In case you haven’t noticed, advocates for immigrants and favorable immigration policies in this country are at war with the current administration in Washington. And, for those who think the attitude in Washington will change in the next four to eight years, think again. Unfortunately, negative attitudes towards immigration are firmly entrenched, not only within the administration, but its fervent followers. Immigration advocates must understand this reality and be ready for battle at every turn. However, the big question is whether government employees, who work in the field of immigration and know that anti-immigrant sentiment is not only wrong but will also have serious negative consequences for America, will have the will or the ability to speak out against the current trend.
Case in point: Attorney General Sessions has notified U.S. Attorneys that he would like offices around the country to pursue prosecution of immigration violators. Indications are that Chief Counsel Offices around the country will no longer agree to administratively close removal proceedings to allow a Respondent to file Form I-601A to seek a provisional unlawful presence waiver prior to departing the country for Consular Processing. Furthermore, ICE offices seem quite happy to not only arrest, but also detain every immigrant or suspected immigrant in sight, both criminal and non-criminal. These changes are no coincidence.
It’s not news that U.S. Attorneys, Chief Counsels, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and even immigration judges all answer to the Attorney General, either directly or indirectly. So it should be no surprise that government employees are under immense pressure to oppose any positive immigration practice or policy regardless of how harmful and reprehensible the anti-immigrant trend may be. Where does it all end?
At some point in time, people who work for the government must stand up to the anti-immigrant sentiment. It seems clear that for the time being, a majority in Congress won’t do it. The only plausible solution is for those in the government who work on the ground, both with and against AILA members, to stand up for what is right. While that may mean that some valuable employees could lose their jobs (and understandably, most people can’t afford that), at what point do compassionate people stop kowtowing and start standing up to the current administration? When does someone stand up and say, “This is wrong and I won’t tolerate it”?
Clearly, then-Acting Attorney General Sally Yates did exactly that when told to defend the unconstitutional Muslim and refugee bans. And yes, she immediately paid for it with her government career. She sat before the Senate in a confirmation hearing and vowed to Republican Senators that she would stand up against injustice and she made good on her vows, that was impressive. But we shouldn’t have to rely on just Attorneys General to stand up for what’s right. U.S. Attorneys don’t have to prosecute all cases that come across their desks, but will they stand up to Mr. Sessions? Immigration judges are still free to render discretionary decisions in favor of immigrants and ICE retains the power to release people from detention, but will they? Government attorneys can continue to do the right thing in immigration court by not opposing sensible solutions to cases and objecting to reasonable motions and agreements posed by immigration lawyers, but will they? Unfortunately, only time will tell and right now it looks like it’s going to be a long time before sensibility is restored to the immigration debate.
In the meantime, AILA members, policymakers, stakeholders, and the public need to stand up to the current administration and everyone associated with the anti-immigrant trend. At this point, it won’t matter if we lose a lot of battles, as long as we someday win the war, and make no mistake, this is war. Buckle up, this is going to be a long fight. And, hopefully, decent government employees will join in the battle and do the right thing by opposing the administration and these reprehensible policies.