– Ashley Smith
This commentary is by Ashley Smith, of Burlington, who is a socialist writer and activist. He writes for various publications including Truthout, Jacobin, and New Politics.
We are witnessing a full scale humanitarian crisis in our country. The Trump administration has unleashed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) to repress migrants on our border, raid workplaces and homes to arrest them, and throw them into concentration camps and jails.
It is time to build a new movement out of all the vigils and protests of the last couple of weeks against the camps that demands their closure, organizes to stop all the raids and deportations, and fights for a society in which no human being is illegal.
The scale of the assault on immigrants is staggering. Last year, the US government arrested close to 400,000 immigrants and refugees and held some 42,000 people in detention facilities. Two private companies—Geo and Core Civic—among a few others incarcerate 70 percent of those migrants and do so for profit.
While the numbers have gone up and down, this year the Trump administration has imprisoned as many as 54,000 people, including thousands of minors and children, in hundreds of camps. The barbaric conditions in them have caused the deaths of over two dozen, including 7 children, and counting.
Vermont is deeply implicated in this crisis. The Department of Motor Vehicles collaborated with ICE up until 2017 by sharing migrants’ pictures and information, and local law enforcement continues to cooperate with them.
ICE regularly harasses, detains, and deports migrant farmworkers, especially outspoken activists organized in the group Migrant Justice. Last month, they arrested and imprisoned Ismael Mendez-Lopez, Mario Diaz-Aguilar, and Ubertoni Aguilar-Montero for the crime of “shopping-while-undocumented” in the Newport Walmart.
US Responsibility for the Crisis
This humanitarian crisis is a wholly artificial one created by the US government and its superintendence of capitalism in our hemisphere. The bulk of migrants and refugees crossing the border into the US are coming from Latin America, and especially from Central America.
The blame for their flight lies with Washington’s policies toward the region. It has trapped Latin American countries in debt and compelled them to implement neoliberal structural adjustment
plans and trade agreements like NAFTA that have opened up their economies to US multinationals and devastated them in the process.
US industries and agribusiness have flooded these markets with their products, undermining local companies and peasant agriculture. The sweatshops the US has left in their place have failed to provide enough employment for those driven out of their jobs and off their land.
Compounding this economic predation, the US has backed brutal regimes in the region like those in Guatemala, Honduras, and Colombia that have suppressed their populations, denied them basic civil rights and liberties, and killed thousands. The US has also strangled states it opposes like Venezuela with sanctions and subterfuge, exacerbating political and economic crises in those countries.
Workers and peasants have fled these conditions in the hopes of finding better lives in the US. Ever eager to make a buck, the ruling class has criminalized these workers, while exploiting them as cheap labor on farms and in factories and services. Indeed, the US economy including Vermont’s dairy industry would not be able to function without undocumented labor.
Trumpeting Repression as “Success”
Recently the numbers of those crossing the border have dropped, giving many the false impression that the crisis will abate. Trump’s border regime, concentration camps, and raids no doubt have dissuaded many from risking the journey, but brutal repression is nothing to celebrate as success.
The other main reason for the drop has been Trump’s subcontracting immigration control to the Mexican state. Instead of detaining refugees in the US, the Trump administration now returns them to Mexico where they are forced to await processing for asylum in horrific conditions in various cities south of the US border.
Trump has also bullied the Mexican state to deploy thousands of its national guard and cops to its own southern border and throughout its country to stop migrants from passing into the US. Finally, as happens every year, the brutal summer heat in the southwest has dissuaded many from risking the journey for now.
But the terrible conditions in their countries will continue to drive people to the US border and they will be met with walls, arrest, incarceration in concentration camps, and, if they make it into the country, exploitation by profit hungry capitalists.
Trump Will Double Down on Xenophobia and Bigotry
Trump’s policies will thus exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in the US, Mexico, and the entire region. But don’t expect him to relent; he is preparing to run perhaps the most right-wing and
bigoted presidential campaign in the history of this country, and immigrant bashing will be right at its center.
His recent deployment of ICE in raids in 10 cities across the country is a taste of things to come. He will double down on xenophobia and policing to consolidate his middle class base and deflect their attention away from the fact that he has not served them but the corporate elite.
The Democratic Party establishment has utterly failed to stand up to Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda. Most recently, they voted for his $4.6 billion supplemental funding bill that will, despite claims to the contrary, enable Trump to continue his reign of terror against migrants and refugees.
Of course, the Republicans argued the bill would fund humanitarian improvements in the camps. But, let’s be clear, you cannot make a concentration camp better, and the Democrats who accepted this bankrupt notion and voted for the bill are accomplices in institutionalizing the camps as a permanent feature of the border regime.
Even worse, the bill will help Trump fortify the border with more patrols by the military, ICE and CBP. And far from limiting expansion of the camp system, since the passage of the bill ICE has established new contracts with three facilities to jail even more migrants.
Democratic Party Collaborators
That’s why it was a terrible mistake for Senator Leahy to vote for the bill. But such votes by Democrats should come as no surprise. Remember that their last president, Barack Obama, and his vice president and current poll leader in the Democratic primary, Joe Biden, deported more people than any administration in US history.
Their attack on immigrants paved the way for Trump’s all-out assault today. While some Democrats have changed their positions, none in the establishment have joined Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in her call to abolish ICE, and House majority leader Nancy Pelosi has launched a scathing attack on AOC for opposing the funding bill.
Almost all Democrats still operate in their party’s consensus viewpoint—so-called Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR)—that is presented as a kinder, gentler alternative to the Republican’s bigotry, repression, and incarceration, but is in fact nothing of the sort.
CIR is barely to the left of Trump. It includes border patrols, surveillance of workplaces for undocumented workers, a guest worker program, and a so-called “path to citizenship” so onerous that few will be able to meet its requirements.
Organize Now To Shut Down the Camps
We need an independent movement that rejects both Trump’s barbarism and the Democrats’ “lesser evil” of CIR. And, with masses of people and children in concentration camps now, we cannot wait for the 2020 election to redress this humanitarian crisis, but instead must organize marches, civil disobedience, and strikes like that of the Wayfair workers in Boston.
We must demand the immediate closure of the camps and the liberation of the prisoners and their resettlement at state expense. The money wasted on jailing these people should instead be paid to them as reparations to help them rebuild their lives.
We must agitate for an end to ICE’s harassment, raids, detention and deportation of undocumented workers. And we must stop our state and cities’ cooperation with ICE as well as argue for our congressional delegation to vote against funding ICE, CBP, and the concentration camps.
Over the long term, we should fight for open borders and the abolition of all these institutions; they only serve the ruling class strategy of pitting immigrants against native workers in a global race to the bottom. Only unity against such division can win a society here and abroad that puts people and their human rights first.