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For some immigrants, deportation means death

President Donald Trump continues to crack down on undocumented immigrants, including those that have not been convicted of a violent crime. But the U.S. does not monitor the fate of deportees, who have been kidnapped, extorted, sexually assaulted or even killed. Sarah Stillman, who tracked some of these cases for The New Yorker, joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss what she found.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    The Trump administration's immigration proposal that included a pathway to citizenship for the so-called dreamers and a request for a border wall funding came at the same time that the Department of Justice sent letters to the mayors of several sanctuary cities stating that their lack of cooperation with federal immigration enforcement could mean an end to public safety funding from the DOJ. The administration has also increased enforcement including multiple deportations of individuals who have been living in the United States for decades often leaving families behind in the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents around the country raided nearly a hundred 7-Eleven convenience stores and arrested 21 individuals. And the agency has gained access to a license plate database with billions of records that could tell authorities where specific vehicles have been and at what time. It's in that context that we speak with Sarah Stillman, a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine and the director of the global migration program at Columbia University. She's been covering this topic and recently filed a piece for The New Yorker along with the assistance of graduate students. Her team looked at the stories behind increased enforcement numbers and the sometimes grave consequences for the deported. Thanks for joining us. First, thank you. What were you researching? How did you do it?

  • SARAH STILLMAN:

    So we were wondering about the people who come here seeking asylum from often Central America's Northern Triangle – El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras who get deported to their deaths. Because oftentimes in this conversation in Washington we're hearing this hypothetical that we could potentially be sending people back to harm. But we very often don't actually hear the consequences when someone is deported.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    The administration is going to say we are just enforcing the letter of the law, we cannot be responsible for what happens to someone in a different country?

  • SARAH STILLMAN:

    We actually have obligations under international law and under domestic law. So I think one of the meaningful things to come out of World War Two and the international community getting together to figure out how do we prevent the kinds of misery that we actually inflicted on people – certainly the U.S. as a country that shipped away people who had come here fleeing Nazi Germany during that war. And so, in 1951 we passed this refugee convention that said we will make that commitment as an international community and we further enshrine that in U.S. law. And so nonetheless people are both appearing at the border, directly expressing their belief that they will be harmed and sent back, and are still being shipped immediately back. And then we're also seeing.. one of the biggest shifts under Trump has been people who have actually been living this country for a long time, people who may have very deep roots here who are being sent back.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Some of these people told the people that we're arresting them and the people even that were escorting them back across the border that I am in grave harm. It's on you now.

  • SARAH STILLMAN:

    Absolutely. So I focused on a woman named Laura who had been living in the U.S. for a very long time. She had U.S. citizen children. She was driving home one night in Texas ,she was pulled over by a local cop and he decided when he learned she was undocumented to turn her over to Border Patrol. She knew she had a violent husband back in Mexico who had been threatening to kill her if she was ever sent back. She literally said to Border Patrol and her last words, when I'm sent back and killed my blood will be on your hands. And in fact that is exactly what happened. She was sent back across the bridge and a week later she was found dead.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Well one of the things that you also point out is that a decrease in trust between the communities and the law enforcement that served them. In one of your paragraphs is in Arlington, Virginia, a domestic assault reports in one Hispanic neighborhood dropped more than 85% in the first eight months after Trump's inauguration compared with the same period the previous year reports of rape and sexual assault fell 75%. And that didn't happen for the rest of the city or the rest of the country. So this is specific to the Latino-American population and it's not just in Virginia?

  • SARAH STILLMAN:

    Now this is a national trend. We've seen police officers in Los Angeles and Houston come forward saying we're really worried about the public safety ramifications of Trump's approach to immigration enforcement. I spoke to a city attorney in Denver who said 13 immigrant women had come forward to say I can no longer proceed with my case, I'm going to revoke my wish either get a protective order or to bring myself to the courthouse where ICE has been appearing oftentimes.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    And that's been one of the tactics that's increased in the recent past is that there are essentially camping out or waiting outside courthouses

  • SARAH STILLMAN:

    Definitely. We've seen that in New York I believe with something like a 900% increase in the presence of ICE and ICE arrests that are happening directly in courthouses right outside of them.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    The administration keeps coming back to the same point which is that listen we are just trying to enforce these rules under the Obama administration some of these were not enforced. But at the same time President Obama has called the "Deporter-in-Chief". So it's not just since the Trump administration but some of these patterns you're pointing out have been going on for a few years.

  • SARAH STILLMAN:

    I think that's absolutely right. And I think we've seen a dramatic change in both the rhetoric and the reality on the ground in terms of how ISIS operating it's been a 40 percent increase in ICE arrests over the last year. But I think it's also fair to point out that some of these patterns were absolutely there under the Obama administration and we did see a large number of deportations. But there was also prosecutorial discretion and clear priorities for who should be sent back. And so I think by the end of Obama's term there really was a focus on people with serious felony offenses and we've seen that go out the window. And also these new categories of people who facing threat. So we've got DACA, the young people who oftentimes have lived here for much of their lives many of whom are now adults with their own children who are now facing being sent back. And we've also got temporary protected status, people from El Salvador and a number of other countries that thought that they were going to be here safely for a while and are also being sent.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Sarah Stillman from the New Yorker. Thanks so much for joining us.

  • SARAH STILLMAN:

    Thank you so much for having me.

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