Reports and photos of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents raiding 98 7-Eleven stores last week was quite jarring. According to ICE, the raids and resulting arrests of 21 allegedly undocumented workers was a warning to other companies against hiring undocumented workers.
Twenty-one arrests is a drop in the bucket compared to the total number of people who live, work and pay taxes in this country, and do not have legal residency. But these raids were not designed to solve a problem; they were designed to make a statement. And the reason a statement was able to be made is because lawmakers have been unable to reach agreement on a coherent immigration policy.
The 7-Eleven raids were a sideshow, but were incredibly threatening for many law-abiding immigrants. So too was the Trump administration’s recent pledge to deport nearly 200,000 people from El Salvador who were admitted to this country a decade ago under a program called Temporary Protected Status.
Gov. John Kasich of Ohio and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, both former Trump challengers, criticized the El Salvador move as anti-family and un-Republican. They argued in a New York Times op-ed against forcible removal of “the 10 million to 15 million undocumented immigrants” already here, and they asserted that “the case of 200,000 Salvadorans who accepted our invitation to live and work here legally would not even make a Top 10 list” of priorities.
They’re right. No one is saying we shouldn’t enforce the law. But enforcement needs to be reasonable, equitable and respectful. Until last week, we thought President Trump largely agreed. But then everything changed. During an Oval Office meeting with a bipartisan group of senators, Trump deflected their attempts to come up with a solution for the 69,000 “dreamers” who came to this country illegally as children and were to face deportation as early as March, by denigrating Africans, Haitians and Salvadorans as coming from “shithole” countries.
Whatever the merits or shortcomings of the deal that was reportedly under consideration — it involved trading billions of dollars to fund a border wall with extending protections for dreamers — it was an honest attempt at a solution. In dismissing the proposed compromise, Trump reportedly told his visitors that instead of immigrants from societies primarily of color, he’d rather immigrants come from Norway.
Upon hearing reports of that exchange, the Statue of Liberty must have shed a tear. The tired and poor don’t leave rich, white countries. They tend to leave places where things aren’t that great, and they come here — like many of our grandparents — searching for a better life. We need to open our arms to those seeking refuge in 21st-century America under a comprehensive, caring immigration program, no matter their race, religion or ethnicity. Anything less is simply un-American.