Pete Buttigieg helped illegal immigrants by creating 'phone tree' to alert them about surprise ICE raids

Buttigieg is leading the Democratic presidential fray now with 22 delegates but his controversial past record of helping undocumented aliens in his city could work in favor of Donald Trump

                            Pete Buttigieg helped illegal immigrants by creating 'phone tree' to alert them about surprise ICE raids
Pete Buttigieg (Getty Images)

Frontrunning Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg was once left distraught by the Donald Trump administration’s decision to deport a man from South Bend to Mexico, of which the former was the mayor, even though he had been living in the Indiana city for decades. The 38-year-old lamented his inability to stop the deportation, saying: “A mayor can’t do much when it comes to immigration policy.”

As he continues to rise in this primary season, Buttigieg is stealing the headlines more often now. After two pollings in Iowa and New Hampshire, the politician is leading the fray with 22 delegates, ahead of the big three that the pundits had expected to dominate -- Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Joe Biden. Once dubbed by former president Barack Obama as one of the rising stars of the Democratic Party, Buttigieg certainly is gaining momentum, as the race for the nomination intensifies in the coming days.

Daily Beast's reported last August about Buttigieg's 'obstruction of law enforcement' 

However, even as Buttigieg, son of an immigrant from Malta, was presenting a liberal alternative to Trump’s hardline narrative, especially on immigration, examples from his mayoral days could peg back his momentum and boost the rival campaigns in the primary race.

Last August, a report in the Daily Beast said that during his two terms (2012-20) as the mayor of South Bend, Buttigieg found ways to bring undocumented immigrants and their families into the city defying Trump’s stand on illegal aliens; instituting a ‘Community Resident Card’ program to help those unregistered South Bend residents open bank accounts; hosting ‘Know Your Rights’ events for those living in the city’s Latino-dominated West Side to make them feel prepared to deal with federal immigration operations and even creating a system to alert local families in case the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids the homes or businesses of residents of South Bend. 

“We, along with several other community organizations, lead a process of coming up with our local response plan to the rumor of, or actual ICE raid in our area,” Sam Centellas, executive director La Casa de Amistad, a non-profit Latino advocacy group, was quoted as saying by the Beast. 

Democratic Presidential candidate, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former housing secretary Julian Castro, former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) speak to the media as they visit the outside of a detention center for migrant children on June 28, 2019, in Homestead, Florida. Democratic presidential candidates visited the detention center, which is the nation's largest center for detaining immigrant children, as the candidates spend time in the Miami area after participating in a nationally televised debate. (Getty)

"La Casa worked with representatives of Buttigieg’s office to make a roster of the best people to contact in case there is an enforcement operation by the federal immigration authorities," Centellas added. It also sought advice from the former mayor’s office on the best ways to communicate. 

La Casa also contributed towards making lives easier for the undocumented immigrants of South Bend by unveiling a new identification card in December 2016. According to a report in the South Bend Tribune, Centellas said then the card would help around 4,000 undocumented immigrants in the city to get necessary paperwork done since they can’t get state ID cards or driver’s licenses under the strict immigration policies of the Trump era. 

The Beast report added that Genevieve Miller, deputy chief of staff and policy director of the former South Bend mayor’s office, called the effort to raise alert as a collaboration with community groups “to identify community members who can be contacted if there is an immigration event.”

Buttigieg even penned in his 2019 memoir ‘Shortest Way Home: One Mayor’s Challenge and a Model for America’s Future’ that the group, featuring members from local faith-based organizations, local nonprofits and a few attorneys and community leaders who volunteered time was the result of the “first scare of the Trump era”.
In July, rumors of ICE immigration raids in South Bend created a panic in West Side with several businessmen shutting down their operations for days and families taking shelter in a local church. “Parents had grabbed their kids from Harrison Primary Center and small shops closed for the day,” Buttigieg said in his memoir. Soon after, the alert system was put into place. “After that day working the phones to verify this was all a false alarm, my staff and I added to our mayor’s office to-do list the creation of a phone tree in the event of immigration raids,” the Democrat added. 

Buttigieg, who in April last year was still not able to convince people about his immigration plan (in one opinion piece written around same time, Washington Examiner’s Eddie Scarry slammed the Democrat’s claim that illegal immigrants are not supposed to be eligible for entitled programs and hence 'subsidizing the rest of us'), proposed to replicate his South Bend model for the rest of America by August. His campaign released a set of policies that eye a strong rural America, which in turn aims for a location-based ‘Community Renewal Visa’ to boost working-age immigrants to relocate to the counties where the population is shrinking. “Immigrants can and should be essential players in the growth of our economy, and it’s time we start recognizing that when we expand our lawful immigration system, everyone benefits,” the policy paper said. 

Buttigieg's immigration plan not too different from fellow Dems rivals but...

In December 2019, Buttigieg finally released an immigration plan eyeing a reversal of the Trump administration’s enforcement policies, strive for an arrangement that allows citizenship for unauthorized immigrants besides streamlining the process for applying for asylum and other legal immigration forms. There is not much difference between Buttigieg’s plan on immigration with those of his Democratic presidential rivals all of whom are against Trump’s tough stand on immigrants.

2020 Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) addresses the crowd at the Royal family Life Center on March 14, 2019, in North Charleston, South Carolina. The Democratic presidential race has turned into a Buttigieg-versus-Sanders affair after the first two pollings. (Getty)

But Buttigieg’s record of shielding illegal immigrants in South Bend during his stint as the mayor might emerge as a serious blot on his promising campaign. His No.1 rival at the moment, Sanders said in Oskaloosa, Iowa, last April that he was not in favor of open borders. Reacting to a question that asked him how he would deal with the social services connected with opening borders like healthcare and medical care, Sanders sounded pragmatic when he said he was in favor of immigration reforms but not open borders. For many, Sanders had walked into the trap of the right-wing nativists but perhaps that would be more saleable a commodity in this election where ‘Donald Trump’ remains the dominant name.  

Conservative group sued former Buttigieg administration of South Bend

Judicial Watch, a conservative group based in Washington sued the then Buttigieg administration of South Bend in August last year over the provision of the ID cards to undocumented immigrants. It accused the authorities of violating Indiana’s public records law by not allowing disclosure of staff emails related to the program that provided the ID cards. It filed an Access to Public Records Act (APRA), open records lawsuit against South Bend for records of communication between the former mayor’s office related to the creation of the ID card for illegal immigrants.
Less than a day after the conservative body’s move came, Buttigieg’s campaign hit back at the lawsuit calling it a “political stunt that is intended to scare immigrants”. 
“Pete is proud of the immigrant community's contributions to South Bend, and he will continue to work to protect immigrant rights and help them feel welcome in South Bend,” Chris Meagher, Buttigieg campaign’s national press secretary, told NBC News.

Advocates and experts were divided over Buttigieg’s unique public-private arrangement to protect immigrants but in a highly charged-up political environment where the US is sharply divided over the narrative of national security, the former South Bend’s mayor liberal stroke might boomerang in no time.

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