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Jul 17, 19

Cracks In the ICE: History, Abolition & the Path Ahead

As this is being written, Abolish ICE protesters have surrounded the DC based ICE headquarters and today it was announced that BNP Paribas, which owns the US based Bank of the West, would be just the latest in a growing collection of big banks such as Bank of America, SunTrust, JP Morgan Chase, and Wells Fargo who have all decided to divest from ICE and pro-profit prisons after a wave of direct actions, bank shut downs, call-in campaigns, and protests.

All of this comes hot on the heels of both a complete and total public relations disaster by the Trump administration following Trump’s racist comments, his lies on Monday morning that the ICE raids were a massive success, and Pence’s trip to a detention facility in Texas, (taking place only hours before over 700 cities saw larger than expected protests), which ended in him singing the praises of the squalid conditions inside while journalists who accompanied him spoke of the horrific overcrowding, stench, and lack of access to basic hygiene and food.

After spending only seconds inside, Pence commented that he “couldn’t be more impressed with the compassionate work that our Customs and Border Protection are doing here,” before stating, “It’s time we moved past the harsh rhetoric of the American left.” This vapid doublespeak however has done nothing to stop the growing anger over the situation in the camps, made worse by the coming to light of secret racist Facebook groups that many Border Patrol agents belonged to online, including the head of their entire agency, Carla Provost.

The Intercept reported that:

[Border Patrol] used the page to joke about migrant deaths and share sexually violent and threatening posts about several Democratic lawmakers, including, in particular, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, D-N.Y. Politico followed up by reporting that senior officials in the Border Patrol, as well as CBP public affairs officials, had known about the group for years and used it as an “intelligence” stream to monitor the sentiment of the workforce. The Intercept then reported that the public revelations sparked an internal purging of the Facebook group’s content, but not before we archived hundreds of posts shared over multiple weeks.

“This victory is perhaps one of the most important wins by autonomous social movements against Trump’s policies since the Muslim Ban, and like the airport blockades, was based around the logic of direct, not symbolic action, and happened in opposition to Democratic Party leadership, not because of it.”

This revelation came after months of open collusion between far-Right border militias and Border Patrol officers, who were video taped working together at the border and officers were even filmed giving tours of the border fence to members of the AZ Patriots, a far-Right group linked to neo-Nazi organizers like Antonio Foreman who attended Unite the Right in Charlottesville.

But while the hood of the Border Patrol, who’s origins trace their history from white vigilanties and surpemacist groups like the KKK, was being pulled off, tens of thousands of people were taking to the streets across the United States in opposition to ICE, migrant detention, and Trumpism.

The result of this continued action, has been powerful. Twice in the past several weeks and in the face of threats of mass deportations, we saw nearly daily actions which led to ICE raids, at least this weekend with only a few exceptions, never materializing on a large scale.

This victory is perhaps one of the most important wins by autonomous social movements against Trump’s policies since the Muslim Ban, and like the airport blockades, was based around the logic of direct, not symbolic action, and happened in opposition to Democratic Party leadership, not because of it.

The growing #AbolishICE movement, since it first kicked off last year with a wave of encampments and occupations, has taken many forms: physical Occupy style blockades and campouts, mass marches, graffiti and wheatpaste, call-in campaigns, “Know Your Rights” trainings and community patrols, pro-divestment protests and rallies, sabotage actions, and the spread of a network of sanctuary spaces. This diversity of tactics has given the movement strength and complete autonomy, as it has largely divorced itself from electoral politics and the control of the Democratic Party apparatus.

As Eric London wrote:

House and Senate Democrats voted in June to provide Trump with $5 billion to fund ICE and Customs and Border Protection (CBP), giving the administration the funds it is now using to conduct raids and lock up children in desert camps.

These votes were not capitulations to Republican demands, but conscious political decisions to provide the police and immigration Gestapo with whatever legal and material powers they require to crush opposition and defend the capitalist status quo.

