Fliers detailing the location and alleged criminal activity of undocumented immigrants were distributed in Burien, Washington, in October, and underscore the influence anti-immigrant hate groups have had in shaping policy under the Trump administration.
King County Sheriff John Urquhart wrote, “Publicly disseminating this type of inflammatory information puts people at risk who likely had no connection to the crime, whether they be family members or new residents of the home. I find it dangerous to release this type of very dubious information. It puts innocent people at risk for vigilante action and unnecessarily stokes fear in the community.”
Respect Washington, the anti-immigrant organization responsible for the flyers, is partly funded by U.S. Inc., an organization founded by the racist architect of the anti-immigrant movement, John Tanton. Tanton has said, “I've come to the point of view that for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that."
Tanton, a retired Michigan ophthalmologist in his 80s currently suffering from Parkinson’s, played a key role in the racist anti-immigrant movement for decades. His influence is felt in the immigration debate through the interlocking organizations he created: the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), U.S. Inc., and Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) among others. Both CIS and FAIR are designated anti-immigrant hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
One approach the Trump administration has adopted from CIS and other groups is the hyping of crime committed by undocumented immigrants. Documents released by the Department of Homeland Security confirmed the approach to broadcast crimes by undocumented immigrants, deprive them of privacy protections and speed up deportations.
In April, the Trump administration created the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) hotline. Barbara Gonzales, acting director of VOICE, claimed the hotline was established to help “those who have been victimized, people who don’t understand immigration issues ...” This announcement was made at an event hosted by CIS.
Advertised as a method to help victims obtain support services, internal documents acquired by Splinter News say the VOICE hotline “will provide a means for persons to report suspected criminal activity.” Call logs show that the hotline created a license to racially profile: most complaints were lodged about minor infractions and secret suspicions of the presence of undocumented people.
Attrition Through Enforcement
Another policy cooked up by CIS and embraced by the Trump administration is so-called “attrition through enforcement,” which seeks to deny undocumented immigrants access to jobs, identification, and other public supports to “[make] it as difficult as possible for an illegal immigrant to live a normal life here” so that they “self-deport.” Key to this policy is creating and maintaining a climate of fear.
Thomas Homan, acting director of ICE, alluded to “attrition through enforcement” in July, saying, "The president recognizes that you've got to have a true interior enforcement strategy to make it uncomfortable for them." ICE agents have been fortified by the Trump administration’s new deportation rules , which include widening the definition of “criminal aliens.”
And the Trump administration has made good on its promise. According to ICE, the number of immigration arrests has increased more than 40% from Trump’s inauguration in mid January to early September in comparison to same time frame the previous year. The first mass raid in February 2017 led to almost 700 arrests nationwide.
Emails between an ICE executive in Washington and individual agencies obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by students at Vanderbilt University’s law school exposed this administration’s attempt to concoct a narrative that the arrests were in response to an increased security threat by undocumented immigrants. Requests to ICE agencies included a “white paper covering the three most egregious cases [their emphasis]” per location. Hours later an assistant field office director at the agency’s Austin office wrote, “As soon as you come in, your sole focus today will be compiling three egregious case write-ups,” explaining that headquarters would expect them soon. ICE agents were not able to complete this task because of the lack of “egregious cases.”
Despite publicizing the raid as a way to target public safety threats and apprehend individuals with criminal convictions and gang members, many had minor violations or no criminal record at all. In Austin, Texas, more than half of those arrested had no criminal convictions.
ICE commented on the raids in Austin, saying, “by removing from the streets criminal aliens and other threats to the public, ICE helps improve public safety.” Documents from ICE show that Austin ranked number one in the United States for arrests of non-criminals in ICE raids.
At the end of September, ICE arrested more than 450 people in “Operation Safe City.” This past week, in Laredo, Texas, just south of Austin, Rosa Maria Hernandez, a 10-year-old girl with cerebral palsy, was detained by ICE agents after passing through a Border Patrol checkpoint while on her way to undergo emergency gall bladder surgery. ICE agents stopped the ambulance she was in and attempted to convince Hernandez and her cousin to go to Mexico to receive surgery, then followed her to the hospital and waited outside of her room until she came out to detain her. Hernandez is being held in a detention center in San Antonio where migrant children who arrive alone are typically held despite her parents living 150 miles away.
In response to the raids in Austin, city council member Greg Casar told The Intercept, “I think what those emails make very clear is that we have a federal law enforcement agency that’s willing to lie, just like Trump is willing to lie, in order to continue the criminalization of immigrant communities.”