On Monday, July 15, the day after President Donald Trump threatened about 2,000 undocumented immigrants with arrest and deportation, his mendacity was exposed for all to see at the Los Angeles federal building downtown. What soon became clear was that the so-called arrests were just another con to frighten immigrants and their families.

I had gone to the federal building to report on the immigrants who expected to be swept up in the administration’s announced raids. Instead, I found courtrooms and hallways that were all but empty—remarkable considering that up to 1 million immigrants are presently awaiting hearings. If there were government vans carrying prisoners to jail, I did not see them.

From Los Angeles and the other nine cities targeted for ICE raids, the reports were generally the same. “Large-scale raids or any uptick has not happened,” said Judy London, the directing attorney of the immigrants’ rights project at Public Counsel, a Los Angeles-based public interest law firm. “So it was about spreading fear/pleasing the base.”

Shortly before 2 p.m., CNN reported that a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement official had announced there had been no mass arrests. That Wednesday, I checked with American Civil Liberties Union offices in Los Angeles and New York, and officials said they had received no reports of increases in arrests. “From what I have seen from the 10 target cities is that nothing really came out of his announcement of all the raids,” said Victor Narro, a project director of the UCLA Labor Center and a national immigrant rights advocate. “The important thing for us is to remain vigilant and continue to be prepared.”

After announcing his roundup of undocumented immigrants, Trump launched a racist Twitter assault against Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, urging each to go back to where they came from—this despite the fact that all are U.S. citizens and three of the four were born in this country. “Our Country is Free, Beautiful and Very Successful,” he tweeted. “If you hate our country or you are not happy here, you can leave.”  In another tweet, he wrote, “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”

Taken together, the president’s tweets pose a threat to public safety if not American democracy. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the HBO mini-series “Chernobyl,” which examines the consequences of a government built on lies. Estimations of casualties vary widely, but it is believed that several thousand people perished as a result of a nuclear plant explosion in Ukraine on April 26, 1986. Soviet officials maintained that just 31 died in the accident.

As the five-part television series explains, the old Soviet Union’s culture of lying was instrumental in causing those deaths. Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum, who reported from Chernobyl, wrote that the problems at the nuclear plant were deeper than the explosion itself. “Layer upon layer of lies and falsehoods surrounded the accident from the beginning,” she said. “First, the reactor’s leadership, then the Soviet leadership, covered up the explosion. Later they tried to cover up the human errors that led to the disaster. That was why measurements were not made, assessments were not completed, victims were not informed.”

When I’m told that American institutions could never buckle like this, I point to the little-understood but immensely powerful immigration courts on which I have been reporting for years. Not only are their judges appointed by the attorney general and answer to a given administration, but these officials end up shaping much of our immigration policy from their respective benches. And with its long waiting lists and secretive arrests, the system is being used as a tool to whip up hysteria against the immigrants.

For four days, Trump terrorized the Central American and Mexican communities with the mere threat of mass arrests. And in the process, he incited fear and hatred among supporters who chanted “send her back” during his most recent rally in North Carolina. All of this adds up to an assault on immigrants, people of color and our constitutional rights.


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