By MARK UGOLINI
Democratic Party Mayors Eric Garcetti and Rahm Emanuel proudly declare that they run “Sanctuary Cities.” They claim that Los Angeles and Chicago offer “sanctuary” for immigrants; that local police will neither ask about immigration status, nor will they detain immigrants for ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).
These reassurances are phony, designed to create a sense of security in the largest immigrant communities in the country, and generate votes for Democrats in coming elections.
Local police in both cities continue to play critical roles in the U.S. deportation machine, an integral cog in a massive prison-industrial complex. While many immigrants are deported, large numbers end up in detainment centers and U.S. prisons. Police agencies partner with ICE in both cities in the ever-expanding “war on crime” that has resulted in mass incarceration of Black and Latino working-class youth as well as deportations.
Of course, Chicago and Los Angeles are hardly unique among U.S. cities. Throughout the country, fingerprints for people who are booked by police departments—even for minor infractions—are routinely shared with federal law-enforcement authorities, including ICE.
In April, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced continuation of Bill Clinton’s famous “war on drugs,” a program that has increased the U.S. prison population from 500,000 in 1980 to over 2.2 million in 2015. Implemented by law-enforcement in all major U.S. cities, it targets Black and Latino youth, strapping them with lengthy prison sentences of 10 or 20 years, and sometimes life without parole for first-time drug offenses.
Recent immigration raids in LA and Chicago show that there is no “sanctuary” from the long reach of the U.S. “justice” system and its highly militarized policing apparatus. Almost 200 people were arrested by ICE in cooperation with the LAPD in Southern California as part of a five-day dragnet ending May 24. The vast majority of immigrants detained were from Mexico, but others came from 10 other countries.
Since Trump took office, the Los Angeles enforcers made nearly 2300 arrests, roughly the same number as last year during the same time frame, but 20 % less than 2015, when Obama’s deportations were in full swing.
There was no “sanctuary” from these raids, which targeted immigrants with “previous records,” all victims of the U.S. court system, especially the working poor. They show up in a growing police database with “offenses” and “violations” of all types, including drug trafficking, and failure to provide “proper” immigration documents. Local police systematically turn over arrest records and fingerprints to ICE. Anyone with any kind of police record is a target for ICE and the local cops.
The LAPD partnered with ICE in joint “task forces” that are supposed to target gangs and other’s labeled as “criminals.” Many times the raids become little more than an excuse for mass arrests; and those caught in the dragnet are prime candidates for deportation—“criminal record” or not.
“By taking these individuals off the streets and removing them from the country, we’re making our communities safer for everyone,” said the local ICE officer. Safer? Really? The five-day roundup in Los Angeles spread terror. Police and ICE teamed up to harass the community 24/7, with raids to homes, workplaces, churches, and other places the community gathers.
How about on Chicago’s Northwest side? In late March, when 53-year-old Felix Torres, a permanent resident, was confronted by ICE agents at 6:20 a.m. at his front door, he was shot for no reason and later hospitalized in serious condition. Of course, the enforcer that shot Torres said he had a gun, but multiple family members verified that was a lie. He didn’t even own one!
The agents then forced their way into his house and threatened family members at gunpoint, including his one-year-old granddaughter. The family was terrorized, unable to explain their situation before they were forcefully ejected from their home. Finally, ICE and local authorities admitted that they were at the wrong house and the Torres family was not guilty of any immigration violations.
Acting as defenders of the immigrant community against Trump, Chicago’s city government promotes itself as a “sanctuary city.” “You’re going to be safe here,” says Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “You are going to be secure here. You’re going to be supported here.”
What callous hypocrisy! As a Congressman, Emanuel supported the Sensenbrenner bill, which proposed making “unauthorized presence” in the U.S. a felony, and threatened to punish churches and other charities that offer assistance to immigrants. As White House Chief of Staff, Emanuel helped craft Obama’s immigration policy, which ended up deporting nearly 4 million people. He also advised Obama against any significant attempt to legalize undocumented workers.
In Chicago, Emanuel oversees the closure of inner city schools, a decline in public services that immigrants and other workers rely on, and a massive shift of wealth from poor and working-class neighborhoods to wealthy ones.
Chicago’s immigrant communities have been on edge for months, fearful of what’s coming next, aware of recent raids at O’Hare airport and elsewhere. Rumors run rampant of suspected raids at various neighborhood events and “El” transit stops.
Minority communities have years of experience with Chicago cops, and a long memory. There is no lack of familiarity with the terror that police unleash on a regular basis. Recorded is a long, ugly history of police violence, including utilization of department facilities to torture prisoners. Also common are cop killings, like the cold-blooded murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in 2014. Videos recorded 16 shots from the revolver of Officer Jason Van Dyke, pumped into McDonald’s body for no reason. Van Dyke still walks the streets of Chicago a free man.
Raids like these take place amid a surge in such crackdowns since President Donald Trump took office. He vows to deport as many as three million so-called “undesirable” immigrants. This might not be a big change from the Obama presidency, which deported over five million people.
Deportations in these numbers are not possible without a close working relationship between ICE and the local cops. Even when local police are not directly involved, they certainly don’t place any obstacles in the way of federal officers looking to harass immigrants and the working poor.
Sanctuary cities can only offer a small degree of protection to paperless immigrants. They certainly can’t prevent ICE agents from hunting down workers at businesses, or forcing their way into people’s homes. For these, all cops need is a warrant, which immigration judges issue liberally as needed.
While U.S. capitalists have some interest in minimizing the flow of immigrants into this country and expelling others, they have more interest in terrorizing the immigrant population that remains here to maximize their profits.
The bosses hope that a fearful and desperate community of the working poor will submit to the lowest wages, longest hours, and the most horrendous working conditions. This serves to drive down the wages and working conditions of all other workers, funneling super profits into the coffers of the super-rich.
For U.S. rulers this has the added benefit of dividing the working class against itself. They have an interest in getting U.S.-born workers to blame immigrants for their problems—rather than the bosses themselves, who are the true source of the problem.
The capitalist Republican and Democratic parties promote the interests of Wall Street and the banks. The Republicans say they will deport immigrants and therefore protect native-born U.S. workers; the Democrats create the illusion of “sanctuary” for immigrant workers. Both parties lie, and pit workers against each other in the process.
The only winning strategy is one that unites all working people in solidarity and common struggle, unleashing a powerful movement in the streets and in the political arena as well.