As Donald Trump read his State of the Union address, offering DACA recipients as a bargaining chip for his wall, along with stingier limits on legal immigration and funding for a more vicious immigration enforcement regime, a victim of that regime, Audemio Orozco-Ramirez, sat in the for-profit GEO detention facility in Aurora, Colorado, facing imminent deportation.
Audemio has a wife and seven children in Vida, Montana, where he has worked as a ranch hand and lived for 20 years. Six of his children, ages 4 to 19, are U.S. citizens, and one is a DACA recipient who remembers no other home but in America. In 2013, Audemio was detained by ICE, merely as a passenger in a traffic stop, and placed in a local jail where he was raped. He won a settlement from the government for the sexual assault, and was given a work permit. As a victim of a crime who cooperated with law enforcement, Audemio is eligible for U visa, which would block his deportation, but his application has never been responded to. His role as a community leader and activist grew, but last August, in a routine check-in with ICE, he was unexpectedly detained and shipped to Colorado for deportation. His appeal failed just last week, and he could be deported any day.
In Colorado and across the nation, ICE deportations are reaching new heights of arbitrariness, hypocrisy, vindictiveness and pure cruelty. Policies from the latter years of the Obama administration that focused immigration enforcement on people convicted of serious crimes have largely been dropped in favor of arbitrary deportation of anyone who can be deported, and even deportations in retaliation for community activism. Audemio is an example of that retaliation, along with Eliseo Jurado, recently detained in Boulder, Colorado because his wife is in sanctuary at a local church, or Ravi Ragbir, detained for his activism in New York, also at a routine ICE check-in. ICE director Thomas Homan has doubled down on remarks that undocumented immigrants “should be afraid,” making clear that generating fear is the goal. ICE is purchasing license plate data from private companies, hanging out at courthouses, making random raids, and targeting peaceful and highly valued members of our communities. ICE is ripping families apart with unmitigated cruelty, creating nothing less than a modern-day reign of terror across America.
The Trump administration likes to claim that safety is the goal, and its propaganda aims to stoke fear of immigrants by highlighting a handful of cherry-picked crimes that immigrants have committed, a technique that could be used to demonize any group of people in the world. Imagine, for example, a campaign against left-handed people. Just find a few crimes someone left-handed committed, trumpet those examples to label left-handed people as dangerous, and call for the elimination of those sinister left-handers. If someone objects, say, “What, don’t you care about the victims of left-handed crimes?” This same technique was used in 1930s Germany where lists of crimes committed by Jews were published to help turn public opinion against them. It is a despicable and highly misleading technique that was on display once again in the State of the Union address.
In truth, America’s undocumented immigrants are significantly less likely to commit violent crimes than other Americans. Some are here to escape violence and suffering, and many came to pursue the American dream, often encouraged to come despite the obstacle of badly-broken immigration laws. These are our neighbors, hard-working and dedicated to their families, and yes, tax-paying as well. Given the economic role of immigration, mass deportations would in fact be an economic disaster for our nation. And not only do arbitrary or retaliatory ICE deportations do nothing to make us safer—they do the opposite. When ICE co-opts local police, it breaks down the relationship between law enforcement and local communities, making everyone less safe.
Safety and economics are false justifications for the ICE reign of terror—the real reasons are clearly rooted in white supremacist fantasies of Making America Whiter Again. Donald Trump shares almost none of the cultural or political philosophy of Norway; the only possible reason he would lift up immigration from Norway in contrast to the “shithole” nations of Africa is that it has one of the whitest populations of any nation. His proposed immigration policies would make our legal immigration system even more restrictive and broken, while wasting vast sums of money on a useless wall and an expansion of ICE and Border Patrol cruelty, violating basic American principles of civil rights and civil liberties. What we need instead is an immediate, clean Dream Act for DACA recipients followed by comprehensive immigration reform with compassionate and sensible enforcement, a path to citizenship for all residents willing and able to follow it, and a legal immigration system without racial bias that works far better than what we have now.
Audemio should be home with his family in Montana, not in a for-profit Colorado detention facility awaiting deportation. He is not a threat to our nation, but the ICE reign of terror that targeted him is.
Nathan Woodliff-Stanley is the executive director of the ACLU of Colorado. Photo of Audemio Orozco-Ramirez via ACLU of Colorado.