With the election of Donald Trump, immigration has come time and time again to the forefront of the domestic policy debate.
And it should be no surprise. Trump’s stance from the very beginning has been to implement sweeping immigration changes and border security measures — whether it be a wholesale repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) or the construction of a border wall with Mexico that could cost as much as $15 billion.
Immigration is a big issue in Garden City and much of surrounding southwest Kansas. With roughly half of Garden City’s population comprised of Hispanic residents and a great deal of the agricultural workforce powered by foreign-born workers from around the world, it’s no secret that many of the measures taking the spotlight on the national stage will have a direct impact for the Garden City and Finney County community at the most local level.
DACA, the construction of the border wall and Finney County’s former sanctuary status with the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) are just a few of the issues with local implications that have featured in an ongoing discussion about immigration policy in the Trump administration throughout the year. For that reason, the year’s immigration issues, though myriad, have landed a spot as The Telegram’s No. 4 local news story for 2017.
Things started ramping up in late January when Trump used an executive order to institute a 90-day travel ban and 120-day refugee ban for citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries in North Africa and the Middle East, which garnered both praise and criticism from national and local officials.
Numerous Kansas lawmakers condoned the president’s Jan. 27 order, which has been scrutinized by many as unconstitutional and contrary to American values. The order was ostensibly intended to allow time for the country to improve the process of vetting travelers from abroad, but the focus on Muslim-majority countries — without inclusion of American allies such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, arguably the epicenters of funding and recruitment for extremist Islamic terrorism — and the anti-Muslim rhetoric espoused by Trump throughout his campaign formed justification for a handful of federal judges who have blocked both iterations of the ban and sent them fumbling through the federal appeals process.
But Trump’s war on immigration hasn’t stopped with people on the outside hoping to come in. He also took measures through 13 executive orders during his first week as president to remove undocumented residents of the U.S. en masse through ICE roundups, while stripping what have been called “sanctuary cities” of federal grant money, hiring Border Patrol agents, ending “catch-and-release” policies for undocumented immigrants and reinstating local and state immigration enforcement partnerships.
Until earlier this year, Finney County was classified as a “sanctuary county” by CIS, a nongovernment think tank that bills itself as an independent, non-partisan organization. Finney County has held the designation since at least August 2015, when the county’s emergency management division reported facing budget cuts as a result of an amendment targeting sanctuary jurisdictions put forward by U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Kan.
Sanctuary cities and counties have no precise definition but in general adopt the designation to signify their political support and protection of undocumented immigrants, thus bucking cooperation with federal immigration agents. However, some cities and counties have been given the designation without espousal of any anti-cooperation policy. Finney County’s designation stemmed from ICE documentation in June 2014 of an incident when, apparently, the Finney County Sheriff’s Office did not cooperate with federal immigration officials.
While Finney County Sheriff Kevin Bascue says the issue pertains to an inability by the sheriff’s office to honor a 48-hour detainer request, as opposed to an order, on the basis that courts had deemed those particular requests illegal, ICE documents cite a refusal to honor an ICE detainer without probable cause or a warrant. The June 2014 incident is the only incident of that nature documented by ICE and is the reasoning for the CIS sanctuary county designation.
“This is not something new to us,” Bascue said in January of the sanctuary county designation’s reintroduction to the news cycle. “Maybe there are some cities and counties in the United States that fit the description that President Trump was talking about. Maybe there might be some changes as far as they’re concerned, but nothing will change for us because we have always cooperated and helped ICE.”
Trump’s executive order targeting sanctuary cities and domestic enforcement calls for prioritizing deportation of undocumented immigrants who have been “convicted of any criminal offense,” “have been charged with any criminal offense,” “have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense” or “have engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter.”
With that language in mind, it was estimated that 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. could potentially become a priority for deportation, according to figures taken from a 2014 Pew Research estimate.
More than 400 jurisdictions nationwide had some sort of sanctuary policy at the time, according to a report by the Los Angeles Times, and CIS suggests that Finney County was the only sanctuary jurisdiction in southwest Kansas, while other sanctuary counties at the time included Sedgwick, Butler, Harvey, Johnson and Shawnee counties. Johnson County has since been completely removed from the list, while Finney County has been earmarked as having implemented a policy change to better cooperate with ICE.
Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at CIS, said in January that Finney County was designated as a sanctuary jurisdiction not because of one detainer but because “the county has been identified by ICE as having a policy that limits or prohibits cooperation with ICE.”
Undocumented immigrants have an indelible place in many American communities. In recognition of that incontrovertible truth, President Barack Obama enacted DACA in June 2015 through an executive order to protect undocumented immigrants who entered the country illegally as a minor, specifically those who were under the age of 31 when the order went into effect, by giving them renewable two-year deportation deferrals and work authorizations.
Since then, nearly 800,000 people have been approved for protections through the program that has been criticized by many conservatives as an overreach of executive power and a sweeping, illegal change to domestic immigration policy.
In September, President Trump ordered an end to the Obama-era program but gave Congress six months to either find a legislative solution or end it entirely. Trump’s argument was that DACA should have passed through Congress in the first place — not summarily enacted through an executive order.
That’s when locals took to social media to voice their dismay at the president’s decision and made their immigration status known.
“Most of you didn’t know I was born back in Mexico in the state of Jalisco, and I was granted the opportunity to be a DACA participant,” wrote 21-year-old Efrain Ramirez in a September Facebook post. “My parents came illegally, as well as my family. We left everything back home to try and come and better ourselves here in the land of the free.”
The post garnered approximately 1,500 Facebook reacts and 307 shares within three days of its publication.
As it stands, DACA will end March 5, 2018, unless a solution is reached, and the Department of Homeland Security is not accepting new applications for the program.