In just the past two months two young children died in U.S. Border Patrol custody; the U.S. Department of Justice took extraordinary steps to expedite the Supreme Court’s review of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative; and two teenagers were murdered outside a Tijuana shelter where they were forced to remain due to the Trump administration’s illegal policy of stopping asylum seekers from entering the United States. In addition, at 18 days, President Donald Trump’s partial shutdown of the federal government over his campaign promise to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border is now the second-longest shutdown in more than 40 years.
As exceptional as this sounds, the administration’s attacks on immigrants and refugees actually began during its first week in office and have continued daily over the past two years. As Democrats take control of the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time in eight years, they have an opportunity to provide necessary oversight, pass legislation to protect vulnerable individuals, and lay the foundations for a progressive vision for immigration policy.
Building a strong immigration oversight agenda
While the last Congress demonstrated no appetite for meaningful oversight, every committee and subcommittee in the 116th Congress will be led by a chairperson empowered to look into abuses within their jurisdiction. On the issue of immigration, it is worth remembering what this looked like in 2007, when Democrats last took control of the House of Representatives. At that time, the George W. Bush administration—fresh off the refusal of House Republican leadership to consider a bipartisan, Senate-passed, comprehensive immigration reform measure—had dramatically escalated its immigration enforcement practices. This included a series of high-profile, large-scale worksite raidsand a more than 650 percent increase in the number of 287(g) agreements. At the time, front page headlines were filled with stories of gross medical neglect and abuse in immigration custody, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was found to be unable or unwilling to accurately track the number of individuals who had died in its custody.