US president Donald Trump is turning the screws on immigrants across the country.
In the week prior to 10 February, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrested nearly 700 people in raids in at least 12 states: Arizona, California, New York, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri and Wisconsin.
Trump tweeted after the raids, “The crackdown on illegal criminals is merely the keeping of my campaign promise. Gang members, drug dealers & others are being removed!” This is a falsehood, like most Trump tweets.
An executive order expanded the group of immigrants prioritised for deportation to include anyone found guilty of any crime, and even those accused of crimes but not convicted.
An example was Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos, arrested on 8 February and deported to Mexico, leaving a husband and two teenage children behind. She had been living in the US for 21 years. Hundreds of supporters protested her removal by surrounding the van carrying her away. Her “crime” was a felony conviction in 2008 for using a false social security number to get a job. Her 2008 arrest was at the hands of a notoriously racist Arizona sheriff, Joseph Arpaio, known for leading mass round-ups of undocumented workers and subjecting them to humiliating public treatment before deporting them.
After her conviction, she was required to check in with ICE annually, which she did. But she was allowed to stay in the US, work and raise her children with her husband. She had gone to ICE for her yearly check-in when she was arrested and deported. Guadalupe’s husband, Aaron, told the progressive news site Democracy Now!:
“Back in 2008 … my son, he was around eight years old. He saw how his mom was taken away from him, handcuffed. Now, that’s traumatising for a kid that is eight years old who doesn’t know what’s going on. Why is police going into their house and took their mom away? … We’ve been suffering a lot, and now we’re suffering because of Trump.”
Undocumented workers, by definition, have no papers to present to obtain employment. So the great majority – millions – have to use false documents of one kind or another. Others are hired on low wages “under the table”.
One of the protesters trying to block the deportation of Guadalupe said on TV: “Stop the kidnapping of Lupita [Guadalupe], so she can be back with her family. I’m here because it’s Lupita, tomorrow it may be my mum, and the next day it might be your mum”.
Guadalupe’s daughter Jacqueline said at the demonstration, “I’m going to keep fighting for my mum and for the other families that are going through the same thing, because this is unfair”.
Her son Angel added, “We want her back, back in our arms. We want her back over here where she belongs. She belongs with us. And we’re going to keep on fighting. We’re not going to stop”.
ICE says that these raids are “routine” and were put in place by Barack Obama. It has a point. Obama did create the machinery for what is now happening. But Trump is using that machinery to go much further. While more than 2.5 million people were deported under Obama’s reign, more than the sum of all previous presidents, earning him the title of “Deporter in Chief”, Trump is vowing to increase the number significantly.
One favourite line from the Democratic and Republican politicians who favour criminalising the undocumented is: “They should have played by the rules and come into the country legally”. But it is almost impossible for Mexican and Central American workers fleeing the economic ravages caused by US imperialist exploitation, and the crime wave resulting from the US “war on drugs”, to get papers to come to the US. The waiting lists are so long it can take 20 years.
Even the best proposals of the capitalist politicians for immigration reform completely ignore any reform of the racist “rules” that make legal immigration impossible for most Mexicans.
This whole set-up has for years been useful for US industries that exploit undocumented workers. Because they have no rights as citizens, and can be deported at any time, these workers are forced to accept substandard wages and working conditions. The mass deportations under Obama and the anti-immigrant hysteria whipped up by Trump have made conditions for these workers even more precarious.
Californian capitalist farmers have warned against carrying Trump’s racist scapegoating too far. They fear they will have to hire workers at higher wages with better conditions if too many undocumented workers are deported or flee in fear. They do like the effects of Trump’s campaign in intimidating their workers, but they want to keep it at “just right” levels – for them.