The ICEmen Cometh

Photo by Mette Vorraa | CC BY 2.0

The doorbell rang on a dreary afternoon in late February. On the porch, huddling against a lashing Oregon rain, stood my friend Javier (not his real name). “Something has happened, Jeffrey, and maybe you can help,” he said. “We don’t know what to do.”

I’ve known Javier for five years. He and his family live across the river in King City, where he runs a small landscaping business. Javier is from Oaxaca, Mexico. He came to Oregon in 1992 as a touring musician, playing keyboards and guitar in a salsa band. He is now married and has two teenage boys, both born in Oregon. Javier is not a US citizen. He doesn’t have a green card.

The story Javier tells is harrowing. Earlier in the day, two vans carrying migrant workers bound for the fields of the Willamette Valley were pulled over by four black SUVs outside of the small town of Woodburn. ICE officers, dressed in black military gear, ordered all of the passengers out of the vans at gunpoint. The men and women were ordered to lay facedown on the ground. Each of them were then cuffed and searched.  Their wallets taken and examined. One by one, the workers were told to stand. Then their photographs were taken on iPads. They were asked their names, date of birth, place of birth and whether they were US citizens. Those who said no were asked to show their green cards and work visas.

After thirty minutes of interrogation, the ICE officers released about half of the workers and told them they were free to go. However, eleven men were placed under arrest, placed in ICE SUVs and taken away.

“Jeffrey, four of these men go to our church,” Javier told me, his voice quavering. “I know them. These are good men. None of them have ever been in trouble before. All of them have kids here and family that depend on them.”

Javier told me that most of the workers had immigrated to the U.S. in the last few years. They came not from Mexico, but from Guatemala and Honduras. “Things are bad there, very bad,” he said. “They were fleeing violence that made it impossible to live there.”

The men worked in flower fields, planting and harvesting tulips, daffodils, irises and dahlias in the rich alluvial soils of Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Arduous, back-breaking labor done in miserable conditions for miserly wages and no benefits.

“No one knows where they are or why they were taken. They aren’t criminals. They are hard workers. The families are scared. We don’t know what to do.”

I didn’t know what to do either. In fact, I felt as helpless at that moment as Javier. Except I wasn’t trapped in his impossible, even Kafkaesque predicament. Javier couldn’t inquire about the fate of his friends without placing himself and his family in extreme jeopardy.

I gave Javier the phone numbers of two Oregon lawyers who specialize in immigration cases and told him to call Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, the fearless immigration rights group based in Woodburn. Then I called ICE.

The ICE field office in Portland confirmed that arrests had been made in Woodburn earlier in the day. The agent I spoke to described the raid as a “targeted enforcement operation.” She told me that the ICE officers had warrants for two men who had prior arrests on their records. If there were only two warrants, I asked, why were 11 people detained? She refused to answer that question. I then asked about the detention of Javier’s four friends, none of whom had criminal records. She said that most of the detained men had been transferred to an ICE detention jail in Tacoma, Washington, nearly 200 miles north on I-5. The Northwest Detention Center is a notorious private prison run for ICE by the GEO Group, formerly known as Whackenhut, where inmates have lingered for years without hearings and others have been viciously been by guards in retaliation for complaining about the horrid conditions in the facility.

I found out later that the ICE raid had missed its targets, two Mexican men with drug trafficking convictions. Sonia Sanchez, an immigration rights lawyer I talked to, said that the warrants were probably used as a pretext to stop any vehicle thought to contain fieldworkers in the valley. “They don’t need much of an excuse to stop you or arrest you,” Sanchez said.  It later emerged that only three of the men detained in the Woodburn raid had any criminal record: one had committed a domestic battery, two others had been cited for drunk driving.

By the next afternoon, I had tracked Javier’s friends to the Northwest Detention Center and received their case numbers. As Javier had told me, none of the men had any arrests or convictions on their records. Despite Trump’s repeated claim that the ICE raids sweeping the country are only targeting those with criminal rap-sheets, 8 of the 11 men seized by ICE in Woodburn were cited only for illegal entry into the United States. They now face deportation back to Guatemala and Honduras, leaving their families in an agonizing limbo.

“How could this happen, Jeffrey?” Javier asked. “What did they do to deserve this?”

I had no answer then. I still don’t.

Roaming Charges

+ To Finland Station! A fascinating survey by Democratic pollster John Zogby reveals that Trump voters see themselves has having much more in common with Russia than China (39% to 17%), Saudi Arabia (33% vs. 18%) or Egypt (32% vs. 26%). The only bad news for Trump himself is that his own supporters think Mexico is a better ally for the US than Russia by 40 to 28 percent margin.

+ Rand Paul is attempting to force a senate vote on Trump’s big weapons deal to the Saudi head-choppers. How many Democrats will join him?

+ Trump, the non-interventionist, has killed 225 civilians in Syria in the last month, a new record. It will go higher.

