Last night, Donald Trump accepted the Republican nomination for president. In his acceptance speech full of distortions and false assertions, he painted America as a dark place on the brink of violent chaos: “America a more dangerous environment than frankly I have ever seen and anybody in this room has ever watched or seen.” Actually, violent crime is at near historic low levels.
“Anyone who endorses violence, hatred or oppression is not welcome in our country and never will be,” said Trump, claiming that he alone could fix this endemic violence. Trumps promise that those who endorse violence would never be welcome here more than a bit awkward given his history of endorsing or encouraging violence at his own rallies (“I don’t know if I’ll do the fighting myself or if other people will;” “Knock the crap out of them;” “Try not to hurt him. If you do, I’ll defend you in court, don’t worry about it;” “The audience hit back. That’s what we need a little bit more of;” “I’ll beat the crap out of you.”).
But, not surprisingly given the tenor of his campaign, much of the derision and blame for the violent dystopia that is Trump’s America was placed at the feet of immigrants. He gave examples of people who had suffered crimes perpetrated by immigrants and promised to stop illegal border crossings and crack down on those who overstay their visas. Most of all, he pledged over and over again that the law would be enforced in a Trump administration, saying that “our laws would finally receive the respect that they deserve.”
Our laws should indeed be respected. And to that end, Trump may have to read up on the laws like section 1229a of Title 8 the U.S. Code, explicitly laying out noncitizens’ rights in immigration court, including the right to be represented by an attorney, examine the evidence against them, present evidence, cross-examine government witnesses, and apply for relief from deportation. Or sections 1255(a) and 1255(i), allowing certain noncitizens to apply to become permanent residents here in the U.S. even if they are currently undocumented. Or section 1229b, allowing undocumented citizens to apply to cancel their deportation proceedings if they meet certain criteria. Or section 1158, codifying rights to apply for asylum for those who fear return to their home countries.
Yes, the laws that Trump declares he will respect and enforce afford the right to apply to stay here in the country for those who are here without immigration status. While their cases are pending, many people will qualify for a work permit under current law. They will thus be able to work lawfully during proceedings that can often stretch out over years in a court system already backlogged with over 500,000 cases.
So when Mr. Trump threatens to “enforce the law,” he may be envisioning rounding people up with a beefed up corps of deportation officers and getting them out of the country on a deportation train. But enforcing the law means giving noncitizens constitutional and statutory rights to due process and affording them the right to apply to stay.
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