NOI 28: U.S. Immigration and the Politics of Fear

Today in Nation of Immigrants we tackle recent headlines about six-figures fines against immigrants from ICE, a lack of coordination in government agencies, and an allegation of rape against an ICE officer from an undocumented immigrant.

Jacob Tingen: Well, here we are again. Episode 28 of Nation of Immigrants. Thank you for tuning in. As always, we’re going to be talking about different immigration issues, headlines in the news. For the last couple of days we have been talking immigration courts and I thought we’d take a quick break from that. I think there is some unfinished business for us left to cover there, but I did want to tackle some headlines that I see and that go into why I call this episode US Immigration and the Politics of Fear. So we’re about to talk about how fear is playing a role in the current immigration debate and policies and reaction. So here we go.

Announcer: You’re listening to Nation of Immigrants.

President Obama: America is a nation of immigrants.

Announcer: A podcast about US immigration law with your host, Jacob Tingen.

Jacob Tingen: All right. So as I said, we’d be talking about how these policies that have been coming out have been impacting immigrants and basically what are the side effects of all of the stuff we’ve been seeing. And I guess I wanted to start, there are a couple of things, a couple of interesting headlines out. I’ll just read the headline intros just to kind of give you a taste of what’s up, what we’re going to be talking about, and then I’ll dive into some of these articles and just kind of discuss what’s happening.

Jacob Tingen: So first is a headline, ICE agent threatened illegal immigrant in Connecticut, raped her for years, lawsuit alleges. There’s another one, Ken Cuccinelli, tense exchange between one of Trump’s top immigration officials and an asylum officer. It’s actually the asylum union. And then immigration agency decides against six-figure fines for undocumented immigrants living in sanctuaries. And then finally there was another headline, we probably won’t dive into this one this much, but the US Civil Rights Government Agency said that Trump’s immigration policies violate civil rights.

Jacob Tingen: Unsurprisingly, if you’ve been listening to this, you are already aware that there’s a lot of policies that kind of go against what we would consider human rights and civil rights. So this is all concerning. Let’s kick it off with the tense exchange between one of Trump’s top immigration officials and an asylum officer. So reading through this article, basically it was I guess some kind of a town hall exchange where Ken Cuccinelli, who’s the acting director of USCIS… Yeah, he’s the acting director and so basically he was in a town hall meeting and someone who represents a union of asylum officers asked questions and said, “Why won’t you meet with us?” Which I think is a pretty standard question. Like hey, we’d like to meet with you.

Jacob Tingen: But the response from Cuccinelli is pretty tense. He said something like, “I believe the day you tried to get on my calendar was the day you went on CNN and I didn’t want to legitimize what you were saying.” He says, “Maybe another day. It’s hard to meet with people who are suing you.” Which is pretty dismissive to publicly say that to somebody, especially if it’s the asylum officer’s union, like a union of people who work under you. And I understand that maybe things aren’t always great between a union over your employees and you who might be the boss of an agency or an organization. But ultimately that’s what unions are about. It’s to make sure that things are fair and good and so there has to be at least a level of civility between the two parties. That sure isn’t always merited.

Jacob Tingen: But it seemed a little strange and what’s interesting is that this union representative in this news article goes on to say that, you know, a lot of these changes that we’ve talked about here in Nation of Immigrants about how asylum is being processed at the border, these policies about remain in Mexico, or the migrant protection protocols and those policies of turning people back to safe third country agreements, even though those countries aren’t safe. And we’ve talked about that as well. So this USCIS union person kind of points out all of this stuff and says, I” don’t know any asylum officers that believe these policies are a good idea.” I mean there might be a couple, maybe this person doesn’t know who they are. I don’t know who they are.

Jacob Tingen: But in general, yeah, most of the people I know who work kind of in this area look around and say, “What are we doing?” Because once you get to know the stories of these immigrants and what they’re going through, one, it’s impossible to deny that they’re fleeing harm and persecution. But two, it’s hard to not, you know, want to at least give them a fair shake. I’m not saying that we have to give everybody who comes to our border the chance, a green card and government benefits. That’s not what I’m saying. But they should at least get due process and a fair process and what they’re getting is somewhat less than that. But Cuccinelli’s response there, that’s just kind of tense and just kind of a hit back seems to me to say, well, this is just the administration’s posture.

Jacob Tingen: So let’s look at the next headline that I wanted to talk about, which was immigration agency decides against six figure fines. So there is a law that allows ICE to impose fines against undocumented immigrants who failed to leave after deportation order. And there’ve been some high profile news headline cases where people who are undocumented immigrants, who have an order of deportation have been essentially just living in churches or places where ICE has said, “Hey, we won’t go there because we understand that this is a safe place and that’s not our mission.” And so some people have been claiming sanctuary inside these sensitive locations where ICE won’t go and ICE in response had begun mailing fines and saying, “All right, well that’s $500,000 to you.” And so some of this was hitting the headlines.

