Shock-and-awe migrant crackdown requires articulation of a plan

The following editorial appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Tuesday, Feb. 14:

If President Donald Trump truly wants to conduct mass arrests and deportations of undocumented migrants in this country, there’s little secret where they’re hiding. He merely needs to direct Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to sweep through the nation’s vast chicken farms, restaurant kitchens, or fruit and vegetable fields of California to net hundreds of thousands of migrants working here illegally.

Take just about any unsavory job, often in places so remote that the nation’s urban unemployed cannot reach them, and you'll find undocumented immigrants toiling away at minimum wage or below. They are easy targets for ICE officers. But what, exactly, does Trump hope to accomplish with the spectacle of a massive crackdown?

Last week, ICE agents raided homes and worksites across the country, including Texas, Arizona, Georgia, Illinois, New York and California. The raids netted hundreds, including serious felons as well as people whose only crime was driving without a license. Many migrants fear being targeted because they stepped forward to register under President Barack Obama’s programs for deferred enforcement action.

The crackdown obviously is designed to show that America’s new president means business on illegal immigration. Trump is entirely within his right to enforce U.S. law with zero tolerance, if that’s his inclination. Who can argue with aggressive efforts to rid this country of gang members, drug dealers, arms smugglers or any other migrants with serious rap sheets?

It’s even hard to summon sympathy for those whose only offense was to possess a fake Social Security number. That’s hardly a victimless crime. On the other end is the real holder of that Social Security number coping with unpaid tax bills and possible identity theft. One such migrant, Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos, a mother of two in Phoenix, was among those captured in last week’s sweep.

Such law-and-order sweeps also occurred under Obama. Trump, however, has pledged not to limit himself to hardened criminals and, instead, to target all 11 million undocumented migrants in the country.

If last week’s raids are the start of something bigger, he owes the American people a fuller explanation. How does Trump plan to address the food shortages that will result when chickens can’t be plucked, and fruits and vegetables are left rotting in the fields?

If Trump’s goal is to force undocumented migrants to return home and come back the legal way, he first must press Congress to reach a comprehensive immigration reform measure that would make that possible. That goal eluded Trump’s two predecessors.

The disruption ahead is serious. It could rattle the nation’s economy and force many businesses to shut down for lack of labor. Employers need to plan.

It’s the president’s job to articulate what he’s doing, how much it'll cost, and how these flashy raids serve Americans’ best interests.