Talking ICE: The human impact of immigrant deportations
Editor’s note: In this multipart series, KTAR News’ Martha Maurer will take an in-depth look at the multifaceted and complex issue of undocumented immigrants in America under the administration of President Donald Trump.
Part three — the final part — takes a look at the human element and the effects deportations have on both Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents and immigrant families.
Deportations divide officials, people
Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos came to the United States at the age of 14. After two decades of living illegally in the U.S., she was deported to Mexico.
Juan Carlos Fomperosa Garcia lived in in the U.S. for more than 20 years before he, too, was removed following a check-in with ICE.
“We can empathize with their situation,” Enrique Lucero, field office director for ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations in Phoenix, said. “They’re just like us … they’re human. Many times, they’re just coming for a better life. We understand that.”
Lucero said, though removing a parent from the country could seem callous, his agency understood there was a human element involved. His office routinely offered to coordinate with families who had children who were American citizens.
“We will offer any assistance we can coordinating with the country’s consulate officers,” he said.
Lucero said the goal of working with these families was to either reunite children with their parents outside of the U.S. or place them with relatives in America — something he has coordinated himself.
However, Tony Navarrette, the deputy director of Promise Arizona who is also a state lawmaker, said deportations have a mental affect on families.
“There is a ripple effect once you begin to remove somebody from the household,” he said, adding that effect was magnified if a family has settled in an area and established roots.
According to Navarette, the removal of one person creates fear within a community, “and that fear literally continues to grow.”
To combat that fear, his organization had focused its outreach efforts to immigrants — legal or not — to instruct them about their rights. It also encouraged immigrants to speak, or at least understand, English in the event officials come knocking.
“Everyone is just on high alert with the new administration,” he said.
Undocumented immigrants have found themselves forced to make a decision between two roads, both with uncertain ends.
“On one hand, they want to make the right choice — going to their meeting and checking in with ICE,” Navarette said. “On another hand, they ask themselves, ‘Should I go to the meeting and fear deportation?'”
Lucero said his agency understood the affect removing a person from the country can have on a household. He said agents had some discretion when enforcing removal orders, but their job was to enforce the law and deport the person, with or without a criminal past.
An emotional connection
Lucero said his agents do not enjoy splitting up families.
“It’s covered in our basic training,” he said. “We also have peer support groups.
“But we’re also empathetic and sympathetic to these cases, when there are children involved or children witnessing a child being arrested. ICE takes into consideration and allows family members to say goodbye and embrace and, sometimes, if deemed necessary, won’t even handcuff an individual in front of their children so their children doesn’t have that experience.”
Lucero also said families were allowed to visit people who were held in an ICE facility.
Navarette said, no matter how humane ICE agents attempted to be, the image of a loved one loaded in the back of a car and driven away was too much for some to handle.
“It’s disgusting, to see us as Americans ripping families apart, when we should be valuing families,” he said.
Future of immigration enforcement under Trump
During a campaign rally in Phoenix in August of last year, then-candidate Trump laid out his 10-point immigration plan. It included the identification and quick deportation of anyone in the country illegally, some of which would be carried out by a task force.
Though no special deportation task force has been announced, Trump has signed executive orders that showed his hard stance on immigration.
“There is a lot of fear, a lot of uncertainty,” Alessandra Soler, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, said.
Soler said the seemingly hostile attitude toward immigrants had groups like hers shifting into a mode to protect immigrants and prepared them for the worst.
Valley immigration attorney Margarita Silva said one of her biggest concerns was the increased demand the Trump administration would likely place on the immigration system.
“Under the last administration, it was made very clear that there was a system of priorities to go after serious criminal convicts first,” she said.
Lucero said his agency had always removed people from the country who did not have a criminal record.
“The reality is, we’ve removed people without criminal convictions the entire time I’ve been doing this,” the 20-year ICE veteran said.
Silva wondered about the limited jail space, courtrooms, transport vehicles and arresting officers that would be spent tracking down immigrants but could be used in a different manner.
“When you’re clogging up that system with people who have no criminal background, it’s not a leap to say, ‘Who’s being left out of this system,'” she said.
Lucero did not indicate if he expected ICE’s workload to be increased as the Trump administration cracked down on immigrants. He said his agency depended on an increase in budget to take on more cases.
The Department of Homeland Security had provided ICE with funds to hire another 100 officers for the rest of the 2017 fiscal year.
Silva feared the addition of new judges and officers would not be enough to deal with an existing backlog of immigration cases with more added to everyone’s plate by the Trump White House.
Lucero said his office has not seen an increase in cases. Instead, there was a steady flow of work coming in.
“It’s important to know in Arizona that the people we removed, this fiscal year, 70 percent have been convicted of a crime.” He said.
Lucero also said immigrants who were deported have gone through an exhaustive, yearslong process that ended with a deportation order.