Here’s where we are: A few months ago, a president who lost the popular vote introduced a “zero tolerance” policy for undocumented immigrants. In order to implement it, its attorney general – a man with a known history of racism – began to detain and prosecute all immigrants and asylum seekers who illegally crossed the southwestern border. Armed officers forcibly separated immigrant parents from their children, some as young as 3 months old, and reclassified them as unaccompanied minors. The children were placed in wire cages, foster homes, tent camps and detention centers. Some of the parents were deported without their children. Others have been pressured to give up their asylum claims in exchange for the return of their children. At least one asylum-seeking father has committed suicide. The administration failed to keep proper records of the children it took and, in some cases, even destroyed records that could make family reunification possible. And the worst ? It’s just a test.
Immigration is Donald Trump’s core issue: it’s what got him elected in 2016 and what he hopes to get him re-elected in 2020. As long as his supporters continue to respond to his words and deeds on this question, he will not back down. That’s why he lies about crime rates among immigrants, spouts hateful language about ‘animals’ and ‘not-so-innocent’ children, and blurs distinctions between violent gangs and people seeking protection. of them. His intention has always been to end brown and black migration to the United States, while encouraging newcomers “from places like Norway”.
In the face of something as morally repugnant as the mass abduction and imprisonment of children, it is tempting to think that the crisis cannot last. After all, media coverage and a popular outcry forced the president to sign an executive order rescinding the policy. A federal judge has ordered the government to reunite the families without delay. And NGOs and ordinary citizens have organized to pay the bail of some parents. But the fact remains that around 2,500 children are still waiting for reunification with their parents. Toddlers are brought to immigration court without legal representation. Older children in migrant shelters are told not to hug a sibling, not to cry, not to write a letter in their dorm. If they “behave badly”, they are injected with sedatives. Each day that passes aggravates their trauma.
And each day also gives the administration another chance to adjust its policy until it becomes viable. Although he has officially ended the family separation, Trump has been very explicit about his intention to maintain the zero tolerance policy. This means that anyone who crosses the southwestern border outside a port of entry will continue to be prosecuted, regardless of individual circumstances. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told refugees they should only report to designated ports of entry, but border officials at some of those ports turned away asylum seekers. At the same time, Attorney General Jeff Sessions imposed strict new limits on who can claim asylum. The result is a massively punitive approach that places thousands of migrants and refugees in migrant prisons. Family separation was just one tool in this vast apparatus, and now that it’s been taken off the table, the administration wants to replace it with indefinite family detention.
We have already seen this progressive strategy with the Muslim ban. Its first version, which came into force in January 2017, targeted seven Muslim countries and led to absolute chaos at airports, followed by mass protests and legal challenges. So the administration amended its original order by adding a few exceptions, such as current green card holders, and proposed a second ban. When this second version was also challenged in court, the president signed a proclamation barring North Korean visitors and certain Venezuelan government officials from entering the country, as well as nationals of Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. It is this final version that the Supreme Court confirmed last June.
In other words, a proposal that seemed completely crazy when Trump was a candidate (“a total and complete stop of Muslims entering the United States”) has now, after enough testing and with Trump firmly installed in the White House, become acceptable. All it took was the addition of a few dozen visitors from North Korea and Venezuela for the Roberts Court to rule that a policy affecting 135 million people from five Muslim countries was “easily neutral toward religion.” Now that the principle is in place, Trump can add any Muslim country he chooses to the list. There it is—Muslim ban.
There is no reason to expect indefinite family detention (i.e. the internment of immigrants) to be any different. The administration has already asked the Pentagon to prepare housing on military bases for 32,000 migrants, 20,000 of whom are believed to be children. That the internment of immigrants is immoral is quite clear. The fact that it is extremely expensive and probably inefficient will be revealed soon enough. But even talking about it suggests a contempt for non-white life that is no stranger to this country’s bloody history, or even its recent past.
The question is: what will each of us, in our own limited way, do about it? Well, we have to fight on more than one front. There is one Supreme Court seat whose confirmation is not at all certain. There is the effort to overthrow Congress in November. There is the struggle to take over the Statehouses. It is not enough to sign a check or attend a march. We have to do the real work – knocking on doors, making phone calls and introducing ourselves to each other. If Trump wants to impose zero tolerance, we must fight back with zero tolerance.