From the September-October 2019 issue of News & Letters
Children thrown into walls, subject to painful physical restraints, confinement in dark closets, sweltering or freezing cold cells, no bedding save a foil sheet that can be taken away as collective punishment, medical neglect, forced injections, no fruits or vegetables, no ability to wash, no diapers, induced miscarriage, minors housed with adult strangers, sexual predation by staff, inconsistent background checks of employees, and strip searches. These are among the horrors that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) continues to exact upon women, men, and children after they cross the border.
ICE—TERRORISTS AND TORTURERS
People in 700 U.S. cities, fed up with abuses of immigrants in detention and the repeated threats of raids, manifested in street marches July 12-15. At least 5,000 marched through downtown Chicago to ICE headquarters chanting “Abolish ICE!” At an ICE facility in Aurora, Colo., 2,000 people held a candlelight vigil under the campaign “Lights for Liberty.” Fifty people were arrested in Manhattan when they blocked the intersection of 5th Avenue and 42nd Street.
Youth activist Daniela Alulema told the North Jersey Record: “Raids didn’t happen to the scale [we] were expecting, but just the fear of knowing it could happen really terrorizes and traumatizes people.”
Trump and his administration see an advantage to stoking fear in segments of the population while demoralizing the rest by demonstrating the supposed futility of their voices. It’s a method of usurping and wielding power they don’t have a prayer of getting through a popular mandate. The mantra they intend to propagate: We’ll be coming for you.
The threats double as a rallying cry for the few who are invigorated by today’s anti-humanism—the promises to reinforce the race and class wall between servants and served. Two young white men tragically believed their massacres of Latinx people on July 28 in Gilroy, Calif., and on Aug. 3 in El Paso, Texas, were virtuous duty. Fitting any honest definition of terrorism, these murderous rampages are only the latest in a long line. But, despite 52 federal laws against domestic terror, right-wing violence has hardly been the object of investigation.
‘I’M GOING TO GET UP AND FIGHT BACK!’
Almost immediately, activists in El Paso held a protest on Aug. 5 and again in larger numbers on Aug. 10, chanting, “Enough is enough!” and “El Paso strong!” Jessica Coca Garcia, a survivor of the El Paso shooting, told NBC the gunman “may have paralyzed us for a little bit…but I’m going to get up and fight back.” Several thousand people filled a baseball stadium on Aug. 14 to attend a program whose overarching theme was “love will triumph over hatred.”
As the nation reeled from the shootings—as well as three more on Aug. 5 in Chicago and Dayton, Ohio—ICE raided seven poultry factories in Mississippi to remove 680 undocumented workers from their families on Aug. 7, the first day of school. Ten days later, 40 workers were criminally charged, but no business owners. On Aug. 11, 50 children of detained workers marched around the county courthouse to say, “Our parents are not criminals.”
Such is the perversion of language that racialized people are called “criminals” for any petty infraction. Their children are called “future gang members.” On Aug. 15, it was necessary for a court to strike down a Trump lawyer’s interpretation that the statute “safe and sanitary” does not require ICE to provide immigrant detainees with toothbrushes and soap.
Many Jews in the U.S. recognize the ICE facilities and camps as a “warning sign” raising the specter of the Holocaust. Holocaust remembrance group Yad Vashem explains that on the way to consolidating power in 1933, Nazi Germany had already set up such “concentration camps,” precursors to what were to be termed death or extermination camps.
‘“NEVER AGAIN” MEANS QUIT YOUR JOB!’
Over 1,000 Jewish Americans with Never Again Action surrounded ICE headquarters in Washington, DC. They sang in Hebrew and Spanish while locking arms and blocking the entry. When yelled at by employees, demonstrators proffered the truth that nobody wants to hear: “Never Again means quit your job.” Since July, Never Again Action has been challenging the existence of ICE by protesting outside its offices in at least 25 U.S. cities.
Resistance to racial hatred keeps re-emerging, along with resistance to oppression in the workplace. In 2018, more U.S. workers went on strike than in any other year since 1986. The strikes span every sector: manufacturing, education, health, and transportation, including gig and formal workers. They overflow the bulwarks of official union bureaucracy.
Is it any coincidence that members of Congress—beholden to corporations—keep failing to effectively confront Trump on his depraved statements and actions against poor people and people of color? Were Mississippi workers raided because they had organized to win a sexual harassment lawsuit against the employer, Koch Foods?
Capitalists at Microsoft have got to be nervous as their workers now consider the fundamental question of what kind of work humans are meant to do, coming out as they did with a declaration of “grave responsibility…to ensure what [we] build is used for good, and not for harm.” Last spring, Google dropped a contract with the Defense Department to develop 3D mapping for military drones; in August its workers were petitioning the company not to bid for a data storage contract with ICE.
Reclaiming one’s work for human ends is an essential step toward creating a new society on human terms, but it’s a false step if only available to a few tech workers. The true power of the pressure campaigns lies in their potential to open this path to all, to both immigrant poultry workers and working-class Trump voters. All of them remain in a precarious state while the needs of capitalism reign over human survival. “We’ll be coming for you” begins with the immigrants of color but will not end there.