+ On the very same day Trump whined that he was the victim of the biggest “witch hunt” in US history, his Saudi hosts arrested two women for … WITCHCRAFT.

+ The Atlantic magazine, now under the helm of Iraq war fabulist Jeffrey Goldberg, celebrates the sale of weapons to Saudi head-choppers as a progressive jobs program and encourages more of the same.

+ Leave it to the FBI to target Jared Kushner for backdoor meetings with Sergey Kislyak and mysterious interactions with the CEO of a Russian bank , while letting the little slumlord skate on his predatory treatment of the poor tenants in his housing projects…

+ The new number two of the Democratic Party in Florida is a woman named Sally Boynton Brown, who is working under the new party chair Stephen Bittel, a billionaire real estate developer and owner of a dredging company. In her first meeting with party activists, Ms. Brown pretty much demonstrated why the Democrats can kiss Florida goodbye in 2018 and 2020.

As reported in the Miami New Times, Brown told the aghast activists that the party should abandon issue-oriented politics because most of the voters who issues, such as single-payer health care, don’t bother to vote anyway and when they do tend to vote on “emotions” not reasons. “This is not going to be popular, but this is my belief of the time and place we’re in now: I believe that we’re in a place where it’s very hard to get voters excited about ‘issues,’ the type of voters that are not voting,” Brown said.

Brown also advised the party stalwarts that the Democrats should hotly pursue corporate money from big time polluters such as Florida Power and Light. “It’s not so much about the money controlling the conversation; it’s about the people controlling the conversation,” Brown pontificated. “And right now, unfortunately, we live in a system where you have to have money to work the system.”

It’s not just Trump voters the new Democrats view as being deplorables, it’s their own base!

+ You can take the monuments out of the Confederacy, but you can’t take the Confederacy out this monumental menace to life, liberty and the pursuit of highness….I mean happiness.

+ A really flimsy story in the Washington Post postulates that Big Jim Comey was suckered by an email allegedly fabricated by Russian tricksters into seizing control of the Hillary Clinton email investigation last summer. If true, it’s yet more proof that Comey should have been canned for incompetence. Maybe the Russians are also responsible for all of the wrongful convictions based on the manufactured evidence at FBI crime lab …

+ The night before the congressional election in the Big Sky state between the intemperate Trumpite Greg Gianforte and the Singing Cowboy Rob Quist a skirmish erupted in Bozeman between Gianforte and Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, who was trying unsuccessfully to get Gianforte to comment on the CBO’s scoring of the GOP’s so-called health care bill. Here’s a transcript of what transpired when Gianforte snapped and attacked the reporter:

Ben Jacobs: …the CBO score. Because, you know, you were waiting to make your decision about health care until you saw the bill and it just came out…Gianforte: Yeah, we’ll talk to you about that later.Jacobs: Yeah, but there’s not going to be time. I’m just curious—

Gianforte: Okay, speak with Shane, please.

[rumbling, crash, louder crash, more rumbling]

Gianforte: I’m sick and tired of you guys!

Jacobs: Jesus chri—!

Gianforte: The last guy that came in here, you did the same thing! Get the hell out of here!

Jacobs: Jesus!

Gianforte: Get the hell out of here! The last guy did the same thing! You with The Guardian?

Jacobs: Yes! And you just broke my glasses.Gianforte: The last guy did the same damn thing.

Jacobs: You just body-slammed me and broke my glasses.

Gianforte: Get the hell out of here.

Jacobs: You’d like me to get the hell out of here, I’d also like to call the police. Can I get you guys’ names?

Unidentified third man: Hey, you gotta leave.

Jacobs: He just body-slammed me.

Unidentified third man: You gotta leave.

When the Gallatin County sheriffs arrived, reporters from Fox News backed up Jacobs’s account of the scuffle. Gianforte was later charged with assault. In the end, Gianforte’s felonious pugilism didn’t alter the outcome of the race, as he corralled about 50 percent of the vote.

If representing Montana in Congress doesn’t prove to be Greg G.’s forte, I’m sure Linda (WWF) McMahon will be happy to give him a post in the Small Business Administration.

+ A gas station attendant in Butte, Montana, was pestered by an NBC reporter about the news that GOP congressional candidate Greg Gianforte had “body slammed” Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs. “Sounds like my kind of politician,” she quipped, wryly.

I’m sure that the good people of Montana, many of whom I know well, are a little tired of the international press corps descending on their state for the first time since Caruso sang at the Opera House in Butte asking condescending questions of the “natives” like anthropologists in the dark forests of Sarawak.

At least Gianforte had the, uh, fortitude to commit assault-on-journalist by himself, instead of sending in one of his goons the way Trump does. That’s the difference between Montana & NYC and may indicate that Gianforte won’t be a solid Trump vote in House….

