Immigration raids are traumatizing American communities
Why the Trump administration's new immigration crackdown will do more harm than good
The people of Hermitage, Tennessee are heroes.
On Monday, agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement tried to arrest a Hermitage man — an undocumented migrant — as he left his home. They failed to make the arrest, however, because the man's neighbors formed a human chain to protect him. After four hours, the ICE agents gave up.
"I could see if these people were bad criminals, but they're not, they're just trying to provide for their kids," Stacey Farley, a neighbor, told reporters. "The family don't bother nobody, they work every day, they come home, the kids jump on their trampoline, it's just a community."
The people of Hermitage did what you hope Americans will do when an outsider threatens their community: They joined together and resisted. That's what heroes do.
While that was happening, though, a bigger immigration crackdown seemed to be in the offing. The federal government announced Monday that it is dispensing with due process — "streamlining" immigration enforcement — to allow ICE agents to confront suspected migrants anywhere they can find them and ship them out of the country without so much as a court hearing. If ICE catches you on the street and you can't prove immediately that you're a citizen, or that you've lived in the U.S. more than two years, the agency will be able to ship you out of country in a matter of days.
This new, tougher policy promises to be a disaster.
To understand why, all you have to do is look at what happened in Hermitage on Monday. ICE raids are intended to remove unwanted outsiders from American communities, but they often end up disrupting those communities instead. In many cases, hawkish immigration enforcement does more harm than good: Research suggests the effects of ICE raids on local communities can be, quite literally, traumatic and disastrous.
President Trump and the immigration hawks justify these policies by presenting illegal immigration as a disaster for America. Don't forget that when announcing his run for president, Trump said that "when Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people."
This narrative simply isn't supported by the data: Studies show that undocumented migrants have a lower crime rate than native-born Americans. But forget the dry statistics for a second. It's true that a sudden influx of immigrants can sometimes cause a backlash among longtime residents. Just as often, however, the lived experience of cities and towns across the country is that migrants, documented or not, stitch themselves into the fabric of the community: They go to church, they send their kids to school, they own local businesses. When these people are suddenly snatched away, the communities they leave behind are wounded. That's why neighbors fight back.
It's not just Hermitage. In Lawrence, Kansas, where I live, hundreds of residents mobilized last year when immigration officials grabbed a longtime local resident off his front lawn. Thankfully, that man was eventually returned to his family and the community. In Granger, Indiana, an uproar ensued when a longtime resident — the owner of a popular local cafe — was deported. The town of Mount Pleasant, Iowa, meanwhile, has a plan to protect children caught up in deportation efforts. These are just a few examples — not of political correctness run amok, but of communities protecting themselves and their people.
Immigration hawks will, no doubt, be angered by what happened in Hermitage. The man who evaded arrest is in the United States illegally, they will say. If he wants to live here, he should have tried to come to the country through approved means.
That argument isn't entirely wrong. The law matters. But it's not entirely right, either. It assumes that U.S. immigration law, as currently constructed, is correctly constituted, that the process is reasonable, and that it reflects the democratic will of the American people. In fact, polls show American voters generally think that immigration strengthens the country. Meanwhile, efforts to reform immigration laws have been consistently blocked by a small minority in Congress since the administration of former President George W. Bush.
So, in the absence of wise and just lawmaking, residents of towns and cities across the country are right to use legal means of resisting ICE's enforcement efforts. They probably have a better sense than Trump about who really belongs in their community. Just ask them.
"We don't want to see anything happen to them," Hermitage resident Angela Glass said of the family ICE agents tried to disrupt. "They're good people. They've been here 14 years, leave them alone. To me, they're considered Americans."