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Jan 14, 18

Dispatches from the Borderlands: The Lies Ahead

We’ve entered into a new year. Forget all your resolutions, besides the resolution to make it to next year. This will be a year of sheer survival.

For the moment DACA is safe, a federal judge has ordered it kept in place. Yet the calls for a clean DACA act may bring Congress to a grinding halt. Lately we’ve heard a lot of promises about saving DACA. So what is behind all this pandering to solve the question of DACA status? Well, depressingly, any resolution of DACA is being held hostage to demands for a lot more funding for border militarization and a complete overhaul of the legal immigration system that will make many forms of legal relief a thing of the past.

The Republican bill gives a go-ahead on more border wall construction, it increases the number of Border Patrol agents, it ends green card programs that allow family members to be sponsored by green card holders, it reduces documented immigration by 25 percent, and it requires E-verify to be mandatory so that employers cannot hire undocumented workers. The crack down on employees is notable, for example there were recently ICE raids against 7-Eleven stores nationwide.

Enforcement is continuing to encroach into public institutions that should not be synonymous with checkpoints. Texas Highway Patrol are arresting people during routine traffic stops. ICE is targeting families in places like hospitals, childcare centers, and youth shelters that have historically been understood to be off limits. Border Patrol arrested parents who had to make the heartbreaking choice to take their baby to a hospital further north through a checkpoint in Corpus Christi, Texas for specialist care. In another case, Border Patrol apprehended a 10-year-old girl who needed emergency surgery. We are losing safe terrain.

The federal government is using its resources not to reunite unaccompanied minors with their parents, but to detain their relatives for paying for their kid’s crossing. The child in the case above has since been released but it sets a dark precedent. Holding individual family members personally responsible for utilizing a human smuggling industry that the governments themselves have created is so Kafkaesque, so cruel, and so quintessentially 2018 – to blame people for their own victimization.

If you’re not white you can’t even check into a fucking Motel 6 anymore without getting your information cross-checked with ICE. The fuckers are literally everywhere. This is the environment in which Trump wants to add a question about citizenship to the census. The increased enforcement has left us reliant on defensive tactics that focus on judicial appeal. Yet no amount of pleading with the judiciary seems to help, and court is not often a forum where the life-and-death nature of deportation proceedings are acknowledged or heard.

The fate of Juan Coronilla-Guerro demonstrates how incapable judges are of weighing cost, risk and punitive measures fairly. Coronilla-Guerro’s asylum case was denied twice, and after being charged with minor charges – marijuana possession and an unfounded family violence offense – he made the miscalculation of showing up for his second court date. ICE showed up in plain clothes to arrest him because Travis County court actually wasn’t honoring ICE holds at the time. (They now are honoring ICE holds.) He was then deported. Three months after begging a federal court judge in Travis County court to spare his life Juan was found dead in San Luis de la Paz in Mexico.

The state and its judiciaries are not capable of valuing or holding human life sacred. Due to the criminal impunity and state collusion in drug war violence in many sending communities, the costs of deportation is often high. The emotional strain, and folly, of appealing to people who don’t have your best intentions in mind in order to survive is…palpable.

Narratives are important, honesty comes at a high cost, but we must continue to pursue it. That can feel hopeless, especially in a country where a university professor in Florida who wants to have a course on ‘white racism‘ must be “protected” by the police, and Joe Arpaio is running for Senate in Arizona.

Let’s not forget that with the Arpaio pardon, Trump basically gave his agents a blank check to execute his xenophobic agenda by implying immunization will be arranged for any convictions that may occur in the process. This is no small issue as the shifting terrain of immigration enforcement is sure to bring with it many legal challenges.

Of course, Border Patrol already has a mandate to kill with impunity. The shooting death of a migrant crossing in November on Tohono O’odham land in the high mountains 20 miles north of the border is part of a larger trend of murder and disappearance. Border Patrol stated that the migrant was shot when he lunged for an agent’s gun, but this was a detail supplied a full day after the initial BP press release. That unsubstantiated claim was clearly a fabrication that sought to justify murder.  We know that agents lie all the time about circumstances in the field.  Trump himself spread a story about Border Patrol agents being attacked by migrants in Texas when no evidence existed to support that narrative. The most compelling explanation for why those agents were found at the bottom of a drainage ditch? They fell into it in the dark.

