The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Trump’s planned deportations are mainly for show. That’s all.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents during a raid in Richmond.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents during a raid in Richmond. (Steve Helber/AP)

AGENTS FROM Immigration and Customs Enforcement are launching major raids in a dozen cities this weekend aimed at deporting some 2,000 undocumented immigrants. And in case you credited President Trump when he said it’s foolish to telegraph a major operation by announcing it in advance, never mind. Mr. Trump himself did the telegraphing.

“There’s nothing to be secret about,” said the president, who called Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf a “disgrace” when she gave advance notice about raids in her city a few months ago. “If the word gets out, it gets out,” he said.

It got out.

Mr. Trump suggested the raids would be “focused on criminals as much as we can,” which would be fine if it were true. In fact, Homeland Security officials who confirmed the planned operation to the New York Times said the roundups would mainly target migrant families.

ICE is an enforcement agency and is within its rights to deport undocumented migrants who have been ordered removed after receiving due process of law. These planned deportations, however, are mainly for show.

There are two main audiences. One is the nativists in Mr. Trump’s political base, who may have noticed that despite his huffing and puffing — and very likely partly because of it — undocumented migrants are entering the country at a rate unseen in more than a decade. That has evidently left the president in need of an ostentatious way to show he is turning the tide.

The other audience is prospective migrants in Central America, whom the administration would like to deter by sending the message, with its deportation show of force, that trekking across the border is likely to be costly and ultimately fruitless. Yet it seems unlikely that the planned deportations, albeit highly publicized, will offset the reality of 11 million undocumented immigrants who continue living in the United States, in most cases as law-abiding and productive members of their communities, where their labor is in demand.

Want to provide sanctuary to an undocumented person? This is what it takes.

Some Homeland Security officials, including acting secretary Kevin McAleenan, had serious misgivings about the raids, based on the risk that children, including U.S. citizens, may be separated from their parents, and that inadequate beds are available in family detention centers. Logistical problems and emotional scenes may also occur — unless, of course, advance warnings from the president, Homeland Security officials and immigrant advocacy groups prompt migrants to vacate the addresses where ICE may look for them or refuse to open the door when agents knock. ICE agents, who enforce civil law, will likely not have warrants to enter dwellings.

The raids are likely to produce headlines but nothing that will change the dynamic that has produced a spike in undocumented migrants. For that to happen, the country would need a rational overhaul of immigration laws and procedures, a major increase in immigration judges and a focus by the administration on improving conditions in Central America. Senate Democrats are offering legislation that would achieve much of that; sadly, it stands no chance of passage in the GOP-controlled Senate.

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