It was a reminder of how immigration enforcement used to be.
Earlier this month, a half-dozen immigration agents staked out a courthouse in El Paso, Texas, where an undocumented woman sought a protective order against the boyfriend she said was abusing her. She was granted that order, but before she could leave the courthouse, she was met by ICE agents, who escorted her away for deportation proceedings.
It’s likely the agents were tipped off by a person who knew the woman would be in that court on that day – her boyfriend. The woman, from Mexico, had a criminal record but no outstanding warrants for her arrest. She was in the courthouse to be protected as a victim.
The incident has sent a chill through the immigrant community, which already is on edge as President Trump begins to make good on a promised immigration crackdown. That policy will have “great heart,” Trump vowed again last week. What we’ve seen thus far signals a return to harshness.
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You remember those days. ICE agents making sweeps in businesses and communities. Non-criminals getting caught in the raids. Undocumented families fearing all forms of government.
And nothing getting solved.
Immigrants still came over the border back then. They still escaped poverty at home, took jobs Americans didn’t want, and kept returning even after being deported. The strategy of large-scale deportation hasn’t worked. It won’t work now.
Here’s what will happen: Undocumented immigrants and their families – some of whom are U.S. citizens – will retreat from visibility. They’ll be hesitant to reach out to police and courts, to hotlines and shelters, and that reluctance will make them more vulnerable to those who know crimes won’t get reported.
That’s why local law enforcement leaders largely oppose the kind of arrest that happened in El Paso. As Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney told WFAE last week: “If you’re the victim of a crime, we don’t care about your immigration status. We care about solving that crime.”
Yes, undocumented immigrants are in this country illegally. Yes, there are legitimate debates about whether they are a drain on public dollars or a boon to local economies.
But simply wishing them gone and cheering any and all deportation accomplishes little. It barely dents the undocumented population while breaking up families and disrupting local industries that have come to depend on reliable labor.
That’s why comprehensive immigration reform continues to be the best path forward, and it’s why we applaud Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina for attempting to restart that conversation. Tillis is proposing an incremental approach to reform in which criminals would be deported, children would be given temporary legal status, and popular work-visa programs could be overhauled.
The proposal, which is not yet fleshed out, has elements that will make both conservatives and liberals unhappy. That’s not a bad thing. What we need aren’t open borders or mass deportation, but fair policy acknowledging that although someone entered the country illegally, that shouldn’t disqualify them from all claims to safety, health, family or basic decency.
Let’s not go back to the days where none of those matter. We already know that no one wins.