+ There’s something a little bit wimpish about Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs calling the police after his tussle with Gianforte at a GOP BBQ in Bozeman. All he had to do was write the incident up. Not sure Jacobs would have lasted long reporting on death squads in El Salvador or even the much less hazardous assignment of dodging concussion grenades and “rubber” bullets on the streets of Seattle for four days during the WTO.

That said, I wish someone would have body slammed Judith Miller back in 2001/2. I suppose someone in the Bush White House wanted to body slam Miller too, but not in the Montana variation….

+ In 1981, West Virginia lawyer John Rogers, a Harvard graduate, was challenging Senator Robert Byrd in the Democratic Primary. During a contentious press conference, Rogers snapped at persistent questioning from a television reporter and slugged him in face, decking the journalist and leaving him with a black eye. A largely unrepentant Rogers explained his political pugilism this way to the Washington Post: “Here was the dilemma. Am I going to spend five minutes on TV explaining to this guy that I’m not nuts? Then I would look like Nixon saying, ‘I am not a crook.’ I guess in retrospect I proved I was nuts. I couldn’t figure out what I was going to do. I was never much of a fighter, but my best punch was a sucker punch.”

+ Trump’s Navy is conducting operations in disputed waters in the South China Sea. So much for that China “Reset”….

+ Old GOP health care bill would kick 24 million poor people off their insurance plans. New health care bill would only kick 23 million poor people off of their insurance plans. It’s the return of Compassionate Conservatism!

+ Atmospheric CO2 levels since the last Ice Age…

+ Yes, They Can! 25 obsequious Democrats voted for the Let’s Increase Cancer By Rolling Back Pesticide Restrictions Bill.

+ I wonder if Trump had the guts to inquire of the Hippie Pope about how the Church dealt with the likes of Galileo and Giordano Bruno and other mouthy scientist types?

+ The sadistic performance artist formerly known as Alex Jones trotted out a new routine this week. Shortly after the Manchester bombing, Jones snarled: “And less than 24 hours after President Trump finishes that speech, a big bomb goes off at a pop star’s rock concert bombing a bunch of liberal trendies. The same people, god love ’em, on average who are promoting open borders, bringing Islamists in.”

Most of Jones’s conspiracy tales only make sense after a few tokes of crystal meth. My friend Dick Reavis, a longtime CounterPuncher and an excellent reporter, told me this story about Jones and his gang. “A few years after the blaze at Mt. Carmel, Jones claimed that one of his followers found the incendiary device that started that fire. Because my book, the Ashes of Waco, cast doubt on the FBI version of events, Jones and his crew trusted me. They lent me the device that they had found. It was charred but I was able to dismantle it and what I saw resembled, not an incendiary grenade, but a battery. I found a number on an inner part and called EverReady. The device was a battery!”

+ Since it gained statehood, Utah has sold off more than 54 percent of its state-owned public lands.

+ The barbaric sheriff of Milwaukee County, David Clarke, who is supposedly on his way to a new post at Trump’s Department of Homeland Security, apparently plagiarized 47 different passages in his Master Thesis “Making U.S. Security and Privacy Rights Compatible” at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. In Clarke’s defense, he was merely following the Doris Kearns Goodwin stylesheet….

+ This week the New York Times ran a ludicrous piece of revisionism by Mark Moyar under the title “Was Vietnam Winnable?” Of course, the Vietnam War was winnable–by the North Vietnamese, as Ho Chi Minh and General Giap decisively demonstrated.

+ A few days after the appalling terrorist attack in Manchester, a crowd gathered for a memorial outside of the arena where the blast occurred and soon erupted spontaneously into a version of Oasis’s “Don’t Look Back in Anger.” If a similar attack had happened in Tulsa, the crowd would have probably started singing some horrid chorus of Toby Keith revenge doggerel.

+ The Synths Behind the Curtain…an Oral History of Electronic Music in East Germany.

+ Open the curtains and let the Sun Ra in …

Sound Grammar

What I’m listening to this week…

Heart of the Congos (40th Anniversary Edition) by The Congos

Smokin’ in Seattle: Live at the Penthouse by Wes Montgomery and the Wynton Kelly Trio

La Saboteuse by Yazz Ahmed

Truth, Liberty & Soul: Live in NYC by Jaco Pastorius

El Hombre Sin Sombra by Mikel Erentxun

Booked Up

What I’m reading this week…

Where the Water Goes: Life and Death Along the Colorado River by David Owen

Plundered Skulls and Stolen Spirits: Inside the Fight to Reclaim Native America’s Culture by Chip Colwell

The Death Penalty  by Jacques Derrida

Splitting the Atom

PG Wodehouse:  “I was reading in the paper the other day about those birds who are trying to split the atom, the nub being that they haven’t the foggiest as to what will happen if they do. It may be all right. On the other hand, it may not be all right. And pretty silly a chap would feel, no doubt, if, having split the atom, he suddenly found the house going up in smoke and himself torn limb from limb.”

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents (with Alexander Cockburn). He can be reached at: or on Twitter @JeffreyStClair3