Posted April 22, 2017
by Buddy Bell
Since taking office, President Donald Trump’s administration has continued to accelerate deportations of non-citizen U.S. residents, removing many of the stops former President Barack Obama had in place even while he himself was presiding over a record rate of deportations. Where formerly people with family deferments thought they were safe for the foreseeable future, now there is renewed fear. Work positions have gone empty, use of sick days has risen and English as a Second Language and GED programs have seen decreased attendance. Student absences at all grade levels have gone up, as parents opt to keep children at home.
Recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) were able to legally procure employment over the last five years, but Trump fired the opening salvo against their personal and labor security with the February arrest of Daniel Ramirez Medina. He was locked up in a Tacoma, Wash., jail after agents came to his home to arrest his father. The agents stated without offering evidence that Ramirez was a member of a gang. By the time he got a hearing, he had been incarcerated six weeks.
Since his arrest, more DACA recipients with no criminal record were arrested in Portland, Los Angeles, San Antonio, and Jackson, Miss. Another DACA recipient is currently being held in Phoenix after she and three friends chained themselves to the Arizona capitol just before the governor signed a bill into law that requires immigrants in prison to serve 85% of their sentence before being deported, up from 50%.
The Arizona bill comes in the wake of an announcement by Attorney General Jeff Sessions that he plans to continue awarding federal imprisonment contracts to private prison companies, something the U.S. Department of Justice stopped doing last year. In mid-April, Sessions declared that the department would hire 125 more judges over the next two years to preside over immigration cases. Most immigrant detainees are placed in private facilities. These national and state policies amount to a giant leap toward letting industries become supreme lawmaker and judge.
SANCTUARY CITIES SPREAD
Those municipalities that resist federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deputization of local police personnel and resources, known as sanctuary cities, are growing in number, despite Trump/Sessions promises to defund them of federal money. Cincinnati, Ohio, Ipswich, Mass., Malibu, Calif., Pleasant Hill, Calif., Salem, Mass., Santa Ana, Calif., Travis County, Texas (Austin), and Warrenton, Ore., have voted to become sanctuary cities so far this year, with Santa Ana pledging to phase out a lucrative contract with ICE which allows immigration detainees to be housed in the municipal jail. Also, Pasadena, Calif., added more protections to its sanctuary status after more than 100 people marched on city hall in late February. A new ordinance prohibits any local resources from being used to help ICE and limits police interaction with agents. In April, the city council of Lansing, Mich., declared sanctuary status, only to repeal the declaration two days later, caving to threats from a pending state bill that would withhold state funding. Similar bills are enacted or under consideration in Iowa, Mississippi, and Texas. In contrast, California is poised to become the first sanctuary state, with Massachusetts a possible second.
Strict border and immigration policies serve to exclude access to U.S. wealth and resources from those dispossessed by colonialism and capital’s tolerance for lucrative despotism. Zero-sum game thinking mixed with news of continuing mortal violence faced by more than five million Syrian refugees and 20 million people under famine in Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen has spurred much anti-refugee and anti-immigrant sentiment.
So, for example, when last year thousands of dark-skinned Haitian refugees came to Tijuana, the knee-jerk response of many Americans was to become defensive and entrench confidence in a strong border enforcement system. To this end, an aristocracy of labor has continued to develop, finding voice in the leadership of the border agent and customs police unions, and abetted by rank-and-file agents who take opportunities to go above and beyond the voracious bans and executive orders coming from Trump.
After the issuance of the first executive order banning admittance to the U.S. for nationals of seven Muslim-majority countries, border agents were jumping on the opportunity to pressure immigrants into signing documents saying they voluntarily give up their visas. On the border, agents are directed by their union to “obey now, grieve later” and to use extreme caution before declaring an exception, such as when an order is illegal.
The unions have lobbied successfully for the public hiring of 5,000 new border agents, a 25% increase in the force. Union officials constantly appear on radio and TV to advocate for more immigration prisons, courts, walls and fences. They get especially angry recounting cases where an asylum applicant is released to await trial at a relative’s home, rather than inside a detention center.
As for new sections of wall, 450 construction companies have submitted designs in a bidding process which is to see 20 prototypes built on federal land near San Diego in June, and the city’s lieutenant of police wishes to “work closely” with groups who plan to protest. An initial budget request to Congress allocates $1 billion to pay for 48 miles of wall in California and Texas, a rate of $118,000 per 30-foot square.
THE BORDER CROSSED THEM–HERE COMES THE WALL TO DO IT AGAIN
A century and a half ago, farmer-ranchers of Mexican descent in Texas, or “Tejanos,” found themselves crossed by the border and under the jurisdiction of a new country, one whose tax and inheritance laws were written in English. Most of them lost their land through the misunderstandings, added to vulture speculation and the elastic application of tax codes by European-American judges.