All talk of halting the persecution of immigrants by pressuring or appealing to the Democratic Party is hopeless illusion or deliberate deception. Those who advocate such a program—most notably the Democratic Socialists of America—are servants of the ruling class whose goal is to channel opposition back into the Democratic Party where it can be rendered harmless.

Democrats and the pro-Democratic media [have given the] White House a blank check to expand its network of concentration camps, intensify its police state tactics and accelerate its program of mass deportations.

In editorial board statements published in Sunday’s print editions of the New York Times and Washington Post, the publishers of the Democratic Party-aligned newspapers effectively endorsed the anti-immigrant pogrom.

The Times statement, titled “All Presidents Are Deporters in Chief,” denounced left-wing opposition to Trump’s attack on immigrants. It declared that “the office [of the presidency] comes with the responsibility to enforce the nation’s laws—laws that require that the borders be secure and that some of the people who aren’t legally authorized to live here be deported, after being afforded due process.”

This “shouldn’t be a provocative assertion,” the Times continued, while condemning “inflamed passions” and opposing those advocating “greater extremes,” including “calls to abolish ICE outright.” The editors concentrated their fire on those on the left who are “flirting with radical changes to the country’s immigration laws,” and concluded by declaring that “the next president has to be ready to assume the role of deporter in chief.”

Thus, this autonomous, radical, and self-organized movement has achieved, at least for now, more than even the most progressive wings of the Democratic Party have – which is nothing. Collectively, this mass resistance has also been strengthened by Trump’s own miscalculations and stupidity, leading to a decisive, albeit for now, victory over the State.

But despite the fact that there has been significant push back against proposed raids, at the same time, thousands still suffer in migrant detention facilities, and the continued need to mobilize and build a movement to liberate them from these prisons grows more dire by the day.

Concentration Camps and Mass Deportations: As American As Apple Pie

The Right has pushed a narrative that, led by Democrats like AOC, “the Left” on the streets is being worked into a frenzy because of extreme rhetoric around “concentration camps.” This type of conspiratorial thinking fits perfectly into their narrative; social movements are simply puppets of politicians and the elites and that those taking action against ICE are really just stupid snowflakes who are worked up over nothing – you know, as opposed to those galaxy brain folks who fall in behind Qanon, Pizzagate, and Trumpism itself.

In reality, people don’t need politicians to see the truth of what is going on, and it is horrific. Making things even more terrible, is the reality that concentration camps and mass deportations as a means of ethnic cleansing have long been a tool used by the US government and past example bare many similarities to what we see being carried out today.

People rounded up during “Operation Wetback.”

Starting in the 1830s, the US began rounding up thousands of Native Cherokee people and placing them in concentration camps, leading to rampant death, starvation, disease, and ultimately the “Trail of Tears.” This was part of a larger process of pushing settlers westward and achieving “Manifest Destiny.” Ideologically, this grab for land was justified because of the need to spread so-called, Western Civilization.

As All That’s Interesting wrote:

As white settlements formed into the American states of Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, and Florida, their borders crossed into Native American land. Natives, then, were viewed as a roadblock in the path of westward expansion. This “Indian Problem,” it was believed, could be resolved through a policy of “civilization.”

“Civilization,” as proposed by Thomas Jefferson, would eradicate the Native American’s way of life and assimilate them into western culture. Jefferson believed that Native Americans were stunted by their “savage” customs and so required missionaries to teach them how to be Anglo-American. If they could be converted to Christianity; learn to speak, read, and write English; as well as dress like whites, eat like whites, and most importantly convert to European notions of individual ownership and commerce then they could be saved.

Andrew Jackson’s motivation was to expand the influence and economic prosperity of the United States. In particular, he wanted to make way for cotton growth on a large scale. Native Americans, consequently, did not fit into this plan for the new southeastern United States.

