On top of US president Donald Trump’s blocking of immigrants from six majority-Muslim countries and his derision of countries in Africa, and Haiti and El Salvador as “shitholes”, his Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency is stepping up deportations of immigrant rights activists and undocumented individuals.
His singling out of El Salvador and Haiti buttressed a recent move to force out immigrants from those countries already in the US.
They were given refugee status under a program called Temporary Protected Status (TPS), signed into law by president George H.W. Bush in 1990. Nearly 200,000 people from El Salvador could live and work in the US under TPS after a pair of devastating earthquakes struck their country in 2001. Now Trump has left them in legal limbo and subject to deportation.
He has done the same to nearly 60,000 people from Haiti, who were allowed into the country after the 2010 earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands.
Among the immigration rights activists recently rounded up by ICE are Jean Montrevil and Ravi Ragbir, originally from Haiti and Trinidad, respectively. Jean had lived in the US for more than 30 years, Ravi for more than 25. Both had “green cards” that allowed them to live and work here. Ravi is the executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition, and Jean an activist in the group.
They were grabbed by ICE agents, were not allowed even to say goodbye to their spouses and were physically abused while held. Montrevil was quickly deported. Ragbir was saved from immediate deportation by district judge Katherine Forrest, who called his detention “unnecessarily cruel”, and said he had “the freedom to say goodbye”.
But Ragbir still faces deportation, because Forrest ruled that ICE has the authority to deport him under current law.
That law was signed by Democratic president Bill Clinton in 1996. It increased penalties for immigrants who violate US law and made it harder for undocumented immigrants to obtain legal status.
One particularly harsh measure allowed green card holders to be deported for “crimes” committed before 1996. The drive against the undocumented has long been a bipartisan one. Trump is accelerating it.
The law amounts to double jeopardy. Both Montrevil and Ragbir were convicted of minor offences long before 1996 and served their sentences, but are now being penalised again for the same offences. Ragbir is seeking to overturn his conviction, which was based on false evidence. He was due in court in early February, but ICE deported him before the hearing.
People deported to Haiti are typically arrested by the corrupt pro-imperialist government and jailed until they can raise a bribe to get out. But supporters of Montrevil in Haiti mobilised to greet him on arrival. This prevented the Haitian police from arresting him. However, he now must fight his deportation while residing outside the US.
Immigration activists are being targeted across the country. Sandra Lopez, a Mexican mother of three living in the US for 20 years, was forced to seek sanctuary in a Unitarian church in Colorado last October.
Ingrid Latorre sought sanctuary in October in Colorado. On the day Ravi was detained, Ingrid’s husband, Eliseo Jurado, was arrested by ICE.
In Seattle, ICE sent a “notice to appear” to Maru Villalpando, who has been in the country for 25 years and leads the Northwest Detention Center Resistance.
“ICE is really sending us a message to stop our political activity”, Villalpando told Democracy Now!.
In his final years in office, Barack Obama granted temporary reprieve from deportation to undocumented immigrants brought into the country as children by their parents, and allowed them to work and attend school legally. This gave hope to some 800,000 who signed up for his program.
But the program had to be renewed every two years. Trump refused to do so when the time was up last year, creating legal turmoil for these people, known as “dreamers”. Since then, many have been deported.
Trump now has proposed to Congress to reinstate the program and even provide a multi-year path to citizenship for the dreamers. Sounds great. But he linked doing so to Congress providing the multi-billion dollars in funds to build his wall along the US-Mexican border, and to severely reduce legal immigration.
On the far right, white supremacists also denounced the proposal – they oppose dreamers ever being granted citizenship. But the proposal is going nowhere, because Democrats do not want to be seen blocking legal immigration or supporting the wall. House leader Nancy Pelosi said Trump is trying “to make America white again”.
But the US is already “white” today in the sense that Blacks, Latinos and other people of colour are, and always have been, racially oppressed by “white America” with the overwhelmingly white ruling class at the top. It’s not a question of numbers – many of the slave states of the Confederacy had more African slaves than white free people. It’s a question of power.
Trump wants to further beat back gains made by Blacks and others since the 1960s.