Since President Trump took office in January, arrests of undocumented immigrants have increased over forty percent compared to the final three months of the Obama administration. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrested 13,914 people last month, and the agency averaged 13,085 monthly arrests from February through June of this year. (In the final three months of the Obama administration, ICE averaged 9,134 arrests per month.) While the Trump administration has not converted those arrests into more deportations—rather numbers are steadily dropping—ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan recently explained that the drop is because of the backlog in federal immigration courts and the lengthy time to process each case. Perhaps the most telling piece of data: the biggest increase in arrests involved undocumented immigrants without a criminal record, a 156% increase from last year.
Nury Chavarria, a Connecticut mother of four, is one such target of the Trump administration, and is going to extraordinary measures to protest her removal order. Last week she sought refuge inside a New Haven church after being scheduled to be deported back to Guatemala last Thursday. Kica Matos, the director of immigrant rights and racial justice at the Center for Community Change in Washington DC, arranged for Chavarria and her youngest daughter, Hayley, to seek refuge at Iglesia de Dios Pentecostal. ICE officials have confirmed that churches, schools, and hospitals, are protected spaces where ICE will reportedly not conduct a raid. Chavarria is a single mother and primary caregiver to four children, ranging from nine to twenty-one, with her oldest suffering from cerebral palsy, and has been working as a housekeeper in Connecticut for the past fifteen years. She has never been arrested. “She doesn’t deserve this,” Matos says. “She is a hardworking, taxpaying resident…Why she is being singled out baffles me.”
Chavarria left Guatemala twenty-four years ago to escape the violence and economic turmoil. She came to the US with her father and brother. While they all applied for asylum status, only her case was denied. According to her attorney, Glen Formica, Chavarria received two orders for deportation, but chose to not leave both times on account of her children. Chavarria began checking in annually with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and was granted stays of removal to allow her to raise her children.
When Chavarria recently attended her annual meeting with ICE with her youngest daughter, she was told that she could apply to stay, but should buy a plane ticket back to Guatemala. She was ordered to return to the office with proof that she bought the plane ticket. “I came to the ICE office and they sent me to another office and they put me in an ankle bracelet and they said I had to leave by July 20,” Chavarria said. “I was feeling so sad. It was tough for everyone. I was in shock. We were crying.”
In a statement, ICE says:
Nury Chavarria was allowed to voluntarily depart by a federal immigration judge in 1998, and failed to comply, rendering her subject to final order of removal in 1999. In 2010, the agency deferred her removal for one year on humanitarian grounds. As a current exercise of discretion and after an exhaustive review of her case, the agency has allowed her to remain free from custody while finalizing her timely departure plans. The agency will continue to closely monitor her case to ensure compliance.
The Trump administration has virtually put an end to the Obama administration’s use of prosecutorial discretion to close deportation cases that allow those with clean records and long community ties to remain in the US. According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University, prosecutorial discretion closures dropped to less than 100 per month during the first five months of the Trump administration, a vast departure from the average of approximately 2,400 per month that was recorded during the same five month period in 2016. While the Obama administration applied deportation orders to cases involving risks to public or national security, the Trump administration has instructed agents to arrest anyone they believe is living in the US with no legal status, regardless of the effects it may have on the person’s family. The lack of prosecutorial discretion has sent the court backlog to more than 610,000 cases that remain pending for 672 days on average. TRAC predicts that by the end of the federal fiscal year this upcoming September, immigration judges will have issued only 20,000 more deportation orders than the previous year, totaling about 99,000.
While Chavarria waits to see if any legal relief from deportation may be offered to her, many church and state officials have come together to assist Chavarria and her family in any way possible. More than 300 members of the Iglesia de Dios Pentecostal church have come to her assistance, some volunteering to take turns bringing Chavarria and her daughter meals. Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy held a press conference outside of the church, expressing his concern that arrests much like Chavarria’s are merely proof that President Trump has lied about immigration policies being directed at “bad guys.” “I am here to say this individual case is a wrong, but I am also very concerned that the greater wrong is when the American people are lied to about what their government is doing,” Malloy told the crowd. US Senator Richard Blumenthal also released a statement explaining that Chavarria’s case "is a symptom of Trump’s cold and callous immigration policies.”
