Dispatches from the Borderlands: Liberation not Deportation

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It’s been a fucking crazy month.  In the eyes of a complicit and ill-informed media anti-fascists have become the “violent” ones, ignoring the necessity of self-defense against white supremacists. Undocumented people continue to be criminalized, while the police and white supremacists protect each other, and private corporations make a killing (both fiscal and literal) locking up those in resistance. Anarchists have been reaching out, a lot, and showing up hard. We should continue, there are things that we can do to connect our clear understanding of state enforcement with the energy and spirit of others who are creating communities in resistance and trying to survive this madness.

Time and time again, we learn that the state is complicit in reinforcing white supremacy and safe guarding fascists from the consequences of their actions. The police in Phoenix during the Trump rally waited until most of the Trump supporters had left before firing gas canisters and projectiles.  Many people came prepared for this militarized response, and many did not. We helped each other out regardless, and there were fewer injuries than there might have been otherwise.

Protest against Donald Trump in Phoenix.

There has been a lot of media coverage of the executive order which allows police increased access to military weapons. The weaponization of the police has been in full force for decades. Anyone planning on attending protests should take time to understand the history and ascension of SWAT teams and militarized crowd-control tactics.

The national news of the week was the pardon of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.  The question for me isn’t how could Trump have pardoned Arpaio.  Arpaio was an early adopter of Trump’s bullshit.  He threw his support behind the Trump campaign well before others began to take it seriously. They have total synergy in their hateful agenda and are both egomaniacs that frame all political acts in terms of ratings. Trump literally said he did it for the ratings. Check out the history of Arpaio’s reality television show.

The question for me is how a man who bragged about running a concentration camp, whose incarceration methods murdered so many prisoners, could have had free reign since 1993?  The shocking thing about Arpaio isn’t that he was pardoned, but that he wasn’t voted out of office until November of 2016.  Why did his reign of terror last 23 fucking years?

To list in full the depth of inhumanity, the depraved acts committed by his deputies and the structural terror he created is impossible. He was one of the first sheriffs to sign a 287(g) agreement that deputized the police to enforce immigration locally. He organized over 90 workplace raids. He used to cordon off a 6-block radius and use a civil posse of racist volunteers to round up any Latinx people who did not have identification on them. Arpaio kept people in Tent City in upwards of 120 degree heat. He forced prisoners to wear striped uniforms and pink underwear. He bragged, “It costs more to feed the dogs than it does the inmates.”

His deputies broke the neck of a paraplegic man who requested a catheter to urinate. Women were chained to bed during childbirth.  Rates of suicide and inmate death in his jails occurred at an alarming rate: “From 1996 to 2015, the suicide rate among jail deaths in Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s lockups was an astounding 24 percent, with 39 of the 157 hanging themselves.” Really it shouldn’t take a legacy of murder and hate to be widely condemned when one death in jail is too many!

Joe Arpaio

So why did he need the pardon? Not because he was charged for any of these deaths or endemic practices of torture. He was taken to court for refusing to abide by a judicial injunction against his enforcement policies.  Arpaio was found guilty of contempt of court for continuing to racially profile the Latinx community in Phoenix.  Puente activist Francisca Porchas stated eloquently that under Arpaio his agents became “the ICE officer, the judge and the deporting officer” all in one.  She is absolutely right to point out that it is the immigrants Arpaio criminalized that deserve a pardon, not him.

The reason that Trump’s pardon was even possible is because Arpaio’s charges were federal. It was the federal government under Obama that challenged his regime. We know that the police raid, racially profile and deport without due process in many counties besides Maricopa County. So what was the federal case against Arpaio about? The government doesn’t disapprove of for-profit incarceration, or pandering to the needs of corporate investors. Indeed, only in extreme cases where, for example, a judge is directly profiting from the unseemly combination of raids and private prison stocks, do conflict of interests ever get the enforcing class in trouble.

The Obama administration pursued Arpaio judicially because he was an embarrassment. Arpaio’s controls were hard controls, they had a sick flair and style that made immigration enforcement look bad. As we have discussed at length previously, Border Patrol has been murdering people and ICE has been disappearing migrants in the labyrinth of for-profit immigration facilities for a long time.  Arpaio just crossed the line by taking such public pride in being an old-school sadist.

