New York: An Indian couple working in a 24-hour grocery store in North Shore in the New York City borough of Staten Island cowered in the back of the store room, petrified. Their hearts raced as federal agents stormed homes in the New York City area rounding up illegal immigrants.
US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents have conducted deportation raids in at least 11 states during Operation Cross Check, prompting accusations that President Donald Trump has started a “war on immigrants.” Federal agents have stormed homes and workplaces in New York, Atlanta, Austin, Chicago, Los Angeles, and other US cities rounding up undocumented immigrants.
Operation Cross Check
“Over the past several weeks the Trump administration has waged a war on immigrants, refugees, Muslims and brown communities,” said Tara Raghuveer, deputy director of the National Partnership of New Americans (NPNA), a coalition of 37 immigrant and refugee rights groups.
“A lot of folks are terrified,” added Raghuveer.
President Trump on Thursday called his effort to ramp up deportations a “military operation” aimed at ridding the US of “really bad dudes.”
“We’re getting really bad dudes out of this country, and at a rate that nobody’s ever seen before,” Trump told business leaders at the White House on Thursday. “And they’re the bad ones. And it’s a military operation.”
The US military, however, is not involved. But President Trump has directed his administration to enforce the nation’s immigration laws aggressively. The new enforcement policies direct law enforcement agencies to hire thousands of new agents to find, arrest and deport people who are in the US illegally. Local police and sheriffs have been ordered to round up illegal immigrants. The new Homeland Security Department memos do not change US immigration laws, but take a far harder line toward enforcement.
Not just “bad hombres”
Under the Obama administration, roughly 1.4 million people were considered “priorities” for deportation. They included recent arrivals and people with multiple criminal violations. However, Trump’s new enforcement policies widen the net, stripping away restrictions on who should be deported. Up to 8 million people in the country illegally could be considered priorities for deportation, according to calculations by the Los Angeles Times.
Alarmingly, Indians are the fastest growing illegal population in the US and at least 500,000 now run the risk of being deported. In 2014, there were nearly half a million unauthorised Indian immigrants representing a 43% spike since 2009, when the number was 350,000, according to a recent Pew Research Center report.
For the most part, the 3.1 million-strong Indian American community with more than 200,000 millionaires has thrived with fancy college degrees and paying jobs. However, nearly 5 lakh Indians are living in America illegally on student, business or tourist visas which have long expired. Under the new directives, they could potentially be considered a priority for deportation. According to experts, illegal Indian immigrants do the “heavy lifting” in the restaurant, gas station, 24-hour deli, taxi and Patel Motel industry.
“Since these Indians are illegal, they work in small family-owned restaurants, motels, businesses, store fronts, gas stations and delis,” said immigrant-rights lawyer Mukul Chand. “They’ve worked unimaginably hard in America, some for over a decade, and they now risk losing everything!”
“ICE will only round up ‘bad hombres’, they are going after Mexicans, Indians, South Asians, anyone really they can catch who has entered the US without passing through an official border or overstayed their visas,” said Chand. “Everyone who is here illegally could potentially be considered a priority.”
Trump is being heavily criticised by immigrant-rights groups as the ‘Deporter-in-chief’. They say his overzealous “military” deportation push could result in families being split apart and violations of due-process rights. Activists have staged protests and are broadcasting ‘Know Your Rights’ public service announcements over the radio in immigrant neighbourhoods.
“We will demand that our representatives in Congress support our nation’s compassionate resettlement of refugees fleeing persecution, and end the cruel and unnecessary deportations destroying immigrant families,” said Harvard-educated Raghuveer, who turned down a job with a hedge fund to be a champion for immigrants.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said it would challenge Trump’s executive orders and Homeland Security Department memos.
“These memos confirm that the Trump administration is willing to trample on due process, human decency, the well-being of our communities, and even protections for vulnerable children, in pursuit of a hyper-aggressive mass deportation policy,” said Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project.
According to legal experts, the ACLU will have a tough fight on its hands as the new Homeland Security Department memos do not change existing US immigration laws, but take a far harder line toward enforcement.