By Doug Porter
Attorney General Jeff Sessions tour of the U.S.-Mexico border this week included a tough guy speech before border patrol agents in Nogales, Arizona.
“This is a new era. This is the Trump era.” he said. “It is here, on this sliver of land, where we first … we first take our stand.” Aware of the media in the room, Sessions stopped short of delivering the prepared remarks as written. He left out “It is here, on this sliver of land, where we first take our stand against this filth.”
Sessions intent, however, was made clear by policies announced during the speech.
Pack the Jails
From Vice News:
The new guidance includes:
- Federal prosecutors are now required to pursue felony charges against immigrants who commit document fraud or identity theft. Assuming a false identity or “aggravated identity fraud” will carry a two-year mandatory minimum sentence. Sessions said prosecutors should also prioritize fraudulent or “green card” marriages.
- Prosecutors are also required to pursue felony charges against anyone “transporting or harboring three or more aliens,” Sessions said. “We are going to shut down and jail those who have been profiting off this lawlessness.”
- Sessions also increased unauthorized entry into the United States from a misdemeanor to a felony on the second offense “if certain aggravating circumstances are present,” he said. A 2014 Pew analysis, however, found that a boom in offenders sentenced in federal courts was largely driven by unlawful reentry convictions, which increased 28-fold between 1992 and 2012, accounting for nearly half the increase in federal sentences in that time period.
- Sessions also said he had directed all U.S. Attorneys offices to prioritize prosecution of assaults on federal law enforcement. “If someone dares to assault one of our folks in the line of duty, they will do federal time for it,” Sessions said. In his testimony before congress last November, former Customs and Border Patrol Chief Mark Morgan said that assaults on his officers last year increased 200 percent. Last year, three officers in the 21,000 strong force were killed in the line of duty — compared to no officers killed in 2015. In 2007, however, seven officers were killed.
As Tavani Mishra at the Atlantic’s City Lab points out:
Taken together, we are now seeing the specific dimensions of the Trump administration’s war on undocumented immigrants.
The M.O. here is a familiar one: create a system that categorizes whole groups of people as hardened criminals to justify punishing them disproportionately and denying them rights. It’s a system based on a fundamentally flawed—and frankly, racist—generalization that certain immigrants are overwhelmingly a threat to public safety.
I have no doubt the officers of the Border Patrol, who seem to favor might over right in the execution of their duties, were pleased with the Attorney General’s remarks.
Others weren’t so thrilled, as Betsy WoodRuff explained at The Daily Beast:
One veteran federal prosecutor told The Daily Beast these changes are a generating significant concern.
“It’s fucking horrifying,” the prosecutor said. “It’s totally horrifying and we’re all terrified about it, and we don’t know what to do.
“The things they want us to do are so horrifying—they want to do harboring cases of three or more people,” the prosecutor continued. “So if you’re illegal and you bring your family over, then you’re harboring your kid and your wife, and you can go to jail.”
Immigration Advisors’ Sordid Histories
The headline for the CNN story on as found on Google reads 2 Trump immigration advisers linked to alleged hate groups, but when you click on the link, it’s been softened, no doubt by some editor concerned with relations with the Trump administration.
The story concerns Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) advisor Jon Feere, formerly with the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), and Julie Kirchner, former executive director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), now a senior advisor for Customs and Border Protection (CPB).
Both CIS and FAIR are listed as hate groups in the Southern Poverty Law Center 2016 “Year in Hate and Extremism” report,
Heidi Beirich, Director of SPLC’s Intelligence Project, explained the designation of CIS as a hate group:
CIS has a long history of bigotry, starting with its founder, white nationalist John Tanton, but in 2016, the group hit a new low. CIS commissioned Jason Richwine, a man who’s PHD dissertation endorses the idea of IQ differences between the races, to write multiple reports and blog pieces for the organization. The group also continued to circulate racist and anti-Semitic authors to its supporters and finally, staffer John Miano attended the white nationalist group VDARE’s Christmas party in December.
The Southern Poverty Law Center’s research on FAIR begins:
FAIR leaders have ties to white supremacist groups and eugenicists and have made many racist statements. Its advertisements have been rejected because of racist content. FAIR’s founder, John Tanton, has expressed his wish that America remain a majority-white population: a goal to be achieved, presumably, by limiting the number of nonwhites who enter the country. One of the group’s main goals is upending the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which ended a decades-long, racist quota system that limited immigration mostly to northern Europeans. FAIR President Dan Stein has called the Act a “mistake.”
