The ACLU-Idaho activist training session attracted almost 50 people—too many for the Minority Caucus Room on the fourth floor of the Idaho State Capitol Building. An announcement relocating the Feb. 20 session was made, and the crowd migrated en masse to EW240 in the basement, which minutes before had been an overflow room where many of the future activists heard Rep. Greg Chaney (R-Caldwell) introduce the latest version of his anti-sanctuary cities bill.
"His system, his beliefs, don't belong here," Rep. Paulette Jordan (D-Plummer) told the group. Jordan sits on the House State Affairs Committee where Chaney's bill, HB 198, was introduced, and mounted a vocal opposition to its being granted a hearing.
Her audience of concerned citizens had come to the Statehouse to learn the ropes of opposing Chaney's bill—part of a growing resistance to the brisk pace of Republican-led immigration policy changes. Suspense has been thick around how President Donald Trump would tackle the issue of undocumented immigrants, and now that his enforcement preferences have been outlined, critics are deriding them for splitting up families, posing serious threats to civil rights and potentially causing serious damage to Idaho's economy.
Trump kicked off his campaign by calling Mexicans criminals, rapists and drug dealers, painting a picture of immigrants from Latin America as sources of criminality and a drain on America's resources. Since his election, Trump has followed up on his campaign rhetoric with greatly expanded guidelines for identifying, apprehending and deporting undocumented immigrants that have bred uncertainty and fear among immigrants—undocumented and documented alike.
The new guidelines constitute a nationwide sweep. They include placing detainer holds on any undocumented person suspected or convicted of a crime and swelling the ranks of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents nationwide from 20,000 to 30,000—a move said to be unworkable, as 60 percent of ICE agent candidates fail to matriculate. The new policies also end the practice of placing people caught entering the U.S. into the immigration system rather than returning them to their countries of origin.
Expedited removal, the practice of returning undocumented immigrants to their countries of origin without a judicial hearing if they're caught within 100 miles of the border and two weeks after crossing it, will be expanded to include the entire nation. According to the ACLU, that could mean someone caught crossing the border years ago but now living anywhere in the country could be picked up by ICE agents at any time without due process.
Child immigrants caught near the border will be funneled into the immigration system but their parents could be subject to prosecution. The Trump administration has said it has no plans yet to round up approximately 750,000 Deferred Action for Child Arrivals recipients, known as Dreamers and, according to The New York Times, Trump indicated he will "deal with DACA with heart."
Meanwhile, the Trump administration has said it wishes to train and enlist local law enforcement as de facto immigration enforcement agents. The plan would allow police to target undocumented immigrants with far greater precision than ICE, but when a similar plan was put into place by controversial Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, it was criticized for enabling racial profiling.
For many Mexican nationals, confusion over Trump's orders abounds. Jorge Palomino, communications director for the Mexican Consulate in Boise, said the consulate has been reaching out to the Treasure Valley Latino community fielding questions from people concerned that if they leave the country they may not be able to return, even if they have appropriate documentation. The consulate is providing whatever information it can to the broader community and helping individuals obtain documentation for their Mexican citizenship.
"This is new for us," he said.
It doesn't help that tensions between the U.S. and Mexico have been high. Trump's campaign promises and the early days of his presidency have contrasted sharply with decades of positive relations between the two countries. He has stood by a promise that Mexico will pay for a border wall, which could cost as much as $40 billion to construct, despite adamant resistance from Mexico City, which has also said it will not accept deportees who are not Mexican citizens. Palomino called the diplomatic situation and its effect on Mexican nationals living in the U.S. a "crisis."
Concerns over Trump's proposals made January the busiest month in Boise immigration law firm Wilner & O'Reilly's 13-year history. Managing attorney Jordan Moody said he has "four or five clients" who will "be having to make serious life choices, and will likely be leaving pretty soon." Others are clients who are shoring up their documentation status, sometimes after years of neglect.
"They've been eligible to adjust status or become legal permanent residents. They just kind of don't do it. ... They push it off until it becomes necessary," Moody said.
The new directives are ripe for legal challenges. According to Moody, a number of the new rules "definitely" pose due process and racial profiling concerns that groups like the ACLU and American Immigration Lawyers Association could use to stymie portions of Trump's orders in the courts.
Some, including Moody, have noted that police departments around the country have worked to earn the trust of immigrant communities, and co-opting them into performing immigration enforcement would damage those relationships while adding new burdens to the job. Visas are available for immigrants who are witnesses or otherwise prove valuable to criminal investigations, but the strength of that visa program—which Moody said has had a particular impact on immigrant women—is jeopardized by Trump's orders: "It takes years for people to understand law enforcement is there to help them. Now, who knows? I wouldn't be able to tell them, 'Yeah, call the police,' because there's a chance they might deport you."
At Caldwell High School, the political actions poised to shift America's approach to foreign nationals are already being felt. Ydalia Yado, who works at Caldwell High as an instructional coach and migrant graduate specialist, said the election has produced a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment.
