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Once-Undocumented Congressman Says DHS Guidance 'Unleashes the Hound Dogs'

Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.) is interviewed in a New York restaurant on July 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

The first member of Congress to have been an illegal immigrant claimed the Department of Homeland Security’s new enforcement guidance “unleashes the hound dogs” and violates the rights of U.S. citizen children if their undocumented parents are deported.

Freshman Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.) is also the first Dominican-American in Congress, and came to the U.S. at age 9 with his parents on a visa, which they overstayed.

“I was a young boy but I remember my grandparents talking to us about being careful where we went, not approaching any strangers and so, it sent sort of a chilling effect to anybody who doesn’t have any documents,” Espaillat told CNN this morning.

“How do you move around? How do you go to school? How do you go to a store? How do you — you know, you move around the neighborhood. It sends a chilling effect to anybody who doesn’t have any papers, these kinds of actions are occurring now,” he added.

Espaillat and his family lived illegally in the United States for a year before returning to the Dominican Republic and applying for legal status in America.

DHS Secretary John Kelly issued two implementation memos on President Trump’s immigration executive orders Monday, stressing that “with extremely limited exceptions, DHS will not exempt classes or categories of removal aliens from potential enforcement.”

“All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to enforcement proceedings, up to and including removal from the United States,” the department said in a fact sheet. “…U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will release aliens from custody only under limited circumstances, such as when removing them from the country, when an alien obtains an order granting relief by statute, when it is determined that the alien is a U.S. citizen, legal permanent resident, refugee, or asylee, or that the alien holds another protected status, when an arriving alien has been found to have a credible fear of persecution or torture and the alien satisfactorily establishes his identity and that he is not a security or flight risk, or when otherwise required to do so by statute or order by a competent judicial or administrative authority.”

The congressman said his office is fielding calls from people concerned with what the guidelines mean for them; the White House says it’s not mass deportation but enforcement priorities.

“People are afraid to go out during the daytime. I heard of folks that only go out at nighttime. And so, there is concern. There is fear out there,” Espaillat said.

He noted that the DHS guidance “expedites removal” and “fractures families.”

“You know, removal is not a straight-and-narrow procedure. You know, there are families that are here undocumented whose children were born here. So if you remove the father, let’s say, that family now will not have a father figure there. If you remove the mother or both of them, what would happen to the children that are U.S. citizens? They have rights and privileges just like you and I have,” he said.

“There are laws and we’re not asking for people to break the law. You know, we’re not saying that if someone committed a violent crime, they should not be arrested and deported. But we are a country of aspirations. Are we a country of deportation or a country of aspirations? I think that’s what’s on the table right now. Have we changed the course of America?… Are people going to be afraid to walk down the street even if they have their green card, even if they’re a U.S. citizen because they look and speak a certain way?”

Espaillat argued that the new policies set the groundwork for mass deportation.

“Are they going to go to churches? Are they going to go to schools? Are they going to take away caregivers even though they are undocumented? People that take care of the children, of the frail and elderly,” he said. “Is this what America about?”