When not actively lying, BP and ICE seek to hide evidence of wrong-doing. There is a trend towards less and less transparency is relation to both Border Patrol and ICE record keeping. Thankfully a bill seeking to allow Border Patrol to ignore Freedom of Information Act requests did not go through. Though future requests to ICE for documentation may not mean much if they’re allowed to destroy records about abuse including sexual assault, solitary confinement and death in custody. Abuse of minors in custody now extends to denying requests for abortions after assault. And finally, it took a 31-page legal decision to get Border Patrol to even provide blankets and sleeping mats in detention for migrants held over 12 hours.

As discussed previously, deportation is a high stakes game because the US has not only internalized the border domestically, but has created a vertical border further south that attempts to stop migrants and refugees before they even arrive on the US/Mexico border.  For many migrants and refugees, the entirety of Mexico itself is now the border as well. Programa Frontera Sur, and other border enforcement initiatives disguised as democracy building, protect US interests while allowing the US to deflect blame for human rights violations onto organized crime groups that, incidentally, also profit from the increased enforcement by selling “safe” passage.

That is why it is such a big deal that Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is under attack. As Vox reported:

Temporary Protected Status serves as a form of humanitarian relief, offered to nationals of countries struggling with the aftermath of war, natural disasters, or other humanitarian crises where conditions on the ground make it difficult for people to return safely. Ten countries — El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen — are currently in the program, which is overseen by the Department of Homeland Security and is granted in six- to 18-month intervals that can be renewed as long as DHS deems a designation necessary.

When given opportunities to extend protected status, the Trump administration has instead struck down protections again and again. 500 Sudanese got a final 18-month extension in September; 59,000 Haitians and 2,500 Nicaraguans got the same final 18-month extension in November; and, 57,000 Hondurans got no decision on their status, forcing a six-month extension that will be up in spring. Most recently, 260,500 Salvadorans were told they will be forced to leave the US by September 2019.

Let’s be clear about how the public is being played on these issues. The Trump administration uses the domestic instability of conflicts in countries the US government is frequently complicit in creating to sell xenophobic limitations on immigration by painting refugees and migrants as criminals, all while saying that the conflicts people are fleeing from are not sufficiently horrendous to justify their legal status protections. The US is not willing to admit responsibility for funding these conflicts, or for sheltering the resulting refugees. To give just one example, at the end of the day, neither the US nor the Salvadorian government wants a gang truce because counter-insurgency is good for business.

So Trump wants to have his cake and eat it too, and these are the bastards who tell us they’re going to save DACA. Will they? Honestly, its hard to sort out between all the hyperbole. They just might, but they will also further militarize the border, drastically overhaul the quota immigration system, get rid of green card petitioners’ ability to bring family to the US, and send hundreds of thousands of TPS holders underground or into deportation proceedings. This will create even more suffering and death on the border, in jails, in prisons and in hospitals. Hell, even Trump supporters are learning, much to their chagrin, that it’s their neighbors and people in their communities that are being disappeared. How the mythical ‘other’ does crumble under pressure.

Intensifying enforcement, increasing impunity, and restricting legal means of entry is intensifying resistance and creating outrage. Dreamers are throwing down hard for their liberation, getting arrested and going on hunger strike. Shit, California is getting ready to fight this at a state level and declared themselves a sanctuary state. But in other places finding sanctuary is not so easy, families are going from church to church seeking refuge from the state. Those who do provide sanctuary are facing arrest and increased repression. So it’s clear we’ve got to continue to mobilize and enact community defense strategies. How easy is it to find sanctuary in your community?  If it’s hard to find, are you down to change that?

I can say, having just gotten back from yet another rapid response call where the Border Patrol showed up to screen documented driver’s for driving while brown, that as crushing as the current climate feels, we still have to show up for one another. Because this isn’t going to get better, it’s going to get worse. Justice will probably not prevail in most cases, because there is no fucking justice, as a friend used to say – there is just us. Deportations will increase, the enforcers will be multiplying in numbers, conditions in detention will continue to deteriorate and, if we do not create them, places to hide will become scarce.

So we’ve got no choice in this. We’ve got to be that voice of reason saying fuck the state, this isn’t ok. We’ve got to be that voice of rage saying we’re not going to take it. We’ve got to be that creative source of funds and that resource, promising to innovate, to reach out, and to find a way out of this dystopian hell-scape. It’s past time to figure out your investment in all this, it’s past time to sort out who you can trust, and who will really have your back when the time comes.

We owe it to those that didn’t make it to be present.
We owe it to those still determined to survive.
Happy fucking new year, its 2018 and there is work to do.

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