There is growing discomfort about recurring news of immigration arrests in sensitive places and circumstances in the Pacific Northwest.
We expect agencies including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the FBI to actively seek out and interdict threats to internal security. Competent national law enforcement meets with widespread approval, providing some peace of mind in a world where America’s interests are under attack by radical ideologues.
The ICE mission statement includes, “To identify, arrest, and remove aliens who present a danger to national security or are a risk to public safety, as well as those who enter the United States illegally or otherwise undermine the integrity of our immigration laws and our border control efforts. Enforcement and Removal Operations upholds America’s immigration laws at, within and beyond our borders through efficient enforcement and removal operations.”
In and of itself, this doesn’t raise many red flags.
There are, however, limits to our confidence and support. At one end of the scale, deadly attacks like those in New York City this week and in Las Vegas on Oct. 1 demonstrate ineffectiveness at stopping determined “lone wolf” assailants. And on the other side of the scale, mass arrests and detentions of inoffensive working immigrants raise questions about how much our democracy is willing to tolerate.
In an Tuesday story, Willamette Week reported three “controversial arrests in the Portland area raised fears that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are breaking federal laws and their own rules.”
The most recent of these incidents involved arrest of an undocumented immigrant at a bus stop just outside after he left Legacy Emanuel Health Center in north Portland. ICE agents are supposed to be barred by agency policies from making arrests in “sensitive locations” including hospitals, schools and churches. A variety of motivations guide this policy — including a public health and humanitarian interest in allowing sick people to obtain medical care. From ICE’s perspective, slapping handcuffs on someone in or near a sensitive location results in bad political optics and negative publicity.
The three known questionable arrests in Oregon lead to concerns about how many have gone unreported.
“(For) any of these actions that we’ve recorded or have reported on, there are likely dozens or more happening here in Oregon and around the nation every month that we just never hear about,” the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon told Willamette Week. “If ICE can’t admit that their agents may be violating policy, I have no hope that we might see a decrease in these kinds of illegal arrests.”
Immigration agents in plainclothes are reported to be approaching individuals in or near courthouses, taking them into custody without identifying themselves as ICE. This is chilling.
In our immediate area around the mouth of the Columbia River, there haven’t been obvious violations of ICE policy. But there have been violations of common sense — cowboy-like behaviors that undermine public confidence and roil the local immigrant community. On the Long Beach Peninsula, a series of small towns, agents arrested 38 immigrants as of Tuesday. In these villages where everybody knows everybody, in a sense everything is a “sensitive location.” Fathers and mothers are swept away to detention centers with only the clothes on their backs, leaving spouses and children — who often are lawful U.S. citizens — confused and facing destitution.
Detainees aren’t angels. Clearly, all have violated immigration laws. Some have arrest records or have come back across the border after an earlier deportation. The worst cases belong to gangs or have committed serious crimes.
But in the U.S., we expect all people to receive legal due process and to face proportional penalties. Absolutely, imprison and deport serious criminals. But is the wholesale destruction of families an appropriate consequence for someone who came across the border without filling out the right paperwork? More and more Americans are asking this question as ICE goes too far in carrying out President Donald Trump’s promise of mass deportations.