And it’s not just the former affiliations of these high-level advisors that have immigration advocates concerned, it’s the policies that are coming with them. From CNN:
Throughout the presidential campaign and since he’s taken office, Donald Trump’s immigration policy has mirrored details found in CIS reports. In April 2016, for example, CIS published a list of “79 immigration actions that the next president can take.” The list included such measures as withholding federal funds from sanctuary cities, eliminating the “Priority Enforcement Program,” which prioritized the deportation of the most serious criminals during the Obama administration, and reducing the number of welfare-dependent immigrants living in the United States.
Many of these recommendations have already been enacted, proposed or discussed by the administration, and some were included in Trump’s executive order on immigration issued in January.
One Hand Clapping
Discussion of immigration has become a one-sided affair since Trump took office, as immigration advocates were quick to point out in the wake of this border visit by the third high-ranking official from the Trump administration.
None of these officials could be bothered with meeting with those most affected by the proposed wall and increased militarization: the residents of border communities.
Juanita Molina, a member of the Southern Border Communities Coalition and Executive Director for Border Action Network and Humane Borders in Arizona, issued the following statement in response to this latest incursion:
“It is absurd that Jeff Sessions is traveling to our back yard to discuss policy that will affect us and exclude us from the conversation. Border residents deserve to have a say in decisions that impact our communities. We expect a seat at the table with lawmakers to ensure that policies uphold our values.
Instead of meeting with law enforcement agencies, many of which are disconnected from our communities, Mr. Sessions should be meeting with us to get a better sense of what we need, which includes better schools, better infrastructure, and better healthcare. As a border resident, I can tell you that increased militarization and a wall are not on our list of needs.”
Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice Education Fund, reacted to Sessions’ visit, saying:
Attorney General Sessions is grandstanding at the border in an attempt to look tough and scare immigrants. It’s yet another example of the Trump Administration treating all immigrants as threats and as criminals. This is the smokescreen they use to justify their efforts to deport millions, to keep people out of the country, and, ultimately, to try and remake the racial and ethnic composition of America. The good news is this: Sessions isn’t going to win. He doesn’t understand how strong immigrants are, how powerful our nation’s values are, and how much support there is for immigrants in America.
Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), an advocacy group that visits immigrant detainees, has released data gleaned from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request pointing to widespread sexual and/or physical abuse of people in Department of Homeland Security detention.
The group has now filed a civil rights complaint. noting that the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General (DHS OIG) opened investigations into a total of 247 of 33,126 complaints lodged against its component agencies between January 2010 and July 2016.
A story at Think Progress includes the experience of R. Santos, a woman from the Dominican Republic brought to the U.S. as a child, and detained in 2013 following an arrest for petty theft.
Santos’ claims have some similarity to other allegations made by immigrants who reported being sexually abused by immigration officials. Her damning story comes one nearly a month after the American Civil Liberties Union advocacy group filed two administration claims on behalf of two sisters who said that a CBP agent sexually assaulted them in a closet-like space within a detention facility. The abuse extends to children too — five human rights groups filed a joint complaint on behalf of 116 kids who alleged abuse by border agents and officials. One in four children represented by the 2014 complaint reported that they were physically abused, sexually assaulted, beat, or made to sit in stress positions.
The complaint is concerning in part because President Donald Trump has signed an executive order to hire thousands of additional immigration agents, an issue that could lead to greater abuse. A 2013 Center for Investigative Reporting report found that thousands of would-be agents got to the last steps of the hiring process without polygraph screenings which became mandatory in 2013. Some prospective agents who did undergo the polygraph tests admitted to murder, bestiality, rape, and other crimes.
“Imagine these girls who doesn’t speak English, who are afraid to speak out and say something because they want to stay in the United States,” Santos said. “These are [immigration agents] who if you do something, [the girls] would stay quiet. I’m doing this for other girls who have to stay quiet.”
Looking for some action? Check out the Weekly Progressive Calendar, published every Friday in this space, featuring Demonstrations, Rallies, Teach-ins, Meet Ups and other opportunities to get your activism on.
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