May 5, 2020

Trump’s disregard for immigrant life amid the pandemic bring us closer to a collapse of civilization

By Alfonso Gonzales Toribio
Director of the Latin American Studies Program and Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Riverside

The battle over Trump’s immigration policies in the middle of the pandemic is reaching a boiling point. 

At the core of all of his polices is a desire to accumulate wealth at all costs and a blatant disregard for human life that endangers a basic sense of right and wrong needed for a civilized world to function.

The President is forcing tens of thousands of meatpacking workers, many of them immigrants whom he ordered immigration raids on last August, back to the factory lines despite massive plant closures and at least 20 deaths and as many as 5,000 infections of meat workers nationwide according to the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.

This was the logic used by, Carl J. Nichols, a Federal District Judge, appointed by Trump, to reject a request made by the National Lawyers Guild, the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the Immigration Justice Campaign on behalf of detained clients asking for a suspension of all immigration court proceedings, including those involving children, during the pandemic.  

Advocates filled the suit citing due process and public health concerns to no avail. The decision means that Administration should be able to continue with its detained immigration court practices because it has taking sufficient measures to protect respondents in court.

Judge Nichols’s decision will have major implications for legal battles and activist demands for the release of thousands of detainees and a moratorium on immigration court hearings and deportations amid the pandemic. This is a setback for advocates who won a case on April 21, 2020 when Judge Jesus Bernal issued a temporary injunction on the continued detention of vulnerable detainees if ICE could not implement social distancing and protective measures amid the pandemic. This administration and its allies will feel empowered to continue with their immigration policies even as new ICE data reveals disturbing rates of infection in its detention facilities.

The same day of Judge Nichols decision, ICE revealed that out of the 705 people that it tested in detention, 425 have tested positive for COVID-19.  Another 92 ICE employees have also tested positive.

The actual number of people infected in its detention facilities is probably much higher considering that, like for most of us, so few have been tested.

ICE statistics do not include the thousands of children in immigration shelters, which are under the Office of Refugee Resettlement. There are already 42 confirmed cases of minors who have tested positive for COVID-19 in a South Chicago shelter and likely hundreds, maybe thousands  more that have not been tested yet.

Most of Trump’s policies are all long standing policy proposals inspired his advisors, many of whom were recruited from the ranks of Center for Immigration Studies and Federation for American Immigration Reform. These are controversial organizations founded by eugenicist John Tanton, a man who warned of a “Latin onslaught” and the need for a “Euromerican majority.”

Trump and has allies have weaponized the pandemic to push through a series cruel policy.

Among these are his April 22 ban on new green cards for 60 days, excluding undocumented people and U.S. citizens married to undocumented people that filed joint tax returns from receiving stimulus support.

On April 21 the Department of Education announced that it would exclude undocumented students from its $6 billion aid package designed to help students affected by the virus. This will make as many as 450,000 undocumented students even more vulnerable during the pandemic.

The deportation and detention machinery are also in full operation.

From March 27 to April 2, there were at least 7,000 deportations to Mexico, including those of 377 children, according to Reuters. Among the 14 cases of COVID-19 include children that have been traced back to a deportee in the border town Nuevo Laredo. In Guatemala, at least 50 deportees have tested positive.

Though ICE claims that there are only 2 people on strike in the Adelanto Detention Center, advocates say that hundreds of inmates have been on hunger strikes to protest conditions related to the virus in Otay Mesa, Bakersfield and in Adelanto detention centers all based in California.

Trump and his hardline supporters are fighting tooth and nail to keep immigration courts open along with the detention and deportation machinery, and to exclude immigrants from public policies designed to help people survive the pandemic.

Attorney General Barr has threatened to sue state governments on behalf of plaintiffs for overstepping COVID-19 restrictions. The rightwing non-profit the Center for American Liberty is also suing the State of California for making an improper gift to undocumented people with tax payer money.  

Trump and his supporters are using the pandemic as the latest front in a culture war that pits his base against their perceived enemies. For them the virus mostly impacts the elderly, blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, and apparently distant nations like Ecuador. This coupled with their skepticism of science, and cult-like veneration for Trump makes them emboldened and anxious to get the economy back to where it was even if it requires an executive order sacrificing meatpackers and attacks on democratic institutions like the media, courts, and federalism.  
Trump and his supporters will use any means twitter, law suits, intimidation, and armed protests to make their case.

This is an assault, not just on immigrants and Latinos, but on the post-WWII order with its social safety net, public health institutions, labor, civil and human rights, the Refugee Convention, and a spirit of multilateralism that restored a sense of human decency after the rise of Fascism and the death of 200,000 million people

Though we are certainly not doomed to repeat history, keeping the deportation-detention machinery running and rushing to reopen the economy — even if it means sacrificing the health of millions — is disturbing. It is the type of disregard for human life that brings us one step closer to a 21st-century collapse not just of liberal democracy but of civilization.  

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