President Trump's decision to end the program, known as DACA, that protects young undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children, has upended the lives of hundreds of thousands of Dreamers, including nearly 400 who live in New Hampshire.
But Dreamers aren’t the only ones. Immigrants from all walks of life are being slated for deportation, irrespective of their individual circumstances or value to their community.
Here in New Hampshire, our Indonesian community, who came here decades ago fleeing religious persecution, is being targeted. They’ve found jobs to support themselves, a community to call home, and a place to practice their Christian faith without fear.
But in recent days, dozens of these individuals have been told by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that they must purchase plane tickets and depart by October, and many more wait anxiously to learn their fate.
It doesn’t have to be this way. In 2009, working with these families and members of their church community, my office helped negotiate an agreement with ICE to allow them to remain in New Hampshire and obtain work permits in exchange for a pledge to regularly touch base with ICE.
Regrettably, this agreement was recently reversed by ICE and deportation orders have been served. Imagine the trauma of being told that the life you have painstakingly built will be taken away and that you could soon be separated from your loved ones and community. I’ve read heartbreaking letters from their young children, pleading that they not be separated from their parents and siblings.
Foster’s Daily Democrat spoke for the community in criticizing the government’s action as “a cruel abandonment of America’s values.” I agree.
The United States has always been a safe harbor for people being persecuted for their faith. Since the first European immigrants arrived in New England seeking religious freedom, adherents of every creed have found sanctuary in America’s “shining city on a hill.”
The Indonesian families’ agreement, which has worked well for eight years, allowed these individuals to learn our language, find gainful employment, build their families and become integral members of our Granite State family. They pose no threat to public safety or homeland security. To the contrary, they have become our friends and neighbors. Now they face the stark reality of returning to a country where religious persecution is increasing in frequency and intensity.
The agreement reached with ICE exemplified the kind of thoughtful and nuanced consideration that should be applied in immigration cases. Unfortunately, President Trump’s executive orders have caused ICE to abandon sensible prioritization of undocumented persons.
Rather than concentrate on those with violent criminal records, the agency’s new approach makes no distinction between dangerous individuals and those legitimately seeking refuge. The agency is sweeping up vulnerable people and wrongly making them targets.
With limited resources, the public would be best served by targeting dangerous criminals.
ICE’s policy reversal has sent shockwaves of fear and panic across the nearly 2,000 Indonesian immigrants living in the Seacoast Region and is deeply unsettling to their friends and neighbors. The families’ church and community have rallied to their cause.
I’ve requested that ICE reexamine its decision with regard to these immigrants, and I’ve recently spoken with members of the Trump administration to urge them to allow these families to live their lives in peace.
The United States has a long history, across Republican and Democratic administrations alike, of exercising discretion and humane judgment in determining which immigrants to deport. It does not serve our nation’s interests to randomly and abruptly deport families living and working here peacefully.
This practice is not strategic and is disruptive to our communities. The administration’s immigration enforcement has been heavy-handed, at best, and often harmful in ways that betray our nation’s values.
There’s no question that America’s immigration system is broken, but a dragnet approach is clearly not the answer. Congress needs to work on a bipartisan basis to craft a comprehensive, permanent fix that includes a practical plan to deal with the millions of undocumented immigrants who are productive members of our communities.
In the meantime, I urge the Trump administration to exercise commonsense discretion and restraint in dealing with the immigrant community, including enforcement policies that reflect our nation’s humanitarian values and ideals.