FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Breaking the Ice

Perhaps the best political news of the Trump era has been the emergence of sanctuary cities — city governments valuing the presence of immigrants and standing for the protection of their right to live without fear — and their defiance of this country’s current manifestation of legal racism.

“How dare you vilify members of our community by trying to frighten the American public into thinking that all undocumented residents are dangerous criminals? . . . How dare you distort the reality about declining violent crime rates in a diverse, sanctuary city like Oakland to advance a racist agenda?”

So said Libby Schaaf, the mayor of Oakland, Calif., last month, in response Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ outrage that she had tweeted a warning that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents — the ICE men — were preparing to make a massive sweep through Northern California.

ICE, a branch of the Department of Homeland Security, was created in 2003, “a direct product of the post-Sept. 11 panic culture,” as Sean McElwee put it in The Nation. Its establishment reframed immigration as a national security issue, which is to say, an exploitable source of national fear. We must protect ourselves from the illegals! The agency’s mission, particularly under Donald Trump, appears to be the dehumanization of people of color born outside the United States. It has the moral resonance of the Klan, or maybe the Brownshirts.

In the wake of Schaaf’s defiance of Trump and Sessions, the San Jose Mercury News published a fascinating letter from a man whose grandparents lived in Berlin when Hitler was in power. His grandmother was Jewish.

“A Berlin police officer was a friend and, risking his own life, would call them and warn them of any planned Gestapo raids,” he wrote. “We owe our lives to this man — he was a hero!

“I see parallels in today’s America. ICE is instilling fear in the immigrant community, going after otherwise law-abiding, hard-working people whose only crime is wanting a better life.”

Mayor Schaaf, in alerting Oakland residents of the coming ICE raids, “has the same moral fiber and courage as the Berlin police officer,” he wrote.

The time, as McElwee notes, has come to defund — to abolish — ICE: not just the agency itself, but to “abolish the function” of ICE, which is to keep immigrant communities in a state of terror.

“The agency talks about, and treats, human beings like they’re animals,” he writes. “They scoop up people in their apartments or their workplaces and take them miles away from their spouses and children.”

Indeed, the time has come to abolish the presence of an official “other”: a targeted group of people who have been legally defined in dehumanizing terminology, e.g., “criminal aliens.” This is domestic war, the sole purpose of which is the maintenance of a top-down, authoritarian social order — which, of course, is what much of the Trump base would prefer.

Jonathan Blitzer, writing last summer in the New Yorker, described his communication, initially off the record, with an ICE employee who was growing increasingly alarmed at what was happening to the agency. Eventually, he gave Blitzer permission to publish his observations.

“During the campaign, many rank-and-file agents publicly cheered Trump’s pledge to deport more immigrants, and, since Inauguration Day, the Administration has explicitly encouraged them to pursue the undocumented as aggressively as possible,” Blitzer writes, describing what the agent called an unleashing of contempt among many of the ICE guys for the immigrant community.

Whatever the agents’ private opinions were, ICE itself had a standard of integrity, but that’s no longer the case. “Now people are bringing their own opinions into work,” the agent said.

This is the alliance I fear most: between private racists and legal authority.

“The chilling effect,” Delphine Schrank wrote recently in The Guardian, “carries a whiff of life in a police state, under authoritarian or semi-authoritarian rule, where security forces strike unpredictably, rarely with just cause, and most often with inhuman efficiency.”

How far will this go? When will the words of Martin Niemoller become relevant? The German Lutheran minister famously uttered, upon his release from prison at the end of World War II: “First they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for me, and no one was left to speak for me.”

First they came for the immigrants . . .

Racism continues to regroup around an ever-shifting other. This is world — certainly it’s American — history. Fortunately, it’s only part of our history. The same awareness and intelligence that birthed the civil rights movement is driving the phenomenon of sanctuary cities. A welcoming attitude makes everyone safer.

More articles by:

Robert Koehler is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.

December 12, 2018
Arshad Khan
War, Anniversaries and Lessons Never Learned
Paul Street
Blacking Out the Yellow Vests on Cable News: Corporate Media Doing its Job
Kenneth Surin
The Brexit Shambles Rambles On
David Schultz
Stacking the Deck Against Democracy in Wisconsin
Steve Early
The Housing Affordability Crisis and What Millennials Can do About It
George Ochenski
Collaboration Failure: Trump Trashes Sage Grouse Protections
Rob Seimetz
Bringing a Life Into a Dying World: A Letter From a Father to His Unborn Son
Michael Howard
PETA and the ‘S’-Word
John Kendall Hawkins
Good Panopt, Bad Panopt: Does It Make A Difference?
Kim C. Domenico
Redeeming Utopia: a Meditation On An Essay by Ursula LeGuin
Binoy Kampmark
Exhuming Franco: Spain’s Immemorial Divisions
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
Democratizing Money
Laura Finley
Congress Must Reauthorize VAWA
December 11, 2018
Eric Draitser
AFRICOM: A Neocolonial Occupation Force?
Sheldon Richman
War Over Ukraine?
Louis Proyect
Why World War II, Not the New Deal, Ended the Great Depression
Howard Lisnoff
Police Violence and Mass Policing in the U.S.
Mark Ashwill
A “Patriotic” Education Study Abroad Program in Viet Nam: God Bless America, Right or Wrong!
Laura Flanders
HUD Official to Move into Public Housing?
Nino Pagliccia
Resistance is Not Terrorism
Matthew Johnson
See No Evil, See No Good: The Truth Is Not Black and White
Maria Paez Victor
How Reuters Slandered Venezuela’s Social Benefits Card
December 10, 2018
Jacques R. Pauwels
Foreign Interventions in Revolutionary Russia
Richard Klin
The Disasters of War
Katie Fite
Rebranding Bundy
Gary Olson
A Few Thoughts on Politics and Personal Identity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit Britain’s Crisis of Self-Confidence Will Only End in Tears and Rising Nationalism
Andrew Moss
Undocumented Citizen
Dean Baker
Trump and China: Going With Patent Holders Against Workers
Lawrence Wittner
Reviving the Nuclear Disarmament Movement: a Practical Proposal
Dan Siegel
Thoughts on the 2018 Elections and Beyond
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: I Can Smell the Dumpster Fires Already
Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
Ajamu Baraka
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Time to De-Colonize Human Rights!
Andrew Levine
Thoughts on Strategy for a Left Opposition
Jennifer Matsui
Dead of Night Redux: A Zombie Rises, A Spook Falls
Rob Urie
Degrowth: Toward a Green Revolution
Binoy Kampmark
The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian
Robert Hunziker
The Deathly Insect Dilemma
Robert Fisk
Spare Me the American Tears for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Joseph Natoli
Tribal Justice
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail