All Hell Breaks Loose
In early April, 97 people working in a Tennessee meat processing plant were detained by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the largest operation since the Presidency of George W. Bush. This comes after over 100 7-11 stores were raided in immigration stings throughout the country last January. Donald Trump, campaigning on code-word ridden promises to bring ‘law and order’ to the United States, has targeted America’s 11 million undocumented immigrants for deportations using terror to send a message to others who might consider migrating to the United States.
Many of the cases of deportations under Trump’s ICE are particularly heart-wrenching.
- After living in the US for more than 20 years, Buba Janni, father of two (Nalia, 5, and Aisha, 1) with another one on the way, was deported to Gambia. Janni was originally considered “undeportable” because his home country would not provide him with travel documents. He was thus ordered to report to an immigration offer every year and obtain work authorization, which had done for over 10 years, however, when he reported for his annual immigration appointment on February 15th, Janni, who has never been convicted of a crime, was taken to a detention center in Sierra Blanca, Texas to be deported.
- Salina Sakander, who had lived in the United States for more than 20 years, was deported on the night of her daughter’s prom. She cried with her 17-year-old daughter during her last hours in the country.
- Ricardo Rodriguez, who was wrongly convicted and imprisoned for the murder of a homeless man, was freed after 20 years in prison. As part of his sentencing, Rodriguez had lost the permanent residence permit that he had legally obtained. Once the case was thrown out, however, and Rodriguez was released, he was immediately arrested by ICE as an “undocumented immigrant” and currently faces deportation.
- On February 8th, ICE agents illegally arrested an asylum applicant named Omer Abdelmaed after appearing for an interview at a US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office in San Francisco. Abdelmaed’s asylum application was based on his fear for returning to his native Sudan where he had been arrested and tortured. His attorney, Caleb Arring, explained in a Facebook post that as they were leaving, “someone who I assume is a supervisor at the asylum office came in with 3-4 ICE Officers. The ICE Officers put handcuffs on my client and said they were taking him into custody. I asked why. At first they wouldn’t even answer me.”
- Syed Ahmed Jamal, a chemistry professor of Bangladeshi origin, was arrested in front of his house while taking his daughter to school. The father of three (aged 7, 12, and 14), who has lived in the country for 30 years, is now being held 160 miles away in a Missouri prison. The oldest child wrote on Facebook that, “My little brother cries every night, my sister can’t focus in school, and I cannot sleep at night.”
- Denis Riveria, a student at Stephen Austin High School, was detained by police and turned over to ICE who detained the teenager in prison for weeks. The student was accepted at two Texas universities for computer science but now he is facing deportation.
- 30-year-old Jesus Berrones, who has lived in the US since he was one year old, had his request to stay in the country rejected by immigration. The request was made to care for his young child who is sick with leukemia and is currently undergoing chemotherapy.
- A twenty-three-year-old asylum seeker attempted suicide after exposing cases of rampant sexual abuse by guards in a for-profit detention center owned by CoreCivic. Despite having spoken out about these crimes, she was subsequently required to eat in the same cafeteria of a guard who molested her several times.
“I feel very desperate because I tried to report the abuse from ICE and facility officials, but they continue to psychologically abuse me through intimidation.”
While the Presidency of Barack Obama is particularly known for its high number of deportations, ICE under the “deporter-in-chief’ mainly targeted migrants attempting to cross over the border. With these numbers, Obama clearly ended up deporting more immigrants than both his predecessor and his successor. However, if we are to look at deportations from the interior (those who have lived in the United States), Trump’s numbers outstrip Obama’s by an extra 15,000 in 2017. The Pew Research Center estimates that as of 2014, 66% of undocumented immigrants had resided in the United States for a period of 10 years or more, while only 14% had lived in the United States for less than 5. More than 8/10 of all undocumented immigrants are believed to be active in the workplace.
A Terrorist Organization
Trump’s immigration policy is more than an effort to deport undocumented immigrants from the United States, it is a fully orchestrated plan to instill terror in the immigrant community in order to send a message to foreign immigrants to dissuade them from entering. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly practically stated as much in an interview with CNN when he laid out the administration’s policy on deterring immigration, which involved separating children from their parents while the parents remained in detention centers around the country.
“I would do almost anything to deter the people from Central America getting on this very, very dangerous network that brings them up from Mexico.”
