by Buddy Bell
“There was a horrible smell, they were sleeping on concrete because there’s not enough room for cots. It was hot. They were hungry.” So reported CNN’s White House correspondent after she toured a McAllen, Tex., Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility with Vice President Mike Pence. Terrible as her description is, more details in recent but mostly unreported court testimony offer a fuller picture of the horror exacted upon adults, women and children simply for crossing a border. Children thrown into walls, subject to painful physical restraints, confinement in dark closets, sweltering or freezing cold cells, no bedding save a foil sheet, foil sheets taken away as collective punishment, medical neglect, forced injections, no fruit/vegetables, no ability to wash, no diapers, induced miscarriage, minors housed with strange adults, sexual predation by staff, inconsistent background checks of employees, and unnecessary strip searches are among the examples.
Superimposed on these conditions came a week of widespread rumor that massive ICE raids were planned for July 14. After the date passed, 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.” Mario Cabrera, immigration activist in Los Angeles, told CNN: “Lying to us could be part of the game.”
It is no secret that President Trump receives support from white supremacist groups, whose power resides primarily in the fear of what they are capable of. Their mantra: we’ll be coming for you.
Trump revels in breaking the law, while his administration defends its lawless camps as “upholding the rule of law.” In July, he claimed he could reinstitute a census citizenship question struck down by the Supreme Court, then told government lawyers to reinterpret the definition of “safe and sanitary” detention to exclude toothbrushes and soap.
People in 700 U.S. cities, fed up with abuses of immigrants in detention and the repeated threats of raids, manifested in mass marches July 12-13. 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.” On the following Monday, 50 people were arrested after blocking the intersection of 5th Avenue and 42nd street in Manhattan.
These actions closely follow 200 nationwide actions which were held on or shortly after July 1, when progressive members of Congress, many of them elected to their first term last year, visited the detention centers and rightly called them “concentration camps.” The Salt Lake Tribune’s June 22 editorial rang out: “Yes, we do have concentration camps.” The mainstream media was finally forced to address the use of this term, which refers to selective enforcement and detention based on race or nationality. California youth group VietRISE asks: “What kind of society and what kind of nation do we live in where such conditions are acceptable?”
Jews in the U.S. recognized the camps as a “warning sign” raising the specter of the Holocaust. Over 1,000 Jewish Americans with Never Again Action surrounded ICE headquarters in Washington, DC, on July 16. They sang in Hebrew and Spanish while locking arms and preventing the entry of ICE employees for hours. When yelled at by some of the employees, demonstrators chanted the hard truth that nobody wants to hear: “Never Again means quit your job.”
A modern campaign of scapegoating could soon be powered by biometric data processing and facial recognition technology engineered by Microsoft and Amazon. Since June 2018, engineers in both companies have protested the companies’ contracts with ICE. A statement signed by 100 Microsoft tech workers declared, “we…recognize the grave responsibility…to ensure what [we] build is used for good, and not for harm.” The demand to cut off cooperation with ICE was also present in the six-hour strike that took place at an Amazon mega-center in Shakopee, Minn., on July 15. The strikers were supported by street protests in nine other cities.
What makes the attacks on immigrants so dangerous is that millions of white citizens support Trump and willingly swallow his racist lies. A portion of the working class sees Trump as fighting for their interests, even though his administration is packed with rich elites who, with Congressional Republicans and some wealthy Democrats, pushed through tax “reforms” that punish the working class while rewarding billionaires and corporations—as well as deregulation that helps capitalists poison workers, children and poor people, and which worsens the impact of climate change already hurting everyone from coastal dwellers to the homeless to Midwest farmers.
Callous immigration policies and racist rhetoric are ramping up at the same time as low-wage workers—including those in the “gig economy”—are organizing, and after more workers went on strike last year than in any single year since 1986. But labor will remain on the defensive until all workers, including white workers, recognize that it is in their own interest to fight back against the system of concentration camps, raids and super-exploitation of the undocumented. “We’ll be coming for you” begins with the immigrants of color but will not end there.
–July 21, 2019