I invited two agents from ICE’s Newark, New Jersey Field Office to speak to my cross-listed Philosophy/Criminal Justice class today. The topic? “Enforcement and Removal Operations 101,” or less euphemistically put, “Deporting People in the Name of the Law: An Introduction.”
The two agents more or less made the arguments you would expect agents from ICE to make: ICE is empowered to search, seize, detain, and deport those who violate the nation’s immigration laws; some or many of these illegals are bad actors, whether of a criminal or terrorist variety; and though the media like to focus on the most problematic or controversial actions that ICE undertakes, media coverage doesn’t adequately explain the legal rationale or ICE’s enforcement/deportation operations, or give a balanced account of what it is that the average ICE agent does on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.
One of the agents making the presentation had done supervisory work at a detention facility at the border, and insisted that at least some of what Trump et al have said about members of the migrant caravan is true: the caravan includes gang members (he said), as well as Middle Eastern terrorists, specifically Syrian ones. Further (he claimed), media references to “women and children” as innocent victims are misleading; women and older teenagers prey on our sympathy for family unification, but often, or at least sometimes, use that as a cover for criminal activity. (I’m reporting here, not endorsing or rejecting.)
In listening to the agents making their case, I couldn’t help thinking how much outrage we waste on the condemnation of law enforcement when the underlying legal problems we face are legislative. Law enforcement is, after all, just the tail end, if only the most visible end, of a process that begins–or fails to begin–in Congress. The problem with immigration law in the United States is not primarily how it’s enforced, but what it says. As long as it says crazy things, it will be enforced in crazy ways, and those who enforce it will have the somewhat justifiable excuse that they’re enforcing it as written because it says what it says.
On that very subject: if you want to read an enormously informative–if sometimes quirky and opinionated–guide to immigration law, you couldn’t do better than to set a few hours aside to read and digest Jacques Delacroix’s longform essay, “Legal Immigration into the United States,” at Notes on Liberty. I’ve had my quarrels with Delacroix in the recent past, and don’t agree with everything he says in this essay, but have to admit that his essay doubled or tripled my knowledge on the subject of immigration law, is clear and entertainingly written, and is obviously the product of tremendous learning and personal experience. I highly recommend it.
This Thursday, to balance the appearance by ICE, I’ve invited Joyce Phipps, an immigration attorney at Casa de Esperanza, a non-profit legal aid organization, to discuss her work defending the rights of immigrants, refugees, and asylees in New Jersey. And next week, we’ll be doing an in-class video chat with Maria Lopez-Delgado, a former student of mine who works for the Battered Immigrant Project of Legal Aid of North Carolina. But it occurs to me that I should really be collaring some legislators and asking them why it’s been decades since they’ve enacted real immigration reform. Unfortunately, I only teach this course once a year, and at this point, I’m out of time. Next year, then: we’ll see what the Blue Wave has to show for itself.
I had to chuckle at one thing, however. People talk about the “rampant political correctness” of our universities, but immediately after the ICE talk, my bright-eyed and bushy-tailed pre-law and criminal justice students lined up to have some face time with the friendly agents from ICE. What did they want? To protest what ICE was doing at the border? To express their outrage over family separation and the detention of children? No, not really. They wanted to know how to get a job with ICE. Because as we all know, federal jobs pay well and offer excellent benefits. And maybe offer other, intrinsically-motivating perks besides. Think of the rewards of another day at work doing deportations.
The behavior of politically correct “snowflakes”? Or career-wise ICE chips? I leave it as an exercise in political meteorology.