One such case occurred to asylum applicant Ms. L, who fled with her 7-year-old daughter from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Several days upon arriving and being cleared as a “credible-fear” candidate for asylum, she was detained by ICE officials who separated her from her daughter for a period of four months until they were reunited last March after public outcry. The ACLU complaint claims that “Ms. L could hear her daughter in the next room frantically screaming that she wanted to remain with her mother.”
The Homeland Security Investigations manual states that it is ICE policy not to make arrests in “sensitive locations”, but despite this, ICE agents have staked out courthouses, school bus stops, and hospitals. Countless immigrants, following the legal track put down by past administrations, have been detained at their scheduled meetings with immigration officers. ICE agents have been entering the residencies of alleged undocumented immigrants without search warrants. They have even posed as Amazon workers to try and sneak into university residences. No qualifications prevent one from being removed from the country; not a lack of a criminal record or that one has children (or is a child for that matter), or is a veteran, or has resided in the country their entire life. The idea is to send a message to the others.
Take the example of Perla Morales-Luna who got a visit two plain clothes and one uniformed ICE agent who detained her and forcefully put her into a patrol vehicle in front of her three screaming children. Morales-Luna does not have a criminal record but was “suspected” of being a part of a transnational human smuggling network and was arrested without any charges being presented against them.
In fact, the justice system is so clogged with deportation cases that detainees in many cases have to wait for months on end before they are even brought before a judge. In Oregon, immigrants are being placed in county jails while they await deportation instead of the proper facilities located in Tacoma, Washington. The Trump administration is also preparing to send detained migrant children who have been separated from their parents to military bases across the country.
ICE Contractor Geo Group Inc.’s New “Transport Buses” for Minors
Once in ICE possession, the children, now separated from their parents have become the victims of brutal degradation. A Senate subcommittee found in April that, beginning under the Obama administration, federal officials have “lost track” of nearly 1,500 of those placed in the custody of adult sponsors, some of which were handed to human traffickers. The ACLU has concluded after uncovering 4,500 pages of Homeland Security documents from 2009-2014 that ICE has been physically, sexually and psychologically abusing minors held in ICE facilities.
“Children describe excessive force: being stomped on, punched, kicked, run over with vehicles, tased, and forced to maintain stress positions by CBP officials. Minors also report verbal abuse: being called a “dog,” “piece of crap, son of a bitch,” and “prostitute,” and being told they “contaminate this country.” In complaints, children describe being deprived of edible food and potable water and held in freezing and unsanitary cells with inadequate bedding and no access to personal hygiene items. Children report being threatened with rape and death, being told to remove their clothing before they are subjected to questioning, and being touched inappropriately by CBP officials.”
The ACLU further reports that ICE has requested that the National Archives and Record Administration (NARA) accept a new timetable for retaining and destroying records related to their detention programs in a veiled attempt to destroy the paper trail of evidence leading to mass human rights abuses and constitutional infringements.
The state of California has become the focus of the federal government’s attempt to tear undocumented families from their homes. California’s sanctuary laws make it illegal for companies to provide employees’ work information to federal agents without a warrant and only allow state agencies to share information with ICE if the suspect is convicted of a felony. Last March, Trump announced that he would be adding a question to the national census asking respondents whether they are a citizen or not which would put immigrants in these states at risk of being located.
In Late February, ICE officials detained over 150 undocumented workers all over Northern California, and have continued their efforts, knocking on doors and arresting those unable to produce proper immigration documents, in many cases imitating police officers. They claim that if the Mayor of Oakland had not issued a last-minute warning, another 800 could have been arrested. Thomas Homan, the Acting Director of ICE, told reporters that 846 “criminal aliens” still remained in the city because of the mayor’s “irresponsible decision.” Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi later criticized Homan, saying that Trump has decided to “abuse the legal system to push his mass deportation agenda.” Homan shot back that if she did not approve of the job being done, she could “certainly change the law” while reminding her that she had voted in favor of the 1996 Immigration Control and Financial Responsibility Act that grants ICE these powers.
Trump’s use of terror to make life untenable for immigrants, forcing them to leave or remain abroad is not a new policy by any means. More “moderate” neoconservative Republicans like Mitt Romney laid the grounds for this policy enabling many of Trump’s major platform priorities. In a recent interview, he flatly stated as much:
“I’m also more of a hawk on immigration than even the president. My view was these DACA kids shouldn’t all be allowed to stay in the country legally.”
