“Donald Trump’s presidential campaign capitalized on a familiar brand of nativist anti-immigrant slander usually reserved for our nation’s most desperate times. It was an ugly old vein to mine, but now that he’s managed to strike electoral gold there, he is not wrong to view his election as a mandate to carry out his promise to enforce federal immigration law to its fullest extent. This would be alarming to friends of the Constitution under any circumstances, but especially so given Trump’s open embrace of white supremacy—as a concept, if not a movement—in the primaries. We haven’t encountered such an openly bigoted presidential campaign on the right since Pat Buchanan’s last failed insurgent run at the GOP nomination in 1996, and we have never seen an avowedly white-nationalist leader accede to the Oval Office.
Nor should any of us expect the chastening experience of actual governing to temper his outlook. Trump has proven at every opportunity that he is all but ineducable about even the simplest details of how immigration to the United States actually works. And this, it turns out, is probably one of the few things he has in common with a considerable majority of Americans.”
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The immigration system I keep hearing about from pundits and politicians (all of whom should know better) is almost entirely unmoored from actual fact. It seems to be a chimerical pastiche of the one we had before Ellis Island closed, the one we had just before the moon landing, and some sort of rosy Tomorrowland fantasy in which visas would be awarded to the undocumented if only they would do it the right way. This is not the system I work with every day.
When a white, native-born American says, “my family came here the right way,” what the speaker almost invariably means is that one or more of his ancestors came to the United States without a visa during a time of virtually unrestricted European migration. They boarded a trans-Atlantic ocean liner, stood in line at an immigration inspection station for the better part of a day, answered a standard series of twenty-nine questions, were subjected to a medical exam, and were admitted indefinitely to the United States. That’s how my Scottish great-grandparents did it in 1916. If you were born in the United States with European ancestors, it’s probably how you came to be here too. That system ended in 1924. Its successor, the “national origins” quota system (a more restricted but still relatively open “line”), was abolished in 1965. But I still regularly meet well-meaning fellow citizens who believe that anyone who deserves a chance can simply “fill out the forms,” “get in line,” and “come the right way, like my family did.” At which point, I have to patiently explain that they can’t.
For most of my undocumented neighbors, in East Boston and beyond, there are no forms. There is no line. There never was. Telling an undocumented Mexican dishwasher that he should “wait in line, like my family did” is no more realistic than advising him to switch to the same model of iPhone your great-grandfather used. Yet the lie persists, with nearly every presidential candidate since George H. W. Bush invoking the imaginary “line.”
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[Bill] O’Reilly was too charitable. There is no reason to believe that Trump has ever understood the basic precepts of due-process protection. Commitment to due process would have been fundamentally incompatible with Trump’s record as a casino magnate, a New York City landlord, or an authoritarian game show host given unlimited license to “fire” contestants at whim.
Trump has signaled the likely place of due process in his immigration system by promising to immediately deport 2 to 3 million “criminal aliens.” This staggering number, nearly the entire urban population of Chicago, would represent more deportations than Obama (the current record-holder) completed in eight years, and more than twice as many as were carried out during Operation Wetback.
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In fifty-eight immigration courts nationwide, immigration judges are operating (per a recent study) at a degree of mental stress equivalent to that of an emergency-room doctor. “This case,” sneered federal judge Richard Posner in a recent dissent, “involves a typical botch by an immigration judge.” Posner, punching down from the lofty heights of a federal appeals court, went on to concede graciously that the immigration court’s status as “the least competent federal agency,” might have something to do with congressional underfunding and the resultant “crushing workloads.”
Our nation’s roughly 250 immigration judges [now approximately 305] are now responsible for managing a record backlog of more than five hundred thousand pending deportation cases, with thousands more pouring into the system each day. The judges I appear before in the Boston immigration court are humane and learned experts who work long hours, in circumstances that couldn’t be less familiar to Judge Posner, but they are as susceptible to human error as any judge anywhere.
In an executive order signed within days of his inauguration, Trump authorized Congress to triple the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents on the ground. He has made no mention of any plans to extend the courts the same courtesy, but this new flow of cases simply cannot be sustained within today’s judicial plumbing.”
Cameron’s full, hard-hitting article is definitely worth a read. And, as he points out, quite sadly, it’s likely to get much worse from a due process standpoint before it gets better.
I also think he is right that few U.S. Court of Appeals Judges would be able to survive working as U.S. Immigration Judges under today’s incredibly difficult circumstances and conditions.