Mass Deportation of the Undocumented: A Terrible, Failed Idea That Trampled Due Process – posted 9/20/2015 and published in the Concord Monitor on 9/25/2015
This piece appeared in the Concord Monitor on 9/25/2015 under the title “Dearly Deported”.
In his platform and in his speeches, Donald Trump includes the idea of deporting the eleven million undocumented people in the United States. At a recent rally in Dallas, he described the undocumented immigrants as part of a “dumping ground for the rest of the world”. He has said the majority of undocumented immigrants are criminals and violent gang members. Since Trump is the current GOP frontrunner and since polls show the idea of mass deportations is popular among Republicans, I think his idea deserves serious scrutiny.
Trump has said that as president he would deport all undocumented immigrants and then allow the “good ones” to reenter the country through an expedited process. He has said the “good ones” could live in the United States although not as citizens. Trump has not yet said how he would locate, round up, and deport the eleven million immigrants he believes must be deported. He has said it would only take eighteen months to two years to get the job done.
Trump has also said that the U.S. born children of illegal immigrants also must go. Under current law, these children are considered legal citizens.
The journalist, Jorge Ramos, has pointed out that Trump would need to deport 458, 333 immigrants per month or 15, 277 people per day to complete his plan in the projected time period. Ramos has also said that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has estimated that it costs $12,500 to deport one person. Using that estimate, it would cost $137 billion to do the deportations Trump wants.
Most commentators, whether liberal or conservative, recognize that the cost of mass deportations would be prohibitively expensive. I have seen other estimates in the cost range from $285 billion to $600 billion. The price tag would include the costs of apprehension, detention, legal processing, and transportation.
The legal and constitutional issues raised are vast. Due process, equal protection, and Fourth Amendment claims jump out. If Trump does intend to deport U.S. born children of illegal immigrants, what about the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment? Would Trump try to deport U.S. citizen children?
Assuming he would not (which may not be the case), what would happen to those children when their parents are sent across the border? There are so many mixed immigration status families. American citizens would be put in the extremely difficult position of having to decide whether to stay in their home country, away from their families, or leave. It would be a Sophie’s choice.
And how would undocumented workers respond to the deportations? While some might go voluntarily, it is a safe bet that many would not. I would predict the desperation level would be extreme. Undocumented workers are typically among the most vulnerable and exploited workers in America. Unscrupulous employers are notorious for preying on these workers by cheating on wages, subjecting them to dangerous conditions and by ignoring worker injuries. One can only imagine what accommodations, compromises and deals undocumented workers would make to stay off the immigration authority radar screen so they could stay in the country.
Then I should mention the many undocumented immigrants who own businesses and employ others. By some estimates, hundreds of thousands of American small businesses are owned by undocumented immigrants. The business could be a restaurant, a corner convenience store, or a small construction outfit. Would these businesses just be shut down? What would happen to the assets?
If an undocumented business owner poses no threat to national security, runs his business lawfully, pays taxes, and hires American citizens, does it make sense to close that business down?
Trump’s plan almost assumes there is no Constitution or other legal authority. Millions of undocumented immigrants would assert rights that they have under current law. Even if he was serious about pursuit of mass deportations, the timeline Trump projects is la-la land. The possible legal issues are endless and they would be hard fought until the end. The legal fight-back would be aggressive and sophisticated.
Imagining the process of mass deportations is imagining a nightmare scenario. What dragnet would catch these people? Would Americans be encouraged to become stool pigeons ratting out their neighbors? Across the country, how would the immigration authorities zero in on the undocumented? Almost certainly, skin color, accent, and manner of dress would place some people at a higher risk for a stop and investigation.
For a nation of immigrants, the gestapo-like endeavor of ferreting out, arresting and deporting millions is utterly un-American and an affront to our Constitution.
What makes this even worse is that a plan similar to Trump’s has been done before and very few Americans even know about it. In an episode that goes back to the Great Depression-era years of 1929-1936, federal, state, and local authorities sanctioned policies that resulted in mass deportations of Mexicans and Mexican-American citizens. That forced return to Mexico is known as the Mexican Repatriation. Although not well known history to Anglos, the Mexican Repatriation is now widely seen as a humanitarian disaster that trampled due process.
The repatriated mostly had lived in California, Michigan, Colorado, Texas, Illinois, Ohio and New York before they were deported.
In 2006, the state of California formally apologized for its role in those deportations and expressed contrition to the deportees “for the fundamental violation of their basic civil liberties and constitutional rights during the period of illegal deportation and coerced emigration”. In 2012, the city of Los Angeles also issued a formal apology to the victims of the repatriation. The federal government has never apologized.
The history of that era is instructive. In 1929, in the aftermath of the stock market crash and 25% unemployment, President Herbert Hoover’s administration sought a scapegoat for the horrendous economy. Hoover was widely hated by masses of people for doing nothing to help everyday people who faced an awful economy. Hoover settled on the Mexicans to be a scapegoat. During the 1930’s, an estimated one million Mexicans and Mexican-Americans were deported back to Mexico. An estimated 60% of those deported were U.S. citizens.
At the time, many Americans believed that foreigners were taking jobs and services they needed. They saw the repatriation as leading to jobs for “real Americans”. There was an irony about this view. Before the 1929 Great Depression, U.S. employers, with the support of the government, had greatly encouraged Mexican migration to the United States. That migration had been seen as helpful to the economic development of the southwest. The Great Depression changed all that.
President Hoover’s Labor Secretary, William A. Doak, helped to engineer the mass deportations. Doak had immigration officers scour the country for illegals. His immigration officers raided union halls, dances, social clubs and other Mexican enclaves.
The repatriation made a mockery of any legal process. Intimidation was the general rule. Immigration officials armed with guns and batons conducted sweeps looking for suspects of Mexican ancestry. When suspects were found, they were usually arrested without any arrest warrant. Often, they were denied counsel. Deportation hearings were conducted inside city or county jails. The immigration officer acted as interpreter, accuser, judge and jury. Not comprehending their rights, some volunteered to self-deport.
The norm was that no legal record or judicial transcript of these hearings were kept. Even if an immigrant invoked the desire for counsel, that privilege was left to the discretion of the immigration official. There is evidence that Mexicans were misled and enticed to leave the country by being told they would be able to return later when that promise was false.
The repatriation broke up many families. Thousands of children who had lived in the United States their entire lives and who could not speak Spanish were sent to Mexico to live for the rest of their lives. In many cases, those who were deported never saw their family members again.
Considering the current discussion about mass deportation prompted by Trump, I find it amazing how little awareness there is about our buried experience with Mexican repatriation. There is a reason Gore Vidal used to talk about the United States of Amnesia. Americans have a bad history with forgetting. We have a blind spot with Latino history. While there is more awareness of historical crimes committed against Native Americans and African Americans, the crimes committed against Latinos have been hidden away. I think the Mexican repatriation is a perfect example.
There is a cluelessness and utter lack of historical awareness in Trump’s plan. He does not seem to know his idea was tried before in the 1930’s with disastrous results. Also, he needs to be called out on lies. Whatever people think about illegal immigrants, the overwhelming majority are not criminals or violent gang members. Most are looking for a better life and economic opportunity. That is something immigrants have always done coming to America.
Comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for the undocumented, is a far superior approach to Trump’s. Trump has indulged in hateful demagoguery and his ideas around mass deportations need to be utterly rejected.