Meet Trump's Little Eichmanns
The Atlantic has a new must-read story about how ICE became a monstrous cruelty machine under Donald Trump. Sure, immigration enforcement has always had a whiff of horror about it -- La Migra has always been a threat in migrant communities. But reporter Franklin Foer gives us a close look at just how an agency that used to feel like something of an afterthought has become an instrument of terror. Not because it's gone rogue, but because America's leaders have.
The story's opening example tells you much of what you need to know about the evolution of ICE into a new Gestapo: Foer recounts the experience of Mauritanian refugees who came to the US after that West African nation's Arab majority decided to do some ethnic cleansing of its small black minority.
In 1989, in a fit of nationalism, the Mauritanian government came to consider these differences capital offenses. It arrested, tortured, and violently expelled many black citizens. The country forcibly displaced more than 70,000 of them and rescinded their citizenship. Those who remained behind fared no better. Approximately 43,000 black Mauritanians are now enslaved—by percentage, one of the largest enslaved populations in the world.
Several thousand Mauritanian refugees made their way to the US, and eventually found a welcoming community in Columbus, Ohio -- in a neighborhood literally named "Refugee Road," originally named after Canadians who fled to Ohio because they supported US independence from Britain. The Mauritanians applied for asylum, and Crom knows they qualified. But a lot of them didn't speak English, and paid to have their asylum paperwork filled out by a scammer who took their money, then instead of actually documenting each applicant's story, just cut and pasted a few narratives together because that was quicker and easier. That's something that happens to refugees -- they get preyed upon by people claiming to help them, Foer notes.
A year or two after the refugees arrived in the country, judges reviewed their cases and, noticing the suspicious repetitions, accused a number of them of fraud and ordered them deported.
But those deportation orders never amounted to more than paper pronouncements. Where would Immigration and Customs Enforcement even send them? The Mauritanian government had erased the refugees from its databases and refused to issue them travel documents. It had no interest in taking back the villagers it had so violently removed. So ICE let their cases slide.
Ah, but then Donald Trump came to office with a promise to Make America White Again, and anyone with any discrepancy in their immigration paperwork had to be deported, even to countries that didn't want them back, and in fact had once wanted them dead, because why do we have to take people from shithole countries? Instead of checking in with ICE once a year, Mauritanians were told to check in monthly. ICE agents started telling them to expect to be deported, sooner instead of later, because the new administration had pressured Mauritania to start accepting deportees. One man was told, "My job is to get you to leave this country." Some were told to go get passports at the Mauritanian consulate. People who'd raised families in Columbus made plans to flee to Canada and apply for asylum there.
Mauritania hasn't become a haven for human rights -- it still oppresses its black minority and human rights troublemakers. Hey, not our problem it's a shithole. You should have more carefully screened that guy who helped you 20 years ago, criminal. The law is the law.
Foer looks closely at the institutional conflicts that helped create ICE as we know it today, especially its Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) wing -- the people who do the actual processing and deportation of migrants. It's not exactly an elite law enforcement agency: Unlike most federal agents, -- or even, increasingly, municipal police officers -- applicants don't need a bachelors degree, so it's a great place for people with high school diplomas who want to boss people around. That might also explain why ICE
consistently ranks among the worst workplaces in the federal government. In 2016, the organization ranked 299th on a list of 305 federal agencies in a survey of employee satisfaction. Even as Trump smothered the organization with praise and endowed it with broader responsibilities, ICE still placed 288th last year.
But at least now the "leash is off," as former ICE acting director Thomas Homan put it: no more troublesome directives to concentrate on deporting dangerous criminals. Instead, fear and terror of deportation are the new normal, because virtually any infraction of immigration law -- civil law, but so what? -- is now cause for deportation. As Homan explained in congressional testimony last year, fear is the new normal:
If you're in this country illegally and you committed a crime by entering this country, you should be uncomfortable … You should look over your shoulder, and you need to be worried.
And no it doesn't matter whether you've been here decades without committing a crime. They can find something.
Foer notes Barack Obama's role in the expansion of ICE, pointing out he got snookered: He ramped up staffing for ICE (and for Customs and Border Protection, which handles enforcement at the border), and increased deportations to show Republicans he was tough on the border, so they'd agree to comprehensive immigration reform that would include a path to citizenship for many of the undocumented migrants already here. But the no-amnesty-ever crowd among House Republicans killed that for good, and then Obama issued those tyrannical executive orders specifying that only actual criminals should be deported.
Even with the very generous rules allowing deportations for misdemeanors, suddenly we had a bunch of well-armed law enforcers who felt they didn't have enough bad guys to go after, and gosh, they found warm receptions from the people who would become Trump's little Eichmanns, the architects of the New Cruelty. Lots of support for the poor oppressed border enforcers from the offices of Chuck Grassley and Jeff Sessions, which spawned Stephen Miller, of course.There's also Gene Hamilton, another former Sessions staffer who worked first with John Kelly at Homeland Security and now sits again at Sessions's feet, eating migrant babies.
The logic of the job switch was made apparent to me by one former ICE official, who described Sessions as the "de facto secretary of homeland security," given his comprehensive influence over immigration policy.
And of course there's the Ideas Guy, Kris Kobach, who came up with the central principal of how ICE works now: If the US can just make life insufferable enough for enough immigrants, no one will want to come here and those who are here will decide to leave. Kobach whispered the phrase "self-deportation" into Mitt Romney's ear, and while Romney distanced himself from the phrase, it's still the operative Big Idea, though now under the charming milspeak phrase "attrition through enforcement":
As Kobach once wrote, "Illegal aliens are rational decision makers. If the risks of detention or involuntary removal go up, and the probability of being able to obtain unauthorized employment goes down, then at some point, the only rational decision is to return home." Through deprivation and fear, the government can essentially drive undocumented immigrants out of the country.
Is it working? Fuck no. Even before the get-toughening, illegal immigration had already dropped precipitously since the 1990s, despite upticks like the Central American crises of 2014-16 and the smaller increase of families migrating with children this summer. The New Cruelty's reason for being is largely a myth.
But immigrants are definitely scared, so that's a wonderful thing in itself, assuming your idea of good policy is scaring people who aren't white. A Kaiser Family Foundation study showed immigrants drive less, out of fear of being arrested. Migrant parents keep their kids inside. Parks in migrant neighborhoods are empty.
Oh, and this must surely give Jeff Sessions something close to an erection: Nationwide, police departments
have noted a sharp decrease among Latinos reporting domestic violence and abuse. [...] Women would apparently rather tolerate battery than expose their partner to the risk of deportation—or risk deportation themselves.
Fewer kids are in reduced-price school lunch programs and fewer people are going to clinics that provide healthcare to migrants. They haven't self-deported, but they're hiding and getting sicker, hooray America. Oh, yes, and a UCLA study of teachers and school counselors found this great news about how Great we're becoming:
children of undocumented immigrants consistently expressed fear at the prospect of returning home from school only to find their parents and siblings gone. An art teacher reported that "many students drew and colored images of their parents and themselves being separated, or about people stalking/hunting their family."
And we can guaran-damn-tee you people will read that and say "GOOD, THEY SHOULD," and then go to Bible study.
But they are not the majority. This can be fixed. ICE can be defanged, just as some cities have decided good policing is the exact opposite of rumbling around in tanks. Won't be easy but it has to be done if we want a country we want to live in. And most of us are not the worst of us. Go read the whole thing. Stay active. Stay angry.
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.