Jeh Johnson, Michael Nutter & Donald Trump Peas in a pod?

Left to right: Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson; presidential candidate Donald Trump; Mayor of Philadelphia Michael Nutter

by Sabrina Vourvoulias, AL DÍA News Media

Mayor Michael Nutter famously said he'd ban Trump from Philadelphia if he could, after the presidential candidate called for an entry ban and registry for Muslims. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson has called Trump's words about Muslims "beyond the pale."

Democrats — aspiring candidates as well as those already serving in local office and national administration — have gleefully seized on Trump as representative of the Republican Party's xenophobic and nativist tendencies. They've made haste and made hay to represent themselves as part of the party of inclusion and moderation.

But for all their bluster and fine words decrying Trump's outsized fear of Muslims, Nutter and Johnson are advancing plans that target another of the presidential candidate's preferred scapegoat groups — a group that has been relentlessly excoriated by xenophobes and nativists for at least two decades and has seen millions deported during the two terms of President Obama's administration: undocumented immigrants.

Jeh Johnson: rounding up central american women and children fleeing violence

Jeh Johnson, official portrait, public domain.

Starting as early as January, the Department of Homeland Security is preparing to conduct a number of large-scale raids targeting immigrants who recently came to the U.S. fleeing violence in Central America. According to the Washington Post, which broke the story Dec. 23, "The ICE operation would target only adults and children who have already been ordered removed from the United States by an immigration judge ... The adults and children would be detained wherever they can be found and immediately deported."

photo: efe

"News that the Obama Administration is considering a plan to round up Central American families and deport them proves, once again, that this Administration fails to understand these individuals are refugees seeking asylum and should be given humanitarian protection rather than punishment," said Ben Johnson, executive director of the American Immigration Council."We must stop treating these families as though they are criminals. It is not a crime to arrive at our borders and request protection, and the overwhelming evidence indicates that these families have legitimate claims under U.S. law."

Johnson has said that DHS is "expediting removal" of those who are deemed ineligible for asylum or refugee resettlement. But the decision about who is eligible for classification as an asylee or refugee is a hugely political one that has always deliberately disadvantaged those fleeing violence and repression in Central America and Mexico.

During the Central American civil wars of the 1980s, for example, Guatemalans and Salvadorans were categorized as "economic immigrants" (despite evidence of genocide, massacres, wholesale disappearance, and widespread human rights abuses) and the approval rate for asylum cases was 3 percent (compared to 60 percent for Iranians, 40 percent for Afghans, and 32 percent for Poles during the same period). Much has been written, in retrospect, about the inability of the Reagan administration to categorize the Central Americans as refugees/asylees given that the U.S. was materially and ideologically supporting the governments from which the petitioners were fleeing.

Today only 4 percent of asylum claims for Guatemalans, Hondurans and Salvadorans are successful despite the fact that El Salvador has the highest homicide rate in the world. In August it supplanted Honduras as the murder capital of the world, pushing Honduras to number 2: Guatemala rings in at number 6. The violence in those countries is partially a legacy of the bloody civil wars, partially the unimaginably violent narco culture of Salvadoran and Guatemalan gangs — which originated in Los Angeles, from where they were deported back to Central America. The Obama administration's support (after the fact) of those who orchestrated an unconstitutional coup in Honduras in 2009 has also contributed to an enduring sense of impunity that feeds the violence in that Central American nation.

Mexicans — some of them fleeing violence greatly exacerbated by the U.S.-Mexican "war on drugs" — are also rarely granted asylum in the United States. Aljazeera noted in an article in July that nearly 9,000 Mexicans applied for asylum in 2014, only 124 people were granted that status and some of those were applicants from previous years. By comparison, the article states, "4,773 Chinese citizens applied for asylum and 3,976 were granted refugee status" in 2014.

By its almost blanket refusal to grant asylee/refugee status to those from Central America and Mexico, the United States violates the U.N. refugee convention and protocols of which we are a signatory: "A refugee should not be returned to a country where he or she faces serious threats to his or her life or freedom. This protection may not be claimed by refugees who are reasonably regarded as a danger to the security of the country, or having been convicted of a particularly serious crime, are considered a danger to the community."

