It isn’t that the Trump administration is deporting more undocumented immigrants; on the contrary, 6 percent fewer were shown the door this last fiscal year than in the previous year.
But while U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are making many fewer arrests at the border under President Donald Trump — arrests and removals there were down 17 percent — deportations of those already living in the United States were up by a quarter.
Unfortunately, we’re now kicking out many more non-criminals like Syed Ahmed Jamal, the father, chemist and soccer coach from Bangladesh who was handcuffed outside his Lawrence home last month as he was leaving to take his seventh-grade daughter to school.
That’s at odds with the president’s immigration rhetoric in several ways. He talks about deporting MS-13 members and welcoming highly skilled workers “who will help take our country to the next level. ”
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(Of course, we also need immigrants without advanced degrees to “take our country to the next level.” With unemployment so low, it’s hard to understand why we’d keep out the less skilled workers we so desperately need. Or why, with arrests at the border down to 2006 levels, we need to shell out for that wall.)
But Jamal, who has been here since 1987, teaching science, raising children and paying taxes, would seem to fit into that category of highly skilled contributors if anyone would.
ICE arrested 5,939 “non-criminals” already living here in fiscal year 2015, compared to 5,014 in fiscal 2016 and 13,744 in fiscal 2017. The change stems from the executive order Trump signed right after his inauguration. Last February, the Department of Homeland Security said “ICE no longer exempts classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement.” In other words, a degree in microbiology is no excuse.
For decades, Jamal was here legally, on a student visa and then on an H1-B work visa. When he tried to return to student status, his lawyer, Jeffrey Y. Bennett, said his visa was revoked, and he was asked to leave the country in 2011. But under an Obama policy of going after new arrivals and “felons, not families,” Jamal was allowed to stay on while regularly checking in with ICE.
He wasn’t exactly in hiding; last year, he ran for the school board. “He never missed a required check-in,’’ Bennett said. “The idea was that unless they committed a crime, they’d be left alone.”
For some 2.5 million immigrants, 80 percent of whom have no criminal record, that’s no longer the case, and while Jamal waits in jail, his wife and three children remain terrified. We all should be, if this cruel and incomprehensible immigration system isn’t finally fixed in Congress.