The Purge Begins (In Words Only, Probably)

Ken AshfordImmigration and Xenophobia, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Trump announced, on Twitter, a massive sweep of undocumented immigrants across the United States: “Next week ICE will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States. They will be removed as fast as they come in. Mexico, using their strong immigration laws, is doing a very good job of stopping people…….”

At the Washington Post, Nick Miroff and Maria Sacchetti report that the round-up is happening at the urging of Trump and his “senior immigration advisor” Stephen Miller:

Trump and his senior immigration adviser, Stephen Miller, have been prodding Homeland Security officials to arrest and remove thousands of family members whose deportation orders were expedited by the Justice Department this year as part of a plan known as the “rocket docket.”

In April, acting ICE director Ronald Vitiello and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen were ousted after they hesitated to go forward with the plan, expressing concerns about its preparation, effectiveness, and the risk of public outrage from images of migrant children being taken into custody or separated from their families.

Vitiello was replaced at ICE by former FBI and Border Patrol official Mark Morgan, who had impressed the president with statements on cable television in favor of harsh immigration enforcement measures.

In his first two weeks on the job at ICE, Morgan has said publicly that he plans to beef up interior enforcement and go after families with deportation orders, insisting that the rulings must be carried out to uphold the integrity of the country’s legal system.

“Our next challenge is going to be interior enforcement,” Morgan told reporters June 4 in Washington. “We will be going after individuals who have gone through due process and who have received final orders of deportation.”

“That will include families,” he said, adding that ICE agents will treat the parents and children they arrest “with compassion and humanity.”

There is nothing compassionate nor humane about separating children from their parents, which causesl asting trauma to children. And there is a pervasive culture of dehumanization of immigrants among U.S. enforcers, which makes any promise of compassion or humanity a straight-up lie.

The sweep has the same inherent problem as Trump’s plan to evict undocumented immigrants from public housing: There are countless families across the U.S. with mixed-immigration status. That is, the parents may be undocumented immigrants, while some or all of their children are U.S. citizens by virtue of having been born here:

The family arrest plan has been considered even more sensitive than a typical operation because children are involved, and Homeland Security officials retain significant concerns that families will be inadvertently separated by the operation, especially because parents in some households have deportation orders but their children — some of whom are U.S. citizens — might not. Should adults be arrested without their children because they are at school, day care, summer camp or a friend’s house, it is possible parents could be deported while their children are left behind.

There are, of course, also no safeguards in place to ensure the rights of minor citizens are preserved. 

ICE was reportedly stunned by Trump’s public announcement, but they shouldn’t be surprised. The announcement is firmly centered within Trump’ ongoing campaign of stochastic terrorism. He was giving his rabidly nativist base a heads-up to invite their participation in the removal of people from the country. 

There is, of course, the very likely possibility that Trump was just bloviating, and at some later point he will claim success or significant progress — despite any evidence — just like he has done with the wall. The scope of the sweep — “millions” of people — is unfathomable. It’s also impossible. ICE cannot remove “millions” of people from the population at once.

Officials told The Washington Post that the mass deportations are still not imminent and ICE typically does not make sensitive operations like this public beforehand

So … this is a Trump tweet. Is there something vicious coming? Almost certainly. Will it live up to his billing? Probably not.

But the exact number is hardly the point. Removing scores of people from their homes, all at once, all over the country, is sick. It will traumatize families, it will hurt communities, and it puts the U.S. in the company of nations whose purges of marginalized populations we once fought proudly to defeat. Par for the course…

Greg Sargeant:

But — say this with me slowly now — the administration’s efforts at deterring asylum families through displays of toughness and force have failed spectacularly, because they are fleeing conditions at home that are also terrible. There is a legitimate policy dispute here — Trump wants to detain families for far longer, so they can’t evade hearings, while Democrats favor addressing root causes of migrations and reforms to humanely manage the influx — but one thing that’s inescapable is that toughness as deterrence has been unmasked as total folly.

Thus, Trump’s threat to unleash deportations — while a genuine humanitarian menace — is also a reminder that on his signature issue, Trump is caught in a feedback loop of failure. A given threat or act of toughness fails to produce the desired effect, only to be followed by another threat or act of toughness, which Trump and his supporters then propagandistically hype as forceful and effective.

Thus, Trump’s threat of mass arrests is probably intended to no small degree as spectacle and gesture. This may be the case in a “cruelty is the point” kind of way — in Trump’s mind, the imagery of mass arrests of families is a feature of this plan, one that will appeal to at least some core supporters.

Is that far-fetched? Trump reportedly remarked of his family separations: “My people love it.”

But, given this announcement’s suspect timing, it’s also likely meant to project decisiveness and action, in an area where Trump knows he’s failing. It has been repeatedly established that Trump is extraordinarily sensitive to surges in border crossings, which he sees as a metric for judging his presidency.

Trump’s answer, in such moments of panic, is frequently some kind of threat of action. He’ll close the border entirely (he backed off), or flood Democratic districts with migrants (which never happened), or impose tariffs on Mexico (it’s unknown whether that threat prompted Mexico to agree to anything new or what impact it will have).

It has never been clear whether Trump acknowledges any political downside to his immigration cruelties and all around border-related impulsiveness. He appears to refuse to accept that they helped Democrats win a large national majority in the 2018 House races. He appears certain — outwardly, at least — that in 2020, this focus will energize his core supporters by enough to tip the electoral college, due to disproportionate numbers of blue-collar whites in the Rust Belt.

But the backdrop to all this is that the Trump campaign is firing several pollsters, because internal data leakedrevealing Trump as deeply vulnerable to losing reelection — including trailing in Rust Belt states.

Trump still enjoys the advantages of incumbency and the good economy. But if his immigration agenda in particular is helping boost his reelection chances in those places, there’s no sign of it yet. Until that changes, this threat of mass arrests looks more than anything else like doubling down on a failing strategy — both substantively and politically.