A group of Minerva Martinez’s supporters gathered outside the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Kakaako.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
“I’m really happy for my kids. I thought I had to leave them alone,” said Martinez, who was greeted with hugs from her supporters who had gathered outside the ICE office in Kakaako.
“We’re really, really blessed. God was definitely on our side,” Emely Martinez said. “I was really scared. I didn’t know what to do. I would have had to take care of a 10-year-old, and I’m only 20.”
Clare Hanusz, a Honolulu immigration attorney, said deporting Martinez — who has no criminal record — would make little sense.
“They know where she is. They know who she is — that she’s taking care of two kids,” said Hanusz, who has represented Martinez since 2009, when she was arrested by ICE based on an anonymous tip that she was an undocumented immigrant. “And they know she’s in no way a danger to her community. She’s lived there peacefully for decades.”
But if President Donald Trump’s first few months in office are any indication, more immigrants like Martinez will be swept up in the administration’s crackdown, which vastly widened the pool of those vulnerable to deportation.
From Jan. 22 to April 29, ICE arrested 41,318 immigrants nationwide at a rate of more than 400 each day — a 38 percent increase over roughly the same period in President Barack Obama’s final year in office, according to the numbers released last month by ICE.
The biggest increase by far was among immigrants with no criminal records.
ICE arrested 10,845 noncriminal immigrants in the early days of the Trump administration — a whopping 155 percent increase from the 4,242 arrested last year.
“We have a limited amount of resources … and we literally cannot deport everyone.” — Khara Jabola, former director of the Hawaii Coalition for Immigrant Rights
The sharp increase is in large part due to Trump’s executive order, issued Jan. 25, that rescinded the rules set by Obama that prioritized the arrests of serious criminals and left most other undocumented immigrants alone.
Under Obama, undocumented immigrants had to be gang members, convicted felons or convicted of several misdemeanors to be considered a deportation priority.
Under Trump, those who have only been arrested — or even just suspected of committing a crime — are fair game to be put on a fast track to deportation.
“Will the number of noncriminal arrests and removals increase this year? Absolutely,” Thomas Homan, acting director of ICE, said on a conference call with reporters last month. “That’s enforcing the laws that are on the books.”
But immigrant advocates say going after noncriminal immigrants is counterproductive — only driving them further underground.
“We know that public safety is actually risked when we create a situation in which people are too afraid to cooperate with their neighbors and with law enforcement,” Jabola said.
Minerva Martinez walks with her family and attorney toward the ICE Homeland Security building Wednesday.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Besides, Jabola said, the strategy makes little practical sense.
“We have a limited amount of resources in terms of immigration enforcement and we literally cannot deport everyone,” Jabola said. “So it’s just not practical to try to do that, especially with these individuals who are no risk to anyone and actually are an incredible benefit to our communities and the economy.”
Still, Hanusz, a former chair of the American Immigration Lawyers Association‘s Hawaii chapter, isn’t counting on the Trump administration to adopt a more lenient immigration policy — even though “what it’s doing is contradicting what Trump says about focusing on ‘bad hombres.'”
“All you can do at this point is to fight (the deportations) one by one by one — by trying to individualize and personalize each case and showing a humanitarian basis for relief,” Hanusz said.
Hanusz is worried that, once the Trump administration completes the hiring of thousands of immigration officers and steps up the pace of deportations, there won’t be enough immigration attorneys in Hawaii to put up a fight.
“I was down (at the ICE office) for four and a half hours this morning, and this is a pro bono case for me. I can’t take on more of these,” Hanusz said. “It’s very difficult for attorneys, even if their heart is in it, to take too many of these cases because, at the end of the day, we have to pay our bills and we have our families also.”
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