Other rights contained in the 1951 Convention include: The right not to be expelled, except under certain, strictly defined conditions (Article 32); The right not to be punished for illegal entry into the territory of a contracting State (Article 31); The right to work (Articles 17 to 19); The right to housing (Article 21); The right to education (Article 22); The right to public relief and assistance (Article 23); The right to freedom of religion (Article 4); The right to access the courts (Article 16); The right to freedom of movement within the territory (Article 26); and the right to be issued identity and travel documents (Articles 27 and 28)."

In April of 2015, Johnson put into place the Priority Enforcement Program (PEP), which purports to restrict ICE detainers to "special circumstances,” including cases in which the individual poses a risk to national security or has been convicted. But according to the the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), during April 2015 only 32 percent of individuals on whom detainers were placed had been convicted of a crime, only 19 percent had a felony conviction, and nearly two-thirds had no criminal conviction of any type. This supports what immigration advocates have long claimed: that the majority of those targeted by PEP (and Secure Communities before it) are ordinary folks (whose illegal entry or overstaying a visa is a civil, not criminal, offense) who cannot "reasonably (be) regarded as a danger to the security of the country," or be "considered a danger to the community."

photo: efe

And now, with raids focused primarily on family units — mostly women and children fleeing pervasively violent homelands — Johnson has wandered firmly into Trump territory. The Republican presidential candidate may speak with nostalgia about Eisenhower's Operation Wetback and propose to deport every last undocumented immigrant in the nation regardless of circumstance — but it's Johnson and the Obama administration who are readying for actual mass detentions/immediate deportations come January.

Since the mass raids have been announced, the Democratic presidential candidates have reacted variously. Martin O'Malley was the first to decry the plan, publicly tweeting about it through Dec. 24. Bernie Sanders posted his opposition to the plan the afternoon of the 24th. Hillary Clinton has not posted anything on her website nor tweeted about it (as this is being written) though spokespeople from her campaign have been quoted everywhere from Politico to EFE as "having concerns." Meanwhile, Donald Trump is claiming credit for the Johnson plan:

Peas in a pod, remember?

Michael nutter: No sanctuary — reinstating collaboration between local police and ICE

Michael Nutter, official portrait, public domain.

A day before the story of Johnson's planned mass raids broke, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter re-started Philadelphia's collaboration with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) through the federal government's Priorities Enforcement Program (PEP), changing sections of the anti-deportation Executive Order he had signed in April 2014.

Although Nutter characterized the changes as minimal, the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia (an interfaith immigrant justice organization) labeled it a "horrific policy" in a public statement the organization released Dec. 22:

"The City will notify ICE when people convicted of certain crimes are released from prison. This means ICE can be waiting for them when they walk out the door, as they have done in other cities. They will share the information of people with a broad and vague list of convictions: terrorism, espionage, gang related activity, aggravated felony, first or second degree felony involving violence, a felony involving unlawful possession of a firearm, or drug trafficking, murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, unlawful possession of a firearm, domestic violence or sexual assault or abuse or assault of a child, and possession with the intent to distribute controlled substances. They will also share the information of anyone the City's Managing Director decides is a threat to public safety, an especially broad and unclear category."
photo: al día news media

What, Philadelphia immigration advocates have asked from the first inklings of the changes, was the point of changing the existing executive order so close to the Jan. 4 inauguration of pro-immigrant Mayor-elect Jim Kenney?

Johnson's announced raids seem to make the answer to that question clear.

Immigration advocacy organizations have already started instructing those who might be targeted by the raids to prepare an emergency plan that includes gathering important documents such as children’s birth certificates, tax information, medical information, school diplomas, immigration documents that might help in fighting their case or getting them bond; and faith leaders have renewed their commitment to offer sanctuary in their churches. One of those is Rev. Adan Mairena, from West Kensington Ministry:

“Our elected officials cannot say ‘God bless America’ and at the same time deport, exclude, dehumanize, and criminalize those who come seeking refuge, in this case God’s children from Central America ... As a Christian I stand on the side of divine law and cannot remain silent as our elected leaders give into the darkness that are works to divide God’s family as opposed to uniting it. I, and others like me, will continue to put our faith into action no matter what.”

