The Trump administration cares about optics. It always has. So we can assume it was no accident that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents were conducting one of the largest immigration raids in U.S. history this Wednesday, even as Trump traveled to El Paso to supposedly honor and comfort the victims of the explicitly racist and anti-immigrant mass shooting perpetrated by a gunman whose manifesto echoed Trump’s own words decrying the bogeyman of an “invasion” of Latinx immigrants.
The perverse timing of this week’s ICE raid on poultry processing plants in Mississippi, which swept up nearly 700 people suspected of being undocumented immigrants, appears calibrated to reassure Trump’s constituency of white supremacists and white nationalists that no matter what he says publicly about the El Paso shooter, in action he will continue to back their agenda.
Some of the mechanisms by which this administration pursues that agenda were explored at #TakeBackTech, a People’s Summit for a Surveillance-Free Future held in San Jose in late July. Marisa Franco, director of the national grassroots Latinx organizing group Mijente, spoke from the stage about the ways that immigration justice organizers have had to switch tactics since the 2016 election.
She explained that like Trump, Obama was also working toward the longstanding political goal of mass deportation, but his administration cared about optics in a much different way from Trump’s: organizers and activists could sometimes shame the Obama administration into changing their actions. Franco said the Trump administration cares about optics as well — but its officials actually like and want to appear racist and oppressive.
“They’re not making kids sleep on floors, not giving them toothbrushes, because they don’t have money — they’re doing it because cruelty is the point,” Franco said. Her words ring especially true this week.
Wednesday’s raids in Mississippi targeted a similar population to the one terrorized by the shooter in El Paso: Latinx immigrants. An administration that cared about not seeming cruel might have postponed these planned raids, which are themselves acts of brutal violence. Instead, Trump’s ICE showed once again that cruelty is the point, as its carefully planned and measured actions created scenes of crying children and families that looked and sounded all too much like the scenes of mourning we saw from El Paso last weekend.
It was surely no accident that, as reported by Democracy Now! Thursday morning, the raids were planned for the first day of school for many children in Mississippi, leaving “scores of children traumatized and crying for their parents. Some children walked home from classes, only to find their doors locked and their family members missing.” A video clip of 11-year-old Magdalena Gomez Gregorio speaking to reporters about her parents through her sobs underscores the intense cruelty of these raids; “Government, please show some heart,” she pleads.
This government has been showing us the cruelty at its heart: it is filled with vile racism and utter disregard for the horrors it willingly inflicts on Latinxs and other immigrants. While Trump pretends to decry hate, his administration’s actions yesterday and throughout his presidency perpetuate and bolster the same hatred that fueled the El Paso gunman’s massacre this weekend. As Amanda Armstrong-Price, assistant professor at Fordham University, posted on Facebook, “the mass raid … is the state affirming the El Paso shooter and encouraging others.”
Indeed, raids like the one that took place Wednesday encourage non-governmental violence directed at Latinxs and other vulnerable populations. As Alexis Goldstein writes, there is a “terrifying feedback loop” between racist vigilante violence like the shootings in El Paso and the state-sponsored racist violence encoded into oppressive federal policies and enacted via tactics like Wednesday’s raids. Both forms of violence serve to terrorize populations that present a perceived threat to white political and social power; each form of violence provokes, validates and encourages the other. And as recent reporting shows, the White House has actively worked against efforts by others in the government to address the growing threat of domestic mass killings, the majority of which can be attributed to white supremacist violence.
Trump would certainly deny such allegations, but time and time again he’s shown his willingness to spout racist and degrading rhetoric and rain state-sponsored affliction on already vulnerable communities to appeal to the basest nature of his base. In fact, it seems as if he hopes this blatant cruelty will inspire them to vote for him again, come 2020. Cruelty is indeed the point, so long as it gets him what he wants: another term in office and more time to enact and encourage white supremacy in this country.