"Enough people felt [Trump's] language and rhetoric were OK, and now it's OK for others to use that same language and those same tactics," she said. "[T]he people who chose him sent a message that kind of language and behavior is acceptable."
Yado works with nearly 50 Caldwell High students who come from migrant families, most of them in "mixed-status" families, in which parents or siblings may not all share the same immigration status.
Children from mixed-status families face an uphill battle receiving the same educational opportunities as their U.S.-born and other immigrant student counterparts. They face lower high school graduation rates, sometimes attend several schools in a single year and frequently don't have access to education funding through the Federal Application for Student Aid.
Yado's job is to help these students get the most out of their time at Caldwell High and push them toward higher education post-graduation, but her efforts are complicated by students' cynicism toward the immigration system and a "fear [of] not being able to have the same opportunities as their peers." She has lately noticed an uptick in their disillusionment in the form of black humor: "I've heard more jokes, and I feel like they're coping mechanisms. They're jokes like, 'Oh, how many of [us] are going to be deported?'"
The political climate has caused students to sort between those who would be unaffected by Trump's directives and those who wouldn't, and though Caldwell High administration doesn't tolerate racism or bullying, there has been an increase in anti-immigrant sentiment both in the school and the community.
Boise has become a battleground for immigrants. In January, the City Council unanimously passed its Welcoming City resolution—a reaffirmation that the city seeks to be supportive of all who live here—but shied away from making the City of Trees a sanctuary city that refuses to comply with federal immigration officials asking for information about undocumented immigrants.
"This is not a statement of Boise as a sanctuary city," said Boise City Council member and District 17 Democratic Sen. Maryanne Jordan. "This is more personal. Sometimes you have to say something because it's the right thing to say."
There is much debate about how much protection cities can offer undocumented immigrants. Most municipal police departments book inmates at their local county jails, which cross-reference inmate information with national databases searching for outstanding warrants. This common practice puts undocumented immigrant inmates on ICE's radar, regardless of whether they have been convicted of a crime or violated the stated policies of the city in which they live. Immigration authorities can then issue detainer requests asking county jails to hold people believed to be undocumented immigrants.
It's Ada County Sheriff's Office policy to honor such requests after a suspect's charge has cleared, but new directives could put detainees in ICE's hands before they've been granted due process—or told their families they've been arrested.
"It's a very inhumane way to carry out enforcement and the people who suffer the most are children," said Andrade Legal founder Maria Andrade at a panel discussion on immigration law at the University of Idaho College of Law in February.
From Jan. 1, 2016 to Jan. 31, Ada County held 89 inmates on detainer requests for ICE.
There are no sanctuary cities in Idaho, but Chaney's bill raises the stakes for city councils that resist the reset of immigration policy coming from the White House. The bill would deny up to half of sales tax revenue to cities that refuse or fail to comply with federal immigration law.
This is not Chaney's first stab at creating what he called a "proactive prohibition of the sorts of policies that intentionally seek to obstruct Immigration and Customs Enforcement." A previous version, HB 76, was fiercely opposed by Idaho agricultural groups as an attack on their labor force, which is estimated to be 90-95 percent foreign born. HB 198 is Chaney's attempt at "splitting the baby"—aimed at easing the concerns of powerful interest groups in his district that would "allow them to remain neutral" to his effort. It didn't fly.
"We would never be supportive of the bill, and we're reassessing whether we can remain neutral," said Idaho Dairymen's Association Executive Director Bob Naerebout, who joined Braden Jensen of the Idaho Farm Bureau and Hyde Park Mennonite Fellowship Pastor Marc Schlegel-Preheim to call for fixes to the guest worker visa program.
Naerebout said he has no knowledge of undocumented laborers at his members' dairies, but it's likely the percentage of Idaho agricultural and dairy workers who are undocumented immigrants reflects the national average of more than 70 percent. The requested changes to the H2A worker visa program would lengthen the duration of a guest worker's stay to up to three years, allowing laborers to work non-seasonal agricultural jobs.
If adopted, the expanded-stay visas would send a message of stability to employers and employees, but the movement coming from the Idaho Legislature and Washington, D.C. has sent another message. If Chaney's bill becomes law, and cities and counties are railroaded into compliance with the immigration sweeps proposed by Trump, the result would be the destruction of the Gem State's agricultural industry, which makes up approximately 20 percent of its total economic output.
According to a study by the New American Economy, there are nearly 103,000 immigrants living in Idaho—6.3 percent of the population. Their combined spending power is approximately $1.5 billion and, in 2014, they paid more than $460 million in taxes. Immigrant-owned companies employ 14,616 people. Approximately 42,000 immigrants living in Idaho are thought to be undocumented.
Though, as a whole, foreign-born people have lower education attainment rates than native-born citizens, foreign nationals make up 6.6 percent of the STEM worker population, 10.9 percent of STEM master's degree candidates and 36.7 percent of STEM Ph.D. students.
"If you wave a wand and the labor's gone, Idaho's economy collapses," Naerebout said.