The ‘gloves are off’ is a terrible thing to say to anybody with a gun and a badge
By Doug Porter
We’re already seeing glimpses of what ‘empowered’ agencies charged with immigration enforcement will look like in the Trump era, and it’s not a pretty sight.
What seems to be clear at this point is that some enforcement personnel in Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Border Patrol (two separate agencies, both in Homeland security) aren’t even waiting for the official go-ahead.
San Diego has been lucky–thus far– when it comes to the negative impact of recent executive orders on immigration and refugees. I suspect the reticence of the local ‘migra’ forces may have something to do with the potential for civil unrest as much as anything else.
Other areas of the country have seen glimpses of the brutal inhumanity inherent in this administration’s policies. And the re-issuance of the ‘Muslim Ban’ expected on Wednesday will likely bring more bad news to travelers in airports around the country.
Over the weekend, the Huffington Post reported that authorities police in Santa Cruz are considering halting cooperation with the feds following “a betrayal of trust” in which ICE, the local cops claim, was deliberately dishonest about the purpose of a supposed gang raid that instead targeted undocumented migrants.
Background: Cold As ICE
Let’s start with the New York Times article, where fearful government employees described what they were seeing:
A whirlwind of activity has overtaken ICE headquarters in Washington in recent weeks, with employees attending back-to-back meetings about how to quickly carry out President Trump’s plans. “Some people are like: ‘This is great. Let’s give them all the tools they need,’” said a senior staff member at headquarters, who joined the department under the administration of George W. Bush.
But, the official added, “other people are a little bit more hesitant and fearful about how quickly things are moving.”
Two officials in Washington said that the shift — and the new enthusiasm that has come with it — seems to have encouraged pro-Trump political comments and banter that struck the officials as brazen or gung-ho, like remarks about their jobs becoming “fun.” Those who take less of a hard line on unauthorized immigrants feel silenced, the officials said.
Man Down at the Border Patrol
First up for new administration–and the union that endorsed the incoming president–was to fire Border Patrol Chief Mark Morgan, the man put in place to bring a semblance of order to an agency tainted with charges of corruption and excessive use of force.
From the Associated Press:
Morgan was named to the post in June and took office in October. The former FBI agent briefly led the internal affairs department at the Border Patrol’s parent agency before heading the agency of roughly 20,000 agents.
Gil Kerlikowske, who hired Morgan when he was commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said he wasn’t surprised about the leadership change and added: “I have nothing but good and positive things to say about him.”
From the start, Morgan clashed with the Border Patrol’s union, which had advocated for an insider to lead the agency and sharply criticized Morgan at almost every turn.
In San Diego, where the Border Patrol (as opposed to ICE) is said to be mostly reasonable, union leaders are believed to have been responsible for leaking information to anti-immigrant groups about buses carrying refugees from Central America detained at the border.
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Robert Mackey detailed the group’s political stances in an article at the Intercept:
The political leanings of the unions, which both endorsed Trump during his campaign for the presidency, might help explain the extreme reluctance of immigration officers at the nation’s airports to comply with court orders requiring them to give detained travelers access to legal counsel…
…There is little doubt about the extremely conservative politics of Chris Crane, a federal officer who leads the union that represents most deportation agents, the National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council. A string of news articles praising him on his union’s website come almost entirely from one source: Breitbart, the conservative website popular with white nationalists.
He is also a close ally of Senator Jeff Sessions, the Alabama Republican now in line to be Attorney General. In 2012, Sessions brought Crane to a news conference so that he could denounce then-President Barack Obama’s policy of deferred action for childhood arrivals, which protected undocumented residents who came to the United States as children from deportation and allowed them to apply for work permits.
Not ‘Fun:’ Fear and Loathing
This “fun” started with departures from normal practices under the Obama administration, like detaining people outside church sanctuaries, after a domestic-abuse hearing, or from hospitals, or immigrants with a work permit.
Even in the relative safety of San Diego we now see a climate where migrant families are terrified to stray even as far as their corner store. This Associated Press video interview with local businessman Mark Lane gives a good sense of the palpable fear these days.
Then there were the airport detentions during the first few days following the original (Not a) Muslim Ban.
People paid with our tax dollars felt empowered to handcuff a 5-year-old child, separate him from his mother and detain him alone for several hours at Dulles airport. A woman from Somalia, traveling with her two children–both US citizens was held for 20 hours without food and remaining handcuffed even while using the bathroom.
