Mayor Michael Nutter famously said he’d ban Trump from Philadelphia if he could, after the presidential candidate called for an entry ban and registry for Muslims. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson has called Trump’s words about Muslims “beyond the pale.”
Democrats – aspiring candidates as well as those already serving in local office and national administration – have gleefully seized on Trump as representative of the Republican Party’s xenophobic and nativist tendencies. They’ve made haste and made hay to represent themselves as part of the party of inclusion and moderation.
But for all their bluster and fine words decrying Trump’s outsized fear of Muslims, Nutter and Johnson are advancing plans that target another of the presidential candidate’s preferred scapegoat groups – a group that has been relentlessly excoriated by xenophobes and nativists for at least two decades and has seen millions deported during the two terms of President Obama’s administration: undocumented immigrants.
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Jeh Johnson: Rounding Up Central American Women and Children Fleeing Violence
Starting as early as January, the Department of Homeland Security is preparing to conduct a number of large-scale raids targeting immigrants who recently came to the US fleeing violence in Central America. According to the Washington Post, which broke the story Dec. 23, “The ICE operation would target only adults and children who have already been ordered removed from the United States by an immigration judge … The adults and children would be detained wherever they can be found and immediately deported.”
“News that the Obama Administration is considering a plan to round up Central American families and deport them proves, once again, that this Administration fails to understand these individuals are refugees seeking asylum and should be given humanitarian protection rather than punishment,” said Ben Johnson, executive director of the American Immigration Council.”We must stop treating these families as though they are criminals. It is not a crime to arrive at our borders and request protection, and the overwhelming evidence indicates that these families have legitimate claims under US law.”
Johnson has said that DHS is “expediting removal” of those who are deemed ineligible for asylum or refugee resettlement. But the decision about who is eligible for classification as an asylee or refugee is a hugely political one that has always deliberately disadvantaged those fleeing violence and repression in Central America and Mexico.
During the Central American civil wars of the 1980s, for example, Guatemalans and Salvadorans were categorized as “economic immigrants” (despite evidence of genocide, massacres, wholesale disappearance, and widespread human rights abuses) and the approval rate for asylum cases was 3 percent (compared to 60 percent for Iranians, 40 percent for Afghans, and 32 percent for Poles during the same period). Much has been written, in retrospect, about the inability of the Reagan administration to categorize the Central Americans as refugees/asylees given that the US was materially and ideologically supporting the governments from which the petitioners were fleeing.
Today only 4 percent of asylum claims for Guatemalans, Hondurans and Salvadorans are successful despite the fact that El Salvador has the highest homicide rate in the world. In August it supplanted Honduras as the murder capital of the world, pushing Honduras to number 2: Guatemala rings in at number 6. The violence in those countries is partially a legacy of the bloody civil wars, partially the unimaginably violent narco culture of Salvadoran and Guatemalan gangs – which originated in Los Angeles, from where they were deported back to Central America. The Obama administration’s support (after the fact) of those who orchestrated an unconstitutional coup in Honduras in 2009 has also contributed to an enduring sense of impunity that feeds the violence in that Central American nation.
Mexicans – some of them fleeing violence greatly exacerbated by the US-Mexican “war on drugs” – are also rarely granted asylum in the United States. Aljazeera noted in an article in July that nearly 9,000 Mexicans applied for asylum in 2014, only 124 people were granted that status and some of those were applicants from previous years. By comparison, the article states, “4,773 Chinese citizens applied for asylum and 3,976 were granted refugee status” in 2014.
By its almost blanket refusal to grant asylee/refugee status to those from Central America and Mexico, the United States violates the U.N. refugee convention and protocols of which we are a signatory: “A refugee should not be returned to a country where he or she faces serious threats to his or her life or freedom. This protection may not be claimed by refugees who are reasonably regarded as a danger to the security of the country, or having been convicted of a particularly serious crime, are considered a danger to the community.”
In April of 2015, Johnson put into place the Priority Enforcement Program (PEP), which purports to restrict ICE detainers to “special circumstances,” including cases in which the individual poses a risk to national security or has been convicted. But according to the the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), during April 2015 only 32 percent of individuals on whom detainers were placed had been convicted of a crime, only 19 percent had a felony conviction, and nearly two-thirds had no criminal conviction of any type. This supports what immigration advocates have long claimed: that the majority of those targeted by PEP (and Secure Communities before it) are ordinary folks (whose illegal entry or overstaying a visa is a civil, not criminal, offense) who cannot “reasonably (be) regarded as a danger to the security of the country,” or be “considered a danger to the community.”
And now, with raids focused primarily on family units – mostly women and children fleeing pervasively violent homelands – Johnson has wandered firmly into Trump territory. The Republican presidential candidate may speak with nostalgia about Eisenhower’s Operation Wetback and propose to deport every last undocumented immigrant in the nation regardless of circumstance – but it’s Johnson and the Obama administration who are readying for actual mass detentions/immediate deportations come January.
Since the mass raids have been announced, the Democratic presidential candidates have reacted variously. Martin O’Malley was the first to decry the plan, publicly tweeting about it through Dec. 24. Bernie Sanders posted his opposition to the plan the afternoon of the 24th. Hillary Clinton has not posted anything on her website nor tweeted about it (as this is being written) though spokespeople from her campaign have been quoted everywhere from Politico to EFE as “having concerns.” Meanwhile, Donald Trump is claiming credit for the Johnson plan:
Peas in a pod, remember?