Trump shamed into action but still plans to jail more children
Detained children in temporary facility awaiting transfer to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services | Wikipedia (CC)

WASHINGTON—Under huge pressure from people on all sides of the political spectrum outraged at federal officers ripping immigrant kids from their parents’ arms, Republican President Donald Trump issued an executive order yesterday that claimed to backtrack on splitting families.

His executive order drew scorn, however, from a large coalition of progressive groups, including the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. They launched a mass “accountability campaign” targeting both Congress and Trump on immigration.

The nation’s largest labor federation, the 12 million-member AFL-CIO, blasted the president for pursuing immigration policy that hurts not just immigrants but all American workers. “To add insult to injury, the Trump administration is using enforcement overreach to terrify immigrant workers and is directly threatening our freedom to stand together and fight in unions for fair pay and treatment,” federation president Richard Trumka declared in a statement. “When our government puts a target on the backs of workers, we all share in the suffering.”

In the horrific mess caused by Trump in recent days neither the president nor his foes mentioned who profits from detaining the immigrants and splitting the families: For-profit firms that build and run the detention centers, provide the buses to take the fathers, mothers and kids to separate facilities and – as a lawsuit in Denver shows – horribly treat the parents.

The firms exploit anti-Latino, anti-immigrant biases for their own ends – and have done so for years, even before Trump took over. The four-year-old lawsuit against the Geo Group, a private prison firm that runs an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) immigrant detention center in Aurora, Colo., makes that clear.

In March 2017, a Denver federal judge gave class-action status to nine people Geo held there. He ruled they represented a class of at least 60,000 people. The nine sued Geo in 2014 for holding them in virtual slavery, violating federal law and the U.S. Constitution, ordering them into forced labor there, making $1 a day or nothing at all. If they refuse, they’re threatened with solitary confinement.

And venal and vicious companies call in ICE agents to raid plants and round up suspected undocumented people when they fear union organizing drives, or unions in general. ICE did that on June 19 at four meat-processing plants – all unionized – in northern Ohio.

Trump tried to put a gloss on all this with his executive order. But his own language contains a big caveat. Trump told ICE and other agencies to “maintain family unity,” including by detaining entire families together “where appropriate and consistent with law and available resources.”

“It sounds like they’re planning a ‘handcuffs for all’ strategy, where children will be locked up along with their parents. If that is the case, that has already been thrown out of the legally permitted activities before” under a federal court consent decree governing what to do about children at the border, responded Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.

“They’re locking up the children,” he said.

“Trump’s executive order makes the detention crisis worse. Keeping families together in cages for months or even years is not a solution,” declared Vanesa Suarez of Connecticut’s Unidad Latina en Accion. “Building more prisons to cage families is not a solution.”

Her group says the Trump order will codify “zero tolerance,” meaning the government can prosecute all migrants for “illegal entry” which can put them in prison for 20 years. The order, in effect, allows Trump to hold immigrant workers hostage as long as he so wishes – perhaps until Congress gives him everything he wants on the immigration issue.

Suarez notes that the order limits the definition of “family” to parent-child. Siblings, aunts, uncles etc. are not considered “family.”

The order also allows families to be kept in Department of Homeland Security cages. Up until now they had to be kept in facilities run by or contracted by the Department of Health and Human Services.

In addition Trump is directing the military to build its own new prisons for immigrant workers and their families.

Trump restated his own real biases in a June 20 evening rally in Duluth, Minn., where he said that unless people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border were captured and deported – with or without their kids the U.S. would fall to an “invasion” from the South.

Merkley was one of several legislators who spent Father’s Day forcing their way into detention centers. Merkley and Reps. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., and Mark Pocan, D-Wis., were on the conference call unveiling the ad campaign. Jayapal unveiled plans for a June 30 rally in D.C., the night before, on social media – and immediately got 145,000 hits.