A 65-year-old woman traveling from Qatar to visit her son, who is a U.S. citizen and serviceman stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C was held at JFK Airport for more than 33 hours, according to the New York Times, and denied use of a wheelchair.
Federal employees felt empowered enough to deny court orders allowing for attorneys to visit those detained in several airports.
A Religious Test?
The son of the late Muhammad Ali was detained for two hours in Fort Lauderdale a few weeks back as he was returning from an event in Jamaica honoring Black History Month. He’s a US Citizen with a valid passport who travels frequently and never had difficulty entering the country prior to January 20.
He was repeatedly asked about his Muslim faith, according to a report in the Courier-Journal. Since asking those types of questions would amount to a religious test — one of the few things explicitly barred in the U.S. Constitution— the authorities have denied asking those types of questions.
A prominent French historian was wrongfully detained by Customs and Border Patrol agents for 10 hours after arriving in Houston from Paris to Houston on his way to attend an academic symposium at Texas A&M. Henry Russo, whose family fled Egypt in 1956 to escape the persecution of Jews, was admitted only after the university mobilized its lawyers.
“A best-selling Australian children’s book writer said she was traumatized and ‘sobbed like a baby’’ after being wrongfully detained and aggressively questioned by US border control officials in Los Angeles,” reports the Boston Globe. Mem Fox was also on her way to speak at a symposium and held after she was incorrectly charged with holding an improper visa.
Passengers arriving on a Delta Airlines domestic flight from San Francisco to JFK Airport were told by flight attendants they would have to show “their documents” to CBP agents waiting as they deplaned. Federal officials later confirmed they were acting on a tip — which didn’t pan out — about an immigrant facing deportation aboard the plane.
And those are just the cases making the news over the past weekend.
They’re Only Human(?)
Chris Edelson penned a Baltimore Sun op-ed following the first chaotic weekend of the (not a) Muslim Ban discussing the reality of human beings asked to carry out the policies of the Trump administration.
The men and women who reportedly handcuffed small children and the elderly, separated a child from his mother and held others without food for 20 hours, are undoubtedly “ordinary” people. What I mean by that, is that these are, in normal circumstances, people who likely treat their neighbors and co-workers with kindness and do not intentionally seek to harm others. That is chilling, as it is a reminder that authoritarians have no trouble finding the people they need to carry out their acts of cruelty. They do not need special monsters; they can issue orders to otherwise unexceptional people who will carry them out dutifully.
This should not be a surprise. The famous Milgram experiment and subsequent studies suggest that many people will obey instructions from an authority figure, even if it means harming another person. It is also perfectly understandable (which does not mean it is justifiable). How many of us would refuse to follow an instruction from a superior at work? It is natural to want to keep one’s job, even if at the price of inflicting cruelty on another human being, even perhaps a child.
The question we need to ask ourselves is: What will we do? This is not a hypothetical question. Most of us will not face the stark choice employees at airports faced over the weekend. But we are all democratic citizens. Ultimately, our government can only act if we allow it to act.
Just Following Orders
I was inspired by–and borrowed heavily from–a Sunday column by Will Bunch at the Philadelphia Inquirer-Daily News in writing today’s column, so I’ll hand the closing duties over to him:
People need to wake up — because this situation is going downhill, very fast. The idea of America as a shining city on the hill and a global beacon for human rights is slipping past the point of no return. Trump has been president for just 37 days, and we are becoming a global pariah. Overseas travel to the United States is dropping rapidly. In India, the front pages of major newspapers are plastered with articles about the apparent hate-crime murder in Kansas of two Indian-American engineers — a travesty about which our ever-tweeting president has remained silent. Today’s shocking vandalism against a Jewish cemetery right here in Philadelphia is just the latest headline that has the world asking: What has happened to America.
There is a time for good people to speak up, and that time is not six months from now, when things have really spiraled out of control. The time is now. Call your congressman or senator, or call the inspector general for ICE or CPB to investigate these policing practices, or write a letter to the editor, or make a sign and stand out in the street. Homeland security officers are your neighbors, perhaps even your friend or a family member. Let them know and understand know that a nation where immigration officers are wantonly violating people’s rights is not the America that you’ve known, and not the America you want to live in.
Here’s a link to the ACLU’s Know Your Rights flyer on dealing with immigration agents.
Here’s a link to the Indivisible Guide on responding to the refugee/immigration crisis with tips on what you can do in your community.
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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