With the first wave of President Donald Trump’s long-promised crackdown on immigration arriving in the form of two executive orders this week, immigrant advocates in Orange County are scrambling to mobilize on behalf of the many county residents who could be impacted by the directives.
While his order to fulfill his signature campaign promise to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border garnered most of the headlines, Trump’s other edicts will likely have a much greater effect on the county’s refugee community and the estimated 300,000 unauthorized immigrants who call the county home.
Among other things, his orders drastically expand the definition of who is considered a “removable alien” to include both unauthorized and potentially even legal immigrants, and will prioritize for deportation immigrants who have committed “any criminal offense” or who have been charged but not convicted of a crime.
The Department of Homeland Security will also publish a list, updated weekly, of unauthorized immigrants nationwide who are convicted of crimes and jurisdictions that refuse to honor federal requests to detain them. Meanwhile, an ‘Office for Victims of Crime Committed by Removable Aliens’ will be created.
Furthermore, Trump is vowing to cut all federal funding to cities and counties that declare themselves sanctuaries for immigrants by refusing to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
The new president has also resurrected Secure Communities, a program for identifying and further detaining unauthorized immigrants with criminal histories that began under President George W. Bush and continued well into President Barack Obama’s first term. Obama ended the program in 2014.
Finally, Trump is expected to sign another executive order that would temporarily halt any immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries while the government reviews the screening process, cut the number of refugees admitted to the United States each year in half and make the already lengthy vetting process for aslyum-seekers even more stringent.
Few places in the country will feel the brunt of these policies like Orange County, where nearly a third of all residents are foreign born, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The county has also accepted 1,491 refugees from several countries over the past six years, and is home to a large population of American Muslims, many of whom live and work in Anaheim’s Little Arabia.
One potential silver lining for immigrant families is that Trump, at least for the time being, appears to be leaving in place the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allows children who were brought to this country by their unauthorized parents to have temporary legal status.
Immigrant advocates have been preparing for this time to come ever since the November election and have been ramping up their efforts to hold naturalization fairs and dispense legal advice, according advocates like Shakeel Syed, executive director of Orange County Communities Organizing for Responsible Development (OCCORD).
But they say they are already feeling somewhat overwhelmed
Many small nonprofits and service providers like OCCORD do not have their own in-house attorneys, and rely on groups like the Asian Americans Advancing Justice, the Public Law Center and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to provide both general and individualized advice to immigrants.
“There are capacity issues with these nonprofits, and we are unable to meet the demand that’s coming our way,” Syed said.
In an effort to harness the resistance to the new administration’s policies, OCCORD and other groups, including the Los Angeles chapter of the Council of American Islamic Relations in Anaheim, have established a collaborative of Muslim American and Latino advocacy groups.
“We recognize that all politics is local, and a threat to justice to some people is a threat to justice for all people,” said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of CAIR-LA, which is based in Anaheim.
Here is a rundown of the ways in which Trump’s new policies impact Orange County:
The Crackdown on “Criminals”
By reinstating Secure Communities Trump is reconnecting a pipeline between local governments and federal immigration authorities through which fingerprints of people booked into local and state jails are matched with Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and FBI databases.
Obama ended the program in 2014 after it drew heavy criticism for deporting a large number of people who committed minor crimes. Between 2008 and 2013, the top crime associated with deportations was immigration violations, followed by traffic violations and drug crimes, according to CNN.
It was replaced with a program that gave immigration officers the discretion to focus only on those with serious felony convictions or who are a serious threat to public safety or national security.
Trump has done away with that discretion, and taken enforcement a step further by drastically expanding the definition of who is considered a “removable alien” to, as the British newspaper The Guardian details, any immigrant who has been convicted of a crime or even those who have not been convicted or simply been subject to an investigation.
It also allows for the arrest and removal of any immigrant who has lied in official governmental matters or government applications, abused public benefits or defied a deportation order. While Trump has authorized the hiring of 5,000 new border patrol agents and 10,000 new federal immigration authorities, the feds will still likely need the help of local police.
The main way Orange County residents end up in the deportation system is by being arrested and placed in jails run by the county Sheriff’s Department. Many city police departments don’t inquire about immigration status or provide information unless they get a specific request from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
One protection California immigrants will have against Secure Communities that they didn’t have in its first incarnation is the state’s Trust Act. The act, which went into effect in 2014, prohibits local governments from honoring detainer requests unless the person in custody has committed a serious crime.
The sheriff’s department notifies ICE about inmates arrested for only “serious and violent felonies” as allowed by the Trust Act, said Lt. Mark Stichter, a spokesman for the department.
When these inmates’ time is almost done, “we communicate with ICE and let them know of the inmate’s pending release, and then ICE can decide to pick them up to further the deportation process,” Stichter said.
Punishing Sanctuary Cities
In Orange County, only Santa Ana has declared itself a sanctuary city, although many cities have internal policies that prohibit police from collecting or disclosing information about people’s immigration status.
And despite Trump’s threat, city officials are not showing signs of backing down.
The city issued a statement Thursday afternoon stating that it is working with other sanctuary jurisdictions “to prepare and respond to actions taken at the federal level.”
“I am very proud of our city council for standing strong, and I believe that we have to continue to stand strong, even if the federal government threatens too take away some of our funds,” said Councilman Sal Tinajero, who went on to say the city should take legal action to protect its funding.
Carrying out the president’s order to take away federal funding from sanctuary cities may be more difficult than it sounds.
A host of sanctuary jurisdictions across the country have vowed legal battles to protect their federal funding, including New York, Los Angeles, and the leaders of the California Legislature.
Santa Ana, for example, has been awarded a total of $123 million in federal grants for the coming years, the vast majority of which is for public housing programs.
Past U.S. Supreme Court rulings have limited the federal government’s ability to strip funding from local agencies to money that is related to the policy involved, such as law enforcement grants. Santa Ana has been awarded $2.7 million in federal law enforcement grants over the next three years, mostly for community policing.
The court precedents could protect sanctuary cities’ grants for non-police issues like housing, community development, parks, and transportation.
Stopping the Flow of Refugees
Although Trump has yet to release his executive order regarding refugees, a draft of the order suggests the president will significantly cut the number of refugees accepted into the country and where they are coming from.
The draft order would cut number of refugees admitted to the U.S. each year from 110,000 to 50,000 and temporarily halt immigration for a month from a number of majority-Muslim nations: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen.
It would also suspend the admission of new refugees for 120 days and halt the flow of refugees from Syria indefinitely, until the administration is done overhauling the vetting process.
When the refugee program resumes, those escaping religious persecution will be prioritized – so long as they are considered a religious minority in their country of origin.
California received 5,817 refugees as of 2015, or 8 percent of the national total, according to data from the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement. The most refugees come from Iran (1,852), Iraq (1,715), Burma (321), Ukraine (313), Somalia (294), Afghanistan (215) and Syria (182).
Between 2011 and 2015, 666 Iraqis, 271 Iranians and 236 Africans resettled in Orange County,
Not many Syrians have resettled in Orange County under an official refugee status – just eight refugees have been resettled here since 1994, with two of them arriving in 2015. But many Syrians have arrived instead under visitor or student visas, which does not entitle them to any special government assistance.
The situation for most individuals applying for asylum has already been difficult; individuals being assisted by OCCORD for their asylum applications saw their cases stalled for most of last year without explanation, Syed said.
“These are really the worst of situations,” said Syed. “At least with [deferred action], we know the government is not going to honor them,” said Syed. “In the refugee cases, they’re in a complete limbo.
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