We can now put a number on the level of fear undocumented immigrants are experiencing. Since Donald Trump’s inauguration, authorities have deported at least 5,441 migrants who have no criminal record, according to The Washington Post. This is more than double the number deported during the same period last year under the Obama administration.
Those immigrants didn’t hurt anyone. They didn’t steal, rape, carry drugs across the border or drive under the influence of alcohol. Their only crime was entering the U.S. illegally in order to do the jobs that nobody else in this country wants to do.
We are all responsible for the pain and loss those people are now enduring: Undocumented immigrants come to the United States because thousands of companies and private individuals here hire them. Across the nation, Americans benefit from their work and the taxes they pay.
Trump and John Kelly, the secretary of Homeland Security, used to insist that the administration would focus on arresting and removing only the “bad hombres” who were here illegally — meaning drug runners, gang members and violent criminals. But in the past 100 days, the Trump administration seems to have focused on catching and removing anyone they can.
The numbers don’t lie: Overall, 21,362 undocumented immigrants were arrested and deported between Jan. 20 and March 13, according to figures from the Post. During the same period last year, under the Obama administration, 16,104 people were deported. That’s a 32% increase.
Trump has also attempted to keep people from six predominantly Muslim countries out of the country entirely, and he has threatened to withhold federal funding to so-called “sanctuary cities” that have resisted cooperating with immigration authorities. The courts have blocked those moves for now, but the anti-immigrant rhetoric that fuels these policy initiatives has infected the country.
In Trump’s first 100 days in office, a climate of fear has taken hold among the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants, the vast majority of whom come from Latin America. Every day there are new reasons for dread: A 23-year-old “Dreamer” who came to the U.S. when he was 9 was recently deported to Mexico, a country that he doesn’t even remember. A father in California was arrested while taking his daughter to school. A mother of two was detained in Arizona during an appointment with officials at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement office. Simply put, millions of people who have lived in this country for years, paid taxes and contributed to their communities no longer feel safe.
To be fair, during his tenure Obama deported 2.5 million people, more undocumented residents than any other president, and among those who were removed were hundreds of thousands of people who had never committed any crime. The difference between Trump and Obama, however, is that Obama supported immigration reform and granted legal protections to more than 750,000 Dreamers — young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children by their parents. This was a significant step.
Trump opposes establishing a path to legalization. While he has said that the Dreamers have nothing to worry about, nobody knows what he’s going to do next. After all, Trump has a serious credibility problem. He has lied so many times that his words hold little weight, and his intentions remain unclear.
What is known is that Trump has promoted distrust and hatred, with undocumented residents as his target.
This first came to the public’s attention when he launched his presidential bid in June 2015 by calling Mexican immigrants criminals, drug dealers and rapists — an offensive lie, appealing to mistrust of outsiders. Fewer than 300,000 undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. have committed a felony, according to a recent study from the Migration Policy Institute. This amounts to less than 3% of the undocumented population. By comparison, about 6% of U.S.-born residents have committed felonies.
If Trump really wanted to focus on arresting and deporting dangerous criminals, nobody would oppose him. But it’s crucial to understand that this is a small group of people who aren’t representative of the millions of foreigners living in the United States.
Nevertheless, Trump’s speeches and political stances have emboldened others to express their prejudices more openly, and that has made all immigrants vulnerable. I’ve lived here for more than 30 years, and I’ve never experienced an anti-immigrant climate like this one: strong, pervasive and blatant.
Other people may judge Trump’s performance during his first 100 days in office according to different factors, but for me and many immigrants, these have been 100 days of fear. We should brace ourselves: There are more than 1,300 ahead.