Post, she could face 10 years in prison if convicted.
3. Salvadoran Refugee With Brain Tumor Removed From Hospital
In February, ICE agents forcibly removed Sara Beltrán Hernández from a Texas hospital where she was being treated for a brain tumor and returned her to one of its facilities. According to her lawyers, Hernández applied for asylum in the U.S. in 2015 after receiving death threats from gang members in El Salvador; her request was denied. Relatives have said that although her tumor is considered benign, she suffers from nausea, dizziness, lack of appetite and difficulty walking. After outcry from Amnesty International and other human rights organizations, Hernández was released from detention in early March.
4. Australian Tourist Mistreated and Humiliated at Honolulu Airport
After the ordeal Australian tourist Molly Hill suffered in May, it’s not hard to understand why the U.S. travel industry will lose an estimated $1.3 billion in 2017, according to the Global Business Travel Association. When Hill arrived at Honolulu’s airport on May 15, she planned to visit her American boyfriend and stay in the U.S. for 88 days—a perfectly legal visit, as Australian citizens can stay up to 90 days without a visa. Hill had a return ticket, indicating that she had no intention of violating U.S. immigration laws. Customs and Border Protection detained her all the same; she was refused entry, handcuffed, interrogated, strip-searched and kept in an ICE facility overnight before being put on a plane back to Australia (which cost her an additional $620).
5. Baltimore Restaurant Loses About 30 Immigrant Employees After ICE Announces Audit
Gene Singleton, owner of the Boat House Canton Restaurant in Baltimore, lost approximately 30 of his employees—roughly one-third of his staff—in June after an ICE agent demanded to see a list of everyone who had worked for him in the last two years. While Singleton told the Washington Post he was confident in the legal status of staff, he believed those who quit were “fearful of being separated from their families.”
Losing 30 employees at once has proven costly and disruptive to Singleton’s business. John Sandweg, who was an acting ICE director under the Obama administration, found Singleton’s version of the events plausible, telling the Washington Post, “It wouldn’t surprise me if you had people who are lawfully able to work but are just frightened and flee.” According to Sandweg, ICE audits of businesses under Obama generally occurred when egregious crimes were suspected, whereas “Trump has gone to a more randomized approach.”
6. Immigrants Injured While Working Denied Workers’ Comp
If Republicans were earnest in their desire to reduce the number of undocumented workers in the U.S., they would 1) support comprehensive immigration reform and a coherent, straight-forward path to citizenship; and 2) support a heavily unionized workforce, with all the benefits and protections that go with union membership. Instead, businesses profit from cheap, undocumented labor, while Republicans in Florida, Ohio and elsewhere have been pushing for laws or bills that deny them worker’s compensation should they be injured on the job.
NPR recently reported that in Florida, an unholy alliance of employers and insurers has been working together to deny injury claims made by undocumented workers; one private investigative firm they employ, Command Investigations, even posts a wall of shame featuring pictures of its arrests. Critics of this arrangement assert it encourages businesses to hire indocumentados for low wages, knowing employers won’t have to pay for their injuries should they get hurt on the job.
David Michaels, the most recent director of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, told NPR, “It’s infuriating to think that when workers are hurt in the United States, they’re essentially discarded. If employers know that workers are too afraid to apply for workers’ compensation, what’s the incentive to work safely?”
7. Veteran ICE Agent Characterizes Trump Administration as Contemptuous of Immigrants
Earlier this year, a veteran ICE agent, frustrated with the direction the agency has taken under Trump, agreed to be interviewed by the New Yorker’s Jonathan Blitzer on condition of anonymity. The agent characterized ICE’s new culture as one of extreme “contempt” for immigrants. According to the agent, longstanding protocols that were followed under the George W. Bush and Obama administrations—such as providing language interpreters when needed—were being met with disdain by the Trump administration.
“We used to look at things through the totality of the circumstances when it came to a removal order; that’s out the window,” he told the New Yorker. “The problem is that now, there are lots of people who feel free to feel contempt.”
8. Immigrants Fear Reporting Domestic Violence
Stan Germán, executive director of New York County Defender Services, has asserted that under President Trump, ICE has become so aggressive that even immigrants who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents are worried about showing up in court. In May, a survey sponsored by the Tahirih Justice Center, ASISTA, the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence and the National Network to End Domestic Violence, confirmed that immigrants have become less likely to report incidents of domestic violence or sexual assault.
The report surveyed roughly 700 social and legal services providers. Seventy-eight percent of respondents said that immigrant abuse survivors were more reluctant to contact police. According to the survey, “Survivors have a lot of questions about how they can safely plan under the new administration.” The report also noted that a 16-year-old survivor had attempted suicide because she feared her attacker would report her family to ICE.
Alex Henderson’s work has appeared in the L.A. Weekly, Billboard, Spin, Creem, the Pasadena Weekly and many other publications. Follow him on Twitter @alexvhenderson.