While attempting to run to the Right of the other Republican candidates in 2012, Romney advocated for a policy of “Self-Deportation”. While media attention focused on the ironic contradictory word choice, the idea consisted of harassing and making life so unbearable for immigrants that they would voluntarily leave the country. This has become the policy of the Trump administration, who have decided to deport anyone regardless of circumstances, dangerous criminals or not. They have arrested parents, grandparents, family members of children with terminal illnesses, people who have lived their entire lives in the country using random, warrantless arrests outside of public places around the country. ICE is arresting more immigrants than the judicial system can currently process, so these individuals instead are sitting in detention centers while they await trial. The only major change in policy from the Obama to the Trump administration has been the application of terrorism to force immigrants to leave.
The immigration fight has never been a progressive one within the Democratic Party. While Democrats failed the dreamers, they were willing to trade their status for Trump’s draconian immigration reforms, increased militarization of the border and the crackdown on immigrants in the US. While Trump’s Republican Party terminated the DACA program put in place by his predecessor, the Democrats have done nothing but enable them. Despite the opportunism of the few token “progressives, the Democratic Party, the great “defender” of minority voices, has left DACA recipients to the wolves. Demands for immediate protection of Dreamers was abandoned in late-January during the 60-hour budget standoff. Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and 33 Senate Democrats voted for the continuing resolution.
“I don’t believe [McConnell] made any commitment whatsoever, and I think it would be foolhardy to believe he made a commitment,” said Senator Kamala Harris, opportunist leader in the party’s “progressive” wing.
Democrats, especially those up for reelection in states Trump won, have attempted to distance themselves from a potential government shutdown. This abandonment puts 800,000 Dreamers, individuals who arrived in the US as minors, at risk of deportation to their “home” countries. Having won his concession, Trump stated on April 1st that there would be “no more DACA deal.” Meanwhile, an overwhelming majority (76%) of the American people favor giving DACA recipients a pathway to citizenship, including 63% of Republicans. In a CBS News poll, 87% believe that the Dreamers should be allowed to remain in the country.
For his part, Bernie Sanders made no public statement concerning a raid in his home state of Vermont which led to the arrest of 14 construction workers despite being asked for help by immigrants’ rights group Migrant Justice.
Possible Arenas of Resistance
In accordance with many other Western nations, American capitalism has shed all of its ‘multiculturalist’ garbs to unveil its chauvinist core. What should be the response of Leftist groups to this crisis?
While both parties have dressed themselves up in populist rhetoric, there is still no progressive option in the Democratic Party. The liberals have focused instead on Russiagate, Trump tweets, and the Stormy Daniels affair while with the exception of the token progressives on the sidelines, have remained rather apathetic about the immigration battles going on throughout the country. The Democratic Party should not be viewed as our friend. Case and point, when Democrats failed to support the Dreamers.
Indeed, campaigning to elect certain progressive liberals to the Congress has its benefits, but only pushes us into playing the game of capital; even if the entire Democratic Party were to become essentially one large populist party, there is no way to ensure, as we witnessed in the neoliberal era starting after the 60s movement, that these reforms could last or that like the 2008 election, a swing to the far-right does not see deportations rise again. But more importantly, undocumented immigrants cannot wait for the next election. They need immediate help in the here and now.
What strategies have been the most effective? Protest groups throughout the country have been particularly successful in targeting specific institutions for the deportation of immigrants. The Muslim Ban protests, in which thousands of protesters created a wall of people outside major airports in the country, demanding immigrant detainees set free, are only the most well-known examples. In most cases, where protests were large enough, the detainees were released from the airports. In March 2017, activists in the United Kingdom were successful in canceling a scheduled mass deportation flight to Ghana and Nigeria by blocking runways at Stansted Airport. These actions were effective and were reported by the ACLU to have been concerning to Customs and Border Control. Reports were sent from major airports concerning crowd estimates, what chants were shouted, and law enforcement’s responses.
In fact, there are other vulnerabilities in this wretched institution which could be exploited. For example, if it is true that the judicial system is backed up with deportees, then targeting the courts and detention centers for protests and other forms of civil disobedience could not only pressure officials to release detainees but also disrupt and slow down the entire line of expected removal proceedings.
