Trump's executive hate crimes

The foul shape of the Trump administration came into clearer focus with his racist executive orders--but we can also see an angry resistance, reports Danny Katch.

Trump displays his signature on an executive order in the Oval OfficeTrump displays his signature on an executive order in the Oval Office

DONALD TRUMP has begun making good on his threats against immigrants with the first in a series of "national security" executive orders whose most immediate impact will be to make tens of millions of Americans--and people around the world--less secure.

Or, to be more accurate, downright terrorized.

Trump signed two executive orders on Wednesday that direct the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to start building the wall along the border with Mexico that he ranted about throughout the campaign--and that will ramp up repression against the undocumented, along with anyone suspected of being undocumented, to new heights.

And there's more to come. According to the New York Times, Trump will take executive action, as soon as today, for a month-long ban on anyone entering the U.S. from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia or Yemen; a halt to all refugee admissions for three months while screening procedures are "tightened"; and a reduction by more than half of the total number of refugees admitted in 2017 from 110,000 to 50,000.

Make no mistake: This is the U.S. president putting the legal force of his office behind his sickening prejudice that Muslims are more liable to commit terrorist acts, so they better all be kept out.

The hate at the core of Trump's reactionary agenda--directed at some of the most vulnerable people in U.S. society and around the world--is plain.

But it was revulsion at all the many parts of that agenda that mobilized the largest single day of protests in U.S. history just last weekend--and the angry response to Trump's executive orders brought out thousands to protests Wednesday night in New York City and other cities.

We won't be able to overturn Trump's executive hate crimes in a single day or week or month. But we can redouble our commitment to build a resistance to Trump's racist reaction--and put forward a left-wing alternative based on solidarity and struggle.

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THE EXECUTIVE orders on immigration signed on Wednesday represent "the biggest change to federal immigration policy in a single day in recent memory," according to Vox.com.

One of them instructs Homeland Security to "identify and, to the extent permitted by law, allocate all Federal funds" to build the wall, according to the language of the order. The order also allows federal agents access to border land for security purposes--apparently in an attempt to make it harder to sue the administration for violating environmental regulations.

Trump has the authority to do this, although there is no way existing funds can cover the cost of constructing a full-scale wall along the 1,000 miles he claims it will cover--Congress would have to appropriate more funds when budget negotiations take place later this year.

Among the other provisions contained in the two orders is an instruction to detain every single undocumented immigrant--including families with children--captured by the Border Patrol and hold them in a facility. Agents would no longer have the discretion to "detain and release" people under the condition that they appear for an asylum interview or court date.

Detainees have a much harder time getting legal representation or gathering evidence and witnesses to make their case in court. Meanwhile, Trump even gave the Border Patrol sanction to deport detainees while they are still waiting for a court date.

A second executive order revived a program that thrived and was then shelved by the Obama administration: the Secure Communities program, under which people processed in local jails can be checked against immigration databases. If any matches turn up, ICE can ask local law enforcement to hand over prisoners for deportation.

Finally, Trump's order began the process of going after "sanctuary cities"--municipalities that have declared they will limit or refuse cooperation with federal immigration police. Specifically, Trump ordered DHS to confirm that no local jurisdiction receiving federal funds is interfering with law enforcement--how to enforce this restriction is left up to DHS and the Justice Department.

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THE COMING executive order restricting entry into the U.S. from at least seven Muslim-majority countries may be even more Orwellian, though it's hard to judge. The threat to anyone from these countries, even if they are in the U.S. under a valid visa, is immediate.

And by the way, there won't be any proposals to halt the admission of U.S. bombs, spies and Special Forces into Iraq or Syria or any other country of the Middle East and North Africa.

"The countries that will be targeted are all places in which the U.S. is engaged in imperialist war, intervention and conflict," points out Suzanne Adely, International Committee Co-Chair of the National Lawyers Guild. "Domestic policies are always linked to U.S. foreign policies, thus our organizing should include antiwar and anti-imperialist, as well as antiracist demands."

It's important to bear in mind that executive orders don't have the same authority as laws passed by Congress. And it's unclear how, for example, Trump's directive on the border wall will be carried out by incoming DHS Secretary John F. Kelly, who told senators at his confirmation hearing that he didn't think a wall was effective against immigration.

But the fear coursing through immigrant and Muslim communities today is well founded. Trump made openly hateful forms of Islamophobia and xenophobia central to his right-wing nationalist message from the beginning--and he isn't backing down now that he is president.

Like nativist parties across Europe, Trump's attempts to appeal to middle-class and working-class resentment at a rigged system, which he claims benefits not only the greedy rich, but also "line-jumping" immigrants who take jobs and services ahead of those who were "born here" and therefore "played by the rules."

Attempting to metastasize inside these broader layers are more far-right forces--exemplified by Trump's top White House strategist and former Breitbart News editor Steve Bannon--who pushes explicitly racist arguments about Muslims being on a secret mission to impose Sharia law and immigrants spreading disease.

Trump routinely boasted in his campaign speeches that he would deport all of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country, create a registry for Muslim immigrants and revoke Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)--Obama's executive order that created temporary legal status for many of the undocumented who came to the U.S. as children.

