Students, faculty and staff gathered for a meeting on Monday, Feb. 13, to discuss the recent upsurge in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids, which have arrested nearly 700 undocumented people in the last week. Held in the Powerhouse and open to members of the college community, the meeting provided information about the ICE raids and facilitated conversation about how to mobilize in response.
The Trump administration carried out nationwide ICE raids last week in a “a series of targeted enforcement operations,” according to Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly in a statement on Monday, Feb. 13. The raids swept through regions of the country including Los Angeles, New York, Texas, the Baltimore and D.C. metro area, Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri and Wisconsin, according to The New York Times.
The meeting was publicized by President Biddy Martin in a community-wide email on Saturday, Feb. 11. In the email, Martin said that Chief Student Affairs Officer Suzanne Coffey had contacted students who are undocumented or have DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) status” and that “Amherst will do everything we can using the fullest extent of the law to protect members of our community who could be affected by changes in immigration policy and enforcement and to be a relentless voice in opposition to the threats faced by members of our community.”
At the meeting, Professor of Sociology Leah Schmalzbauer gave a brief history on ICE, a federal law enforcement agency under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Created in 2003, ICE is responsible for enforcing “federal laws governing border control, customs, trade and immigration to promote homeland security and public safety,” according to the ICE website.
Schmalzbauer said enforcement by ICE has been increasing recently. ICE carries out two kinds of deportations, “returns” and “removals.” “Returns” occur when an undocumented
person is caught at the border and returned without entering the United States. “Removals” target and deport undocumented people who have lived in the U.S. for varying lengths of time.
Former President Barack Obama and his administration deported four million people during his presidency, the most deportations since the Eisenhower administration. Obama’s administration, however, prioritized returns and mostly targeted “convicted criminals” for removals — “those who were deemed a threat to national security, those who had convictions or those who had been charged to leave the country and had avoided leaving the country,” Schmalzbauer said.
The Obama administration mostly stopped conducting workplace raids, which Schmalzbauer said were more common during the Bush administration. What they did instead was utilize a program called Secure Communities that relied on partnerships between federal, state and local law enforcement.
“What the Secure Communities did was whenever someone was arrested, on whatever offense — driving over the speed limit is a big one, or a traffic violation that ended in arrest — someone is brought in to [the] county jail,” Schmalzbauer said. “[Then] every name is run through a national database, and when someone is found to have a deportation order, the local police are charged to notify ICE that they have that person in custody.”
The program then requests that the local jail keep the individual in detention for 48 hours longer than it typically would, so that instead of letting the individual walk on bail the next day, the jail would detain the individual so ICE can start deporting the individual. Cities that have designated themselves as “sanctuary cities” direct the county sheriff office not to follow the 48-hour rule.
During the Obama administration, Operation Cross-Check coordinated immigration sweeps that resulted in 7,400 arrests and deportations. The raids in the last few days, Schmalzbauer said, are believed to be a continuation of Operation Cross-Check and not random raids. She added that the raids’ targets for arrest and deportation have changed. Under the Obama administration, these raids focused on convicted criminals on a list maintained by ICE.
The Trump administration has expanded the definition of “criminal,” said Schmalzbauer, so that anyone who has been “charged, convicted or suspected” of criminal activity can be arrested. This includes possessing a false security card and returning to the United States after being previously deported.
The increase and expansion of deportations is a “moral issue,” said Schmalzbauer, because the majority of deportees returning to the U.S. are doing so to reunite with children.
Schmalzbauer said it is unlikely that the Trump administration will follow through with the promise to deport all undocumented immigrants. Mass deportation would strain the economy and many of the industries with workforces comprising largely of these individuals. ICE and the country’s judicial system also do not have enough agents and resources to carry out every single deportation, she said.
“Even though practically, mass deportations would be impossible, what they’re doing is causing fear and anxiety, which is an exertion of social control,” Schmalzbauer said. This would discourage workers from demanding higher wages and immigrants from reporting crimes, which in turn weakens community ties and identities, she added.
The college does not ask about immigration status on campus, Schmalzbauer said. The town police department also does not inquire after immigration status or “use the threat of immigration status/deportation as leverage with victims, witnesses or suspects,” according to its website.
Schmalzbauer advised students directly or indirectly affected by these raids and changes to have the name of a trusted immigration lawyer and, if detained, to stay silent and never sign anything until the lawyer is present. If a detainee signs a document attesting to their presence in the country without documentation, ICE is able to begin expedited deportation, which foregoes a regular court hearing and the right to an attorney.
Professor of History and American Studies Frank Couvares noted that anti-immigration sentiment like that of today is not unique, citing anti-Catholic, anti-Irish and anti-Chinese forces in American history. Many of these anti-immigrant periods were rooted in the fear of jobs being taken away by immigrants, he said.
“The good news is that there is political opportunity on the national level, on the state level [and] on a local level,” he added. “Coalitions shift and change. [Anti-immigration sentiment] comes up, we beat it down … This isn’t going to go away, but it doesn’t mean it’ll be like this forever.”
During times of uncertainty, “we must adapt,” said Professor of Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought Adam Sitze.
“Our game is to graduate the best, diverse leaders of the country,” he said. “Government by chaos throws us into fear, so we can’t do our work and see ourselves in 2030. So my question is, how can we establish communications and networks and ties in the community to absorb the shock and unpredictable events?”
Look to the future, he said, so that “when we look back at ourselves in 20, 30 years, we can say that we followed our principles and morals.”
After the three professors’ statements, the meeting opened up into a discussion, and topics ranged from private detention centers to approaches to engaging with individuals who hold different beliefs and opinions.
“Immigration organizations are rallying like never before, and they’re being led by youth — college youth,” Schmalzbauer said near the end of the meeting. “It was college youth that convinced the Obama administration to sign Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, and there are allies in Congress who are bipartisan, believe it or not ... There are reasons to be hopeful, even in this time.”