AuthorHiggins, Maeve

Since Donald Trump was elected President in 2016 on an anti-immigrant wave, at least twenty-four migrants have died in U.S. government custody, and many more have been struck down with illnesses like chickenpox, shingles, mumps, and influenza. Viruses spread quickly in overcrowded camps and prisons with limited access to running water and fresh food.

In the summer of 2018, children were taken from their parents at the southern border and despite a national outcry, some families remain separated to this day. With many billions of dollars at their disposal and an unfailingly supportive administration behind them, one could ask why Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) are not doing a better job.

To ask that question is to assume that the job of these agencies is to keep migrants in their custody alive and well, but that assumption is inaccurate. Their goal, rather, was articulated by then-Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen in September 2018: "We are building the toughest homeland security enterprise America has ever seen."

Nielsen was later fired by the President, reportedly for not being tough enough.

In fact, this business of criminalizing immigrants predates Trump, feeding on a steady diet of money, resources, and staff, and growing stronger every year. While immigration reform stalls, border enforcement continuously expands.

In October 1994, President Bill Clinton launched Operation Gatekeeper along the southern border. This militarized the region, with increased numbers of Border Patrol agents, new interior Border Patrol checkpoints, more beds in detention, and new border walls and other infrastructure.

President George W. Bush oversaw a staggering rise in "crimmigration"--that is, the blending of the immigration system with the criminal justice system. Between 2007 and 2008 alone, a Pew Research report noted, prosecutions for illegal entry rose by more than 250 percent.

President Barack Obama also enabled the legal and operational escalation of deportation and detention, prioritizing recent border crossers for deportation. His administration shifted its focus to immigrants who are subject to removal and banishment, effectively criminalizing immigrants who would not previously have faced criminal charges--thus earning him the nickname "Deporter-in-Chief?'

Deportation is an enormous federal power, and it comes with an enormous human cost...

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