During the Civil War in Minnesota, the US launched a war against the Dakota people and other indigenous nations, even offering money for indigenous people’s scalps. In December of 1862, thirty eight Dakota warriors were hanged in the largest mass execution on US soil by order of Abraham Lincoln, with hundreds more prisoners being sent to camps in other states. 1,700 Dakota women, children, and elderly were then forced marched to Fort Snelling; as they marched they were violently attacked by white mobs. Once at Fort Snelling, hundreds died as men and women were broken apart and children were forced into boarding schools, forced to learn English and assimilate to Christianity, as authorities sought to ultimately “Kill the Indian…and save the man.”

In New Mexico, at least 4,000 people died due to horrible conditions, starvation, and disease in concentration camps, after 10,000 Najavo people were forced from their land in the “Long Walk” of 1864.

Around the same time in Natchez, Mississippi, Union forces in the South began a system of capturing freed slaves and forcing them to work in concentration camps. As one article wrote:

The Devil’s Punchbowl is a place located in Natchez, Mississippi where during the Civil War; authorities forced tens of thousands of freed slaves to live into concentration camps. Westbrook adds that, “The union army did not allow them to remove the bodies from the camp. They just gave ’em shovels and said bury ’em where they drop.”

According to researcher Paula Westbrook, she researched through Adams County Sheriff’s reports from the time.

“When the slaves were released from the plantations during the occupation they overran Natchez. And the population went from about 10,000 to 120,000 overnight,” Westbrook said.

“So they decided to build an encampment for ’em at Devil’s Punchbowl which they walled off and wouldn’t let ’em out,” Don Estes, former director of the Natchez City Cemetery, said.

Estes said that history research is his life. During his studies he said he learned that Union troops ordered re-captured black men to perform hard labor. Women and children were all but left to die in the three “punchbowls”.

“Disease broke out among ’em, smallpox being the main one. And thousands and thousands died. They were begging to get out. ‘Turn me loose and I’ll go home back to the plantation! Anywhere but there’,” Estes said.

The Devil’s Punchbowl, a concentration camp made up of former slaves help captive by Union troops. Tens of thousands were worked to death.

In the early 1900s, the US exported the use of concentration camps during the Philippine-American war. As part of a counter-insurgency operation against rebels, the US began a scorched earth policy of killing crops, plants, and animals across a wide area, and setting up concentration camps, called reconcentrados, to house Natives, behind US controlled lines. As OZY wrote:

Insurgent fighters captured by U.S. forces were dealt with swiftly through deportation, imprisonment or execution, while tens of thousands of civilians were herded into “zones of protection” to protect them and prevent them from joining guerrilla bands. These “reconcentrados,” or concentration camps, were crowded and filled with disease; as the frustrations of guerrilla warfare grew, many U.S. fighters resorted to some of the brutal retaliatory measures reported in the Ledger. One camp commandant referred to them as the “suburbs of hell.”

The U.S. State Department estimates that around 20,000 Filipino and 4,000 U.S. combatants died in the fighting in the Philippines, and as many as 200,000 Filipino civilians died as a result of violence, famine and disease, with most losses attributable to a cholera epidemic near the end of the war. “The U.S. conquest of the Philippines,” Stanley Karnow claims in In Our Image: America’s Empire in the Philippines, reflecting a common view of historians, “had been as cruel as any conflict in the annals of imperialism.”

In the World War II period under executive order 9066, the US government set up concentration camps for Italian, German, Alaskan Native people, and Japanese Americans. Conditions in the camps were harsh, with some people dying due to medical neglect and others being killed by guards for attempting to escape or walking too close to the fence line. After the end of internment, in many instances people returned to find their homes and belongings had been sold, their jobs gone, and often faced racist violence from white vigilantes and mobs.

In 1950, Democratic Senator Sen. Pat McCarran passed the Emergency Detention Act, which brought about the construction of several concentration camps for the purpose of interning communists, civil-rights activists, and other dissents in the event of a State of Emergency. The camps were never used but up-kept until the 1960s.

