Earlier this week, NHPR featured the story of nearly two dozen undocumented Indonesian immigrants facing deportation, after having lived in the Dover area for two decades.
During a routine check-in with federal immigration officials earlier this month, they were told to purchase plane tickets, and make plans to leave the country in less than two months, or face detention.
It's a situation immigrant advocates say is playing out in communities across New Hampshire, as the Trump administration’s new, more aggressive immigration enforcement policy takes effect.
Maggie Fogarty is co-director of the American Friends Service Committee, an immigration rights advocacy group. She spoke with NHPR’s Morning Edition.
We're seeing what's happening now in Dover. Are you seeing undocumented immigrants becoming more concerned about their future here? How big of an issue is this right now?
The fear and uncertainty and the dread that immigrant families have been living with has actually gone on for much longer than just the past several months. You'll probably recall that under the Obama administration there was very aggressive deportation -- a lot of families torn apart, more than two million families in a short time. We built a massive, aggressive system for detention and deportation and gave large contracts to private prisons, etc. So immigrant families nationwide and in New Hampshire have been suffering for some time. Certainly with the election, the horrible rhetoric of the election, and now the implementation of some of the meaning of that rhetoric, has intensified people's discomfort and fear.
My understanding during the previous two administrations, Obama included, although deportations did increase with that administration, that for some time the last couple of decades in many cases ICE was simply just having people check in with six month extensions. What has changed since then with the Trump administration coming in? Is it different now?
It absolutely is different and I'll tell you what we're seeing in New Hampshire. Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) is beginning to tell people to return now with plane tickets to show that they are preparing to be flown home. And we first noticed that in significant numbers on Aug. 1, when the American Friends Service Committee with our partners, other immigrant rights organizations, the New Hampshire Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees, the Granite State Organizing Project, we had started to maintain a monthly presence of interfaith vigils outside the ICE office, so that people going into that building for their check-in appointments on the first Tuesday of the month would know that there were members of the community here in New Hampshire who were suffering with them who wanted them to be able to stay. And so on Aug. 1 it was very clear that a very large number of people who were checking in that day, they had been getting used to hearing 'Come back in a month.' This time, on August 1, they heard 'Come back with plane tickets on Sept. 1 or Sept. 8.'
With the idea being you need to make plans to leave the country or you could be detained?
Are there some who may not be checking in with ICE now out of fear of deportation?
I imagine that family members are facing that real possibility. Some are not able to afford their plane tickets home, and so they may still want to make that return appointment because they want to keep complying as they have been, but they won't have in hand what they need. Others are not able to comply with that request. I have been speaking with the family of a young man from Sudan. He came here at 7 years old. His country does not recognize him as a national. So now he is being told to return, but he has no birth certificate. He has no passport. He's a father of a young baby. So when he has to return and for him it's on Sept. 11 with a plane ticket to Sudan, he won't be able to fulfill that request so he risks being detained on the spot, as were others , by the way, on Aug. 1. Some people were simply detained that day.
Acting ICE director Tom Homan has said it's unfair to vilify ICE for breaking up these families, saying that when people come here illegally and choose to start a family, something like this is a possibility. Does he have a point?
I think it's a rather cold interpretation of the life of human beings. You mentioned the Indonesian community; it isn't just in Dover. They've settled in multiple cities in the Seacoast including Somersworth and Rochester. People came here fleeing persecution. Their homes had been burned down, their family members had been killed. They came here the only way that they could figure out to come which was a tourist visa. And because of some changes in immigration requirements and because of not knowing about the complex requirements of immigration law, people missed a deadline to apply for asylum. So they have been spending money, energy -- they work, and all of their hard-earned wages are going to meeting their family's basic needs and buying some legal representation to try everything they can do to regularize their status. So they've been making a home here. They've been contributing in their in their churches, they've been buying homes, shopping at our local stores, opening their own stores, their children have been born are participating in the local community. So they've made a life here and now that's what's being torn apart by a system's failure to give them any meaningful opportunity to be secure here where they want to live and where they have made a home.
And what can be done? What comes next?
I take hope in the example of communities led by undocumented immigrants around the state that we can stand up against this narrative that immigrants are unwelcome here, that our country is somehow worse off for the participation of people who have come here seeking a new life. We can push back against that narrative. We can insist on policies that create pathways for people to stay here. We can resist funding for detention. We can resist funding for immigration enforcement agents who are going into people's workplaces neighborhood and parks. We just met a man who was playing soccer with his family on a Sunday afternoon in Nashua and ICE approached him asked for proof of legal presence in the United States. He's in detention now he has a young baby with a severe disability who cannot go back with him to Mexico and receive the kind of life sustaining care that child needs. Let's not tear families apart. Let's not incarcerate people. Let's not dehumanize them with a rhetoric that paints them all as horrible creatures who are undermining our community. So let's just hold the line on human dignity and that's going to take a lot of different forms.