U.S. Immigration Enforcement: The New Fugitive Slave Act?

Of all the troubling promises President Trump made during the 2016 presidential campaign, the promise to round up and deport undocumented immigrants is the one the president had religious stuck with – and with a host of tragic human consequences. PBS reported that, through December 2017, immigration arrests were up 45 percent and the arrests of undocumented immigrants with no criminal record was up 145 percent under the Trump crackdown.


This dramatic escalation of arrests by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has focused more effort on immigration crime in general. But the most alarming facet of the Trump crackdown is ICE’s targeting immigrants with no criminal records. The arrest of undocumented immigrants with no criminal records more than doubled in New Jersey last year, which similar increases in other states.


The Trump administration and proponents of these policies claim that undocumented immigrants increase the risk of crime and terrorism in the U.S. They also invoke the racist-driven notion that undocumented immigrants take advantage of taxpayer benefits without themselves paying taxes.


Because of this, undocumented immigrant hardliners declare they all undocumented immigrants should be deported to keep Americans safe and ensure law and order.


The Trump crackdown has increased the chasm between those advocating a pathway to citizenship and those clamoring for deportation. The character and foundation of this nation was shaped and constructed by immigrants. The original American colonists, it should be remembered, were actually “illegal immigrants.” They thought of themselves as citizens of Great Britain who came to the land now known as the “United States of America” to steal and conquer it by any means necessary.


Studies tend to agree with this perspective, showing that immigrants (regardless of their citizen status) are less likely to engage in violent criminal activities than U.S.-born citizens. The parents of the president’s wife, Melania, are poised to become citizens of the United States. They left their homeland in Slovenia to make a fresh start in America—the same goal that has been pursued by overwhelming percentage of undocumented immigrants.


The result is that the Trump administration’s increased enforcement of immigration policies in major cities across the U.S. has been met with not just with the dismay of many local citizens and lawmakers, but in some areas active resistance. This conflict is somewhat reminiscent of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, in which lawmakers and residents of Northern states actively opposed the apprehension of escaped slaves.


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Is ICE the New Fugitive Slave Act?


Supporters of the new immigration policies are predominantly rural or middle-class white Americans occupying states where undocumented immigrants are relatively uncommon. In contrast, U.S. citizen residents of big cities, which are diverse and contain a high proportion of undocumented immigrants, tend to oppose these policies.


If you look at history, this dynamic is something that sounds an awful lot like the Fugitive Slave Act. This Act was signed into law in 1850, and required state and local governmental officials and citizens of the North to aid slave owners and slave hunters who came to capture and re-enslave runaway slaves.


The North strongly opposed this new law, with many local governments ruling that the Fugitive Slave Act compromised State’s Rights protected by the 10th Amendment. Citizens even took to the streets to oppose and resist the arrest of African Americans.


Starting to sound familiar?


The Fugitive Slave Act may very well be one of the biggest factors that ultimately led to the Civil War as these two opposing viewpoints continued to clash without resolution. We’re obviously not there yet, but might we be in a decade’s time?


How to Deal with It If You Are Charged with an Immigration Crime Now


It is likely that many state and local governments will continue to oppose ICE immigration enforcement, citing State’s Rights. This, combined with actions you can take on your own, should minimize your chances of running afoul of immigration.


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They won’t completely eliminate the risk, though, and under our current political climate the arrests and departments of undocumented immigrants is likely to continue to increase. If you find yourself charged, you need to take it very seriously and immediately seek help from an experienced Texas immigration attorney who can help protect your rights.