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2018 Was the Year Donald Trump Declared Total War on Immigrants

In this, his second year of office, the president’s sick and deranged racist fantasies came to life through his xenophobic policies and the rise of his deportation force

"After enduring this year of fear, I'm afraid to even imagine what 2019 will bring," Escalante writes. (Photo: OverpassLightBrigade/Twitter)

Donald Trump is doing exactly what he promised to do back when he kicked off his presidential campaign in 2015. In this, his second year of office, the president’s sick and deranged racist fantasies came to life through his xenophobic policies and the rise of his deportation force. And for immigrants, 2018 can be summed up in just one word: fear.

(Of course, the president said and did plenty of other horrendous things to immigrants prior to 2018 ― e.g., the Muslim travel ban of 2017 ― but this year Trump’s racist policies became front and center on a whole new level.)

The year kicked off with a congressional fight over three pieces of legislation designed to address the future of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals beneficiaries, commonly referred to as Dreamers. One of those bills was Trump’s xenophobic wish list, which included a “border wall and an end to the visa lottery system and family-based migration that Trump calls chain migration.”

Republicans overwhelmingly rejected the bill, which was ultimately defeated by significant margins, thus handing the president and his administration an embarrassing defeat. The other two legislative proposals failed because Democrats and immigration advocates couldn’t agree on whether to pass a “clean” Dream Act, which would’ve done nothing to address Republican demands, or a more moderate bill that would protect Dreamers... in exchange for $25 billion in funding for border security and the construction of Trump’s racist border wall, plus prohibit green card holders from sponsoring their adult children.

With Dreamers left in the cold by Congress yet again, the Trump administration wreaked havoc on immigrant and refugee communities across the U.S. The Republican anti-immigrant agenda sped up in 2018 as tens of thousands of people with temporary protected status (immigrants who live in the U.S. due to circumstances that make their home country “unable to handle the return of its nationals adequately,” including Haitians, Salvadorans and Hondurans) saw that status terminated by the Trump administration. They’re now on a sure pathway toward deportation unless legislation or court rulings protect them.

Immigrants without criminal records also found themselves in Trump’s sights in 2018. This year, immigrants the federal government previously deemed “low priority” for deportation were suddenly being picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents despite not having a criminal record. Even born U.S. citizens fell victim to the “unshackled” practices of ICE and local police forces

Ordinary civilians weren’t the only ones terrorized by Trump and the GOP in 2018. Local and state governments continuously found themselves at odds with the federal government’s ruthlessness toward immigrants and other vulnerable minorities. Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf took to local news stations earlier this year to alert residents of ICE activity in the area ― a move that earned her the scorn of the White House, with Trump urging the Department of Justice to consider prosecuting her.

And if that doesn’t strike you as retaliatory behavior from a taxpayer-funded law enforcement agency, then take note of how ICE and the Department of Homeland Security have retaliated against New Jersey in recent weeks. ICE activity across the Garden State has increased significantly after the state’s new Democratic attorney general directed state law enforcement to limit cooperation with the federal agency. 


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It’s impossible to ignore the effect that immigration raids had on local communities in 2018. Last summer, immigration enforcement agencies cranked their activity all the way up as local communities and the federal government bent over backward to deal with the consequences of Trump’s deportation force. In August, the small town of O’Neil in rural Nebraska had to open its public elementary school doors as a sanctuary to anyone who needed it in response to an immigration raid that affected 60 to 80 families. Those people ― parents of young children, their lives disrupted by Trump’s anti-immigrant crusade ― could’ve just as easily been your neighbors, your friends or even me, your friendly HuffPost columnist.

But this development in O’Neil was a blip on the radar for many Americans, given the other immigration-related atrocities that occurred over the summer of 2018. The nation witnessed Trump’s reckless zero tolerance policy in all its glory as thousands of migrant children fleeing violent conditions in their home countries were ripped from their parents’ arms with zero plan by the federal government to reunite them. These children were irreparably harmed (some even died), yet nobody in the administration has been fired or held accountable for the horrors these children and families endured.

And this is supposedly the rational behavior of a president who claims his administration is running like ”a fine-tuned machine.”

The above represents a mere fragment of the irreparable damage this administration brought upon real people this past year, many of whom have lived in the U.S. for the majority of their lives. In 2018, we saw immigrants turned into scapegoats simply because they lacked a piece of paper giving them “legal” status in this country. We saw a president use shameful fear-mongering techniques to whip up anti-immigrant fear in the weeks prior to the 2018 midterm elections. We watched as Trump’s administration proposed adding a question to the 2020 census regarding citizenship (which evidence has since confirmed is a calculated maneuver designed to diminish immigrants’ input in the democratic process).

If our elected leaders are concerned about our nation’s immigration system and the people it affects, then maybe they should shift their focus away from partisan politics and start talking seriously about actual policy ― like protecting the immigrants who contribute to this country’s economy.

Nobody wins when the Trump administration shifts money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to feed its aggressive deportation operations. The same can be said of the lack of oversight given to ICE, an agency that wishes to enter the technological landscape to locate individual immigrants, arrest them and deport them. This is precisely why we (by which I mean anyone who actually cares about the future of the U.S.) should be extremely vigilant about what we allow unsupervised federal agencies to do ― their work affects everyone, from U.S. citizens to undocumented immigrants.

After enduring this year of fear, I’m afraid to even imagine what 2019 will bring. Congress passing immigration reform destined to die in committee? DACA killed off by the Supreme Court? Trump using immigration enforcement to fuel his bid for re-election?

Only time will tell, but right now things don’t look particularly bright for any immigrant or refugee in Trump’s America.

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Juan Escalante

Juan Escalante is an immigrant advocate and online strategist who has been fighting for the Dream Act and pro-immigration policies at all levels of government for the past 10 years.

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