By Sasha Abramsky* – The Nation
First, they came for the immigrants…
By the time you read this column, elite US Border Patrol Tactical (BORTAC) units might be battering down the doors of immigrant families in sanctuary cities in California, New York, Illinois, and elsewhere around the country.
They will bring with them, at the personal orders of Donald Trump, techniques honed in confronting the most dangerous drug-smuggling networks and cartels along the US-Mexico border. The Customs and Border Protection website boasts of their marksmanship capabilities, their intelligence-gathering skills, and their ability to work with foreign and domestic law enforcement as well as military agencies. There is no legitimate use of such teams and tactics in immigrant neighborhoods of US cities; the sole purpose of this exercise is to instill terror in communities that have dared to stand up to Trump’s nativism.
That’s the Signal this week. Trump is unleashing military tactics against immigrant neighborhoods—and banking on the fact that most of us either don’t know or don’t care enough to intervene. Step by awful step—while he distracts us with Noise such as taking a lap around the Daytona 500 racetrack, basking in campaign rally chants of “lock her up” aimed at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and speculating that the coronavirus will subside with warmer spring weather—Trump is conditioning us to accept emergency conditions as normal and suspensions of civil liberties as inevitable.
Remember the fable about the frog slowly boiled alive, who doesn’t realize the peril he’s in until it’s too late to escape the pot? In 2020, American democracy is at risk of becoming that frog.
Trump is ramping up his extreme anti-immigrant policies as the election nears, sometimes building on practices that preceded his presidency, at other times inventing entirely new methods to brutalize immigrant communities.
A just-published Human Rights Watch report documents how at least 138 people whom the United States has deported to El Salvador since 2013 have been killed in that country. But instead of considering whether his deportation policy is doing more harm than good, Trump is ramping it up. Common Dreams and immigrant rights organizations, citing the HRW report, have detailed how the administration has made it increasingly difficult for Salvadorans to claim asylum, and how it has also begun deporting asylum seekers from other Central American countries to El Salvador.
The State Department is now in talks with Laos—one of Asia’s poorest countries—to facilitate the deportation of several thousand Hmong and Lao residents, some with criminal convictions in their past. Many of these men and women are refugees who arrived in America nearly half a century ago, following the end of the Vietnam War. The records of those with criminal convictions often date back to when they were teenagers, and many have already served their time; now, though, their US families will be torn apart, and they will face almost certain immiseration if they are deported.
Meanwhile, lest anyone doubt that Trump will keep immigration at center stage over the coming months, late last week the Pentagon announced that it would allocate another nearly $4 billion to Trump’s border wall project—with additional billions slated for construction of the wall in the run-up to the election. This is money that Congress not only hasn’t approved but has repeatedly and proactively refused to approve. Once again, Trump is shredding the notion that Congress controls the country’s purse—and he’s doing so with virtually no pushback from Republicans.
Trump-the-nativist is going full-bore autocrat.
*Sasha Abramsky, who writes regularly for The Nation, is the author of several books, including Inside Obama’s Brain, Breadline USA, American Furies, The American Way of Poverty, The House of 20,000 Books, and, most recently, Jumping at Shadows: The Triumph of Fear and the End of the American Dream.