Since the election, Trump softened some of these threats, hinting that he might not overturn DACA and telling 60 Minutes that he might limit deportations to "people that are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers."

But nobody can rest easy on the strength of Trump's word--especially given the band of bigots Trump is assembling, from Kris Kobach--creator of the original Muslim registry, Arizona's infamous "show me your papers" law and the voter suppression machine known as the Interstate Crosscheck program--to Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions, the ultra-conservative Alabama senator who last year proposed five-year prison terms for undocumented people who had already been deported once.

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EVEN AS people reel from these announcements, it's important to remember the message sent loud and clear by the millions who took part in the massive Women's March protests in Washington and other cities: Trump is the most unpopular incoming president in modern history, and he and the Republican Party don't represent the views of most Americans on a wide range of issues, including immigration.

Days after his election, a Quinnipiac poll showed 60 percent support for a "path to citizenship" for undocumented immigrants--the highest number since the question was first asked four years ago. A Gallup poll from July found that even Republican voters backed citizenship more strongly than a border wall.

Of course, we know from Trump's election that polls aren't destiny--and opinion surveys paint a bleaker picture of popular views of a ban on Muslims entering the U.S., which is supported by about half the country.

But the point is that large-scale resistance can turn the tide and stop Trump in his tracks--just as the enormous immigrant rights mega-marches of 2006 blocked passage of the draconian Sensenbrenner Bill at a time when Republicans also controlled both houses of Congress and the White House.

We've already seen significant glimpses of just such a resistance developing, starting with the spontaneous protests that took over city streets across the country in the days and nights after Election Day, and continuing through this past weekend.

Immigrants and their supporters have been at the forefront of this fight. The Cosecha Movement is organizing a campaign to make hundreds of college campuses into sanctuary spaces for undocumented students and workers. Over 450 churches, synagogues and other houses of worship have pledged to house and aid immigrants fleeing deportation.

Jewish Voice for Peace is signing people up for a Rapid Response Network to help mobilize in response to hate crimes or Trump's latest provocations. Other local organizations are mounting similar efforts.

And on the night after Trump signed the first of his executive actions targeting immigrants, thousands of people gathered in New York City to chant "No ban! No wall!" at a protest called on short notice by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

"I'm used to having different forms of government and administrations try to silence me, so it's great to see so many people out here fighting," ISO member Sumaya Awad told a contributor to the Huffington Post. "Hopefully this organized resistance continues on tomorrow, and the next week, and the week after."

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THAT LONGER-term view will be needed to counter the Trump administration's emerging preference for "shock and awe" tactics. Thus, a campaign of high-profile immigration raids could, as David L. Wilson wrote for Jacobin last month, appeal to both Trump's flair for media spectacle and his advisers' knowledge that their program of ruthless austerity will not be popular.

"If the Republicans hope to implement their economic agenda in the face of such opposition," Wilson wrote, "they'll need to apply some combination of distraction and repression...A program of mass deportations would fit the bill."

In the face of these dangers, there are important discussions happening among activists and advocates about the need to emphasize resistance over lobbying. As Causa Justa executive director Maria Poblet told Alternet's Sarah Lazare in December:

In this political moment, more than any other, the big Washington D.C. organizations that are oriented toward getting best possible policy out of the White House are not going to have the solutions. There is a need to face the communities impacted right now, to build the broadest possible front to address attacks on immigrants and lift up our shared humanity.

Lazare drew out this point herself in conclusion: "In interviews with grassroots organizers who work with undocumented people across the country, AlterNet was repeatedly told that the task, now, is not to petition or persuade the Trump government, but to fortify communities on the local level and coordinate resistance nationally, in order to levy the most effective and strategic defense of people at risk."

It's also time to question the unconditional support that too much of the movement has given to a Democratic Party that, for the past eight years, built up the machinery of deportations, refugee detention centers and Islamophobic visa policies that Donald Trump is now taking over.

It was Obama who formulated the "felons not families" mass deportation policy that Trump embraced in his 60 Minutes interview--built on the dehumanization of people with criminal records in a country where mass incarceration is a fact of life for many people of color.

After the election, when it was apparent that the next president was going to be a hard-line nationalist, the Obama administration could have taken steps to tie Trump's hands. Like extending the order to stop private corporations from running federal prisons to cover immigrant detention centers as well. Or issuing pardons to all DACA recipients. Or just blocking the incoming administration from getting access to their personal records.

Obama chose to do none of these.

"Many people will not soon forget that 3 million people were deported under the Obama administration--or that an untold number of children, fleeing conflicts that the U.S. has helped fuel, languished in detention centers," says Suzanne Adely of the National Lawyers Guild.

"Countless numbers of us will be going to full speed ahead to organize, defend and resist trump," Adely continued. "But to quote journalist Anand Gopal at his anti-inauguration speech in Washington last weekend, 'Resisting Trump means resisting the system that made him possible.'"

We need to build the movements for full equality for immigrants and Muslims in the Trump era on a foundation of justice, and nothing less.

"We should not let fear decide what we do for the next four years," said a speaker, who identified themselves as undocumented, at the Wednesday night rally. "We see an opportunity to start a movement that can change this country for the next hundred years."

Alan Maass contributed to this article.