As the Densho Encyclopedia wrote:

In December 1952, attorney general J. Howard McGrath designated six potential camp sites under the provisions of Title II. One of them was the Tule Lake site that had been formerly used to detain Japanese Americans.

Ultimately, the law was never invoked and concentration camps were never activated. Despite opposition from civil liberties groups, the waning of anti-communist/Cold War hysteria, and being defunded in 1957, the law remained on the books for nearly twenty years until an ultimately successful effort to repeal it came into being in the late 1960s.

From the Cold War and then into the War on Terror, concentration camps were also put to use from Vietnam, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, not to mention through the spread of the prison-industrial complex, coupled with the growth of migrant detention facilities.

What unites all of these examples however are largely two things: first, the bureaucratic nightmare created by the State which gives rise to conditions of mass starvation, disease, and death by neglect, along with an attempt by the State to justify this reality either as a way to protect the wider public or even “save” those being interned themselves. Then as now, this is presented as a way to defend so-called Western Civilization or America itself. We see this play out in contemporary far-Right discourse all the time, as people like Rush Limbaugh defend the conditions of the current camps, because drinking toilet water is a “step up” for migrants.

But if concentration camps are as American as apple pie, so to then are mass deportations, even of American citizens as long as they are carried out along lines of race, or occasionally, against revolutionary anti-capitalists, such as with the Palmer Raids of 1919 and 1920. A decade later, during the aftermath of the Great Depression, over a million US citizens from Mexican backgrounds were deported, along with many more who were undocumented.

According to

These were the “repatriation drives,” a series of informal raids that took place around the United States during the Great Depression. Local governments and officials deported up to 1.8 million people to Mexico, according to research conducted by Joseph Dunn, a former California state senator. Dunn estimates around 60 percent of these people were actually American citizens, many of them born in the U.S. to first-generation immigrants. For these citizens, deportation wasn’t “repatriation”—it was exile from their country.

The logic behind these raids was that Mexican immigrants were supposedly using resources and working jobs that should go to white Americans affected by the Great Depression. However, modern economists who’ve studied the effect of the 1930s “repatriation drives” on cities argue the raids did not boost local economies. “The repatriation of Mexicans, who were mostly laborers and farm workers, reduced demand for other jobs mainly held by natives, such as skilled craftsman and managerial, administrative and sales jobs,” write economists in a 2017 academic paper circulated by the non-partisan National Bureau of Economic Research. “In fact, our estimates suggest that it may have further increased their levels of unemployment and depressed their wages.”

These raids were then followed by so-called “Operation Wetback,” as a new round of deportations began in the mid-1950s. As wrote:

Operation Wetback, the biggest mass deportation of undocumented workers in United States history. As many as 1.3 million people may have been swept up in the Eisenhower-era campaign with a racist name, which was designed to root out undocumented Mexicans from American society.

The short-lived operation used military-style tactics to remove Mexican immigrants—some of them American citizens—from the United States. Though millions of Mexicans had legally entered the country through joint immigration programs in the first half of the 20th century, Operation Wetback was designed to send them back to Mexico.

Timeline noted:

Rather than dump deportees on the other side of the border, where many would simply cross back over, the U.S. government negotiated with the Mexican government to transport them by train, truck, or plane to southern Mexico, hundreds of miles away. Since many of the deportees were from other places, this stranded them, without connections or access to money or food. For the sake of speed, civil rights went out the window. As during the massive deportation push of the 1930s, when more than half a million U.S. citizens were deported, hundreds of Americans who could not quickly produce proof of citizenship were swept up in Operation Wetback’s dragnet and hauled off to Mexico.

