A little more than a year ago, I participated in the near-spontaneous airport protests against the Trump administration’s travel ban and its Islamophobic roots.
One of the more inspiring signs/memes from that period of time was “First they came for the Muslims … and we said ‘not this time mother fucker.’”
I have in general over the past year tried to stay out of the internal bickering over resistance strategy. Analysis and questioning are important, and there are some ways to go about things that are pretty counterproductive, but it also does take a mix of strategies, and a mix of focuses. I mostly want to put my energy into advancing the fight rather than criticizing people’s different priorities.
That’s still true, but recently, I have had a heavy heart. Because I have had to face the fact that we have decidedly not lived up to that “not this time” assertion.
The Trump administration has come for the immigrants, and by and large we have not stopped them. While we bravely said we would put our names down on a “Muslim registry” if one was instituted, we have not found the equivalent action to resist the way that ICE is terrorizing immigrants. There has been resistance, to be sure, but not in the numbers that turned out to protest the travel ban. Not enough to stop it.
Trump’s ICE is successfully shifting our sense of what’s acceptable. People are being deported left and right: Undocumented people who are following all the rules, waiting for a visa or asylum application to be processed and checking in with ICE. People who are documented and have a minor, resolved infraction in their history. People who have lived here since childhood. Children coming out of surgery, stalked by ICE in the hospital hallway. People are being ripped from their families and communities to be sent back to countries where they don’t even speak the language.
And ICE is not only going after more people, it is getting more and more notorious for its cruelty. They recently separated a mother and seven-year-old daughter who were seeking asylum here. Let me repeat that. Separating a seven-year-old from her mother and keeping them both in prison for the crime of seeking to escape violence. (They have recently been reunited after months, but that doesn’t make it OK.)
They shackled 92 Somali men on a deportation flight for 48 hours, physically and verbally abusing them, refusing to let them use the bathroom. You don’t have to use much imagination to find the nauseating historical parallels there.
And now the Supreme Court has said people who are detained for possible deportation don’t have a right to a bond hearing at any regular interval. They can be detained indefinitely without trial. This is against international human rights law, the Constitution, and human decency.
It is also clearly the first few steps in a “first they came for” scenario. First the undocumented immigrants with a legal record. Then the ones without. Then the legal immigrants with a history of “infractions” (often driving without a license, since they aren’t allowed to get one). It does not take much imagination to see how this leads to naturalized citizens next, and then stripping citizenship protections from another. Or how this leads to indefinite detention without bail or trial for anyone those in power don’t like (after all, extremely long pretrial detention is already the reality for far too many people, especially poor people of color, even if it’s supposedly not allowed). Trump has already suggested executions as a way to deal with the opioid crisis. Sessions is stepping up the ability of law enforcement to seize property from people who have not be charged with a crime, merely suspected of one. We’ve shown that ever more extreme punishment for breaking even minor and questionably moral laws is something we will tolerate—and authoritarians are going to run with that.
We shouldn’t need to believe this regime will come for us next in order to stand up for our neighbors. But it will.
I fear that because the increasing ICE abuses have been slowly and steadily ratcheting up, rather than being announced as one big dramatic, obviously horrible idea like the “Muslim registry” that many of us are accommodating to it as normal. After all, it’s technically legal (like slavery, Jim Crow, and the Holocaust were).
If we don’t want to find ourselves guiltily recounting the 21st century version of “first they came for…” now is the time to act. Mueller ain’t going to save us, or our neighbors.
It’s not that no one is standing up. Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf warned her community about impending ICE raids. Sanctuary cities are resisting turning themselves into extensions of ICE (sadly, on the other hand, Rens. Co. Sheriff Russo is actively courting doing so), and some nonprofits are pushing back against ICE abuses on their properties. Locally, groups like ICE-Free Capital District and Columbia County Sanctuary Movement have been organizing both to support individual immigrants and resist these repressive policies and tactics. It would be amazing if they had the active support of everyone who showed up at those airport protests and interfaith vigils a year ago.