One Saturday night a year ago, my cell phone overloaded with text messages from an MIT student stuck in Iran, unable to board a plane bound for the United States due to President Trump’s travel ban. Her texts revealed her anguish, imagining that her MIT education, almost completed, would dissipate with one quick pen stroke from the president. Hundreds of others faced the same fear of not being able to travel to the United States.
Later that night, I appeared along with ACLU lawyers, immigration attorneys, court clerks, court officers, and a lonely prosecutor in federal court. Most arrived from engagement parties, galas, or high school reunions. Thankfully, two federal judges issued an order halting the travel ban. Lufthansa agreed to fly people affected by the ban into Boston. Televisions flooded with pictures of happy reunions.
That moment defined our country at one of its finest hours: so many Americans standing up for our values. Yet the other executive orders issued shortly before the travel ban continue to cause a level of inhumanity unmatched in the 20 years I have practiced immigration law. The public hears of only a fraction of these stories.
One example involves the case of an immigrant who recently attended his scheduled appointment at immigration offices in Lawrence to allow him to obtain his green card. He arrived confident and hopeful that his long-anticipated status was at last at hand. After the interview, having been told everything went well, he walked outside to his wife, who was holding their four-month-old baby. A tall, thin man not prone to excessive emotions, he was smiling, happy, and relaxed in a way his wife had not seen for many years.
A government official told the client to wait, but soon reappeared and asked him to come back for “one quick minute.” Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, not normally seen at immigration offices, handcuffed him. His wife stood holding their baby while ICE officers handed his lawyer his belt. She would not see him again for almost three months.
Yet his is one of the better outcomes under the Trump administration’s immigration policies. Relatives of US citizens are being deported with only 30 days notice. US citizen children watch their parents being locked up.
Under the Obama administration, many immigrants without criminal records gave their information to ICE in return for a “stay” of removal, preventing their deportation. The Trump administration has almost universally denied such stays, including to people who have lived here 20 years or more.
Honest immigrants are forced to sell their homes, transfer assets, and leave their schools, all because of the capriciousness of this administration. Decent human beings now face a frightening future: bringing their children to countries where rape of girls and the gang recruitment of young boys is a daily reality. Mercy has disappeared from the system.
Under the onslaught of cases, immigration courts are close to breaking, with huge backlogs and few resources to ensure a fair hearing. Only 14 percent of detained immigrants speak with an attorney prior to deportation.
To know immigrants and their family members is to love them. To watch this administration destroy them is unbearable. But I still have faith that we will put this dark moment behind us. We must counter inhumanity with humanity and to take our elected representatives to task when they fail to do so.Susan Church is an immigration attorney in Cambridge and past chair of the American Immigration Lawyers Association of New England.