President Trump may have backed down from his monstrous policy of separating children from parents who bring them across the border, but the executive order he signed this week was just another exercise in deception – a fig leaf that won’t conceal the ugly truth about the extreme anti-immigrant campaign he’s leading.
As we all know, Trump didn’t need an executive order to change the policy, one that his homeland security chief initially denied even existed.
And contrary to Trump’s scapegoating of Democrats – “that’s their law,” he earlier claimed – there was never any law that required him to rip terrified children away from their parents and cram them into kennel-like pens.
We can’t trust anything the administration says at this point. But if there’s one thing we can count on, it’s that very little about its brutish deportation campaign will change. And it may even get worse. The Pentagon has been told to prepare to detain as many as 20,000 “unaccompanied alien children.”
Even with Trump’s apparent reversal, families that attempt to cross the border will still be detained in prison-like facilities. The Justice Department is now asking a judge to allow the government to detain children and their families longer than the 20 days now allowed under a previous court settlement.
What’s more, the issue is not isolated to the border. All across the country, immigrants who’ve been woven into their communities for years are being snatched off the streets and sent to remote immigration prisons. Many leave children and shattered communities behind.
We know through the work of our Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative that the vast majority of immigrants swept up in Trump’s dragnet are not the “bad hombres” Trump suggested he would target during his campaign.
Rather, they’re people like our client Teresa Olea Agaton, a woman who has been part of her community in Newnan, Georgia, for nearly 20 years. She has six children; four are U.S. citizens and one is a DACA recipient. Her youngest two have been coping with serious mental and physical illnesses over the past few years and have relied on her for support. She also has six grandchildren who are U.S. citizens.
In Trump’s world, Teresa – who was picked up for driving without a license – must be a dire threat to public safety. Why else would this grandmother have been detained in a remote immigration prison in south Georgia for the past 10 months?
The answer, of course, lies in the dark heart of the entire Trump political enterprise, one shot through with racism, xenophobia and fearmongering – beginning with Trump’s embrace of the racist “birther” conspiracy theory about President Barack Obama.
Trump has proven in many ways – his contempt for the free press, his embrace of authoritarian leaders, his attacks on the courts – that he won’t be constrained by our democratic norms, our respect for human rights or even basic human decency.
His roundup of immigrants, in fact, is beginning to resemble a sort of ethnic cleansing campaign. It’s the kind of thing that’s long been envisioned by the followers of John Tanton, the white nationalist who fathered the modern anti-immigrant movement.
Back in 1993, Tanton wrote to the ecologist Garrett Hardin, an advocate of eugenics: “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 is now retired and no longer active in the various hate groups he founded.
But his legacy lives on in the Trump administration, in the personas of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and top Trump aide Stephen Miller, two architects of the president’s immigration policies. Both have been closely associated with the network of nativist groups that Tanton founded, including the Federation for American Immigration Reform and the Center for Immigration Studies.
Tanton must be proud.
Yesterday, when First Lady Melania Trump, herself an immigrant from Europe, boarded a plane to visit a detention center near the border she wore a jacket with these words on the back: “I really don’t care. Do U?”
The answer is that we care deeply about all immigrants. And so should everyone else.