As with concentration camps, looking back at the mass deportation campaigns of the 30s and 50s, we can see commonalities. First, the push for mass deportations was grounded in a desire to physically ethnically cleanse the United States, although it was often sold to the American people along economic lines or through the creation of a manufactured anti-social threat. Second, these raids were carried out quickly, sloppily, and done with the full knowledge that they were sweeping up many actual American citizens in the process and trampling on people’s rights.

We see the same realities at play today, as the current concentration camps are marred in thousands of people lacking access to basic hygiene, food, a place to sleep, legal representation, and water. These are victims of a brutality largely defined by systemic antipathy and bureaucratic negligence. Meanwhile, like the mass sweeps of the past, today they are carried out due to an ideological drive, namely from white nationalist think tanks like the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), and not because of some sort of actual crisis caused by migrants living in the United States.

Examples of the outcome of these policies is everywhere, from people being forced to drink out of toilets, being punished with sleep deprivation techniques, not being allowed to bathe for weeks at a time, forcing toddlers to choose between which parent they want to be separated from, the rising amount of deaths, the looming threat of disease, to the rampant reports of sexual abuse and assault.

These atrocities, from the tens of thousands who have perished in American concentration camps over the decades, to those who have died in an attempt to make it across the desert, to those now anguishing inside the camps now, are all based around creating an entire state of exception; the suspension of the rule of law over an entire population in the name of the supposed “public good,” based simply upon a person’s skin color, what neighborhood they live in, and their family background.

This is done to make the job of the State that much easier, but also prepare the rest of the population for what could possibly come next.

Fort Snelling Cherokee concentration camp.

Setting Hell on Fire

To make a complete timeline or catalogue of actions for the #AbolishICE will be a task for a later date, however the movement has largely been both abolitionist in the sense that its overall goal is the complete dismantling of ICE (and for many others, the entire State structure). Beyond that, the tactics used by the movement have by and large been based in direct action, as opposed to symbolic actions such as passive candle light vigils, permitted marches that go in circles, or attempts to build support for Democrats in the upcoming 2020 election. There was an attempt to push the movement in that direction last Friday as many liberals were organizing and leading the #Lights4Liberty protests, but the fact that so many exploded into expressions of organic outrage and anger, showed that this simply was not going to be the case.

Furthermore, the acceptance if not embrace of the actions of Willem Von Spronsen, and the sentiment that direct action is needed to physically stop this from happening, has caused many liberals to at least acknowledge that direct forms of resistance in a situation such as this are in fact, acceptable if not outright needed.

Over all the #AbolishICE movement has utilized a wide variety of tactics, yet they broadly can been lumped into several categories: disruption, divestment, community organizing, and sabotage.

As we saw last summer, and with lessons learned from Standing Rock, Black Lives Matter, and antifascist mobilizations – disruption, blockading, and the physical shutting down of infrastructure is key to stopping the State from being able to continue to carrying out its maneuvers. This was clear last summer, when the Abolish ICE camps shut down ICE centers for weeks, as it was today, when ICE HQ was shut down and employees scrambled out of the building. Such actions show the power of mass mobilization and the ability to impact bureaucratic and top-down systems that already are in crisis and deeply unpopular.

Many groups have also adopted a strategy of divestment, which as mentioned earlier has already led to large banks such as Bank of America, SunTrust, Bank of the West, and many more, divesting from private prisons. Other campaigns have also gained steam, such as against Amazon’s contracts with ICE, as well as Planatir, a mega-tech company which has massive deals with ICE.

Many groups have also been heavily involved in bread and butter community organizing; putting on Know Your Rights workshops, distributing information to impacted communities, setting up social media accounts, phone trees, and community response systems. In some instances that we know about, this type of organizing has had a big impact, with reports coming in of many people refusing to cooperate with ICE after they failed to produce a warrant.

Lastly, there’s been a small trickle of direct acts of sabotage, from people putting glue into ATMs of banks profiting off ICE prisons, the leaking or hacking of private info related to ICE, graffiti and wheatpaste campaigns, and of course Williem Von Spronsen’s final attempt at throwing a wrench into the deportation machine. While these actions, all aimed at property, not human life, have remained small in number, at the same time have represented yet another set of tactics being used in the broader struggle.

