In response to a massive public outcry against his policy of separating asylum seekers from their children, president Trump issued an executive order on 20 June to stop the practice.
A victory? Not so fast.
Trump’s order reaffirmed his “zero tolerance” policy requiring asylum seekers crossing the border with Mexico to immediately turn themselves in to Border Patrol agents.
Many refugees are fleeing situations of extreme danger in Central America. They did not “sneak” across the border with their children. For example, coming across the Rio Grande (the border between Mexico and Texas) on rubber tyres and other homemade rafts in full view of the Border Patrol agents to turn themselves in to those agents is hardly a subterfuge.
It is “zero tolerance” that has resulted in children being torn from their parents. Under this policy, anyone who crosses the border without papers is labelled a “criminal” and arrested and jailed with no possibility of posting bail. Those with children are immediately separated from them, since the children are not charged with a crime.
But the children are sent to different jails, called “detention centres”, across the country, often far from where their parents are held. Some have been flown to New York City, others to Seattle and God knows what other places between.
The Trump administration says that these “lawbreakers” should have applied for asylum at sites inside the US just over the border. But the Border Patrol doesn’t allow them to reach those sites because they don’t have papers allowing them entry to the country. To obtain visas at US embassies in their home countries is almost impossible for working class and peasant families, and possibly dangerous to do so.
So there is a contradiction between “zero tolerance” and Trump’s statement that the children should be reunited with their parents. No wonder that officials charged with doing both are flailing around, saying contradictory things, while the situation on the ground has hardly changed.
The few instances in which children and parents have been reunited have largely resulted from a growing group of lawyers fighting for these victims of US “justice”.
Trump’s executive order proposes a solution to the contradiction. As two lawyers, Brad Karp and Gary Wingens, explained in a 25 June New York Times op-ed, his solution involves “prolonging the detention of families seeking asylum”.
Trump proposes scrapping a 1997 court ruling that children cannot be detained longer than 20 days. The only way to square this with stopping the separation of the children would be to keep the children with their parents in jail indefinitely.
Less than a week after the order, he proposed another solution: “When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no judges or court cases, bring them back from where they came”.
Many have pointed out that both “solutions” are unconstitutional and violate due process. Trump, who doesn’t give a rat’s arse about the Constitution or due process, is pressing ahead.
His position has been declared constitutional by the Supreme Court. This was in a ruling on another aspect of Trump’s immigration policy, his Muslim ban. In a five to four decision, the court upheld the ban.
The reason the court gave for doing so directly relates to family separations. The court ruled that the president has unbounded authority in deciding how to control the borders. That is now the law. If Trump moves immediately to send asylum seekers and their children back to their home countries with no judicial review, that would now be constitutional.
The Supreme Court ruling codifies a big step forward for Trump’s drive to consolidate an authoritarian government, with the trappings of bourgeois democracy, like the present Hungarian government under Victor Orban, also a racist hater of immigrants. No wonder he hails it as a great victory for himself.
If the first Trump solution is adopted, it has been planned for: Trump has ordered the armed forces to prepare to set up detention centres to hold 20,000 people on military bases. These could house immigrant families and their children. More ominously, Trump could ignore his own ruling and prepare to house children separated from their parents in those facilities while deporting their parents.
Whatever steps Trump takes, the children remain locked up and separated from their parents. Some parents have already been deported while their children remain in the US.
Despite White House claims that the authorities kept careful records of which child belonged to whom, this is, with good justification, widely disbelieved – except among Trump’s white racist base.
It is highly unlikely that any such records were ever kept, because the administration stated that its goal of separating the children was meant to discourage asylum seekers. It hoped eventually to place the children in foster homes – in the US.
Since his 20 June order, Trump has intensified his racist rhetoric, saying that immigrants are “invading” the US, are “infesting” the country, are killers, rapists and dope dealers. To drive home his point, he staged a media event with people he said were victims of crimes committed by immigrants.
Meanwhile, the wider attack on immigrants by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has accelerated, with raids on workplaces and other sites sweeping up immigrants without papers.
Protests in the past two weeks have been held in many cities across the country at ICE offices. They are becoming bigger and more militant. There have been ongoing “Occupy ICE” encampments blockading ICE facilities in New York, Los Angeles, Portland and Tacoma.
There was a demonstration at a tent city in Tornilla, Texas, housing migrant children. Thousands marched in San Diego, California, near the Mexican border. In McAllen, Texas, protesters temporarily blocked a bus carrying migrant children off to no-one knows where, chanting, “Set the children free!”.
A demand not widely heard before, for eliminating ICE, is becoming more popular, even being embraced by some Democrats, to the consternation of the Democratic establishment, whose members in Congress have regularly voted to fund the agency.
Another manifestation of the growing anger has been spontaneous mass shamings of administration officials when they appear in public. Another New York Times report noted:
“In recent days, as institutional Democrats wring their hands … [furious activists] and citizens have taken matters into their own hands beyond the corridors of power.
“Progressives have heckled the homeland security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, and the White House aide Stephen Miller at Washington restaurants. They have ejected the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, from a Lexington, Virginia, eatery. And they have screamed at one of Mr Trump’s leading cable news surrogates, Florida’s attorney general, Pam Bondi, at a Tampa movie theater.
“‘Let’s make sure we show up wherever we have to show up’, representative Maxine Walters, Democrat of California, said … at a rally in Los Angeles. ‘And if you see anybody from [Trump’s] cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd. And you push back on them. And you tell them they’re not welcome any more, anywhere.’”
The road forward is not to look to the capitalist Democratic and Republican parties for a solution to this crisis – they have none. The task is to keep the protests going, and extend and enlarge them. Join the shouts of “Shame! Shame! Shame!” levelled at the Trump surrogates for what has been a cruel and evil attack on asylum seekers and their children.