Donald Trump’s planned massive round-up of undocumented immigrants will place America in the category of a full-blown, ethically bankrupt, dictatorship. That the United States should oversee a nationwide sweep reminiscent of other historical terrors – the 1565 Huguenot massacre in France, the jackboots of Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union, the countless mass expulsions that invariably involve wide-spread violence – defiles all of us who live here.
Deportation of immigrants did not start with Trump, of course. Barack Obama deported at least 2.5 million people during his two terms, and George W. Bush topped out at just over two million. However, Trump’s plan is far more sweeping than Bush and Obama’s, although that does not excuse the two previous presidents. The steep rise in deportations under Bush and Obam represents a convergence of bad policy decisions: the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986; an increase in border detainees, i.e., non-residents, sent back to their home countries soon after arrest; and an arcane rule requiring Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to hold an average of 34,000 immigrants in detention at any given time. This led ICE to dig deeper into the immigrant population to maintain the so-called “bed quota”. Whatever the flaws in the Bush/Obama approaches, they did not target the great majority of undocumented immigrants, those who had established lives in the US.
Ironically, “illegal crossings from Mexico have fallen to a “near-historic low” and more Mexicans are actually leaving the US for Mexico than heading north, giving the lie to Trump’s rants about criminals streaming across the border. The shortage of new illegal immigrants has perversely led the ICE to “reach(ing) deeper into the criminal justice system to vacuum up foreign-born, legal U.S. residents convicted of any crimes that could render them eligible for deportation.” Elsewhere, I have written about the many veterans – long-term U.S. residents – deported after they committed non-violent crimes often brought on by PTSD incurred on the battlefield. The term “criminal” under Trump’s plan can apply to traffic violations and mere suspicion of criminal intent, yet they are enough to get long-term residents torn from their families and banished from the country whose wars they fought.
Trump’s plan dwarfs anything envisioned by previous administrations. It would unleash the police and military to penetrate every level of American society in a quest to eradicate a fictitious threat. Once the night is filled with sirens and boots on the stairs, once one’s neighbors and co-workers and employees just vanish into a bureaucratic nowhere land, once we infect society with the fear of wondering who might be next, we are no longer Americans. For all the government abuses and corruption of our government, people still resisted, still felt the Bill of Rights as the core of who we are, or if not that, who we might become. Trump and his sociopathic sidekick Bannon would end all that. How incomprehensible yet how inevitable: we have been on this path ever since the Patriot Act was passed and renewed by a Congress and Presidents either too cynical or timid to oppose it.
The proposed mass detention of immigrants means one of three things. Trump and his advisors 1) aim to fulfill his insidious, racist campaign pledges; 2) plan to backtrack from the most extreme position and under the guise of compromise destroy a million lives instead of five or ten million; or 3) foresee widespread resistance that can be turned into “police riots” or other such provocations that lead them to declare martial law or a state of emergency.
Resistance is vital. The extreme right-wing fear this, which is why the Dakota Pipeline protests were met with such a heavily militarized response. Even more insidious are the bills introduced into at least eleven state legislatures authorizing the seizure of arrested protesters’ assets. This is blatantly unconstitutional and provides extra-legal motivation for the police to create conditions that would lead to mass arrests. But it shows how deeply Trump and his supporters fear a repeat of the Women’s March or the airport protests over the travel ban.
If the immigration sweep goes as planned, many will protest on behalf of – and protect – those people targeted by the government. Social media will play a major role in alerting us to the presence of law encroachment, – I mean law enforcement – agencies preparing for mass arrests.
The sanctuary movement adds another dimension to the “sweep”. Already, many religious institutions, towns, counties, and states are active sanctuaries that obstruct attempts by the ICE and other federal agencies to arrest immigrants. California, Connecticut, Colorado, and New Mexico; New York City, Boston, L.A., San Francisco, Denver and a host of other cities; 23 of Iowa’s 99 counties; 29 of Oregon’s 36 counties; Dallas County, Texas; and over 200 other political entities have declared themselves sanctuaries. By my very rough estimate, these political units include 25-30% of the nation’s population. And many of those who disagree with the sanctuary idea will not want a massive federal military presence in their communities.
Sanctuaries have only as much legal status as the government allows. Thus a church or campus sanctuary can be legally breached by local police; the federal government can ignore sanctuary declarations by states or cities. Imagine the confrontations between millions of targeted immigrants and their countless allies and the soldiers, agents, and police sent to round them up. It would be a civil catastrophe from which this nation will not recover.
It wouldn’t be the only catastrophe. Trump’s planned round-up will be a devastating blow to the economy. The vast majority of immigrants are employed in jobs disdained by many non-immigrants. They make this country work, as Georgia discovered when it banned immigrant farm labor and crops rotted in the field. Trump’s plan will have a similar, more devastating effect. Immigrants are also among our most innovative and entrepreneurial people, having founded 51% of our billion-dollar start-ups.
This entire issue has been distorted into an ugly hate-fest by the smear campaign Trump ran to win the presidency. The yahoos whom he whipped into a wall-building frenzy at his rallies may be hurting economically but that’s no excuse for a descent into racism and scapegoating, which are basically pitiful expressions of self-loathing. Trump, like any cheap demagogue, is in love with his own delusions and can’t stand it when others don’t embrace them.
When last week a 26-year-old woman in the hospital for emergency treatment of a brain tumor was seized by ICE agents, and chained and transported to a detention facility, we know something is terribly wrong here.
On the other hand, hope and inspiration are irrepressible. Again, last week, the newly-elected sheriff of Harris County (which includes Houston and at 4,000,000 + is the third most populous US county), Ed Gonzalez withdrew his men from a joint program with ICE. Compliance with legally questionable, morally reprehensible government policies need not be automatic. Courage, compassion, common sense, and commitment can repel fear, hate, rage, and force. If Trump moves ahead with this sick plan, all of us, whatever our political views, will face a momentous choice.