Over the past sixteen months, many Americans have grown used to the Trump administration’s racist and xenophobic immigration policies. After all, Trump’s presidential campaign was built on the promise of an unnecessary southern border wall. In Montana, we may feel insulated from those anti-immigrant policies. Nothing could be further from the truth.
On January 25, 2017, President Trump ordered the federal government’s deportation force be increased in size and scope. The order prioritizes detention and removal. This is made possible by adding 10,000 new Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers and 5,500 Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents and officers.
Along with this massive hiring increase, the Trump administration has “take[n] the shackles off” ICE officers and given them expansive and often unreviewed discretion to target people for detention and deportation. Two recent ICE actions illustrate the impacts of Trump’s bigoted policies on Montana’s immigrant community.
Last fall, Arturo Valerio-Gonzales was arrested in Gallatin County. When he was booked, local law enforcement noted the color of his skin and his inability to speak fluent English, and contacted ICE. “ICE then faxed back a form placing a 48-hour detainer (or hold) on Arturo.” This meant that although Arturo was capable of posting bail, local officials would not release him. These ICE detainees are not issued by a judge and are not supported by the belief that a crime was committed. Instead, they are issued by federal agents who simply run identifying information through an immigration database.
An immigrant’s unauthorized presence in Montana is not a crime. Nevertheless, local law enforcement have routinely re-arrested and jailed people for no reason other than their suspected immigration status. Law enforcement base those suspicions on skin color and language.
In December, 2017 the ACLU of Montana worked with the Office of the Public Defender to ask the Supreme Court to declare that Arturo’s arrest at ICE’s bidding was unlawful. Unfortunately, before the Supreme Court could rule on the case, Arturo was suddenly transferred to federal custody. He is now going through deportation proceedings. The ACLU of Montana will continue to fight the unlawful arrest and incarceration of Montana’s immigrant community.
Early this year, the ACLU of Montana also learned that ICE is regularly issuing subpoenas to the Department of Labor and Industry (DOLI). These orders demand employment information from private businesses that ICE assumes employ immigrants, such as Mexican restaurants. Last February, DOLI legal secretary Jordan Dyrdahl-Roberts resigned from his position in protest over the subpoenas. Jordan explained in a Washington Post article, “I loved my work at the Labor Department, but I can’t be part of breaking up families.”
These ICE subpoenas are unabashed fishing expeditions that disregard the right to privacy. The ACLU of Montana has requested that DOLI and other state agencies refuse to cooperate with ICE’s demands. Montana is well within its legal rights to refuse to share the requested information. We remain hopeful that the state will push back against federal attempts to commandeer local resources.
In the event it does not, the ACLU of Montana stands ready to defend the rights of our immigrant neighbors–in the courts, at the legislature, and wherever President Trump’s “unleashed” federal agents choose to strike next. President Trump’s anti-immigration agenda has hit Montana. Now, more than ever, the ACLU of Montana and our allies must stand with the immigrant community and fight back against ICE’s aggressive tactics.