Jorge Garcia’s wife and two teenage children sobbed as he was forced onto a plane bound for Mexico from Detroit on January 15. After more than 30 years living uneventfully in the US, the 39-year-old Garcia was deported.
Garcia did everything right — he paid his taxes, worked as a landscaper to support his family, and never had so much as a parking ticket. But because his efforts — he spent more than $125,000 in legal fees since 2005 — to find a way to documented status failed, the US government kicked him out.
According to the Detroit Free Press, Garcia was given a deportation order by the courts in 2009, but under the Obama administration, he had received repeated stays of removal. The Trump administration has reversed the longstanding policy of allowing such stays.
And because Garcia doesn’t qualify for consideration under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program — he was brought to the US as a child, but DACA doesn’t cover people born before 1981 — the Garcia family have had their lives upended.
“How do you do this on Martin Luther King Jr. Day?” Erik Shelley, an activist with the immigrant rights group Michigan United said to the Free Press. “It’s another example of the tone-deafness of this administration…If Jorge isn’t safe, no one is safe.”
But this is exactly the message that the Trump administration wants to send.
News reports last week warned of the Trump administration’s plans for massive series of raids in San Francisco and other cities in Northern California. The operation could include flying in ICE agents to participate in raids designed to arrest as many as 1,500 people.
If this operation takes place, it would be a deliberate assault on sanctuary city laws designed to protect the undocumented. In response to California Gov. Jerry Brown signing a statewide sanctuary law in October, Acting ICE Director Thomas Homan threatened this month that “California better hold on tight” — and added that if local politicians “don’t want to protect their communities, then ICE will.”
The cruelty of the Trump administration’s assault was underlined earlier this week with the arrest, detention and scheduled deportation of Youngstown, Ohio, convenience store owner Al Adi Othman, after what he thought would be a routine check-in with immigration authorities.
Adi’s lawyer David Leopold described what happened to his client as the “brazen humiliation, degradation, dehumanizing of a man who’s an American in every way but a piece of paper.”
Adi has lived in the US for the past 39 years, since he was 19 years old. He and his wife have four American-born children.
He was ordered deported in 2013, but Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, an advocate for Adi, introduced a so-called “private bill” that would have granted him legal status and prevented his deportation. The measure didn’t become law, but the Department of Homeland Security traditionally had a policy of not deporting people who are the subject of pending “private bills.”
The Trump administration, however, has chosen to scrap that policy.
In early January, Adi was given a deportation order. He purchased an airplane ticket to Jordan, his country of origin, and began the arduous process of saying goodbye to his daughters, who planned to stay in the US.
Before he could get on his flight, authorities stayed the deportation order — only to suddenly change their mind without warning when Adi showed up to an appointment at an ICE regional office, where Adi was put under arrest and detained.
“Why would you trick us to say he has a stay, get us here, just to put him behind bars?” Adi’s distraught wife, Fidda Musleh, asked WKBN. “What’s the reason behind it? Was he a threat to anybody? They have no answers.”
“This is absolutely insane,” Rep. Tim Ryan, who was at the hearing, said. “He would have bought a ticket and packed his bags. He would have left. They put him jail. They’re treating him like an animal.”
But that is the point. The Trump administration’s immigration policy is calculated, maximum cruelty and terror by design.
The White House is intent on sending a message to undocumented immigrants that no one is safe. It doesn’t matter how long they have lived in the US, whether they have families or ties to their communities, whether they face the threat of repression and violence in their countries of origin if deported.
To carry out this stepped-up assault, the Trump administration is relying on a slew of repressive forces — increased Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids; a crackdown by border control forces; increased use of detention facilities where immigrants are subjected to brutal conditions; and more severe legal penalties imposed on the undocumented by conservative judges.
From late January through September of last year, USA Today reported, ICE arrested 97,482 people suspected of being in the country illegally, a 43 percent increase over the same time period in 2016 under Obama. Just over 28,000 of those arrestees didn’t have a criminal record, a 179 percent increase for arrests in this category over 2016.
ICE claims that arrests and deportations are about removing “individuals who threaten public safety, national security and border security.” But officials have offered zero explanations for which of those categories people like Jorge Garcia or Al Adi Othman fall into.
In October, immigrant rights advocates noted that a federal contracting website showed that ICE had submitted paperwork to identify more privately-run jail sites as detention centers for immigrants — potentially adding thousands more to the 31,000 to 41,000 immigrant detainees currently in custody on a given day.
Even more troubling are the four cities identified for new detention facilities: Chicago, Detroit, St. Paul and Salt Lake City. All are sanctuary cities, leading to speculation that the Trump administration is planning to target municipalities that have defied the federal crackdown by limiting cooperation with immigration authorities.