Certain groups have had success in bringing the fight to ICE themselves. After more than 150 undocumented immigrants were arrested in San Francisco, hundreds of locals descended on the city’s field office in protest. In Santa Ana, local activists were successful in pressuring the city council not to renew ICE’s building contract, which expires in 2020 to refuse any more immigrant detainees to be placed in their jail. In addition, if activists were able to obtain documents as to the criminal nature of ICE operations like New Leftists succeeded in doing with the FBI in 1971, this could have the significant effect of turning public opinion against them.
The Left needs to organize community networks in order to share information regarding ICE detentions and collaborate with those already existing. Resistance groups have already done work on informing immigrants of their rights when confronted by ICE agents. One of which, called the Sanctuary in the Streets (SIS) initiative, based in Massachusetts, began during the Obama administration and aims to organize a rapid response network to disrupt law enforcement. Members of the network respond to ICE sightings by bearing witness to arrests, filming, and challenging ICE protocol in order to ensure that one’s constitutional rights are upheld and promote the story on social media. Then, the network of participants is mobilized to protest the detainment.
Figure 1.1 San Francisco Rapid Response Network Structure
But realizing a plan as ambitious as this one forces us to confront an inconvenient truth that is rather unpopular with today’s generation; the implementation of such networks on a nationwide scale require a party willing to ally itself with other like-minded groups, Marxist or not, with the intention of stopping mass deportations in a popular front-style organization. Large, organized, and enduring coalitions of protesters do not come out of nowhere. They are built up from the grassroots level and consolidated with alliances of solidarity. Considering the repressions are similar for both undocumented immigrants from down south and Muslims from Trump’s seven banned countries, cooperation between these two collections of people might be sustainable. As Karina Moreno pointed out, the two groups have different levels of socioeconomic status in society, yet both are burdened by the same liberal superstructure. These workers are not motivated by economic concessions like the rest of the proletariat are; they simply desire to live peacefully in the country without the risk of losing everything.
Finally, leftist discourse needs to do a better job of focusing on the anti-capitalist critique of migration and not simply the authoritarianism of the Trump administration. While indeed, he has the following on par with many of history’s strong-man figures, and many Alt-Right followers are either crypto or blatant fascists, we are pushing a losing strategy if the only response to Right-Wing populism is “No Fascist USA”. Fascism will not be stopped by playing “wack-a-mole”, but by explaining the market coercions and military agendas that entice people to leave their home countries and by presenting to the masses a democratic alternative to mass deportation. Otherwise, anti-fascists will continue to be seen as “violators of free speech” and the populist right will more and more be portrayed as defenders of the “American way of life”.
It is not for us to speak for those feeling the heat of US policy and dictate from a position of relative safety what measures are ‘necessary’ for success against the American state. Some tactics may be of need while others might not be correct in certain arenas of resistance. What is important, however, is that the left does whatever is necessary to serve the people. If the Left can show that they are able to defend the rights of immigrants living in this country, the people will support our movements, but if we cannot, then socialist politics will continue to be unimportant actors on a playing field tilting towards far-right hegemony.
Bacon, David. “Equality and Rights for Immigrants – the Key to Organizing Unions.” Monthly Review. 1 October, 2010. Accessed from: https://monthlyreview.org/2010/10/01/equality-and-rights-for-immigrants-the-key-to-organizing-unions/
Hing, Julianne. “For Trump, Cruelty is the Point.” The Nation. 15 March, 2018. Viewed from: https://www.thenation.com/article/for-trump-cruelty-is-the-point/
Notes on Trump (Bromma Dec. 2016 – Revised Jan. 2017). Kersplebedeb. 17 December, 2017. Viewed from: http://kersplebedeb.com/posts/notes-on-trump/
“Sanctuary in the Streets”, Pioneer Valley Workers Center. Viewed from: https://pvworkerscenter.org/sanctuary-in-the-streets/
“SF Rapid Response Network”. SFILEN. Viewed from: http://sfilen.org/resources/sf-rapid-response-network/
Moreno, Karina. “A Politics of Solidarity.” Jacobin. 11 May, 2017. Viewed from: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2017/05/immigration-donald-trump-muslims-latinos-no-ban-no-wall-no-raids
London, Eric. “The Nightmare Reality for Immigrants Across US in 2018.” World Socialist Web Site. 12 February, 2018. Viewed from: https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2018/02/12/immi-f12.html