By JOHN LESLIE
— UPDATED, July 9 — Abolish ICE! Stop the raids! Reunite families! No Wall! Those are some of the central demands shouted by thousands who have taken to the streets to protest Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policies. Occupy ICE encampments of protesters have been set up outside ICE headquarters and other government facilities around the country.
On June 30, in over 750 cities in the United States and abroad, demonstrators defied dangerously hot temperatures to denounce the Trump administration’s practice of separating immigrant families and imprisoning their children. Over 30,000 participated in the Families Belong Together march in Washington, D.C. Another 30,000 in New York City marched over the Brooklyn Bridge, and tens of thousands more marched in other cities.
Many protesters expressed outrage at the claims that Trump employs to justify the crackdown at the border. He raises the specter of violent gangs like MS-13 infiltrating into the country, and calls refugees animals, criminals, and rapists—comparing them to household vermin by saying that the U.S. faces an “infestation” of immigrants.
Easily verified facts refute the lie that immigrants and people asking for refuge are criminals. Trump’s claims are aimed at energizing his base and sowing fear in immigrant communities, while he stokes the white nationalist idea that the very existence of the United States is in danger from an alleged immigrant “invasion.”
As the outcry and mobilizations grew over the last month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions tried to demonstrate the correctness of the policy by quoting a Bible passage formerly used to justify slavery. This caused some religious leaders to criticize Sessions’ attempt to drape the administration in Biblical authority. Homeland Security chief Kirstjen Nielsen also defended the policy to a law enforcement group.
In comments to the press, Trump admitted that the child separation policy is a “negotiating tool” to get an immigration bill and $25 billion in funding for his border wall. The factually challenged Trump continued to insist that the child separation policy was due to a law put in place by the Democrats. In truth, his “zero tolerance” policy changed the “offense” of crossing the border without official permission from a civil to a criminal matter, which, according to the Justice Department, required that children be separated from parents.
In his presidential campaign, Trump beat the drums of racism and anti-immigrant sentiment. As president, he has followed through by taking steps to stigmatize migrants and the foreign born. Early in his administration he tried to institute a Muslim ban through an Executive Order spurring huge mobilizations at airports across the United States. On June 26, a slightly watered-down directive, banning people from five Muslim countries plus Venezuela from entering the U.S., was upheld by the Supreme Court.
Trump also took measures in recent months to revoke the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) of Haitians, Salvadorans, Sudanese, Nicaraguans, and Hondurans—a move that affects tens of thousands of vulnerable refugees.
Private prison companies, which also contribute huge amounts to the campaigns of members of Congress, stand to reap millions in profits from the mass incarceration of immigrants. Reports of companies’ being paid more than $700 per detainee are examples of the outrageous practice of profiting from the misery of the oppressed. Facilities lack adequate numbers of social workers, and there have been reports of guards physically, emotionally, and sexually abusing detained children.
Crisis? What crisis?
The pro-business conservative publication, Forbes (June 25, 2018)*, cast doubt on Trump’s claims of an immigration crisis. The magazine noted that the number of undocumented people apprehended at the border is only 11% higher than in the previous fiscal year, which, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, was at the “lowest level of illegal cross-border migration on record, as measured by apprehensions along the border and inadmissible encounters at U.S. ports of entry.”
As images of children in cages went viral, large numbers of people mobilized against the Trump policy, holding vigils and demonstrations. In Portland, Ore., Occupy ICE PDX has blockaded the ICE facility. At least 80 tents have been erected and protesters have maintained the blockade. On June 28, DHS police cleared a path to allow about 20 ICE employees to leave the building. As this is written, there are blockades or occupations of ICE facilities in about a dozen cities—including Portland, Tacoma, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Detroit. In Portland and Detroit, the proto-fascist Proud Boys tried to instigate confrontations with protesters.
One occupier in Portland, a young carpenter who identified himself as “A,” spoke to the Guardian newspaper: “I can sympathize so much with these children. I’m a working-class person. I am surrounded by people who have fled here for their safety. They come here seeking safety and asylum, and they get violence.”
The Philadelphia encampment began outside the ICE offices on July 1 and gained reinforcements the following day following an “Abolish ICE” march of close to 500 people organized by half a dozen socialist groups. Other demands included shuttering the federal family detention center in Berks County, Pa., and ending the procedure that gives ICE access to police arrest records in Philadelphia—which is supposedly a “sanctuary city.”
Three days later, Philadelphia cops smashed into the encampment, destroying tents, food, and personal possessions and making arrests. After the brutal attack, the protesters voted to move their encampment to the side of City Hall, planning to occupy the space until their demands are met.
The demand to abolish ICE has even caught on as campaign talking points for some Democratic Party politicians. Generally, however, these Democrats merely seek a return to the relatively less confrontational policing of the border that existed in the past. The pretense that only “felons and not families” were being deported suited them fine during the Obama administration. So-called left or “progressive” Democrats, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the candidate in New York’s 14th District, still insist on the necessity of strong immigration laws and border security. Moreover, Bernie Sanders, in an appearance on CNN, declined to support ICE abolition at all.
Under popular pressure, Trump, after repeated claims that he could do nothing to alleviate the situation, suddenly reversed course with a poorly thought-out Executive Order, which will reunite some children with their parents. The Executive Order will incarcerate families together without any clearly defined legal process. Under the order, more detention facilities will be erected, and Army bases and prisons around the country will also be used for incarceration.
