A traffic ticket can now get you deported from the U.S.
For those wondering how harsh the immigration crackdown will be – a minor thing like a driving ticket or jaywalking could start a chain of events that could get you deported.
Under new guidelines issued by the Department of Homeland Security, any undocumented alien who is detained for even minor offenses is subject to deportation. Basically, their very presence in the country makes them a criminal. (READ: US targets millions in sweeping deportation plan)
The process under former President Barack Obama where only violent felons get kicked out will no longer be followed. The extremely wide net now includes all illegal migrants to the United States, said the order by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly.
The only good news is that ‘dreamers’ – those brought to the country as children – are exempt from the directives – scant comfort to the millions of others toiling in the economy.
Using 10% of the estimated 3.4 million Filipinos in the US, there are about 300,000 to 340,000 undocumented Pinoys living in the shadows here.
The obvious fear is the crackdown will drive them deeper into the underground.
“I think they will stay as low key as much as possible,” Ledy Almadin, an accountant from New York, told Rappler in an interview.
She said those without papers are now calculating “on the thousand ways how they will survive this crisis” and evade the immigration dragnet being cast by Donald Trump’s administration. (READ: What happens during a deportation raid in the US?)
For Aries Dela Cruz, president of the Filipino-American Democratic Club of New York, one of the biggest problems in the crackdown is the impact on all communities – immigrant or otherwise.
“It makes our communities less safe because TNTs (undocumented Filipinos, and other aliens for that matter) will be less likely to cooperate with local police investigations,” he said.
A report issued a decade ago by police chiefs in 8 major US cities, including New York and Los Angeles, warned the job of enforcing immigration laws and protecting the wider community would be complicated and could be in conflict.
“Immigration enforcement by local police would likely negatively effect and undermine the level of trust and cooperation between local police and immigrant communities. If the undocumented immigrant’s primary concern is that they will be deported or subjected to an immigration status investigation, then they will not come forward and provide needed assistance and cooperation,” it said.
“Distrust and fear of contacting or assisting the police would develop among legal immigrants as well. Undoubtedly legal immigrants would avoid contact with the police for fear that they themselves or undocumented family members or friends may become subject to immigration enforcement," the police chiefs explained. "Without assurances that contact with the police would not result in purely civil immigration enforcement action, the hard won trust, communication and cooperation from the immigrant community would disappear."
"Such a divide between the local police and immigrant groups would result in increased crime against immigrants and in the broader community, create a class of silent victims and eliminate the potential for assistance from immigrants in solving crimes or preventing future terroristic acts,” the report continued.
Immigration advocates and activists said that conclusion is as valid in 2006 as it is in 2017.
The education of children will also likely suffer, especially in households where the status is mixed. This is often the case where the parents are in the US illegally but the children born in the country are automatic American citizens.
Dela Cruz called the Kelly memorandums a “roadmap for mass deportation forces in the US.”
Almadin said the undocumented should reach out to immigration lawyers so they would know their rights if they run into immigration agents.
Dela Cruz believes the immigration orders stigmatize undocumented aliens as criminals who “routinely victimize Americans and other legal residents. In fact, immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than people born in the United States.”
One Filipina mother in San Francisco put her survival tactics this way.
“We have to reduce the times we use the car because that increases the risk of being pulled over. We need to take the bus or the train as much as possible. The idea is to blend in and not stick out. Pray, and hope it works,” she said.
Almadin said the desperation of those tactics to get by will vary but they are aimed at getting past Trump, hope the political atmosphere will change and that succeeding administrations will have more empathy for immigrants.
Filipinos have an apt phrase for it and call it ‘kapit sa patalim’, which literally means grab hold of a knife.
“I would think some would move somewhere else to hide. Some might get married to a US citizen,” Almadin said. – Rappler.com
Rene Pastor is a journalist in the New York metropolitan area who writes about agriculture, politics and regional security. He was, for many years, a senior commodities journalist for Reuters. He is known for his extensive knowledge of international affairs, agriculture and the El Niño phenomenon where his views have been quoted in news reports.