The election of Donald Trump has dramatically increased public scrutiny of immigration policy at the federal, state and local level – triggering widespread confusion over what is new, and what isn’t.
Here are five issues that stirred controversy in recent weeks, but have changed little, or not at all, since President Trump was inaugurated:
1. Undocumented immigrants get a free, public education.
This issue exploded last month in Rockville, Maryland, after two undocumented immigrant teenagers were accused of raping a 14-year-old girl in a boys’ bathroom. Even Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, R, questioned why the teens were enrolled in public school.
The answer: Because the Supreme Court ordered public schools to educate all students, regardless of immigration status.
This is not a state or local policy, but a 5-to-4 ruling handed down June 15, 1982, in a lawsuit known as Plyler v. Doe. The high court struck down a Texas statute that allowed school systems to kick undocumented students out of public schools. The court said the statute violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment and that it was unfair to blame “innocent children” for their parents’ decisions.
2. Immigration agents call themselves “police.”
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti wrote a letter to the Department of Homeland Security in February calling for this practice to stop. He said he feared city residents would not call local police for help if federal agents whose job is to deport people also refer to themselves as police.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) says “police” is a universal term that identifies them as law enforcement. Agents emblazon the word on their jackets and have done so for years.
And ICE has the time-stamped photographs to prove it: Here’s one in Philadelphia in 2006, in El Paso in 2000, and another in – yes – Los Angeles in 2011.
3. Immigration agents sometimes arrest people in courthouses.
California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye last month accused ICE agents of “stalking” immigrants at state courts. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security chief John F. Kelly retorted that they wouldn’t have to if California would cooperate with deportation efforts.
But ICE has arrested immigrants in courthouses for years, including last year, when a Chinese national showed up for a court hearing in New York, court records show.
It’s possible that ICE pulled back on that policy under pressure from the American Civil Liberties Union in 2014. But officials said courthouses were never on the list of sensitive locations the agency avoids, such as churches and schools.
4. ICE protects witnesses and crime victims, but not in every case.
Fear swirled after the February arrest of a transgender woman named Irvin Gonzalez at the El Paso County Courthouse after she obtained a restraining order, according to media reports.
Outraged, advocates said the arrest would frighten other domestic violence victims from seeking help. And the Los Angeles Times reported in March that reports by Latinos of sexual assault and other crimes were down.
Immigration officials say they try to help crime victims and witnesses obtain visas to stay in the United States, and these policy memos are still in effect: “Prosecutorial Discretion: Certain Victims. Witnesses and Plaintiffs[ice.gov]” and “Guidance: Adjudicating Stay Requests Filed by U Nonimmigrant Status (U-visa) Applicants”.
But in the case of the woman arrested in El Paso, ICE agents said she had illegally re-entered the United States after having been deported six times. She also had at least eight convictions on charges including false imprisonment, assault, larceny, domestic violence.
5. ICE sometimes deports people whose only violation was entering this country illegally.
There’s no question that under the Trump administration, far more of the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants are vulnerable to deportation. But his predecessor, Barack Obama, also deported thousands of people who were never convicted of any crime, including last year.
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