Here’s what’s scarier for immigrants than Trump’s wall

  • President Trump's executive order on H-1B visas is part of his larger message to immigrant communities: We're coming for you.
  • Trump's border wall with Mexico is a symbol of hate but his deportation force is the most harmful and pressing threat for immigrant communities.

A boy from Honduras watches a movie at a detention facility run by the U.S. Border Patrol on September 8, 2014 in McAllen, Texas.
Getty Images

President Trump's message to immigrant communities is clear: We are coming for you, undocumented and authorized immigrants alike.

Trump on Tuesday signed an executive order directing a 220-day review of the H-1B visa program, a temporary worker visa program for high-skilled workers. The review is aimed at creating stricter access to the visa program. If money talks, the White House's 2018 proposed federal budget echoes the president's hard-line stance on immigration.

The proposed budget, which Congress will vote on at the end of April, requests $2.6 billion to fulfill Trump's executive order to build a wall along the southern border. More alarming is the request of massive funds to create the president's deportation force; a force which is already terrorizing immigrant communities across the country.

The proposed budget requests $314 million for the hiring of 500 new Border Patrol agents and 1,000 new Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers in 2018. That's in sharp contrast to the $6.6 million ICE requested to hire 100 new officers in 2017. In addition, the 2018 budget proposal requests an increase of $1.5 billion for expanded detention.

Trump has not used the term, "deportation force" since taking office in January. However, the numbers don't lie — if approved, the federal budget will create a deportation machine like we have never seen before.

Under current policies, such as the Homeland Security Appropriations Act, there are Congress-mandated quotas for detention facilities to "maintain a level of not less than 34,000 detention beds," creating a clear incentive to detain. The proposed increase of $1.5 billion to expand detention facilities will most certainly mean increased levels of government-mandated quotas. According to Fox news (which is apparently the president's preferred news source), ICE already jails more than 42,000 immigrants in detention facilities across the U.S. (this figure has been verified with immigrant-rights organizations).

For-profit-detention centers have been at the center of controversies surrounding their inhumane treatment of immigrants. Homeland Security's own advisory council called out "the inferiority of the private prison model from the perspective of governance and conditions." Yet the proposed budget would pump an additional $1.5 billion to expand for-profit detention facilities.

"Trump has not used the term, 'deportation force' since taking office in January. However, the numbers don't lie — if approved, the federal budget will create a deportation machine like we have never seen before."

The Trump administration continues to hold a stance that they are only deporting, "bad hombres" (the bad guys) but so far in 2017 there have been numerous reports of undocumented immigrants with no criminal record being detained and deported. Even some young undocumented immigrants who are supposed to be protected from deportation under DACA have been caught up in recent raids. DACA, which stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is a 2012 executive action taken under President Obama that was designed to help prevent undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. as minors from being deported. By definition, these young people are supposed to be protected and yet Daniel Ramirez and Danny Vargas found themselves arrested by ICE.

Trump's administration has made it clear that no immigrant is safe from the deportation machine they are building. Under Trump's January executive order on immigration, a criminal is now defined as anyone who is detained on suspicion of violating federal or state law, including federal immigration law. By definition, undocumented immigrants are in violation of federal immigration law, thus making every single one of them a target for deportation. ICE's mandate was massively expanded under the new definition, making it less likely that they will indeed be able to focus on apprehending dangerous criminals who pose a real threat to national security.

Creating a deportation force does not make America safe; withholding the world's top talent from coming to the U.S. will not make America more prosperous. On the contrary, these policies are creating fear and chaos in communities across the United States. While the wall is Trump's symbol of hate, and a complete waste of taxpayer money, Trump's deportation force is the most harmful and pressing threat for immigrant communities.

Already, groups are forming all over the country to resist Trump's agenda and organizations such as the Indivisible Guide are giving people the tools to do it. With Congress in recess, we all have the power to tell our elected officials to reject this budget proposal and protect American taxpayers' money and safety.

Let's send a stronger message to immigrant communities; we stand with you and welcome you.

Commentary by Julissa Arce is author of the book, "My (Underground) American Dream." Arce made national and international headlines when she revealed that she had achieved the American Dream of wealth and status working her way up to vice president at Goldman Sachs by age 27 while being an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. She currently works with the Ascend Educational Fund, a scholarship program for immigrant students in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @julissaarce.

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