Posts Tagged ‘ immigration ’

The Dark Night

At yesterday’s march in El Paso, Texas protesting the Trump administration’s zero tolerance immigration policies, one of the speakers–a DACA recipient–told her story of a recent run-in with the Border Patrol after returning home from a work trip abroad.

Despite her DACA status, she was detained for several hours. There she met several of the victims of this new zero tolerance policy, including mothers separated from their children.

But for me, the most important part of her story was when she quoted the Border Patrol agent who sent her to detention despite the fact that she had a DACA deferment.

He told her, “The Border Patrol listens to the President, not the federal courts.”

I wish everyone who denies that our democracy is in peril could hear that and really, really think about it for a minute.

It’s more than a sign that some of our border and customs officials are being infected by cruelty and callousness as though they were participants in the Stanford Prison Experiment.

This is a story of a federal agent denying the due process of a resident by negating the separation of powers and pledging exclusive loyalty to the executive branch. It’s a story about democracy breaking down.

Could it be an isolated incident? One bad apple?

Not likely. We’ve heard stories of detainees abused by agents. Of families split up and sent thousands of miles away from each other. Even of asylum seekers being tricked into turning away from the legal points of entry so that they can be snared in the zero tolerance net when they cross elsewhere and seek out the Border Patrol to request asylum.

This cruelty is not incidental to Trump’s border policy.

It is Trump’s border policy.

Trump says that we have to defend our borders, that we have to toughen up our border policy to stop the waves of illegal immigrants threatening to “infest” our country. But that’s yet another lie.

There was no crisis on the border until Trump–or rather, until Jeff Sessions and Stephen Miller–created one. Illegal immigration is at near historic lows and we have never had so many resources allocated to border enforcement.

With thousands in the streets, with his evangelical support eroding (finally), and with voices from both sides of the aisle denouncing the cruelty of this border policy, you’d think this would count as a self-inflicted wound for the administration–that Trump and his team have badly miscalculated.

But you’d be wrong. This is all part of the plan.

To really understand this whole mess, you have to understand the dank, wicked little mind of Stephen Miller. Often described as troll-in-chief, Miller believes ardently in the politics of provocation. Like the travel ban before it, these policies are designed specifically to stir up the liberals. Miller wants us in the street. Miller wants us loudly decrying this policy.

Miller is supposedly a fan of The Dark Knight Rises, since he loves how the film seems to mock economic dissatisfaction, but I think a better tool for understanding his mind is the film that precedes it.

During the climax of Batman’s battle with the Joker in The Dark Knight–still one of the best movies of the century–there’s a moment where the Joker’s plot falls apart because neither of two groups of ordinary people he pit against each other will save themselves by blowing the other group up.

Batman, seeing the Joker’s disappointment, intones, “What were you trying to prove–that deep down everyone is as ugly as you?”

I think of that line when I think about Stephen Miller.

Miller is sure that immigration is a winning issue for the Republicans in the 2018 midterms because he believes that, when push comes to shove, the American people will respond to pro-immigration sentiment from the Left like a spoiled two-year old, that by and large the populace will clutch at those promises of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” and shout in an infantile, shrill crescendo, “Mine! Mine! Mine!”

He believes, like the Joker, that all of us so-called civilized people will eat each other when the going gets rough.

There are plenty of people warning the Democrats that they’re playing into Miller’s hands here. They believe that focusing so much on immigration will have a backlash effect, making native-born Americans (you can go ahead and read that as a euphemism for “older, white Americans”) think the Left only cares about immigrants, not Americans–a charge repeated by Tucker Carlson when he said recently that the ruling class “care far more about foreigners than about their own people.”

But all the people warning Democrats not to fall into his trap are in it, too. They, too, are presuposing that Miller is right. That we are as ugly as he thinks.

As Americans, we should not care only about “our own people.” We should care about the principles that define the American Dream–freedom, democracy, and yes, this nation being a beacon for immigrants. That’s what this immigration crisis is really about: What kind of America we want to live in. Is America a nation of principle or an ethnic enclave trying to protect its own?