Already, the Trump administration has handed a $457 million contract to GEO Group, one of the largest private prison contractors in the country — and notorious for its abuses of prisoners — for a 1,000-bed immigration detention center outside of Houston.
“The Obama administration focused heavily on apprehending people on the border, but the Trump administration is targeting people in US communities very far from the border,” Carl Takei, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Prison Project, explained to USA Today.
“And because they are targeting cities far from the border, they are looking for detention space in areas where historically they haven’t had as much detention space.”
As ACLU director of immigration policy Lorella Praeli said in an October statement: “ICE’s intention to expand detention in areas surrounding four of the nation’s largest cities is an attack on the freedom of long-term residents, including DREAMers, and asylum-seekers fleeing persecution in their home countries.”
This trend will inevitably lead to more abuses in a detention system that is already rampant with them.
In December, a report from the Inspector General’s Office of the Department of Homeland Security — the department’s own watchdog — found that immigrants in privately run detention facilities in California, Georgia, New Jersey and New Mexico had been subjected to inhumane treatment, including a lack of medical care and unsafe food.
Regarding guards’ treatment of prisoners, the report noted:
[I]n violation of standards, all detainees entering one facility were strip-searched. Available language services were not always used to facilitate communication with detainees. Some facility staff reportedly deterred detainees from filing grievances and did not thoroughly document resolution of grievances.
Similar abuses at ICE facilities have been documented by immigrant rights activists for many years — but they will undoubtedly worsen under the Trump administration’s aggressive expansion of the immigrant detention system.
And on top of that comes the deal announced this week between ICE and several Florida sheriff’s agencies, which would allow local law enforcement to essentially hold people in the country illegally who are charged with other crimes on behalf of ICE.
In other words, local law enforcement will essentially keep federal detainees in their custody.
For the millions of immigrants — documented and undocumented — who are simply trying to live their lives in peace, the threat of escalating raids and deportations, more detention centers and increased cooperation between local and federal officials translates directly into more terror.
That was brought home earlier this month when ICE agents carried out raids on nearly 100 7-Eleven stores across 17 states, arresting 21 people.
ICE officials claimed that the raids were meant to send a signal to businesses that they will face penalties for hiring undocumented workers. In reality, as the New York Times noted, “a primary goal of such raids is to dissuade those working illegally from showing up for their jobs — and to warn prospective migrants that even if they make it across the border, they may end up being captured at work.”
“It’s not motivating people to self-deport,” Mariela Martinez, organizing director of the Garment Worker Center in Los Angeles, told the Times. “It’s motivating people to not use their labor rights. It’s causing people to distrust government agencies.”
Enforcement measures like this also give employers even greater leverage over the undocumented, who are more intimidated than ever in standing up for their rights. “Now [businesses] know the president is on their side,” said an undocumented garment worker named Pablo, “so they feel like they can intimidate people and treat them badly, and they will never talk.”
But the Trump administration doesn’t care about conditions for immigrant workers on the job in the US — just as they don’t care that ending temporary protected status for nearly 200,000 Salvadorans — and thousands more from Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan — will consign these refugees to poverty, violence and even death. As the New Yorkernoted:
[T]he number of migrants coming to the US because their lives are in danger has soared. According to the United Nations, since 2008 there has been a fivefold increase in asylum-seekers just from Central America’s Northern Triangle — Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador — where organized gangs are dominant. In 2014, according to the UN, Honduras had the world’s highest murder rate; El Salvador and Guatemala were close behind.
The statistics show that apprehensions of the undocumented at the border have decreased. But the brutality of Border Patrol agents — the other major face of the US immigration enforcement apparatus, after ICE — remains constant.
According to the report “Disappeared: How the US Border Enforcement Agencies Are Fueling a Missing Persons Crisis,” released by La Coalicion de Derechos Humanos and No More Deaths, the Border Patrol’s strategy of “prevention through deterrence” hinges on actions that deliberately force migrants into increasingly perilous situations.
This includes pursuing them into ever more remote areas where they “scatter, become lost, and often die or disappear,” as well as the intentional destruction of over 3,000 gallons of water and other supplies that humanitarian groups have left out to prevent border-crossers from dying in the dessert.
And the human toll of these policies? There is no way to know for certain, but according to the report, since the 1990s, the Border Patrol admits that more than 6,000 people have perished attempting to cross. That number is certainly undercounted, and could be as much as 40 percent higher, say immigrant advocates.
Such brutal policing and security practices — whether carried out by Border Patrol agents, by ICE agents or inside immigrant detention centers — are too ubiquitous to be dismissed as the fault of a “few bad apples.” As the report notes, “they are the logical extension of a US border enforcement strategy that views the lives of border-crossers as expendable” — and the lives of all the undocumented as less worthy of dignity and respect.
In the era of Trump, this will only get worse unless there is a struggle to demand an end to the anti-immigrant terror.