You can racially profile, torture and murder people in the name of immigration enforcement, but you’ve got to do it where no one can see the blood, the tears, or the last moments of breath drawn in agony. Arpaio became a liability to the Obama administration that preferred its enforcement sanitized, out of the public eye, and codified by a judicial decree that gave some decorum to inhumane proceedings.  Those days are over, and Trump is perfectly OK with hard controls – the more theatrical, the better.

There is a culture of depravity and cruelty that has been, and will continue to be, written into the practices and policies of law enforcement in the United States.  What we are in the midst of is a cultural war that will dictate just how much compassion the government needs to perform in order to rule.

Will the Arpaio pardon be yet another fissure in the crumbling “checks and balances” between the three branches of US government? Some say it will herald a constitutional crisis. I know what you’re thinking, democracy is a farce – doesn’t a crisis of governance already exist?  But the Trump administration is going to have a hard time having their cake and eating it too. If DACA and prosecutorial discretion to close deportation cases under Obama were executive branch overreach, then how will the administration justify and uphold all the crazy executive orders that Trump has signed?

We know that law enforcement officials not only uphold white supremacy structurally, but that the Alt-Right has been actively infiltrating government institutions for a long time. The government knows it to – read the FBI’s own report on the topic.  It could be argued that very few government agencies need to be infiltrated by white supremacists in order to advance their cause since their goals line up so clearly anyway.  But it’s worth considering: What is it that civil society still requires in order to go along with enforcement? It’s time for liberals to parse out how much of this tripe they can really believe in anymore, as the rest of us already know where we stand.

A police officer who told a motorist that cops only kill black people this week will have to retire, but police that actually kill people of color, statistically, get off scot-free. It seems, in the post-modern era, the appearance of decent comportment is still much more important than actually being humane.

Mixed-status and undocumented families in Houston during Hurricane Harvey had to balance survival and escape with the fear of deportation  Families were reasonably terrified of going to city-run shelters, despite repeated assurances from the mayor that they would not be subject to immigration controls there. The shelters didn’t ask for papers but enforcement in other parts of the city and state continued as usual, the checkpoints stayed open. Thankfully, SB 4 got temporarily held up in the courts and not all law enforcement in Texas are deputized yet.

Border Patrol presence in Houston is raising stress levels for already exhausted families.  Border Patrol claims they will only focus on “criminal” enforcement. This is something we have heard time and time again. In a scenario where anything from driving with a broken taillight to scavenging food for your family from a grocery store when rescue is not forthcoming is considered “criminal,” these kind of platitudes mean nothing. Every conviction for a charge – no matter how small – can now mean deportation. Even prosecutors are trying to come to terms with this new reality.

Border Patrol checkpoint in Texas.

Many members of the public felt that not closing the checkpoints during the storm was cruel. It was cruel, but I wonder how those people feel about the checkpoints the rest of year?  People were equally horrified that individuals were impersonating ICE officers in order to rob Hurricane Harvey victims. That is despicable, but how the fuck do they feel about what ICE usually does when they show up at people’s homes? When do people really care about others and in what way? For many families deportation is worse than what the hurricane brought. At least flood waters eventually recede, right now enforcement is rising.

If people’s compassion in crisis only goes so far, then how genuine can it be?

It has been said that Americans are good at acute compassion, but terrible at chronic empathy. Call it what you will, but if this week of biblical flooding has taught us nothing else, I hope it’s cause for reflection about what it fucking takes to actually break down barriers between communities that should be in solidarity with one another!

Communities across Texas have come together to hold each other up and help one another survive through the worst rainfalls in the recorded history of North America.  Please consider contributing to grassroots funds that are focusing on communities of color and undocumented families for whom relocating to elsewhere in the country is not a safe option.

Washington, DC protest against the repeal of DACA.

Finally, there is the issue of the impending DACA repeal.  There are a couple things to consider on this front.  One, the US economy depends on migrant labor – all kinds of migrant labor. California crops are literally rotting in the fields due to a shortage of workers.  Two, all the patriotic exceptionalism that was expressed in the initial DACA campaigns did not transition well from the Obama to the Trump administration. Dreamers know this and have an opportunity to re-frame the struggle depending on how DACA ends.

The Trump administration will stop issuing new protections and phase out the program in the next six months.  That means people’s DACA protections will expire in waves. Unless Congress is moved to act on immigration we will only have the next few months to build up infrastructure to move, or hide, people.