Highlighting the systemic nature of the problem, the New Yorker profiled women without criminal records who are either the primary caretakers of young children, or the primary family financial providers, or both, who have been targeted since Trump’s inauguration. One is Maribel Trujillo Diaz from Hidalgo, Mexico, in Michoacán, a region dealing with drug cartels and violence. She crossed the border in 2002, and in 2012, Trujillo filed for asylum. She told a court about how her brother had been kidnapped by members of a cartel called La Familia Michoacana, and other relatives were being threatened. In 2014, after two years of hearings, her claim was denied. Trujillo’s four children—ranging from three to fourteen years of age—are all US citizens. ICE granted her stays to her removal, and ordered her to report for routine check-ins. Last year, under the Obama Administration, she was granted a one-year work permit. Within three months of Trump taking office, however, ICE agents picked her up, and despite widespread protests, she was deported to Mexico.
In 1988, Alejandra Ruiz, who was then two, and her mother fled the civil war in Guatemala, and they settled in Oregon. Her mother had applied for asylum, but this was denied, and the government issued a deportation order for Ruiz when she was still a toddler. Ruiz, who did not know about the deportation order, also did not find out she was undocumented until she was twenty-four-years old. Living in Beaverton with her four children, Ruiz held a job at a senior-care facility, working twelve-hour overnight shifts. On March 26th this year, she spoke on the phone to an ICE agent who told her about her decades-old deportation order. Ruiz turned herself in and was detained at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington, for a week. Her attorney, Stephen Robbins filed a motion to reopen her childhood asylum case. “I feel like everything I’ve worked so hard for was taken from me,” Ruiz says, as she awaits the outcome of her case and fears being deported to Guatemala, where she knows no one.
Dolores Bustamante Romero was born in a small rural town near Mexico City. At sixteen, Bustamante moved in with a man in his early twenties. They had four kids, but their relationship turned abusive. In 2003, when Bustamante was in her early thirties, Bustamante left her three older kids with her mother—she planned to send money to support them—and set out with her youngest daughter to the US. Bustamante took up low-wage farm jobs: picking pumpkins, cutting watermelon, and apple-picking. One morning in October of 2014, she was pulled over while driving to church and arrested by Border Patrol. She was released from detention on an order of supervision, and waited as her case worked its way through the immigration courts. Unfortunately her attorney at the time never pressed to have her case administratively closed, a move common during the Obama Administration for undocumented parents who’d committed no significant crimes. Her new attorney says this all has changed: “In the previous Administration, we would’ve already closed this case—that is not the situation with the new Administration.”
Idalia Fuentes-Morales was driving to her kitchen-staff job at a Hampton Inn in Bedford, New Hampshire, when a police car pulled her over. An officer asked Fuentes-Morales for her driver’s license. She didn’t have one, so the officer arrested her. On April 3rd, she was deported to Honduras—a country she hadn’t seen in almost two decades. Her husband says: “My kids miss her so much. Now we don’t know what will happen.” Her attorney says: “She would have been granted a stay. But not under this Administration. Everything happened so quickly.”
Sarah Stillman of the New Yorker says about these women: “Administration’s agents are targeting, in large numbers, individuals for whom public-safety justifications for removal don’t apply…While Barack Obama’s Administration deported more than three million people, with plenty of non-felons among them, the cases documented here reflect changes from the previous Administration’s enforcement priorities—mothers, for instance, who’d been picked up under Obama and qualified for temporary legal relief, only to face swift removal, or its threat, under the new Administration.” One veteran ICE agent, speaking out against what the agency has become under the Trump administration, tells the New Yorker: “We seem to be targeting the most vulnerable people, not the worst.”