Deterring migration by terrorizing refugees

May 17, 2016

Danny Katch looks at the cruel logic behind the Obama administration's plans to launch a new wave of raids to detain and deport Central American mothers and children.

LAST WEEK, officials in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced plans for a month-long "surge" against Central American refugees who entered the U.S. in the past two years fleeing violence in their home countries.

According to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) document leaked to Reuters, the main targets of the upcoming operation are mothers and children who have been given deportation orders and "minors who have entered the country without a guardian and since turned 18 years of age."

Like everything else about the U.S. deportation machine, it's pathetic and shameful that immigration officials are using the macho military jargon of a "surge" to describe their plans to kick open the doors of terrified refugees and their loved ones.

But that's just one of many ways that ICE--which was created from the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and put in the new DHS in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks--has embraced the rhetoric and logic of the endless "war on terror."

The U.S. Border Patrol detains a migrant mother and child
The U.S. Border Patrol detains a migrant mother and child

Homeland Security chief Jeh Johnson simultaneously claims that more raids are needed because refugee border crossings are on the rise, and that the first round of raids in January lowered the numbers of people trying to enter the country. Like any good "war on terror" bureaucrat, Johnson knows how to use any data to justify the same solution: more raids.

But there is a method to this cruelty. The planned raids are a response to a recent increase in mothers and children fleeing escalating gang warfare in Honduras and El Salvador--from October 2015 to March 2016, the Border Patrol caught 32,000 "family units" trying to enter the country--up from 14,000 the year before.

AS WITH the first wave of deportations of Central American refugees in January, the upcoming "surge" is meant to warn those considering an attempt to enter the U.S. that it's better to take their chances dodging bullets at home.

In other words, the U.S. government is engaged in a twisted competition with criminal gangs that engage in widespread rape and murder over who can be more terrifying.

Under Barack Obama, ICE has infamously carried out more deportations than any presidency in U.S. history. Unlike the Bush administration, which carried out high-profile workplace raids, Obama's team has generally tried to implement mass expulsions as quietly as possible to avoid upsetting pro-immigrant voters, while still terrorizing those it is targeting.

But now there are different electoral politics at work, as Julianne Hing explained in the Nation magazine:

The raids have multiple audiences: They're, on one hand, intended to discourage those in Central America from trying to make it to the United States... But it's also 2016, the year of Donald Trump, the year of the proposed border wall that Mexico will oh so surely pay for. There is a domestic audience the Obama administration has in mind...

Consider, perhaps, that this is the Obama administration's attempt at an intervention in an election year that has been defined by immigration. The apex of the child migrant crisis in 2014 came in June and July--the height of summer. Spring raids now could possibly head off an influx that's to come.

Hing is right: This next wave of refugee deportations--which will terrify not only those hunted by ICE, but millions of other undocumented immigrants and their loved ones--seems to be another bitter pill of the "lesser evil" strategy that the Democrats are shoving down the throats of all those who oppose Trump's more blatant anti-immigrant agenda.

MEANWHILE, TRUMP'S likely Democratic opponent in the presidential election made her position crystal clear two summers ago when large numbers of mothers and children first started fleeing Central America.

"They should be sent back as soon as it can be determined who responsible adults in their families are," Hillary Clinton told a town hall meeting in June of 2014. "We have to send a clear message that just because your child gets across the border doesn't mean your child gets to stay. We don't want to send a message contrary to our laws or encourage more to come."

Clinton has tried to backtrack from this hawkish statement in recent months, but unlike her primary rival Bernie Sanders, who called for President Obama to issue an executive order granting protection to Central American refugees, Clinton has stopped short of calling for any concrete measures.

Instead, she has issued vaguely disapproving statements about the latest deportation announcement that give her plenty of room to do an about-face once the Democratic primaries are over:

I am concerned about recent news reports, and believe we should not be taking kids and families from their homes in the middle of the night. Large-scale raids are not productive and do not reflect who we are as a country. Families fleeing violence in Central America must be given a full opportunity to seek relief.

Until our side holds Democrats accountable for deportations, Clinton will continue to issue bland calls against "large-scale raids" and for refugees to be "given a full opportunity" by an immigration system so rigged that 86 percent of Central Americans go to their asylum hearings without a lawyer.

And Obama administration officials will continue to shrug their shoulders and say, "Don't blame us, we're for Comprehensive Immigration Reform!"--which offers nothing to Central American refugees or any other migrants who emigrate now and in the future.

The U.S. immigration system is getting crueler by the day, and we're not going to be able to vote it away. We have to build a large-scale protest movement that can shut it down.

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