MY EXPERIENCE WITH IMMIGRANTS as a kid was limited to Anthony. He arrived in my fourth grade class not knowing any English. He was friendly and learned so quickly it was like he’d always lived here. He was the only person I knew who didn’t live in a house. Anthony lived in an apartment.
Their last name was Greek but they’d come from Romania. He said they walked a long way before they got here. He and his brother and sister and parents and possibly other family members lived above a store. Their life looked exotic to me. Very little furniture, windows that opened on Main Street, the stuff children notice. Anthony knew how to play soccer but his classmates, including me, didn’t care. We had our own sports.
Anthony became a citizen, graduated from college and taught school. We went separate ways. His was the American dream and he’s how I still imagine immigrants. That’s why it’s hard for me to understand why our government is so willing to label whole nationalities a threat before we know anything about the individuals who want to come here other than their religion.
Last week the topic was immigration policy but the experience of people like Anthony and his family was not the focus of the gathering held in Chatham. It was sponsored by a committee of the local Indivisible group, a national movement drawing together people opposed to policies of the Trump administration. At the event the subject was how to respond to stepped up government efforts to find people who have entered the country over the U.S.-Mexico border without the proper documents. Now those people are more likely to face deportation than at any time in recent memory.
For folks who support Mr. Trump’s Mexican border policies and believe we should call these immigrants “illegal aliens,” the source I use on that question is the Supreme Court of the United States: “[a]s a general rule, it is not a crime for a removable alien to remain present in the United States.”
On the other hand, an alien who commits a crime is subject to detainment at a facility run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and to subsequently to deportation. And where are the ICE agents looking for the aliens that candidate Donald Trump called “bad hombres”? Traffic Court in Hudson.
It’s possible that some big-time drug lord will show up there to pay a speeding ticket, but it makes more sense to assume that people who settle their civil fines are by-and-large law abiding members of the community. Is harassing them the most effective way these agents can protect us?
Before you answer that question, does the name Shafiqul Islam sound familiar? He was 7 when came to the U.S. from Bangladesh in 1998. Ten years later he raped an adolescent girl in Hudson and was sentenced to three years in prison followed by seven years probation and registration as a sex offender. In 2008, not long after he was sentenced, an immigration judge ordered him deported to Bangladesh.
He was released from prison in 2010, but ICE detained him. The agency tried to reach authorities in Bangladesh to confirm they’d accept Mr. Islam. Bangladesh was unresponsive. ICE had to release him after a year. The law does not allow indefinite detention after completion of a sentence.
Mr. Islam found a room in Hillsdale and a job nearby. Not long after that, on November 20, 2011, he strangled Hillsdale resident Lois Decker, 73, in her home and stole her car. He’s now serving a life sentence for her murder.
In court Mr. Islam said nothing about his motives. From what authorities know, nothing suggests either his national origin or religion contributed to his crimes. He is an immigrant but does that make him any more likely to become a murderer and rapist? The research shows just the opposite: immigrants here commit fewer violent crimes than people who were born here.
We need an agency like ICE to find and detain the small fraction of immigrants who are criminals or commit serious crimes after they arrive. But assigning federal police to round up productive members of society is a misuse of resources and a frightening intrusion of government into our communities. As citizens, we have good reason to demand limits on the powers of ICE. Its raids may be the fastest way to clear our streets, schools and farmland of undocumented people, but when all the aliens and immigrants are gone or in hiding, who will ICE seek out next?