The Trump administration is claiming that a six-month phase out is more compassionate than letting the legal action taken by ten states against DACA immediately kill the program. In a column last week on how ending DACA would create a humanitarian aid crisis, Vivek Wadhwa showed it was clear that either through neglecting to defend the program in court or announcing its death like he did today, Trump was going to end DACA:

LA Times speculated that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was a vocal critic of deportation relief as a senator, would direct department of Justice lawyers to review the program and, if they determined “that DACA is not legal or is no longer a responsible use of prosecutorial discretion, the Department of Homeland Security would be instructed to stop awarding and renewing work permits.” And then “Sessions could instruct his lawyers not to defend the program in court, exposing it to indefinite suspension by a federal judge.”

This is exactly the scenario that appears to be playing out. Ten states, led by Texas, have written a letter demanding that the 15 June 2012 DACA memorandum be rescinded by Sept. 5, failing which they will file a lawsuit. Given that in 2016, Texas successfully challenged an effort by President Obama to expand DACA, it is likely that such a lawsuit will succeed. And the chances that Sessions will defend DACA are slim given that in July, he reiterated that the Department of Justice could have no objection to abandoning it “because it is very questionable, in my opinion, constitutionally.”

David Bier of The CATO Institute estimates that with DACA rescission, 110,653 permits will expire in 2017, 404,909 in 2018, and the remainder in 2019. This means that these children will be subject to deportation at the whim of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents—who will be given vague guidelines.

As we all prepare for the post-announcement protests, it’s worth keeping in mind that tactics will in some ways be dictated by how the repeal plays out and if Congress acts on immigration or not.  The requirements for DACA bear a close read, specifically the clean record requirements.  To qualify for DACA, one must “have not been convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor, three or more other misdemeanors, and… otherwise not pose a threat to national security or public safety.”  Any conviction will get you deported but, of course, once the program expires even the smallest interaction with law enforcement could as well.

If Congress acts there are sure to be trade-offs written into any immigration bill. Historically, legislation on immigration has always had negative consequences for the borderlands, as Congress usually includes funds for increased militarization alongside any reprieve. Dreamers have learned from past campaigns what recuperation looks like, and United We Dream put out a very strong statement last week stating that Dreamers would not be a bargaining chip to be traded for border wall funding and more money for private immigration prisons.

One thing is certain, if the Trump administration completely repeals DACA they will leave over 800,000 smart, organized, strategic and resilient youth and their families with very little to lose and a whole lot to gain in struggle. Dreamers organized before to achieve great strides against insurmountable odds and they will continued that fight. They will not go quietly into the night, they will not go back into the shadows. Dreamers are committed to fighting for status for all people, it is a multifaceted movement that is anti-colonial, anti-racist, anti-fascist and youth-led. For now, if you wish to be in solidarity with Dreamers then come out to the streets, but let others with more on the line dictate how you engage with the police.

Students take over the Tucson school board meeting in 2011.

I will leave you with the smallest of silver linings.  A U.S. District Court judge ruled the law outlawing the Mexican-American Studies program in Arizona public schools was unconstitutional because it violated students’ 1st and 14th amendment rights and was enacted for racial and political reasons.  Some victories come well after the main battle has been fought.  Hopefully, future generations of youth in Arizona will again learn about things like the Chicano Moratorium, which just marked its 47th anniversary on August 29th, in school.

No one really knows how the DACA repeal will play out, or what the government will do with all that meta-data about applicants.  ICE claims they will only use the data “where there’s a significant law enforcement or national security interest.”  Regardless of what they say now, this is a good time to start considering how you feel about sanctuary, if you want to help a friend relocate when the time comes, and what you are and aren’t willing to do.  All these deeply held convictions we’ve had about no borders, anti-fascist struggle and making the world safer for our friends, families and lovers are currently being tested.

I hope we can all find creative and resilient ways to protect and care for ourselves, our communities and those we love.  In a world that seems ever closer to nuclear apocalypse, I hope our devastation and nihilist tendencies can be checked by the necessity to fight back.

What can you do? What will you do?
How shall we resist together?

Amor y rabia from the Borderlands

Further reading: Massive raids planned for mid-September will target between 6,000-10,000 nationally in order to justify an increased funding request by ICE.


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It's Going Down

It’s Going Down is a digital community center from anarchist, anti-fascist, autonomous anti-capitalist and anti-colonial movements. Our mission is to provide a resilient platform to publicize and promote revolutionary theory and action.