Now, the federal government has begun to mail property condemnation letters to people who live east of McAllen and along the Rio Grande. The river’s north bank is only buttressed by a wall in a handful of urban areas, but Trump wants to change that. The eminent domain seizures offer only about $2,400 per acre in this rural valley, where about 90% of residents are of Mexican ethnicity. On top of that only a 60-foot-wide strip of land is to be seized. Landowners will apparently go uncompensated for land that is to remain on the south side of the wall (in a particular case this would exceed 15 acres). Cotton and hay farmers are afraid they may also lose all access to the Rio Grande, a crucial source of water. Anyone who decides to file suit against the seizures might have to contend with 20 additional land acquisition attorneys, another earmark in Trump’s proposed federal budget.
For centuries, and up until the last few decades, people living in what is now the southwestern U.S. travelled back and forth freely, paddling and steaming along the Rio Bravo (Rio Grande), making seasonal migrations along trails between the Sonoran desert and highlands of Tucson, Ariz., or as far as Taos, N.M., between Upper and Lower California. Recently, non-citizens who would normally have gone back to a home country in the event of a wedding, holiday, or sickness and death in the family are instead staying in the U.S., and their relatives in other countries are not coming here.
The antagonistic atmosphere may even be keeping people from coming to the U.S. for temporary work, as the real and perceived risks outweigh the benefits. California’s winter deluge has resulted in a bumper crop of strawberries, and according to an industry journal many growers in the year-round agricultural state face a labor shortage. Likewise in Florida and the rest of the South, so growers in the Midwest are worried that many farmworkers may not bother to make their regular move north for the summer.
Meanwhile, H2-A temporary visas for guest workers are now being more highly scrutinized by USCIS. A recent announcement from the agency in March was also aimed at rooting out fraud in H1-B skilled work visas, which are common for the technology sector and the frequent subject of lawsuits brought by technology workers’ unions.
Even the highly educated and government-connected are not immune from visa discrimination, as was seen when the University of Southern California held their annual African Summit. An estimated 100 attendees and speakers were denied visas, including everyone from the African continent! A list of nationalities of the rejected attendees includes Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and South Africa. An international conference planned for next year by a professor at the Center for Persian Studies at the University of California Irvine will likely be relocated to Canada. Iran (Persia) is one of the countries named in both versions of Trump’s Muslim ban, and the Iranian government has instituted a respective ban on the entry of American nationals.
STRIKES, PROTESTS CHALLENGE CASTE-RIDDEN EXPLOITATIVE SOCIETY
The discrimination and violence faced by immigrants present a challenge to the Left, labor and the rest of humanity. It must be clear that all human beings deserve to reorganize society so that they can meet their needs of survival, and so they may have free association with others and use their own labor to produce what is needed and desirable. Viewed through the lens of capital and further refracted in reliance on the nation-state, this vision is obscured and seems only possible for a few.
Attempts by unions to reduce the number of arriving workers lets the U.S. counteract capital’s declining rate of profit through a system where the low prices of everyday commodities (with a lower caste outside the U.S. forced to work cheaply) allow U.S. corporations to continue extracting more and more of the value of U.S. workers’ labor power without compensating it fully. Some of the lower caste of workers may actually be located inside the U.S., but without full rights and living in fear.
There are people who wish to negate this nightmare rather than accommodate. In the first few months of this year, there have been innumerable and accelerated efforts by community organizations to encourage non-citizens to “know your rights” and an increasing number of attorney networks are offering pro-bono help to those who encounter legal hang-ups. A mobile app called Relaid has become popular that allows people to report police roadblocks and checkpoints and receive updates via text message.
Human rights advocates have done their own blocking of roads to protest raids, like in Los Angeles where the street in front of an ICE detention center was blocked for two hours. Further protests specifically against raids have been seen in Chicago, San Antonio, Texas, Fairfax, Va., and New York, where in April protesters occupied the atrium of Trump Tower to declare “No Ban, No Wall, No Raids!”
In recent weeks, hundreds of immigrant prisoners in Tacoma, Wash., have maintained a hunger strike, with dozens of supporters camped out in front of the detention center. Prisoners decry very poor conditions, including insufficient quantity and quality of food, delays of several months in trials (with detention companies making more money all the way), and the inability to defend legal cases while one is forced to endure multiple transfers without the ability to retain papers and other property.
On Feb. 16, immigrants staged a nationwide “Day without an Immigrant” in which they did not show up for work. In cities, some attended a pro-immigrant march instead. More than 100 participants of the campaign were fired, and a case before the National Labor Relations Board will eventually decide whether the firings were legal. Meanwhile, similar actions are planned for May 1, International Workers’ Day.
These strikes and protests give the lie to “rule of law” arguments that act as a smokescreen to conceal two and a half centuries of invasion, slavery, and colonial market expansion. They hint at a new society in the formation of becoming, a movement where temporary and limited rights are defended but not settled for, where each subsequent negation is worked out with a common goal to expand human freedom.