February 18, 2020
Trump seems to forget that he is president of the United States - the whole thing. Sadly, most of us are not free to forget this. In any event, Trump’s administration now seems set to go to war against large urban areas that are not cooperating sufficiently (in his mind) with his immigration crackdown.
The New York Times reported on Friday that the administration would be sending Border Patrol Tactical Units (BORTAC) to “sanctuary cities” to begin rounding up “illegal” immigrants. The scale of the operation is not so grand as the announcement - 100 agents, which will include regular CBP personnel as well as BORTAC units. It is reminiscent of Trump’s announcement last year that he would begin rounding up “millions” of immigrants, which quickly, upon fact checks, came only to several thousand people with removal orders and known addresses in 11 cities. That major operation never happened, though 143,000 immigrants were arrested last year (a decline from annual averages during Obama’s years, by the way, for those who long for "better" times). What did happen was the spread of fear throughout immigrant communities over several weeks - as people stayed close to home or did not go out at all for fear of arrest and separation from family. The fear was probably the point back then and is, no doubt, the main point now. The big guns and fancy SWAT gear help.
If one is surprised by this, a quick reminder that Immgration and Customs Enforcement was in the news last year for building training sites modelled on Chicago neighborhoods as well as communities in Arizona. The sites were for their Special Response Teams (SRT). The training sites were located at the Office of Firearms and Tactical Programs' (OFTP) Tactical Operations Complex (TOC) at Ft. Benning (which is a huge base, where lots of things happen, but perhaps not coincidentally, where the U.S. military has trained Latin American counterparts and police to more or less undermine democracy when they get back home).
So, brace yourself for the alphabet soup of acronyms: ICE was training SRTs at the TOC of the OFTP last year, and now CBP is deploying BORTACs to work side by side with ICE’s office of ERO and possibly ICE SRTs as well.
Anyway, Sanctuary Cities are one of Trump’s favorite targets for ridicule and condemnation. As such, sanctuary cities have been the target of the administration’s fog of war (lies). Sanctuary cities are crime ridden, we were told. Not true, relatively safer - though probably not for reasons having to do with sanctuary. The administration apparently had discussions about sending people picked up at the border to sanctuary cities as retaliation. Actually, most people go to the so-called sanctuary cities anyway, once they are released, because they are some of the largest cities in the country (New York, Los Angeles, etc).
Sanctuary itself is not very well defined. Most “sanctuary” cities have refused to cooperate with some aspect of ICE enforcement operations, typically this simply means not holding people in jails beyond their scheduled release time for ICE, absent a judicial warrant. It can also mean not using city facilities for detention at all. Or in some cases, not sharing identification databases with ICE. In many cases, these sanctuary policies pre-date Trump, though one impact of Trump’s war on immigrants is to encourage more localities to identify as sanctuary jurisdictions. One of the cities on Trump’s list, Houston, is not a sanctuary city at all. While the city’s government has been generally supportive of the immigrant community here, Texas’s legislature has made “sanctuary cities” illegal in the state. If Houston is on the list for enforcement, it must be for the optics of these operations rather than retribution.
While it is possible the main point of these announced operations is to generate fear (more than actual detentions), enforcement operations will still take place. (They always do.)
As the administration has essentially blocked the border using, well, most of Mexico to do so, there has been concern that the administration will expand internal removal operations in the coming months to generate publicity for his re-election bid. He seems convinced that draconian enforcement measures are good for his re-election chances.
Which means 10 more months (at least) of grand-standing and outright lies about immigration and immigrants.