Breaking it Down: Why Building Walls Won’t Work

Rep. Karen Bass
United States Congress
37th Congressional District, California

From the day Donald Trump announced his candidacy for the presidency, he made xenophobia and racism a central feature of his campaign. He described Latino immigrants as rapists and criminals—and at different points during his campaign—he spoke of deporting 11 million people and building a wall across the entire southern border of the United States. Trump repeatedly described African-American communities as lawless, plagued by criminal gangs, and in some areas, more dangerous than Baghdad. A familiar narrative began to emerge. His attack on Latino immigrants mirrored his attack on the African-American community and extended to his ban on Muslims entering the United States.

Trump issued a “Ten Point New Deal for Black America” that borrowed generously from divisive campaign rhetoric to blame immigration for the social and economic challenges faced in African-American communities. Perhaps the Trump administration does not realize that there are more than a million Black immigrants from African, Caribbean and Latin American nations who are also affected by his policy of mass deportation? And although the part of the anti-immigrant strategy that calls for building a wall between the United States and Mexico targets Latinos, the repercussion from cutting needed programs to pay for the wall will further traumatize already struggling communities. Thus far, African Americans have not, and cannot, allow elementary, divide-and-conquer tactics to gain a foothold in our community.  

The Trump administration’s immigration policy, as expressed in executive orders and guidelines recently issued by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is both frightening and racist. The administration has repeatedly claimed enforcement efforts are focused on criminals, yet the DHS guidelines are so general that any immigrant without legal status can be subject to deportation, even if they have not committed a crime. The new guidelines specifically state, “the Department no longer will exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement,” thereby establishing the basis for the massive deportation of up to 11 million undocumented immigrants.

In order to implement deportation raids on the massive scale imagined by the guidelines, DHS estimates 10,000 ICE agents will need to be hired and outside law enforcement agencies will be allowed to participate as “an active partner in identifying criminal aliens in their custody, and placing ICE detainers on these individuals.” This will essentially encourage racial profiling and encourage local law enforcement agencies to indiscriminately round up individuals and separate families.

The inhumanity of the policy is exemplified by the case of a young woman in Texas who complained of severe headaches while in detention. She was taken to a hospital where a brain tumor was found and doctors reported she needed emergency surgery. Immigration officials removed her from the hospital in handcuffs and were going to expedite deportation until national outrage delayed the process. Mass raids and the arrests of workers in Chinese restaurants were reported in Mississippi and Alabama. Immigrants from African and Caribbean countries have been detained and deported as well.

One of the most despicable features of the new policies includes instruction from a Homeland Security memo to prosecute parents for human trafficking if they facilitate the illegal entry of their minor children into the country. Reuters recently reported that the Trump administration is also considering separating parents from children when families are detained. Children would then be turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services and most likely placed in foster care. This is a clear attempt to send a message to people who are considering coming to the U.S. illegally that they risk losing custody of their children, and perhaps to frighten parents already here into returning to their home countries.

To arrest and detain large numbers of immigrants, DHS proposes hiring 10,000 new ICE agents, as well as reverse the Obama administration’s order to shut down private prisons. In fact, the prison industry must have been aware of the incoming administration’s intention because immediately after the election, the industry’s stock skyrocketed over 60%. The administration’s attitudes and policies toward the African-American community will also likely result in an increased presence of law enforcement, a decrease in oversight of law enforcement agencies, and increased incarceration in both private- and government-run prisons.

From the time our first enslaved ancestors were forced to come to this country, to today’s systems that separate our families—the criminal justice, juvenile justice, and child welfare systems—African Americans have known the pain of the forced separation of families. This tragic history also unites our communities. Although Trump has attempted to use immigration as a wedge issue to divide Latinos against African Americans, his contempt and ignorance of both communities will serve to bring us together in opposition to the inhuman policies of this administration.