What unites all of these tactics visions, is the realization that the time to act is now. As the anarchist Jean Weir once wrote, “The secret is really to begin” and as anarchist historian Mark Bray pointed out, the point is not to fight fascism when it gets to the point of concentration camps, but to fight it so that such things never come to pass. The present moment offers us both a clarity of what horrors may lay just on the horizon: mass deportations which could lead to full scale slaughter, camps riddled with disease and death, children continuously torn from their families for years and decades, and moreover the proliferation of the concentration camp system into more and more facets of social life with more and more people being brought under the state of exception.

Thus at our present moment, there is no reason not to act, and act now. There is also every reason to fight, and fight hard, to stop the horrors that have yet to come to fruition from ever seeing the light of day as well as against the nightmare that’s already here.

Camps in the Desert, Lines in the Sand

Trump is entrenching himself further and further into the camp of boomer resentment and white identity politics, while Steve Bannon dreams of Trumpism representing a return of manufacturing jobs (“economic nationalism”), a border wall (“national sovereignty”), and an end to foreign wars (“isolationism”), has been put to bed as a total failure.

While unemployment is low and profits are up, this is because people are working more for less pay, and the GDP is rising because of this austerity model. This is compounded by a mass restructuring of the tax system along with cuts to environmental and worker regulations; all which benefit a small elite class and have transferred, thanks to the government, mass amounts of wealth out of the hands of poor and working-class. and into those of the elites. Socialism indeed.

Far from bringing ‘manufacturing jobs back’ (since 2000, more than 80% of jobs lost has been to automation, not corporate globalization and outsourcing) many staple blue collar jobs on currently on the chopping block to be automated. Far from ending imperialist interventions into other countries, Trump has in fact put more money into the war machine and brought the US into increased tensions with more countries. On top of that, his policies only will exasperate the problems; from US intervention to climate change, that are leading so many people to migrate.

But while Trump has failed on all these fronts, he hasn’t lost his core base that is enthralled with his open racism and mysogyny; his ability to “trigger the libs.” Going into 2020, this seems to be Trump’s campaign strategy as well, simply holding onto that base and hoping that enough voters on the other side lose interest long enough for him to pull off a repeat of 2016.

Meanwhile, in response to the success of the #AbolishICE movement this weekend, Trump has now pushed forward new rules that will not allow people to apply for asylum if they cross over another country without apply there first.

As one report wrote:

“The Trump administration is today implementing an “interim final rule” drafted by the US Justice and Homeland Security Departments that will effectively seal the US southern border to men, women and children seeking asylum from violence and repression in Central America and beyond.

In yet another assertion of untrammeled executive power, Trump’s asylum decree rides roughshod over both US and international law.

The interim rule orders US border officials to summarily deny asylum to anyone who “enters or attempts to enter the United States across the southern border after failing to apply for protection in a third country outside the alien’s country of citizenship, nationality, or last lawful habitual residence through which the alien transited en route to the United States.”’

This means that those attempting to apply for asylum at ports of entry along the US southern border will simply be asked if they applied for asylum in Mexico or Guatemala and, if they say no, will be turned away. Meanwhile those crossing the Rio Grande and the desert and turning themselves in to the border patrol will be deported on the same grounds without any semblance of due process.

While various groups are now launching law suits against the Trump administration, what is clear is that Trump and the rest of the racket that is the political class is more than willing to let the situation get even worse. In many ways, an escalation along the border benefits both corporate parties, with Trump appealing to his base and the Democrats helping fund Trump’s operation but putting on a show of looking disgusted and surprised.

The task remains on everyday people who are coming together everywhere and taking action against ICE and its world of bureaucratic misery to continue the struggle forward and see it through to the end: abolition.

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