I support immigration reform – but like most Americans, I don’t get that worked up about my government expelling undocumented immigrants convicted of felonies.
So I didn’t grouse too much when the Obama Administration stepped up the deportation of undocumented immigrants but kept the focus largely on convicts. To be sure, immigrants are not a big violent crime threat in this country – despite President Trump’s xenophobic nonsense to the contrary. But if you’re here illegally and were dumb or malevolent enough to rob, assault or murder somebody, let’s just say you drained whatever pro-immigrant compassion I had for you.
Which is to say: I usually don’t consider what’s spent on booting out an undocumented convict a waste of taxpayer money.
But which is also to say: Whatever they just spent to boot out Mario Hernandez-Delacruz was a waste of taxpayer money.
Hernandez-Delacruz is just the latest productive, law-abiding, tax-paying undocumented immigrant the Trump Administration has collared for deportation. The father of three had a carpeting business in Detroit. He attended a Pentecostal church. He’d helped police with robbery investigations in his neighborhood – something a lot of undocumented migrants are wary of stepping out of the shadows to do.
Still, federal agents from Immigration & Customs Enforcement, or ICE, zeroed in on Hernandez-Delacruz – who came to this country illegally almost 20 years ago – and this month they put him on a plane back to his native Mexico.
His deportation involved no real consideration of public security.
Just petulant spite.
And that’s all too often the basis – the wasteful, foolhardy basis – of immigration policy in the Trump era.
In the first quarter of this year, the number of undocumented immigrant deportations not surprisingly jumped by a third compared to the same period last year. But more telling: they more than doubled for those with no criminal records.
That trend will likely grow – and it's arriving in South Florida, where we're starting to see ICE detain non-criminal undocumented immigrants for deportation. There are plenty of Mario Hernandez-Delacruzes here in ICE’s crosshairs, picking zucchini in Redland, cutting grass in Pinecrest and bussing tables in North Lauderdale.
Their unnecessary deportations will unnecessarily tear at the fabric of communities that provide a labor force critical to the functioning of the U.S. economy – whether you like that or not.
Spare me the chest-thumping cries that undocumented immigrants are here “because they broke the law!” Technically, yes. But they’re here in larger part because you can’t get along without them.
Trump can ingenuously rail at what he called this week “the theft of American prosperity” by low-wage immigrant labor. But while gratuitous deportations may throw red meat to his “America First” cult, they also risk preventing meat from getting packed in this country.
And here’s the reality: When the fruit gets picked and the poultry plucked and the hotel beds changed – jobs most Americans simply will not do anymore – it doesn’t depress wages. It more often than not helps Americans higher up the supply and service chain, from truckers to technicians, keep their jobs.
As a South Florida warehouse manager who relies on produce harvested by undocumented workers confided to me: “There’s nothing worse for the economy than empty forklifts.”
No one knows that better than Mr. America First himself – Donald Trump, whose businesses, like golf courses, often depend by his own admission on cheap, seasonal immigrant labor.
But there’s another, grosser inconsistency in Trump’s immigration crackdown. While he believes the arrests of law-abiding immigrants will cast a more effective chill on illegal immigration, his foreign policy actually encourages it.
That’s because Trump wants to cut the State Department’s budget by almost 30 percent. One probable target: foreign aid programs meant to give would-be migrants incentives to stay home.
Thanks largely to State’s promotion of community policing in Honduras, for example, that country’s horrific murder rate has dropped by a third since 2011. It’s no coincidence there’s also been a drop in Hondurans entering the U.S. to escape that violence. Disengaging from Honduras and countries like it may well mean renewed surges of illegal immigration.
It’s wasteful. It’s foolhardy. And it's the way the Trump Administration wants it.