In response to huge public outcry against his policy of forcibly separating children from immigrant parents seeking asylum, United States President Donald Trump issued an executive order on July 20 to halt the separations.
A victory? Not so fast.
In his executive order, Trump also reaffirmed his “zero tolerance” policy of dealing with asylum seekers who cross the border from Mexico and immediately turn themselves in to Border Patrol agents to begin the process of obtaining asylum.
These mothers and fathers, as well as their children, are fleeing situations of extreme danger in Central America that are largely the result of US policies and actions (but that is a whole other topic).
These asylum seekers did not “sneak” across the border with their children. Crossing the Rio Grande river (between Mexico and Texas, in the United States) on rubber tyres and other homemade rafts, in full view of Border Patrol agents, to turn themselves in is hardly a subterfuge.
“Zero tolerance” has resulted in tearing children from their parents.
Under this policy, anyone who crosses the border without papers, for any reason, is labelled a “criminal” and jailed, with no possibility of posting bail. Those with children are immediately separated from them, since the children are not charged with a crime.
But the children are sent to different jails, called “detention centres”, all across the country, often far from where their parents are held.
The Trump administration says that these “lawbreakers” should have applied for asylum at sites just over the border. But Border Patrol does not allow them to reach those sites since they do not have the papers required to enter the country.
Obtaining visas at US embassies in their home countries is almost impossible for working class and peasant families — and potentially dangerous to do so.
So there is a flat-out contradiction between “zero tolerance” and Trump’s statement that the children should be reunited with their parents. No wonder that officials charged with doing both are flailing around, saying contradictory things, while the situation on the ground has hardly changed since Trump’s executive order.
The few instances where children have been reunited have largely been the result of a growing group of lawyers who have begun to fight for these victims of US “justice.”
In Trump’s executive order, he proposes a solution to the contradiction. As two of these lawyers, Brad Karp and Gary Wingens, explain in an op-ed in the June 26 New York Times: “President Trump’s recent executive order ending the unlawful and immoral policy of separating children from their parents advances another, equally lawless policy: prolonging the detention of families seeking asylum.”
To do this, Trump proposes scrapping a 1997 court ruling that children cannot be detained longer than 20 days. The only way to square this with stopping the separation of children would be to keep the children with their parents in jail — indefinitely.
On June 24, he proposed another solution: “When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no judges or court cases, bring them back from where they came.”
Many have pointed out that both “solutions” are unconstitutional and violate due process. Trump, who does not give a rat’s arse about the Constitution or due process, is pressing forward.
Muslim ban ruling
Trump’s position has in fact just been declared constitutional by a June 26 Supreme Court ruling. This was in a ruling on another aspect of Trump’s immigration policy: his Muslim ban. In a five to four decision, the court upheld the Muslim ban.
The reasoning that the court gave for doing so directly relates to this case. The court said that the president has unbounded authority in deciding how to control the borders. That is now the law of the land.
It would now be constitutional for Trump to move ahead with immediately sending asylum seekers and their children back to their home countries, without any judicial review.
The Supreme Court ruling codifies a big step forward for Trump’s drive to consolidate an authoritarian government with the trappings of bourgeois democracy, like the present Hungarian government under Viktor Orbán, another racist hater of immigrants.
No wonder Trump hails it as a great victory for himself.
Plans to implement Trump’s first solution are already underway, with Trump ordering the armed forces to set up detention centres equipped to house 20,000 people on military bases. These could house immigrant families and their children.
More ominously, Trump could just ignore his own ruling and house children separated from their parents in those facilities, while deporting their parents.
Whatever steps Trump takes, children will remain locked up and not be reunited with their parents. Some parents have already been deported while their children remain in the US.
Despite White House claims that authorities kept careful records of which child belonged to whom, this is widely disbelieved except among Trump’s white racist base.
Given the opaqueness of the government on the issue, and its lies and contradictory statements, such disbelief is justified.
Moreover, it is highly unlikely that any such records were ever kept, since the administration has stated that its goal of separating the children was meant to discourage asylum seekers, with the hope to eventually place the children in foster homes — in the US.
Since his July 20 order, Trump has intensified his anti-immigrant rhetoric, saying that immigrants are “invading” and “infesting” the country, and that they are killers, rapists and dope dealers.
To drive home his point, he staged a media event with people he said were victims of crimes committed by immigrants.
Moreover, the wider attack on immigrants by the Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency have accelerated, with raids on workplaces and other sites sweeping up immigrants without papers into the deportation pipeline.
Protests in the past two weeks have been held at ICE offices across the country. They are growing bigger and more militant.
There have been ongoing “Occupy ICE” encampments blockading ICE facilities in New York, Los Angeles, Portland and Tacoma.
There was a demonstration at the tent city housing migrant children in Tornilla, Texas. Thousands marched in San Diego, California, near the Mexican border. In McAllen, Texas, protesters temporarily blocked a bus carrying migrant children off to no one knows where, chanting “set the children free!”
A previously largely unheard demand, for the abolition of ICE, is becoming more popular. It is even being embraced by some Democrats, to the consternation of the Democratic establishment whose members in Congress have regularly voted to fund ICE.
Another manifestation of the growing anger has been spontaneous mass shaming of administration officials when they appear in public.
Jonathan Martin, in the June 26 New York Times wrote: “In recent days, as institutional Democrats wring their hands … [furious activists] and citizens have taken matters into their own hands beyond the corridors of power.
“Progressives have heckled the homeland security secretary, Kirsten Nielsen, and the White House aide Stephen Miller at Washington restaurants. They have ejected the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, from a Lexington, [Virginia], eatery. And they have screamed at one of Mr. Trump’s leading cable news surrogates, Florida’s attorney general, at a movie theatre.
“‘Let’s make sure we show up wherever we have to show up’ Representative Maxine Walters, Democrat of California, said … at a rally in Los Angeles. ‘And if you see anybody from [Trump’s] cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd. And you push back on them. And you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere’.”
These remarks by Waters, who is African American, did not sit well with the Democratic establishment. Nancy Pelosi, leading Democrat in the House, and Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate, were quick to denounce her.
The road forward is not to look to the capitalist Democratic and Republican parties for a solution to this crisis — for they have none.
The task now is to extend and enlarge the protests underway, joining the shouts levelled at the Trump surrogates of “Shame! Shame! Shame!” for what has been a cruel and evil attack on asylum seekers and their children.