So I know what Miller wants. I know what his plan is. I marched anyway.

Because I believe we can be better. Because I believe this moment is about so much more than this one issue, about more, even, than children being ripped from their parents’ arms.

There is something even more sinister brewing beneath this.

Federal agents circumventing the checks and balances essential to our democratic system. An administration using race-baiting and a manufactured crisis to create an us vs. them division within society. A president willing to lie to the American people, attack the free press, and undermine law enforcement.

This is how fascism takes root.

I hope the American system and the American people are strong enough, moral enough to turn away from this abyss.

But if not, and the worst comes to pass and we see the end of the American republic in our lifetimes, I have no doubt I’m standing on the right side of history.

No doubt.

And woe to all of you who remain silent and do not resist.

 

 

 

Advertisements

More on Immigration

Though the public discourse scarcely has any claim to being “discourse” any more at all, there is one obvious disconnect between the two sides in the current “discussion” about immigration.

Supporters of tougher immigration clamor for “following the law.”

While opponents to Trump’s border policy and to strict border enforcement in general recite the mantra “no person is illegal.”

But the real difference of opinion is about those laws.

The Right fundamentally believes that our border laws are just.

The Left fundamentally believes they are not.

Talking about the migrants or the illegal immigrants–you know, about the people–brings out our stereotypes of each other. The Right sees the Left as a cabal of bleeding hearts who care “more” about illegals than citizens. The Left, on the other hand, sees the Right as a gaggle of hypocrites for being Pro-Life and then “not caring” about the lives of these migrants because their skin is brown.

That’s obviously not productive.

Maybe we should just be talking about the laws, not the people.

Here’s the thing I don’t think a lot of people on the right understand about the laws for immigration:

They are not fair.

Maybe some do realize that, and probably quite a few Americans–either secretly or openly–don’t want them to be. I don’t know how to talk to those people, the ones who think the American Dream is only for white people. But for the rest, I have some insights I’d like to share…

See, my in-laws immigrated to the United States several years ago.

They followed the legal process. They got right in. They stayed with us, their sponsors, for a few months. And then a few years later, they were citizens.

They’re a case study in how to immigrate the legal way.

People on the right would probably say: “See, that’s how all these illegal migrants from Honduras or wherever should do it! Just follow the law!”

And here’s the truthful answer to them: “There’s no way in hell any of these poor people from Honduras could follow that law.”

See, my in-laws had money. Not from us. They had their own.

For my father-in-law, an affluent Mexican with business ties to the U.S., access to legal advice, and children born in the U.S., immigration was quick and easy.

For a worker in Honduras, there is no access to the capital or expertise required to navigate U.S. immigration law. Even if one of these migrants managed to get the resources together to process the legal documents, medical certifications, and other requirements for immigration, without a family or employment connection in the United States, that person is liable to wait…and wait…and wait.

There are millions waiting in that line and it can take six years to clear–if you clear at all. Any mistake in the copious paperwork and those Honduran parents are out the application fees and no closer to escaping the violence and poverty of their own country.

Those kids they want a better life for would probably be grown before they got in legally. (Or dead. The kids might die staying in Honduras.)

Couple this logistical barrier to entry with the racist history of immigration laws and that’s why the Left just doesn’t believe in enforcing the current immigration laws.

But clearly, if the Left wants to change the debate, then asking the American public to just ignore the law–which was sorta policy under Obama–isn’t going to lead to any lasting change. The Republicans are trying to scrape together some kind of immigration bill, but apparently their president just torpedoed it with a tweet. Go figure.

We on the Left don’t want their solution anyway. So what we should be worried about is legislators and the law. What we should be worried about is voting in November. It would be nice if the Democrats had a good alternative platform for changing immigration law, but right now, they mostly just have sympathy.

That’s better than nothing, I suppose, but no where near enough.

