The racist extortionist in the White House has issued an ultimatum: either he gets every item on his list of extremist anti-immigrant measures — or 1.8 million immigrants will suffer.
And to show what they’ll face, Trump’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency is stepping up its campaign of anti-immigrant terror across the country — everything from a newly official policy to hunt down the undocumented at courthouses to a huge operation specifically targeting sanctuary cities in California.
Trump even said this week that he would “love” to see another government shutdown if Democrats didn’t capitulate to every last demand, including the “great” wall on the border.
DREAMer Juan Escalante rightly called this a “racist ransom note” — the offer of some form of legal status for 1.8 million immigrant youth in return for the border wall, more Border Patrol officers and sharply limited legal immigration in the years to come.
Though a government shutdown seems more unlikely after Senate Republicans and Democrats struck a deal for increases in domestic and military spending for two years in exchange for passage of a short-term funding bill, Trump certainly seemed to be itching for one.
In a meeting with law enforcement officials, Trump ranted about “loopholes where killers are allowed to come into our country,” adding, “If we have to shut [the government] down because the Democrats don’t want safety, let’s shut it down.”
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly aped his bosses’ ugly bigotry when he stated that the administration would not extend the March 5 expiration of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program — the Obama-era program allowing undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children protection from detention and deportation.
According to Kelly, Trump has been generous by offering — in return for a further intensification of repressive measures — protections and a limited path to citizenship for all 1.8 million undocumented immigrants who meet the criteria for DACA, not just those who formally applied for the program.
“The difference between [the 690,000 official DACA registrants] and 1.8 million were the people that some would say were too afraid to sign up, others would say were too lazy to get off their asses,” he sneered.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer acknoledged in late January that the Trump proposals on immigration are a wish list for “anti-immigrant hardliners.”
But that doesn’t mean Schumer isn’t willing to make a deal with the White House that sells out many of the immigrants his party claims to defend.
Prior to the federal shutdown in January, Schumer offered an agreement that would have included Trump’s demands — including $25 billion for funding his border wall. In the end, the shutdown lasted just three days, until Democrats caved in return for a vague promise from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that the Senate would consider legislation to protect DREAMers at some later date.
For their part, Trump and the Republicans haven’t made any concessions at all beyond the highly conditional extension of DACA-like protections. On the contrary, Trump is peddling measures previously confined the anti-immigrant far right fringe — like restrictions on what conservatives disdainfully label “chain migration,” which allows immigrants who become citizens or green-card holders to sponsor immediate relatives to reunify their families.
These demands are one face of the Trump administration’s campaign of anti-immigrant terror. The other is reaching immigrant communities across the US in the form of stepped-up ICE raids and actions.
In late January, federal officials announced a formal plan to send ICE agents to federal, state and local courthouses to arrest people without legal status.
While already an unofficial policy of ICE — one that has drawn protests in New York City and elsewhere, the announcement of the formal policy will have a chilling impact on immigrants’ confidence to participate in the legal system. That includes, for example, immigrant women abused by their partners, women and men who have been victims of crimes, or those who are being exploited and violated by employers.
ICE acting Director Thomas Homan’s directive was a particular slap at cities and states that have adopted “sanctuary” policies limiting cooperation with federal immigration authorities.
The directive in particular blames the need for the policy on the “increasing unwillingness of some jurisdictions to cooperate with ICE in the safe and orderly transfer of targeted aliens inside their prisons and jails.”
A more explicit attack on cities and states with sanctuary policies came in the form of more than 75 workplace raids carried out over three days by ICE on businesses in San Jose, San Francisco and Sacramento. It was the largest such local sweep since Trump took office — but Homan has reportedly called for a 400 percent increase in workplace raids.
Although there were no initial arrests, businesses were served with three-day notices to turn over paperwork on their employees — and the raids sent a wave of fear through the immigrant community.
According to activists with San Francisco’s Rapid Response Network, there were frightened false reports of ICE vans in San Francisco’s Mission and Bayview neighborhoods, sending community members “into a panic.” One local high school reportedly locked its doors and posted security outside to protect immigrant students.
