The Immigration Debate Looms Once Again


An Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid in California. (Melissa Lyttle for The New York Times)

The immigration debate is centered on the national stage once again, with California in the spotlight. From Feb. 25 to Feb. 28, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also known as ICE, detained 232 people in enforcement raids across Northern California. What differed from this round of raids compared to other raids was an alert issued by Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf warning residents before the ICE operations. Acting ICE director Thomas D. Homan swiftly condemned Mayor Schaaf’s actions, claiming that she enabled an estimated  800 “criminal aliens” to evade arrest. Mayor Schaaf claims she had a “moral obligation” to warn residents of the raids, and most legal experts agree that Mayor Schaaf cannot be prosecuted for obstruction. This preemptive warning marks further escalation in the increasingly heated relationship between the state of California and federal immigration officials. Senate Bill 54, more commonly referred to as the “sanctuary state” bill, became law at the start of the new year and limits “who state and local law enforcement agencies can hold, question and transfer at the request of federal immigration authorities.” The City of Oakland goes even further, prohibiting the Oakland Police Department from providing any assistance to federal immigration officials, preventing them from even blocking off a street for ICE criminal investigations. Mayor Schaaf’s alert escalated this tension further, suggesting that the city will not only refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officials, but it will also try to actively thwart ICE efforts to detain immigrants.

This level of resistance to federal law enforcement is unprecedented and has raised constitutional questions. The federal government seems ready to now strike back. On March 6, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the state of California seeking to strike down three “sanctuary state” laws, including Senate Bill 54.  However, it is ironic that the federal government has the time to sue California, yet has failed to resolve more pressing issues in the nation’s immigration system.  What is more urgent and unjust in this situation is the lack of action from Congress in resolving the status of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program beneficiaries, also known as DREAMers, as well as the 11.3 million people who immigrated to this country illegally. President Donald Trump set March 5 as the end of the DACA program and as the deadline for Congress to provide these immigrants a more permanent status. However, multiple federal courts ruled that all existing DACA permits must be renewed, and the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal to the case on Feb. 28. The deadline for action has come and gone, yet Congress has failed to act in any way.

Any legislation trying to resolve this immigration problem should demonstrate both sympathy and compassion for the people who are living in this country illegally. While some of these immigrants have prior criminal convictions and should be arrested and deported, including 115 of the 232 detained in the Bay Area raids, most simply came to this country seeking a better life for themselves and their families. 800,000 people are beneficiaries of the DACA program, although it is estimated that up to 3.6 million individuals in this country were brought to this country illegally as children and have no criminal histories. It would not only be  impractical and costly to send all these immigrants back to their countries of origin, as each deportation conducted by ICE costs $10,854, but it would also be a grave moral mistake. It is up to Congress to ensure these immigrants can and will have a place in this country. Until then, thousands of immigrants will be left in a state of limbo, with the fear of being deported looming over them. Until Congress finally acts, is is up to local and state leaders to continue to refuse to assist federal immigration officials, in accordance of what they rightfully feel is their moral duty to protect these nonviolent immigrants simply hoping for the opportunity to improve their lives in this country. This country is a nation of immigrants, built on the idea of opportunity for all who come here; we should demand that every level of government act in accordance with that most basic principle.

One comment on “The Immigration Debate Looms Once Again
  1. Great article! Definitely a 7/5 in my book. Would read again. So informative yet so powerful at the same time. Each word made my heart quell.

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