Remember the old “shooting fish in a barrel” simile, connoting “ridiculously easy” according to the dictionary?
It apparently dates from the 1940s, presenting the idea that while free-swimming fish have a fair shot at survival, ones that you’ve captured in a barrel are, to mix metaphors, sitting ducks. None other than Mythbusters found that “you don’t even have to be a good shot to take out a barrel of fish with a single bullet.”
The phrase also carries a suggestion that, in a country that adulates sportsmanship and a fair fight, shooting fish in a barrel demonstrates neither.
Which brings me to current U.S. immigration enforcement actions.
Per the terms of Trump’s “Presidential Executive Order: Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” pretty much everyone has become a top priority for removal from the United States. (In the past, criminals were the top priority, but the order redefined “crime” to include everything from crossing the border without papers to using a false Social Security Number in order to work to having been deemed, in the jaded eyes of U.S. immigration officials, a risk to public safety.)
We’re already seeing raids in workplaces, homes, and churches; denial of individual benefits that were previously granted; and reports that the National Guard will be deployed to round up undocumented immigrants.
So here’s the thing: rounding up undocumented immigrants is pathetically easy. Any number of U.S. government agencies have information on where they live. In many cases they pay taxes using a substitute number called an “ITIN” (a dead giveaway that they don’t have a real Social Security Number), have been named by their family members on immigration petitions starting the green card process for them (which petitions require an address but don’t give them any short-term rights to be in the U.S.), have obtained special drivers’ licenses in the handful of states that allow these to undocumented persons, and have been granted either DACA status or prosecutorial discretion.
That last one, prosecutorial discretion, is especially important to understand in the current climate. It’s at the knife edge of the difference between President Obama’s immigration policy and that of Trump.
The Obama policy (set forth in a November 2014 memo) addressed the reality that deporting everyone in the U.S. would not only overload the system, but separate families (particularly ones that include U.S. citizen spouses or children). People who were low on the priority list could not only ask that their removal proceedings be suspended, but receive a sort of quasi-status under which they regularly reported to immigration officials and might be granted a work permit.
Now, however, that regular check-in has become the ultimate fish-in-a-barrel way to deport someone. The case of Guadalupe “Lupita” García de Rayos seems to be the first in which someone showed up for the regular meeting and was deported. Other recipients of prosecutorial discretion are already in fear, such as Jeanette Vizguerra, an immigrant mother of four who has reportedly taken refuge in a Denver church.
So what’s next? The Trump executive order hasn’t answered the question of how a system that was truly overloaded already (with years-long backlogs in U.S. immigration court, the next stop for many persons affected by this order) is going to deal with this new influx of arrested or detained persons.