What Donald Trump's Immigration Stance Means For Immigrants

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Roger Mesa, right, a 15-year-old from Honduras who is headed to Miami with his father, Luis Carlos, a construction worker, left, sit at the Sacred Heart Community Center in the Rio Grande Valley border city of McAllen, Texas, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016, after they were released after processing by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. (Eric Gay/AP)
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President-elect Donald Trump campaigned on a promise to enact stricter immigration policies.

He has said he wants to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, DACA. He also said he wants to deport immigrants who have committed crimes, saying that would cover up to 3 million people.

Here & Now‘s Jeremy Hobson talks with Ahilan Arulanantham (@ahilan_toolong), director of advocacy and legal director of the ACLU of Southern California, about reactions to Trump’s election among immigrant communities, and President Barack Obama’s immigration policies.

Interview Highlights

On the argument that all undocumented immigrants are criminals

“Many people who are going through the deportation process have not committed a crime in order to come here, and whether or not that was true, they have lawful status now. The two biggest chunks of people, for example, that were at issue in the Supreme Court case that we argued, are lawful permanent residents — green card holders, who have been convicted of a crime, and have finished serving their sentence. And now the government is trying to strip away their green card and deport them because of the fact that they have been convicted. So you have a lot of people, for example, convicted of simple drug possession. The law subjects you to deportation in that situation, but it gives judges the discretion to chose to let that person stay, if for example, they have a spouse or a child who is dependent on them, and they’ve lived in this country for a long period of time, or they’ve gone through successful rehabilitation since the offense, and things like that.

“Then you have other people who have overstayed visas — that’s not a crime, to overstay your visa, or for example, many of them are people who fled from persecution. And they arrived at the border, sometimes at the most violent countries on Earth, and ask for asylum. And our law has protected that since World War II. We have protected the right of people who have fled prosecution — and now more recently, or torture — to come to the United States and have a safe haven here.”

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On how the Obama administration has approached immigration laws

“President Obama has been perhaps the most draconian enforcer of the immigration laws in modern history. And particularly when it comes to detention, the argument that I was making in the Supreme Court, that’s not the Trump administration, that’s the Obama administration defending a rule that you can lock people up for years without giving them a hearing in front of a judge, just to ask if they can be released, because they’re not a danger or flyer risk. And the Obama administration now… tonight, there will be something like 41,000 or 42,000 people who will go to sleep in an immigration detention center, and that is by far the highest number in the history of the country. Most of those people, well over half of them, have no criminal conviction.”

On the future of DACA under Trump

“I think, unfortunately, that they should be worried. I think it’s going to be a very important early test of the administration, as to whether those threats or promises, whatever you want to call them, end up being carried out. Because even if you can’t agree on every aspect of immigration enforcement, it should be easy to agree that people — who are brought here as children by their parents, who didn’t even know, in many cases, what their immigration status was until they were teenagers, or young adults, and that have known no other country — that people like that really ought to be given the right to stay here. And there was quite widespread bipartisan for that idea. And it’ll be interesting to see if the administration insists on the, in my view, unjust treatment of those people that the president-elect has suggested he might undertake.”

On ways to improve the immigration court system

“I think resource shortages within the immigration court system are a huge part of the problem. And the two things the system needs more than anything else, it needs lawyers for immigrants — not just as a matter of fairness, but because it speeds up the system, and makes it more efficient, and decreases the amount of time people spend in immigration detention and the amount of time that cases spend on the docket. And then it needs far more immigration judges. Immigration judges’ average caseload is around 1,900 cases pending open at a time. Those are a huge factor in the way the system runs.”

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