March 5, 2017 – United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials are loose and swarming the nation, conducting raids and deportations under the marching orders of President Donald Trump.
In Mississippi, ICE officials partnering with law officers from other state agencies arrested 55 people late last month while executing federal criminal search warrants at eight different restaurants in Flowood, Meridian, and Pearl. Spokespeople for ICE claimed they were hunting criminal aliens and gang members, although the agency appears to happily target non-criminals who are the friends and family of suspects, according to Bill Chandler, head of the Mississippi Immigrants’ Rights Alliance (MIRA), in Jackson.
Last month Chandler said he got a call that ICE was conducting a raid on the home of Argentinian immigrants Daniel Vargas and his son Alan Vargas. Agents grabbed the two outside their home and arrested them as they were getting ready for work. When officials discovered that Vargas’ 22-year-old daughter Daniela Vargas was inside the house they demanded entrance, but Daniela Vargas was smart enough to refuse.
“We believe they were after Alan, but when they go into a house and find other people they typically shake them down too,” said Chandler. “That’s what they did with her father, who had no arrests and no convictions.”
The young woman called relatives to rescue her before ICE agents returned with a warrant, but relatives noticed the agents skulking around her property, waiting to pounce. After getting a warrant, agents tore through the door and hand-cuffed the daughter that day, but Daniela Vargas’ DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) status temporarily protected her from immediate arrest and deportation.
Agents temporarily released Vargas, who had been attending classes at USM before dropping out to save up for tuition. Agents allegedly told her that they were “not going to take you now, but we’re going to come back for you later.”
ICE agents did indeed grab Vargas later, March 1, after she attended a news conference advocating on behalf of other DACA youth caught up the nation’s new war on immigrants. Vargas’ attorney, Abby Peterson, said Vargas’ DACA status expired three months ago, and that she was unable to save up for the $495 application fee. Authorities detained her at an ICE holding facility in Louisiana, but released her a few days later after widespread public outcry.
Agents’ increasingly aggressive tactics are also interfering with the nation’s judicial system. The chief justice of California’s Supreme Court recently demanded that agents stop “stalking” local courthouses, trying to snatch immigrants who were testifying in court cases. MIRA claims ICE agents have been eager to conduct mass deportations against brown immigrants for years, but that the Obama administration had “yanked the leash” and kept agents civilized. The new, more blatantly racist president, however, appears to support mass deportations.
President Trump recently ordered federal officials to hunt, detain, and deport undocumented residents, regardless of whether they have committed serious crimes. The president seeks to strip some immigrants of privacy protections and draft local law enforcement as additional soldiers. He also intends to build new detention facilities and discourage asylum. Trump lauded recent nationwide immigration raids as a “military operation.”
“We’re getting gang members out, we’re getting drug lords out, we’re getting really bad dudes out of this country — and at a rate that nobody’s ever seen before,” Trump told reporters.
Those bad dudes apparently include people like Daniel Vargas, who has no known criminal record, as well as more than 50 restaurant workers cooking food and cleaning tables in Jackson metro restaurants.
White Mississippi leaders are only too happy to praise the effort. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant joined 26 other states in a 2015 lawsuit against former President Barack Obama’s order protecting millions of undocumented immigrants from immediate deportation.
The crackdown on immigrants could put an additional crack in the nation’s economy, if the mass deportations impact businesses dependent upon low-wage immigrant labor, such as restaurants, and the food processing and agricultural sectors. Immigrant labor comprises a disproportionate percentage of manual work in poultry plants in neighboring Scott County, as well as a significant portion of manual labor on local food farms. Significant raids on poultry plants or the farming industry could trigger an explosion in food prices.
A year without immigrants could do more than leave food rotting on the vine, however. Inflation-adjusted economic growth for the past decade has been a flat 2 percent, and independent economic projections for the next decade are just as soggy, with the Federal Reserve, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, and others expecting annual growth of only 1.8 to 1.9 percent. This is due, in part, to the nation’s aging population. Immigrants coming to the nation are comparatively younger than the native population, however, and will reliably generate a taxable paycheck over the next two decades, at least. This marks a stark contrast to the aging, white population that is either close to retirement or already retired and generating little revenue—the same population that, according to polls, is more likely to oppose a pathway to citizenship.