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Trump Policies Prompt Dread in Latino and Muslim Immigrant Communities

Yaritza Mendez, an outreach coordinator for the nonprofit Make the Road New York. Amid proposals to shift the nation from a family-based immigration system to one that favors skilled workers, Mendez—who seeks to bring her Dominican mother to the U.S.—has a heavy load of clients. (Julie Jacobson / AP)

No issue better illustrates the true nature of President Trump and his administration than immigration. Here, his contempt for democratic institutions and human rights runs free, as illustrated by his appointment of new chief of staff Gen. John Kelly.

Trump is so much a national embarrassment that it is tempting to avert our eyes from the danger he presents to the country. Laughing at “Saturday Night Live” is fun, but the truth is almost too much to contemplate: In the Oval Office sits an authoritarian rabble-rouser who would relish packing foes off to jail, including Hillary Clinton and busloads of dissidents.

Kelly, when he headed the Department of Homeland Security, teamed up with Attorney General Jeff Sessions to send immigration cops through Latino neighborhoods and gathering places in search of people who lacked the documents needed to make their presence legal. Sessions is dangling on the edge of survival in the Trump administration, but Kelly has moved into the White House, where he will be influential until he, in turn, is stabbed in the back.

Kelly and Sessions are brothers in the anti-immigrant crusade that is directed against Latinos and Muslims. “For those that continue to seek improper and illegal entry into this country, be forewarned: This is a new era. This is the Trump era,” Sessions said in April in announcing more prosecution of undocumented immigrants and increased penalties. “The lawlessness, the abdication of the duty to enforce our immigration laws, and the catch-and-release practices of old are over.”

In an appearance with Sessions in San Diego earlier this year, Kelly pledged “to continue to expand our approach to deterring illegal migration. That includes constructing a physical barrier, supporting it with technology, and patrolling it with a dedicated and professional workforce.” In other words, Trump’s wall.

Sessions and Kelly have also teamed up against the sanctuary movement, in which state and local governments prohibit local authorities from enforcing immigration laws, and bar local jails from turning over suspected undocumented immigrants to Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the absence of warrants.

In a joint statement, Kelly and Sessions said, “Some jurisdictions, including the state of California and many of its largest counties and cities, have enacted statutes and ordinances designed to specifically prohibit or hinder ICE from enforcing immigration law by prohibiting communication with ICE, and denying requests by ICE officers and agents to enter prisons and jails to make arrests. As a result, ICE officers and agents are required to locate and arrest these aliens in public places, rather than in secure jail facilities.”

That means patrolling areas near schools where parents escort children to classes; places where day laborers wait for work; bus and train stations; and in courthouses where immigrants must appear as defendants, witnesses or crime victims.

The idea of patrolling courthouses prompted California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye to say, “Courthouses should not be used as bait in the necessary enforcement of our country’s laws.”

With Trump as president, these steps go beyond aggressive enforcement of immigration laws. His rhetoric evokes racism.

His current target — and that of Sessions and Kelly — is a gang called MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha, formed in the 1980s among immigrants from El Salvador in Los Angeles’ Pico-Union district. MS-13’s aim at first was to protect Salvadoran immigrants from Mexican gangs in impoverished, overcrowded Pico-Union, but it became a major and vicious criminal organization, extending its murderous tactics to homeland El Salvador as well as to Eastern Seaboard communities.

Trump recently took his message to Long Island’s Suffolk County, where he told law enforcement officers that MS-13 has turned the area into “blood-stained killing fields.”

“They kidnap. They extort. They rape, and they rob,” Trump said. “They stomp on their victims. They beat them with clubs, they slash them with machetes, and they stab them with knives. They have transformed peaceful parks and beautiful, quiet neighborhoods into bloodstained killing fields. They’re animals.”

Trump’s speech was not just an attack on the gang. His words morphed into an attack on all recent immigrants, who are mostly Latino or people from Muslim-majority countries.

In his presentation, they were all criminals: “You say, ‘What happened to the old days where people came into this country, they worked and they worked and they worked and they had families and they paid taxes and they did all sorts of things, and their families got stronger and they were closely knit.’ We don’t see that. Failure to enforce our immigration laws had predictable results: drugs, gangs and violence.”

And he urged rough police behavior in dealing with these problems. “When you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon, you just see them thrown in, rough, I said, please don’t be too nice. Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put your hand over. Like, don’t hit their head, and they’ve just killed somebody. Don’t hit their head. I said, you can take the hand away, OK?”

These two passages from the mouth of Donald Trump, combined with the words and policies of John Kelly and Jeff Sessions, illustrate the anti-democratic nature of the administration as well as its eagerness to trample on the rights of immigrants.

Kelly and Sessions are sending their investigators and lawyers into Latino neighborhoods, spreading fear that also extends to mosques. And Trump’s message on how he wants cops to treat suspects is clear — giving presidential approval to law enforcement officers to use brutal methods, and for closeted bigots to come out and express their venom publicly.

As they said of Hitler’s “Mein Kampf,” just read the man’s words.

Superficial stories and analyses of the Trump administration focus on its confusion, internal warfare, ineffectiveness and Trump’s wackiness.

In reading or watching this, it’s easy to get the impression nothing is being done, that the administration is stalemated by its own ineffectiveness. A lot of people even think it’s a joke.

But it’s not funny for Latino, Muslim and other dark-skinned immigrants who are the targets of a campaign being run with ruthless efficiency. Nobody’s laughing in those communities.

Bill Boyarsky
Political Correspondent
Bill Boyarsky is a political correspondent for Truthdig. He is a former lecturer in journalism at the Annenberg School for Communication of the University of Southern California. Boyarsky was city editor of…
Bill Boyarsky

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