Fifteen days before the adoption of Nutter's changes to the ICE policy, the Philadelphia Family Unity Network (which, in addition to New Sanctuary Movement, includes the organizations 1Love Movement, Juntos, Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition and Victim/Witness Services of South Philadelphia) had detailed concerns about the changes (including the problematic nature of collaboration with DHS's PEP program) in a letter to Nutter:

"The Department of Homeland Security has traumatized Philadelphia’s immigrant communities through brutal, racist practices that have destroyed families and disrupted community stability with impunity. If your office would like to create an avenue for community input on issues related to law enforcement in immigrant communities, we suggest that you start by convening community forums to solicit input on city policies related to immigration from those directly affected by those policies. We know from experience that local efforts to address abuse at the hands of ICE will be fruitless without accountability at the federal level. This lack of accountability is a core piece of why we believe that any local participation in the deportation system should be prohibited."
photo: al día news media

But Nutter and his spokespeople have insisted that there is no ulterior motive for the rushed executive order changes, nor will they admit that the changes are significant.

Still, on Dec. 22, the Nutter administration sought to block both the New Sanctuary Movement and Juntos from the press conference announcing the final changes — presumably because both organizations had engaged in a civil disobedience action several weeks before (which resulted in a NSM member seeking hospital care after rough treatment from police at City Hall).

Not even an hour after Nutter's presser, a meme was circulating with Nutter's face superimposed on Trump's figure, along with the sentiment that with his action, the Philadelphia Mayor had taken a page from Trump's playbook:

Bar, register, Deport, incarcerate: the Donald Trump gambit

Donald Trump, photo by Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 3.0

Let's be clear: Donald Trump is a loud-mouth who has clawed his way to the top of the polls by stoking the fears of Americans. Syrian refugees, Muslims, Mexicans, immigrants — all have served as convenient scapegoats for his fear-mongering comments.

And as he's garnered popularity with this political gambit, we've witnessed his Republican cohorts move rightward on hot-button issues like immigration.

We've also watched the Democratic machine work to posit itself as the anti-Trump party. Nutter's comment about wishing he could bar the Republican candidate from the City of Brotherly Love is pure Democrat gold, for example, and Clinton's failed effort to pander to Latinos — "7 things Hillary Clinton has in common with your abuela" — made two out the seven reasons Trump-related.

photo: amnesty international

But when it comes to deportation and incarceration of undocumented immigrants, nobody comes close to challenging the Democrats' record. President Obama is thought to be close to the 3 million deportation mark (compared to the 2 million deported during Bush's two terms) and "since 2009, the total number of people who have entered the federal prison system for immigration offenses is greater than the number of people charged with weapons, violent, or property offenses combined," according to a report filed by Vice.

Until the end of October, when Clinton said she'd stop accepting their contributions, the private prison corporations that run immigrant detention centers had donated almost as much to the Clinton presidential campaign as they had to Marco Rubio's ($120,196 to Clinton; $126,550 to Rubio).

The Obama administration ajso approved the opening of two family detention centers in 2014 — the Karnes County Residential Center in Karnes City and the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley (run by for-profit corporations in cooperation with ICE ) — specifically to house mothers and children who came across the border in the 2014 surge of "unaccompanied minors." Both are under consideration for relicensing as residential centers for undocumented children, as a way to get around a court ruling that would have required them to release the children held in detention.

The third family detention center for immigrants is in York, Pa., Berks Residential Center, and has been open for the past 14 years. The center is said to be currently accommodating detained immigrant families who time-out of the two Texas centers, and in June it housed immigrants from Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, China, Mexico, Eritrea, Sudan, Yemen and El Salvador. It is licensed by the commonwealth (in October that license was called into question) and is operated by the county under the supervision of ICE in Philadelphia. It generated a revenue of $7.66 million for the county in 2014, and is projected to generate $10.26 million in 2015.

All three of family detention centers reportedly have documented histories of human rights abuses, including sexual assaults and abuses against children.

The federal government has said it would like to double the size of the Berks Residential Center in the near future ... and you have to wonder whether the facility is a cog in any DHS raids planned for our region, and Nutter's easing of police-ICE collaborations.

This time, the ones who need to answer questions about this Trump-ish gambit are members in good standing of the Democratic machine.

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