Donald Trump's executive order threatens democracy, puts sanctuary cities on the chopping block

On 25 January, President Donald Trump signed an executive order, “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States.” In one of a series of executive overreaches, the order justifies beefed up federal enforcement. According to the executive order, sanctuary jurisdictions “threaten the very fabric of our Republic.” The order affords the executive branch power to thumb down these jurisdictions in the name of national security.

The sanctuary jurisdictions that the document refers to are often called “sanctuary cities.” In cities such as New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and several counties and states throughout the nation, local officials obstruct federal enforcement or refuse to help federal officials round up immigrants for deportation.

“We cannot faithfully execute the immigration laws of the United States if we exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement,” the order says.

File image of US president Donald Trump. AP

US President Donald Trump. File photo. AP

This is a startling statement. Not only is the language used to describe the people to be targeted clinical and dehumanising, the statement makes the case that the federal government should have complete purview over this issue. The order is based in no proof that an undocumented immigrant is more of a threat to national security than a native born person. In fact, many studies reveal undocumented immigrants to be significantly and proportionately less likely to commit crime and be incarcerated than Americans who were born here.

But in the world of alternative facts, these studies are ignored. Built into the order is also a pledge to “support victims, and the families of victims, of crimes committed by removable aliens.” This dog-whistle politics is in keeping with the Trump credo of 'America First'. And 'America First' really means 'White First', judging by the ethno-nationalistic tendencies of his closest advisors.

In addition to the specious nature of the claims in the order, I cannot help but see this federal mandate as yet another attempt to manage the affairs of communities that have very different opinions about how their people should be treated.

The claim made in the order, that locally elected officials, who understand and have closer ties to their communities, should not have the most basic decision-making power about who is allowed to be there, is ridiculous.

The order seeks to prioritise the removal of, among other things, undocumented immigrants who have committed acts that constitute a chargeable offense (where is the person’s presumed innocence?) or are judged by an immigration office to pose “a risk to public safety or national security.” Federal law enforcement officers are given incredible discretion, completely unfettered by laws and civil liberties.

Furthermore, we must consider who is planning on enforcing these deportations and for what ends. The order calls for little nuance and shows willful intent to remove people from this country who are not harming anyone. Department of Homeland Security memos have revealed that unaccompanied minors, including children as young as five, are no longer shielded from deportation. The memo also allows for the prosecution of parents who send their children across the border alone. Imagine why a parent would put a child in such danger in the first place. Could it be that the dangers faced crossing the border pale in comparison to the dangers faced at home?

The most laughably hypocritical part about this is that the very people who run the country now rely on undocumented immigrants to keep wages low. Former contender for labour secretary Andrew Pudzer is the CEO of fast food conglomerate CKE Restaurants. He is a member of a lobbying group, the National Restaurant Association, which has pushed for lighter fines for hiring undocumented workers. Pudzer was pushed out when it came to light that he had hired an undocumented nanny.

For corporate ends, it is okay to hire undocumented workers. The minute these quiet corporate power plays publicly conflict with Trump’s ethno-populist message, they must be disavowed.

There are already very real human consequences of this executive order. Under the Obama administration, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) status was established for children who had arrived in the United States with their undocumented parents. The US is the only home many of them have ever known. Now, DACA recipients are preparing themselves for the worst. Federal officials detained Daniel Ramirez Medina, a DACA recipient from Seattle, for an alleged gang affiliation. Medina had gone through a strict vetting process to be eligible for DACA in the first place. He has repeatedly denied these allegations and no evidence has come to light.

When federal officials are given so much discretion about who is a “threat”, specious charges are likely to be leveled, no evidence needs to be presented, and even young children and people who had been protected under a program like DACA can be targeted. This is likely to happen more often. Moreover, the will of the federal government often conflicts with the will of the people in a particular place. We live in a fragmented country, and this federal overreach causes anger and is, ultimately, an imposition on our communities.

Sanctuary jurisdictions tend to be places where people disagree with this federal overreach. In some ways, this federal order flouts the very idea of democracy as a system where people have decision-making power over their lives and their communities.

San Francisco and other jurisdictions have sued after Trump attempted to commandeer local law enforcement to aid in the deportations. Who can determine what keeps the city safe better than the people of that city?

Still, we must remember that local politicians will cave if their constituencies don’t vocalise dissent. If the federal government keeps squeezing and threatening to pull funding, constituencies must squeeze back. Sanctuary jurisdictions are on the chopping block. While keeping the pressure on elected officials, we must create and support the existing infrastructures and sanctuaries for people who need them at the grassroots level.

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Updated Date: Feb 22, 2017 10:57:49 IST

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