Jacob Tingen: I mean, ICE can fine a poor immigrant from another country as much money as they want, but they’re not going to actually get half a million dollars out of any of these people. It’s a scare tactic. That’s what it is. It’s intended to give immigrants fear, to make them worry. And ultimately they decided to walk it back and withdraw some of these fines and decrease them from the six figure fine amount, which is a good call. But it’s interesting that these fines were imposed in the first place because again, it just goes to this kind of tense posture by the agencies, an anti-immigrant stance, which is what it is. And again, we’ve talked about this too. Sometimes the administration will say, “Well, we love legal immigration,” and yet they close every single opportunity for people to immigrate legally. So it’s an anti immigrant stance.

Jacob Tingen: All right, I want to move to my third headline because I believe this is the result of what happens when you have this kind of tough, hard line immigration stance. Now I want to read the headline and then I want to caveat this a bit. Okay, so the headline is ICE agent threatened illegal immigrant in Connecticut, raped her for years, lawsuit alleges.

Jacob Tingen: So first of all, they’re all allegations, but I will say this, I believe the allegations. And then the second thing I’m going to say is in the same way that I think it’s unfair to post headlines that say illegal immigrant robbed or burglarized home, right? You know, people will use a headline like that and be like, “Oh, illegal immigrants are committing so much crime. It’s terrible. They’re a bane in our society and we should get rid of them all.” One headline that says an ICE agent did something wrong doesn’t mean that ICE agents are terrible people. Many ICE agents are good people. So this doesn’t say anything necessarily about ICE as an organization so much as it does this one person.

Jacob Tingen: However, in the context of these other headlines, I feel like it’s worth exploring what happened and what the reaction was from the immigrant. So I’m reading through this just to kind of give you a loose summary. An immigrant present in the country without lawful status had contact with an ICE officer it looks like and apparently she was involved somehow, not in the arrest of a family member, but a family member was being arrested and that’s when she came in contact with ICE agents. And one ICE officer in particular threatened her with deportation and her family with deportation if she didn’t meet with him and then he took advantage of this kind of power dynamic to sexually assault her on multiple occasions. And the descriptions in here and the kinds of things that are said seem consistent with what I know about abusive relationships that I’ve seen in my career as an attorney and also just the power dynamic that exists between ICE and other law enforcement agencies in the immigrant community.

Jacob Tingen: So it’s just very unfortunate that this happened, but it is fortunate that this person is finally seeking help and seeking civil damages. She is suing for $10 million. I hope she gets it frankly. She had to have three… Wow. She got pregnant from rape on three separate occasions from this person. It’s all a tragedy. She had abortions, one of which was apparently paid for by the ICE officer.

Jacob Tingen: So there are these just kind of crazy things happening. Now, is this the ultimate effect of these hard line policies? No,. Does Trump want this to happen? I sure hope not. Right? But you can’t help but shake. Like if immigrants didn’t live in fear of six figure fines and an agency that’s aggressive and postured against them, if they didn’t live in fear of constant deportation and had a better relationship with law enforcement, would things like this happen?

Jacob Tingen: Would there be opportunities for predators like this ICE agent to take advantage of women like this immigrant? And I think the answer is no. I think that the current policies are creating a space for even worse things to happen. That’s not good. Nobody wants this. Nobody. I’m convinced that not even Donald Trump wants this. Right? And so what can we do to change this? Well, we can change the immigration debate by talking about it. That’s part of the purpose of this podcast. We can educate people about opportunities that immigrants have. We can provide greater protections to immigrants who report misbehavior and criminal activity like the U visa. We can streamline that process so that people can get U visa even faster. These are all things that we can do to kind of help in the current climate.

Jacob Tingen: And then also we can extend a helping hand to immigrants we know. We need to let them know that they’re not alone, that they don’t need to live in fear that most people, I would contend, that most people do not want immigrants in their community to be afraid. And yet that is a reality for many, many immigrants and it was a reality for this immigrant in this particular case.

Jacob Tingen: So again, I’m not trying to paint with a broad brush here. I’m not saying that all ICE agents are evil because that’s not true. But what I am saying is that the current climate, the current environment is creating a kind of fear in immigrant populations, or at least in the Hispanic population. My experience here with my clients here in Richmond, there’s a lot of fear. There’s a lot of concern and that’s not what anyone wants. And when we step back and we look at our laws, there are provisions to protect immigrants who want to work with law enforcement, who want to work with us and lead to better, safer communities for everybody.

Jacob Tingen: So I hope there is a criminal investigation in the aftermath of this civil lawsuit and I hope this woman becomes eligible for a U visa and gets legal status because frankly that would only be fair at this point.

Jacob Tingen: So that’s it for a Nation of Immigrants. Again, if you like what you’re hearing, if you want to support the podcast, you can go to, click on the podcast link. There’s an opportunity to donate and support the podcast. We’re finalizing our setup of our 501C3 but even now as you donate we’re going to try to apply those funds to pay for immigrant’s legal bills. And then also, follow us on YouTube. Thank you so much for our more than a hundred subscribers now. We started this a couple of months ago and just really grateful and pleased with how things are going. You can follow us on iTunes for the podcast on Facebook, Twitter. We’re trying to make ourselves everywhere so that you can easily find us and get this information straight to your inbox, or your podcast channel, or to wherever you listen or watch or read. Hope you’re enjoying the content you’re seeing and we’ll see you next time at Nation of Immigrants.

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