Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Immigration Enforcement and the Uvalde Tragedy



The approach of law enforcement and immigration enforcement agencies affect immigrant communities -- and their perception of agencies involved in that enforcement -- in distinctive ways. 

During the administration of President Trump, a "zero tolerance" approach allowed for immigration enforcement anywhere and everywhere, even at courthouses where noncitizens handle their legal business. As a result, immigrant communities lived in fear of engaging in the tasks of daily life, such as going to work, taking their children to school or the doctor, or attending church.  The Biden administration reversed that approach, prohibiting immigration enforcement at hospitals, schools, and a range of other “protected” areas.

The tragic gun deaths in Uvalde, Texas has Congress looking seriously at reform of the nation's gun safety laws.  In the flood of news reports in the wake of the tragedy, I missed the immigration angle of the events in Uvalde.  Isabela Diaz for Mother Jones succinctly lays out the issues:

"Hours after yet another mass shooting killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, desperate parents were still trying to find out if their kids were dead or alive. . . . 

In a community like Uvalde, about 85 miles west of San Antonio and not far from the border with Mexico, the unfathomable grief and trauma might be further complicated by the fear of immigration enforcement. The immigration status of the victims and families continues to be rightfully undisclosed, but the school district’s population is 90 percent Hispanic, leading to concerns by immigrant rights advocates that the presence of Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agents might further traumatize relatives in mixed-status families seeking information from authorities and trying to reunite with their children.

Agents with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) . .  . were among the first law enforcement to respond to the shooting. . . . Roughly 80 border patrol agents . . . were present at the scene. Among them were members of the SWAT-like elite team known as BORTAC, or Border Patrol Tactical Unit, who reportedly shot the 18-year-old gunmen. . . .  [A] former CBP agent told the Guardian [after BORTAC's involvement in policing protests by the Trump administration] that, in her experience, BORTAC were among `the most violent and racist in all law enforcement.'” 

The DHS released a statement on May 25 emphasizing that the agency would not be engaging in enforcement in Uvalde:

"U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) remind the public that sites that provide emergency response and relief are considered protected areas. To the fullest extent possible, ICE and CBP do not conduct immigration enforcement activities in protected areas such as along evacuation routes, sites used for sheltering or the distribution of emergency supplies, food or water, or registration sites for disaster-related assistance or the reunification of families and loved ones.

ICE and CBP provide emergency assistance to individuals regardless of their immigration status. DHS officials do not and will not pose as individuals providing emergency-related information as part of any enforcement activities.

The site of the tragedy in Uvalde, Texas is a protected area. To the fullest extent possible, ICE and CBP will not conduct immigration enforcement activities there so that individuals, regardless of immigration status, can seek assistance, reunify with family and loved ones, and otherwise address the tragedy that occurred."


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