‘Don’t come to our country illegally. Come like other people do. Come legally.”
That has been President Donald Trump’s repeated message against illegal immigration — along with calls for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, a Muslim ban and a merit-based-only immigration system because, “We need borders. We need security. We need safety.” Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement separate families at the border — the detention of migrant children is at the highest levels ever — and keep asylum-seekers in jail indefinitely, sending a very different message to those seeking to enter this country legally.
Ansly Damus is a Haitian national who came to the United States through a legal port of entry on the U.S.-Mexico border. In his hometown of Grande Rivière du Nord, he was a math and science teacher who also spoke out against corruption, youth drug abuse and violence against women. A local gang brutally beat Damus after he criticized a local government corruption. Damus didn’t want to leave Haiti — and his wife and young children — but his spouse convinced him. Damus went to Brazil where he spent several months in a refugee camp that Conectas Human Rights, a nonprofit organization in São Paulo, called a humanitarian crisis because of its unsanitary and unsafe living conditions. Damus spent 18 months in Brazil until, fearing for his life and unable to firmly resettle, he headed North. He went to a port of entry on the California border in October 2016, and an immigration officer determined he had a credible claim for asylum. Almost two years later and after being granted asylum twice by an immigration judge, Damus sits in a jail in Cleveland, awaiting his third asylum trial. His only crime — following U.S. immigration laws.
Damus was the main plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice. During the Obama administration, the ICE Parole Directive allowed for asylum-seekers with credible claims to be released when they don’t present any threat to public safety. In the years after ICE issued the directive, ICE granted parole to a majority of asylum-seekers who requested release.
Under the Trump administration, nearly all asylum-seekers in five ICE districts have been detained from several months to a year. In 2017, the combined parole grant rate for all field offices dropped to 4 percent. In Detroit, the parole denial rate was at 98 percent, with 63 denials and 1 parole grant. In El Paso, the rate was at 100 percent with 349 denials; in Los Angeles, it was 92 percent with 326 denials and 28 grants; in Newark, there was a 100 percent denial rate, the same as the Philadelphia field office.
Last month, a federal court issued an injunction, recognizing that the Trump administration had adopted a new detention policy, and required the government to follow its own parole directive which is still in place from the Obama years. Plaintiffs who were denied their release as a result of this new Trump policy are getting new parole reviews.
While Trump and his supporters continue to shout that immigrants should come in the legal way, his administration has gone above and beyond to deter people from coming into this country legally. Michael Tan, a senior staff attorney at the Immigrant’s Rights Project who also worked on the lawsuit, says the Trump administration is “trying to remake who is able to come into this country and this has very specific national origin and racial impacts.”
This leaves one to wonder: Does Donald Trump oppose illegal immigration or does he only oppose immigrants who don’t look like they’re from Norway?
Coralie Saint-Louis is an outreach and engagement manager for NextLI, a project of Newsday Opinion.