The ICE raids did not go unopposed. In San Francisco, a small but spirited crowd protested outside ICE offices. “If you come for the immigrants, you gotta come through us, if you come for the DREAMers, you gotta come through us,” the protesters chanted.
“Everybody should be coming out,” Sophia Andary, with Women’s March San Francisco, told KTVU News. “It shouldn’t just be people who are activists or getting involved with the political scene. It should be very individual who cares about human beings.”
In San Mateo, religious leaders gathered at the Congregational Church of San Mateo to express their solidarity with the immigrant community. “If you need a place, our houses of faith are open to you,” said Rev. Penny Nixon.
If there are mass workplace raids — as the Trump administration has been threatening to unleash on Northern California for weeks — immigrant rights activists and other groups are planning emergency responses and other actions.
Despite repeating the claim that the Trump administration — like the Obama White House before it — is targeting violent criminals and gang members for deportation, many of those in ICE’s sights today are people who have been living peacefully in the US, often for decades.
None of the 11 million undocumented in the US should be forced to live in fear — but it is a telling signal of the administration’s motives that ICE appears to be deliberately targeting people with jobs and deep ties to their communities, as well as children who are US citizens.
In several instances, it is immigrant rights activists — like Ravi Ragbir in New York City — who have been targeted for deportation specifically because they speak up.
This is terror by design — ICE wants to inspire fear among all immigrants, whether they have legal status or not.
Syed Ahmed Jamal is a case in point. In late January, Jamal — a molecular biologist who lives in Lawrence, Kansas, with his wife and three young children — was getting ready to take his daughter to school. When he stepped outside, ICE agents were on the family’s lawn. Before he could say goodbye to his family, he was handcuffed and taken away.
Jamal has lived in the US for over 30 years, initially coming to the US from Bangladesh on a student visa. At the time of his arrest, he held a temporary work permit and was teaching chemistry at Park University. ICE claims that he overstayed a previous visa.
There can only be one purpose for such an action: intimidation. As Jeffrey Bennett, Syed Jamal’s immigration lawyer, explained to the Washington Post:
The first wave [of people getting detained] was right after President Trump was elected and came into office. For a few months everyone was basically in hysteria. There were lots of incidents of people getting picked up coming out of the courtroom where they appeared for [check-ins], at churches, jails, schools…It kind of tapered down over the summer. Now I’m starting to hear over the local attorney listservs [about] an uptick.
The Trump administration acts as if it has a popular mandate for terrorizing immigrant communities, but it doesn’t. Millions of people are opposed to this onslaught.
According to a recent NPR poll, 65 percent of people — including 51 percent of Republicans surveyed — think that people brought to the United States as children who are residing in the country illegally should be granted legal status.
And 56 percent of people say that they are against building a wall along the border with Mexico — with an even higher number saying it’s a waste of taxpayer money. Three-quarters say they are in favor of cultural diversity.
Such poll results put the lie to the idea Democrats have embraced — that the best way to fight extremist, bigoted proposals is to support “smart but tough” immigration enforcement along with limited reforms for those deemed to be “good immigrants.”
Under Barack Obama, deportations reached record numbers. And as for a “great” wall on the border, reinforced fencing has already been installed along more than 700 miles of the US-Mexico border — courtesy of the 2006 “Secure Fence Act,” which was supported by 26 Democratic senators, including Obama, Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer.
While majorities of Americans are against Trump’s anti-immigrant bigotry, the toxic rhetoric and constant lies about immigrants being responsible for crime and a lack of jobs will have a negative impact in the absence of a real opposition. The same NPR poll showing support for DACA recipients found that the number of people saying they want immigration decreased is at its highest level in a decade.
The best hope for turning the tide and advancing the struggle for immigrant rights lies in building the kind of movement that can mobilize each time people in our communities are under attack.
We need not just verbal opposition to Trump’s racism, but organized networks of people ready to rally at ICE offices when our immigrant brothers and sisters have check-in appointments; to confront ICE agents who want to detain and deport them; to publicize the plight of the DREAMers whose lives hang in the balance; and to work toward a system where no human being is ever considered “illegal” again.