The last time Lenore Millibergity was dealing with the prospect of mass raids and deportations of immigrants, she was a young lawyer back in the mid-1980s. Then came amnesty, signed into law by President Ronald Reagan, which gave millions of otherwise law-abiding immigrants the chance at a dream — becoming legal residents and U.S. citizens.
Decades later, Millibergity is the leading the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota as interim director. And she’s again bracing for the terror that’s racing through immigrant communities in the face of a new threat from President Donald Trump — coinciding with this re-election launch — to begin mass arrests and deportations of undocumented families.
Stoking anti-immigrant sentiment was part of what brought nonstop attention to Trump’s first presidential campaign. His 2015 kickoff featured the blanket accusation that Mexico was sending drug dealers and rapists. He vowed to build a border wall and make Mexico, a longtime ally and top trading partner, pay for it.
But Trump found that other Republicans disagreed with his approach. A GOP-led Congress balked at funding his wall. He drew widespread condemnation for the cruel practice of separating asylum-seeking families at the border, sending children to detention camps where some remain, with dimming hopes of being reunited with their parents. His threat to defund so-called sanctuary cities remains unrealized.
Thwarted in those goals and facing re-election among sagging poll numbers, Trump is turning once again to fear and division to engage his base. But don’t dismiss this as political theater. Mark Morgan, acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, has already said he intends to follow through on Trump’s tweet and will be sending agents into communities to round up undocumented families.
Millibergity knows what those raids can look like: Agents pounding at a home’s door demanding entry, or bursting into a workplace, seeking papers. Children left behind as parents are arrested and taken. “It creates chaos,” Millibergity said. “It’s meant to. People we’re talking to are already terrified.”
This nation has many options as it contemplates how best to deal with an uptick at the border that may well be driven in part by a president intent on curbing immigration of all kinds. Comprehensive immigration reform that better secures all the nation’s entry points — not just its southern border — while offering legal options to the law-abiding comes to mind. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., noted after Trump’s latest threat that “I think our energy is better exerted by one, taking care of people at the border who need to be taken care of, and two, looking at securing the border as our principal obligation.”
It bears repeating that the bulk of the estimated 10 million undocumented immigrants in this country have been here for years. The vast majority are of working age, between 18 and 54, and are here to work. They install roofs and hang drywall. They are line cooks and maids. They pick vegetables in Minnesota’s agricultural fields and slaughter animals in packing houses.
They come not just from Mexico but from every part of the globe. Some cross the border, but a large number are here on expired visas. Despite Trump’s attempt to paint them all as criminals, they commit fewer crimes than the population as a whole.
Little is served by terrorizing such a population, by disrupting neighborhoods and workplaces. Let’s hope wiser, calmer heads prevail.