“I talked with one woman who had had three children. Her eldest was shot and killed by the gangs. Her second-eldest was shot and injured too badly to come. She brought her third,” said Jayapal, after visiting the Sea-Tac federal prison, now home to 206 detained adults.  The third child was taken from her mother at the border.

The campaign will feature audio and video of children crying as U.S. agents take them away from their parents. The families come to the U.S. seeking asylum – an internationally guaranteed right – for themselves and their kids. They’re fleeing lawlessness, gang violence, war and repression in Central America, traveling through Mexico to get here.

Besides the firm running the Colorado center, other profit-making firms have won millions of dollars in non-competitive contracts to build and run the detention centers and transport the adults and kids.

Meanwhile, though the House may vote on – and may not pass – either immigration bill, Trump may not sign them. He complained to staffers, Politico reported, because they don’t include all $25 billion he wants for his Mexican Wall.

Both bills are also silent on another key immigration issue: What to do about the “Dreamers,” the 800,000 undocumented people brought to the U.S. as kids who are now students, service members and in jobs – and whom Trump wants to throw out of the country, through his elimination of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

The Republicans left the Dream Act, which would actually help legalize the Dreamers, by the wayside, upsetting unions and advocates for the undocumented people. The other estimated 11 million undocumented people in the U.S. have been more or less forgotten in the current uproar.

“Instead of embracing a real, comprehensive solution, the kind championed by the labor movement, some politicians instead are pushing two bills that actually would make the problem worse,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “These bills fail to protect families, slash channels for permanent immigration and expand abusive temporary work visa programs, and we will fight against them.”

The ACLU also condemned the bills up for consideration in the Republican-controlled House.

“Ryan’s bill is designed to imprison families,” declared Lorella Praeli, the ACLU’s director of immigration policy and campaigns. “It uses the alleged end of family separation as a way to justify dismantling protections against the jailing of children and families in mass prison camps. It will turbocharge immigration enforcement and it contains Donald Trump’s personal anti-immigrant wish list, border wall and all.”

“Trump’s border agents are grabbing kids who are crying for their parents. The president is intentionally trying to incite his racist base” in advance of the November mid-term election, Progressive Change Campaign Committee Co-Chair Adam Green told the June 20 telephone press conference.

The families the Border Patrol is picking up are people fleeing violence, lawlessness and murderous gangs in Central America, having traveled through Mexico to get to the border. They come from countries like Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, countries in which the U.S. has historically backed military dictatorships and fascistic leaders over democratically elected ones. The rightwing governments, the U.S. backed multinational corporations and violent gangs each in their own ways have combined to make life unbearable and dangerous for the immigrant workers showing up with their children at the southern U.S. border.

Photo provided by Custom and Border Protection to reporter on tour of detention facility in McAllen, Texas. Reporters were not allowed to take their own photos | Wikipedia (CC)

They present themselves at regular border entries, such as the Hidalgo Bridge, and ask for asylum. By law, they’re supposed to be admitted and scheduled for hearings. Instead, Pocan said, U.S. agents are stationing themselves on the bridge, preventing asylum applicants from crossing.

“At the Hidalgo Bridge, they won’t allow people into the processing room for asylum,” Pocan explained. The room is air-conditioned, against El Paso’s triple-digit heat. “So they (the applicants) cross the river and are called ‘illegal.’”

And the processing center’s cells for adults are tiny. “The detention center we went to has less space for them than we have at a supermax” – super-maximum security prison – “in Wisconsin,” Pocan said.

“The devil is in the details,” warned Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. His group’s lawsuits against Trump helped elevate the crisis in the public eye.

“This crisis will not abate until each and every single child is reunited with his or her parent. An 11th-hour executive order doesn’t fix the calamitous harm done to thousands of children and their parents. This executive order would replace one crisis for another.”

“Children don’t belong in jail at all, even with their parents, under any set of circumstances. If the president thinks placing families in jail indefinitely is what people have been asking for, he is grossly mistaken.”


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.

John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.