Federal authorities are using an obscure 1940s law to secretly arrest and deport undocumented immigrants from the U.S., and to terrifying effect.
“I know people who are running scared right now,” said Ray Schellinger, global consultant for immigration and refugees with International Ministries of the American Baptist Churches USA.
“There are stories about people being sent back on a fast-track deportation process without any of the normal court proceedings,” he said. “People have had family members disappear completely, had no idea of their whereabouts until they got a call from Mexico.”
This all stems from the Trump Administration’s interpretation of Title 42, a provision in the 1944 Public Health Service Act governing federal responses to public health emergencies. Citing COVID-19, the White House last spring issued an order invoking the measure to restrict immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border with forced expulsions and bypassing immigration courts.
The American Civil Liberties Union has sued to block the order, which it said “authorizes the summary removal of unaccompanied children without any due process — even if the child is fleeing danger and seeking protection in the United States and shows no signs of having COVID-19. It also authorizes the summary removal of adults seeking protection in the United States.”
The Dallas Morning News recently reported that the law was invoked in 200,000 forced expulsions from March to September.
Agents with Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement are aggressively enforcing the order through raids and mass deportations at the border. The Dallas Morning News recently reported that the law was invoked in 200,000 forced expulsions from March to September.
And more than due process is being denied the immigrants targeted by the order, said Elket Rodríguez, an immigration attorney in Harlingen, Texas, and immigrant and refugee specialist for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
“There is no medical care, no assistance from an attorney, no asylum screening,” he said. “There is no screening for fear of persecution or, in the case of children, no screening for human trafficking. They are not treating humans as humans. They are treating them as property.”
Pastors and shelter networks who work with immigrants share reports of people with broken bones being driven back to the border without treatment. One told of a girl on a stretcher forced to return to Mexico.
“Apparently there have been more than 10,000 unaccompanied children that have been expelled,” Rodríguez said. “Those are the stories that are happening right now at the border with Title 42.”
Americans appalled by their government’s treatment of immigrants should first pray, he said, then press their representatives for effective immigration reform. “It’s a political issue. We need policies that take our neighbors into consideration. We are dealing with humanitarian issues with militaristic enforcement policies.”
It’s also important to understand why so many people want to come to the U.S., Rodríguez added. “Compassion is needed for immigrants because they are coming from a place of desperation. You have to take into account we are going through a pandemic that has decimated their economies and also their health and their health care systems. They are coming to the United States because they need to survive.”
Another reason they come, Schellinger said, results from often being lured by U.S. companies seeking cheap immigrant labor.
“They are pushed by fear and pulled by our need for their work.”
“They are pushed by fear and pulled by our need for their work, often for jobs these companies couldn’t otherwise fill. There are 10 million to 12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. who came not to steal a job but because we asked them to take a job.”
But these workers are treated like criminals for being immigrants while those same companies are not punished, Schellinger explained. “It’s drastically unfair of us to benefit off the exploited labor and do everything we can to keep these people living in the shadows and living scared.”
Even immigrants who have worked through legal channels are treated harshly by the current administration, he said.
“Asylum seekers have done everything by the book but (government officials) found every single way to make it as difficult and to make our policies even punitive just for asking,” he said. “Their agenda is to deport every single person they can and to make it as difficult as possible for anyone who wants to come legally. I think it’s racist.”