Photo by author: April 2, 2018 protest denouncing new immigration court in Lousville, KY. Protesters chanted: “The Deportation Machine is Not the American Dream.”
The Trump/Sessions I.C.E. agenda of mass deportation and racist immigrant scapegoating has an Achille’s Heel: growing mass organizing. What the mainstream media, including public radio (NPR), misses about the immigration crisis is the unprecedented on-the-ground organizing in response to the suffering being experienced by the immigrant community. The Sanctuary movement in all its diverse decentralized forms is blossoming. The whole State of California has declared itself a “sanctuary state.” In Louisville, Kentucky, in the heart of a Trump/governor Bevin red state, we were able to pass an ordinance holding the Louisville police and all city agencies to a policy of non-cooperation with I.C.E.
Add to that the intersectional analysis that undergirds that organizing, and you have a potential for significant transformation. Transformation of the narrative and transformation of the policies. And most importantly of all, transformation of people and what they prioritize each day. From being complacent bystanders to the political culture of the US, to becoming actors. Entering into the making of history.
Chelsea Manning, famous whistleblower who sacrificed so much to educate the world about the criminal savagery of the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan, in an inspirational recent interview on Democracy Now, called for the “abolition” of the Immigration Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) agency. Many of us on the front lines pushing back against ICE activities in Kentucky, have long observed what a rogue agency ICE is. Their employees union openly supported Trump, which tells you a lot. For 8 years under Obama, ICE flagrantly ignored many of the restraints Obama, under great pressure from the immigrant community, tried to impose on who should be eligible for deportation. So, yes, why not call for the abolition of ICE? The name of the overarching Agency itself: “Homeland Security” sounds suspiciously close in name to the dangerous patriarchal and fascist “Fatherland” of Nazi Germany, with its Nativist undertones.
A recent protest at the Heyburn building at 322 West Broadway in downtown Louisville, Kentucky against the opening of a new immigration court there, expanding the number of immigration judges in the country by two or three, illustrates a shared intersectional understanding. Resistance to the expanded deportation machine represented by increasing the number of ICE judges addresses all of the following in its analysis in our talking points to the media: the crisis of mass incarceration and social criminalization, predominantly of people of color and impoverished communities of all colors; the flagrant slippery slope of the privatization of the prison-industrial complex; the pushing of right wing legislation written by lobbyists from that private industry, seeking to justify more prison beds and greater profits; and the attempt to weaken US norms regarding the internationally upheld human right to seek asylum and migrate.
This protest came as one of a series of protests interlinking these issues: First, we protested in front of the soon-to-open Oldham County Detention Center, and captured significant media attention to the fact that the $23 million project was expanded on the bet that 100 beds of a total of 320 beds would be reserved for ICE detainees, separating and harming nearly a hundred families in Kentucky at a given moment. Second, the Oldham County jailer organized a fund raiser in an attempt to involve local non profits in support of the new jail, including the “humane” society, whose FB page we attacked en masse until they took down their post. For $100 a person could participate in a sleepover in the jail as a “trial run” for the jailers prior to opening. If they raised $5,000 the county judge would spend the night in “solitary.” With this tone-deaf mockery made of the seriousness of what a jail is, the organizations of our coalition (Mijente, Black Lives Matter, Louisvillians Showing up for Racial Justice) issued a media release denunciation, which was picked up widely by local media outlets, with many interviews of our spokespersons. Interestingly, weeks later teachers at Oldham County High School invited some of us for a panel with their English classes studying Henry Miller’s The Crucible on the topic of contemporary scapegoats. Many of the educators at that institution expressed indignation at the prison “sleep over” shenanigans. Finally, we read that ICE was opening a new court in Louisville. We understood this to be another link in the overall agenda of expanding and speeding up the deportation machine, integrated into the expansion of the prison industrial complex in general.
So as the analysis deepens, and as the suffering of the immigrant and incarcerated communities expands, public opinion moves in our direction and we have greater access to media spaces to tell our story. Hence the narrative is changing around immigrants, except for in the silo of right wing talk shows and FOX national “news”.
Meanwhile with DACA “dead” according to Trump and following the betrayals, grandstanding and blatant lies by our Senators and Congresspersons, a force of 1.5 million youth is re-energized. “What have we got to lose now?” DACA recipients falling out of status are thinking and saying. Even those who are being deported are becoming part of an international network of activists with a common experience and understanding. Narco gangs are not the only groups being internationalized by deportations!!
And so the fight continues and the Emperor’s nakedness becomes more evident by the day. Only through the use of brute force, a la ICE paddy wagons and plastic cuffs and clubs and tazers and guns, can the growing calls for justice and compassion be suppressed. And that social tension will only continue to grow. Hence the aching Achille’s Heel white supremacists Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump must feel.
Add to that courageous judges in the US judiciary who are declaring that ICE detention of undocumented activists is an infringement of the right to free speech for all, and we see clearly a vulnerable point where action can bring transformation.