Trump accelerates attacks on immigrants

February 2, 2018
A protest against limitations on the Temporary Protected Status of Salvadorans and Haitians, in Miami, Florida, last year.

In his now infamous statement on immigration last month, Trump expressed his views clearly: He doesn’t want immigrants from “shithole” countries in Africa, Haiti and El Salvador — Black and Latina — to be let into the US.

On the other hand, he wants to encourage immigrants from predominantly white nations like Norway.

This comes on top of his blocking of immigrants from six Muslim nations, his reference to immigrants from Mexico as “rapists” and “drug smugglers”, his attacks on Black Lives Matter protesters and much more.

His Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency is stepping up deportations of immigration rights activists and undocumented individuals.

His singling out of El Salvador and Haiti was also to buttress his recent decisions to revoke the refugee status of immigrants from them already in the US. These immigrants were given refugee status under a program called Temporary Protected Status (TPS) signed into law in 1990.

Nearly 200,000 people from El Salvador were allowed to live and work in the US under TPS after a pair of devastating earthquakes struck their country in 2001. Now Trump has left them in legal limbo — subject to deportation.

Trump has done the same to nearly 60,000 people from Haiti, allowed into the country under TPS after the devastating 2010 earthquake.

Living and working in the US for years, refugees from El Salvador and Haiti also send much-needed money back to relatives in their home countries.

Among the immigration rights activists recently rounded up by ICE are Jean Montrevil from Haiti and Ravi Ragbir from Trinidad, respectively. Montrevil had lived in the US for more than 30 years, Ragbir for more than 25. Both had “green cards” that allowed them to live and work in the US.

Ragbir is the executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition, and Montrevil an activist in the group. Both had been targeted by Trump.

They were grabbed by ICE agents, although Ragbir was saved from immediate deportation after supporters succeeded in bringing his case before a judge. District Judge Katherine Forrest called Ragbir’s detention “unnecessarily cruel”. She said he had “the freedom to say goodbye”, and compared his treatment to that of “regimes we revile as unjust”.

Ragbir still faces deportation, as Forrest said ICE has the legal authority to deport him under a law was signed by then-president Bill Clinton in 1996.  One particularly harsh measure in that law allowed for green card holders to be deported for “crimes” committed before 1996.

This law amounts to double jeopardy. Both Montrevil and Ragbir were convicted of minor offences long before 1996, and served their sentences. They are now being penalised again for the same offences.

Ragbir is in the process of seeking to overturn his conviction, which was based on false evidence. He was due in court in early February when ICE decided to act to have him deported before his hearing.

Immigration activists are being targeted across the country. Sandra Lopez is a Mexican mother of three who has been living in the US for 20 years. She was forced to seek sanctuary in a Unitarian church in Colorado last October. Ingrid Latorre, from Peru, also sought sanctuary in Colorado in October.

On the day Ragbir was detained, Latorre’s husband, Eliseo Jurado, was arrested by ICE. In Seattle, ICE sent a “notice to appear” to Maru Villalpando, who has been in the country for 25 years and leads an immigrant rights group.

“ICE is really sending us a message to stop our political activity,” said Villalpeando.

Towards the end of his administration, Barack Obama granted temporary reprieve from deportation for undocumented immigrants brought into the country as children by their parents. They were allowed to work and attend school legally, giving hope to about 800,000 immigrants who signed up for this program.

But the program had to be renewed every two years. Trump has refused to do so. This has created legal turmoil for these people, known as “Dreamers” for their desire to stay in the US. Many Dreamers have been deported.

Trump has now proposed to Congress to reinstate the program and even provide a multi-year path for citizenship for the Dreamers. However, he linked this measure to Congress providing the multi-billion dollars in funds needed to build his proposed wall along the US-Mexican border and further restrictions to legal immigration.

The proposal was drawn up by Trump’s fiercely anti-immigration senior policy advisor Stephen Miller, on the extreme right wing of the Republican Party. It is unlikely to go anywhere, as many Democrats do not want to be seen as supporting Trump’s more extreme anti-immigrant measures.

The proposal is also opposed by the far right of the Republican Party, egged on by alt-right site Breitbart News, for offering Dreamers a pathway to citizenship.

The whole proposal is simply a cynical ploy. Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi denounced Trump for trying “to make America white again”.

But the US is already “white” today and always has been — in the sense that Blacks, Latinos and other people of colour are racially oppressed by “white America”, with the overwhelmingly white ruling class at the top. It is not a question of numbers — many of the slave states of the Confederacy had more African slaves than white people. It is question of power.

Trump wants to further beat back gains made by Blacks and others in the civil rights movements of the 1950s and ’60s — a goal the ruling class has been pursuing since the 1970s.   

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