Looking Out for What’s Ours

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry is arguing over at The Atlantic that Democrats are losing the immigration battle, despite So-Called President Trump’s backing down (while praising his own political “courage” in partially undoing what he himself had done) over the child separations at the border.

This controversy (though possibly not Trump’s mendacious flip-flop) was all orchestrated and engineered by Stephen Miller, the right-wing’s self-described “troll” in chief.  Much has been made of the shortcomings of the man-child in the oval office, but it’s also important to understand the entitled, self-aggrandizing ideology promoted by Miller. With a president so bereft of actual political beliefs, Miller has held tremendous sway.

Thirty-two year old Miller’s political rise would be impressive if it was based on anything other than sycophantic suckling at the teat of established conservative blow hards and his remorseless commitment to provocateur politics. He has not so much espoused ideas during his career–beginning at the tender age of sixteen–spouting off hard-line conservative platitudes as he has delighted in irritating liberals like his parents.

It seems his sensibilities are frozen in the state of that rebellious teenager out to thumb his nose at mom and dad and dig in with a world view based on protectionism, nativism, and–if those folks at the Mexican restaurant the other night are to be believed–quasi-fascism.

Miller is betting that the immigration issue is a big win for Trump and his ilk in the midterms, partly because it was a big win in getting Trump into office. But he also sees the populace the same way that Gobry does in his Atlantic piece.

Miller believes that, sympathy for children or not, Americans fundamentally want an immigration policy that protects what’s theirs–ours.

Indeed, many polls show that Americans do believe in the central tenant of US immigration law and most are receptive to the straight-forward argument that the law must be enforced and that immigrants should only be allowed to enter and stay in the country if they enter through established, legal channels.

This is the “rule of law” argument that Trump and Sessions hold to–when they’re not saying other horrible things like that immigrants are going to “infest” the coutnry or that wrenching children from the mothers will be a nice “deterrent” to future migrants.

Gobry argues that “many progressives seem to think that whenever politicians invoke ‘the rule of law’ as a motive for enforcing borders, that is racial code,” admitting that “I don’t doubt that there’s some truth to this. Maybe a lot of it.”

More than a lot, I’m afraid.

You see, progressives are right. More right than Gobry seems to understand. Not only is Trump’s and Sessions’s talk of deterrents and infestations thinly veiled racial code, immigration law itself is a racial code. All immigration law in the United States has always been motivated by racism. The first immigration laws were the Chinese Exclusion Acts and later immigration legislation explicitly favored white Europeans.

The entire idea of policing our borders is based on the belief–fueled by what anthropologists call “otherness”–that we Americans have more right to the fruits of the American Dream than anyone not lucky enough to be born here.

It is a belief based, as science is increasingly showing most of conservative political thought to be, on fear.

Fear of change in society. Fear of crime. Fear of the “other.”

It’s understandable that, seeing this anti-immigrant “populism,” progressives and Democrats feel outraged, disturbed, and seem capable of little more than shrilly shouting: “Look, this is totally some Nazi-level shit here, people!”

Gobry’s right, though, that progressives and Democrats need to do more than just lament the right wing’s embrace of this history of racism to milk populist anti-immigrant sentiments–if for pragmatic reasons alone. What they need to do is articulate a clear vision of how immigration and law-abiding immigrants serve the best interests of America in the 21st century, even if they lacked the resources or access to make that migration through the official, legal channels.

What we need is real leadership, something lacking for quite some time. Obama talked the talk, but ultimately his charisma and intellectualism was not enough to be transformative (and precipitated one of history’s nastiest backlashes). We see what qualifies as “leadership” on the other side of the aisle now–bullying and deceit–so what is it that progressives really need to bring to the table in order to stir the imagination of the American people?

It’s a question we need to answer quickly.

Because Stephen Miller has Trump’s answer ready and if we don’t find a way to inspire the better angels of America’s collective character, the devils are going to win.