A Matter of Poor Priorities

I have consistently written that the most difficult social problem facing America today is immigration. That is not to say that it is the only or that past challenges (i.e. racial equality) are totally resolved and gone forever. The balancing act between, the practical, the legal, the humane while staying consistent with both American values and history is challenging to say the least. Regardless of where you are on the continuum of the political spectrum we all want America to be secure. The problem is largely one of where to draw the line. That line is often effectively drawn by setting priorities and the Trump administration has shown incredibly poor judgment to date. Let’s explore.

The other day I had a conversation with a friend of mine who pastors a congregation that is almost exclusively of Mexican heritage. My friend describes himself as a Texican (a native born Texan of Mexican heritage). Immigration reform is a major concern of his and his congregation. I initiated the conversation over my dismay at what is coming out of the Trump administration. We agreed (and we are the liberals) that we want the serious criminal element that is in America illegally removed from the country. That is not even a question! It is where Trump is setting the priorities that are nothing short of alarming!

The resources to deport the estimated 11 to 14 million people who are in this country without proper documentation simply do not exist. Therefore it becomes a matter of prioritizing who will be the primary targets of the enforcement efforts.

The obvious solution, (to all but Trump and company), is to prioritize the violent criminal element first. Gangs, serious drug dealers, armed robbers, murderers, rapists, etc. Those are the people the Latino community and the population at large do not want. Those people aren’t going to go without a fight in most cases. They are also difficult to track down. It takes significant police work to apprehend them. The Trump administration just wants to put on a show for the racists and xenophobes in their base. They need numbers and publicity. How do you get both quickly? You go after the low hanging fruit.

The “bar” for prioritization is rumored to have been lowered to anyone suspected of committing any crime. Not charged, not arrested, not convicted; just suspected. Crimes in this country fall basically into three categories: violations, misdemeanors and felonies. Violations include things like parking and speeding tickets. I have received both in my lifetime as have almost all adult Americans. Yet I have never been charged with, arrested for or found guilty of a misdemeanor or felony. I consider myself and would be consider by the general population to be a law abiding citizen. With my “criminal record” had I been born in a foreign country I would qualify as a high priority for deportation.

The execution of immigration related arrests falls primarily on ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). The word is that Trump will propose hiring between 10,000 and 15,000 additional ICE agents. That will do several things I am dubious of and/or uncomfortable with.

The idea of putting a lot of armed rookies on the street to do a difficult job is alarming on its own.

One of the challenges (which could actually be the saving grace by preventing the massive hiring from happening in the first place) is the cost. At an estimated $50,000 in salary and benefits per hire (probably too low), hiring 15,000 agents would cost $750 million alone. Now consider administrative costs, recruitment costs, training costs and the cost of promoting existing front line personnel into supervisory positions. We are very easily talking over $1 billion a year. Will Congress shell out the money?

Perhaps I’m stretching a bit here but I’m concerned with giving Trump 15,000+ people at his disposal in a paramilitary organization that are beholden to him for their jobs. If you study history or have read Sinclair Lewis’ work you know fascist dictators need a “private army”.

By the standard of simply being suspected of committing a crime (maybe he was speeding) we all would become high priorities if not for the accident of our birth. Donald Trump himself is widely suspected of committing much more serious crimes (although non-violent) than traffic violations.

The current targets of enhanced immigration enforcement are Latinos along with people of Middle Eastern background. Neither I nor anyone in my family falls into either of those categories. In fact I have very few friends that do. Why then am I concerned? The reasons are simple and everyone like me should also be very concerned. Discrimination against any individual or any group is discrimination against us all. Just like women’s rights are human rights. Today it’s “them”. If that effort is successful eventually the targets will be me and mine.

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