Immigrants and ICE: The Current Crisis

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Undocumented immigrants in the United States are treated like criminals. Although undocumented immigration is nothing more than a civil offense, in immigration court, judges can convict immigrants with a federal crime: “unlawful entry.”

Immigrant detainees are held in facilities run by prison companies that are contracted with the government. These facilities are run the same as a federal prison. 

These immigrants “contribute to the economy, they pay taxes,” pointed out Violeta Chapin, an immigration lawyer and professor at the University of Colorado. Immigrants have always been a part of our country and have, more often than not, been something of a necessity. The United States has a constant demand for labor, and immigrants often fulfill that need. However, laws have been passed to limit the number of labor visas given to incoming workers. This does nothing to stop immigration, but simply traps undocumented immigrant workers inside the United States.

Under the new presidential administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been allowed to detain any and all undocumented immigrants regardless of the roots they may have in the US, explained Chapin. Children and parents have been torn from their homes and families by this enforcement. 

ICE has operated almost entirely on their own under the current US presidential administration. ICE became a part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), after 9/11.

The DHS is meant to protect the US from exterior threats, and after 9/11 the emphasis was put on terrorism. Relative to today, the link the Trump administration has drawn between undocumented immigrants and terrorism has allowed ICE to operate nearly independently from the DHS. After the change in administration, non-criminal ICE detainments rose visibly.

Raids are deliberately planned to disrupt, scare, and intimidate. They come at “disruptive” times to guarantee no degree of preparation for their arrival. ICE raids can take place at any time and in any location. Chapin made clear that raids have happened in the early hours of the morning when no one is awake or in the middle of the workday when no one expects them. Children come home to empty houses with no way to know what will happen next. 

“Children don’t disappear because their parents disappear””

— Chapin

What happens to the kids left behind when ICE detains their parents? The state has to find a place for them. This place is often ‘in the system’ (foster homes). As for the children detained by ICE, they end up in a place often lacking in compassion or remorse. Detainment facilities for minors have strict no-touch policies. This means even a crying infant is left without comfort. 

After detainment, undocumented immigrants are forced to face immigration court with or without legal representation. Many immigrants do not have the resources to get a lawyer. Additionally, while the 6th amendment states the right to a lawyer in court, immigrants are not granted the right to legal representation in immigration court. In these cases, ICE lawyers with law degrees and years of education are paid to prosecute immigrants with no lawyers. Children as young as four are forced to represent themselves in immigration court. 

Also working against these immigrants, the attorney general can enforce quotas for immigration courts. Multiple cases pass through each court in a day. In comparison, criminal court cases can be drawn out for months and years. 

ICE raids have torn apart many immigrant families over the past years. This has effects on the entire functionality of American society due to the constant need for new labor. Despite this, the government treats these immigrants as criminals. Current awareness on how exactly this has played out is disproportionately low. The government, the DHS and ICE are specifically and methodically targeting immigrants in the US.