In the meantime, workplace raids are accelerating. Early in 2018, ICE signaled that they intended a 400% increase in workplace raids this year.
The decree attempts to modify the Flores decision, which protects immigrant children from being jailed more than 20 days through extra-constitutional means. It’s unclear that all of the children will be reunited with their loved ones because of the shoddy record keeping of the agencies involved. The genealogical DNA service, 23andme, has offered DNA testing kits to help match children and parents.
On June 24, Trump advocated violating the due process rights of the undocumented by deporting them without judges or hearings. The legal rights of immigrants are already tenuous with the use of mass trials under a program called Operation Streamline. Under Operation Streamline, as many as 75 immigrants at a time are subjected to a process in which they are given two minutes to consult a lawyer before appearing in a kangaroo court.
Deportation system built by Bush and Obama
While Trump’s zero-tolerance policy is new, it rests on an immigration system that was already weighted against refugees and the undocumented. In the aftermath of the 9-11 terror attack, federal agencies were reconfigured and immigration laws made more draconian. The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) was split into three new agencies—U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)—under the aegis of the Department of Homeland Security. Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge put forward an aggressive plan to round up and deport the undocumented.
After taking office, Obama increased the budgets of immigration enforcement agencies by 300 percent, expanded the Bush-era Secure Communities program, expanded Operation Streamline, and pushed for local police participation in immigration enforcement. It was Obama, rather than Bush, who became known as the “Deporter-in-Chief.” Much to the chagrin of liberal apologists, Obama deported more than 2 million immigrants during his tenure.
Migration fueled by U.S. policy
The source of migration from Mexico and Central America is in U.S. foreign policy going back many decades. U.S. imperialism ruthlessly smashed the Central American revolutions of the 1980s with death squads and massive military aid. Even when U.S law forbade military aid to Guatemala because of human rights abuses, the Israelis stepped in as a proxy for the United States. Trade policy, military coups, and support for repressive regimes are the center of U.S. policy towards its southern neighbors.
The Philadelphia Inquirer noted on June 24 the levels of violence in Central America that are driving desperate people to seek refuge in the United States. El Salvador, for example, has a murder rate of 99.7 per 100,000, “higher than all countries suffering armed conflicts, except for Syria.” It is estimated that almost 300,000 Salvadorans have been displaced by violence. Similarly, high numbers of Guatemalans and Hondurans have fled repressive conditions, “akin to war zones,” in their countries.
The Trump claim that MS-13 members are being sent to the U.S. is a fabrication. The spread of the gang to Central America is a result of the immigration policies of the U.S. government, which deported to El Salvador many immigrant youth who were deemed to be criminals. Once they had arrived in El Salvador, many of these youth, jobless and without local roots, banded together as self-protection against existing gangs.
Trump’s racist rhetoric tries to tie Democrats, like Nancy Pelosi and others, to MS-13, claims echoed by his propaganda arm, Fox News. Far from being the sophisticated criminal enterprise alluded to by Trump and his spokespersons, MS-13 is considered by criminologists to have nowhere near the sophistication or levels of centralization that more well-established drug cartels possess.
Building a fightback against immigrant bashing and xenophobia will require the broadest popular mobilizations, including the ranks of organized labor. Labor, religious, and civil rights organizations should take the lead in building a national March on Washington to put a million people in the streets. Learning from the example of past movements against war and for civil rights, local and national coalitions can be built to advance the struggle in solidarity with immigrant workers and families.
The examples of the women’s marches and the mass outpouring against Trump’s Muslim ban last year demonstrate the potential power of mass action. The recent teacher strikes also point to the road forward.
Movimiento COSECHA , an immigrant rights organization is calling a national conference of immigrant communities in September, with the aim of organizing mass actions modeled on the May 1, 2006, immigrant mobilization that took on the character of a one-day general strike.
Pointing to the example of the recent teacher strikes, COSECHA organizer Catalina Adorno wrote, “One day is not enough. In order to win permanent protection, dignity, and respect, we must not only go on strike, but we need to be able to sustain the strike. As the teachers demonstrated, to win they had to hold their ground and refuse to go to work until their demands were met. That is what the immigrant community needs to do when we go on strike, and we have to do it in large numbers across the country—just like the teachers.”
The Janus decision, the attacks on immigrants, the epidemic of police murder of Black people, and the ramped-up offensive against women’s rights and the gains made by LGBTQ people mean that our struggles must be united in struggle. Solidarity is urgent in the days and years ahead.
Ultimately, this movement cannot depend on the courts or capitalist politicians to make change. Every bit of progress won by workers and oppressed peoples in the past was won in the streets. It’s encouraging that thousands have mobilized already. It’s urgent that the movement keep the pressure up and not buy into attempts to divert it into electoralism.
We have to continue the fight for papers for all, for the demolition of repressive agencies like the CBP and ICE, an end to workplace raids, and to stop the construction of the racist border wall. Smash ICE and the Border Patrol (CBP)! Unite the struggles of workers and the oppressed! Reunite families now! Stop the raids! Stop Trump’s Muslim ban! Demilitarize the border! No Wall, no way!