Donald Trump’s State of the Union Address and Migrants     Part III: The Balderdash of Barriers at the Border

Donald Trump, a skeezy hustler rather than a “plutocrat with impeccable business instincts,” Donald Trump, insecure in the legitimacy of his presidency, has been so dedicated to keeping out prying eyes from the sordidness of his business dealings that it should be no surprise that he wants walls to keep people out. It should also be no surprise that he has invested so much of his diminishing political capital in his campaign promise to build a wall on America’s southern border with Mexico. The wall is much more important as a symbol than as a real barrier. For in his florid imagination, Trump needed a wall. But facts first and symbolism later.

It has not been because of real threats. Trump opined: “We have terrorists coming through the southern border because they find that’s probably the easiest place to come through. They drive right in and they make a left.” However, there may have been up to a half dozen terrorists who entered the U.S. through the northern border with Canada, and all at legal entry points. However, Trump does not campaign to build a wall along the Canadian border.

Further, in spite of his portrayal of Mexico as a portal for terrorists, a State Department report of September 2017 (Country Reports on Terrorism) released a year later found that, “Counterterrorism cooperation between Mexico and the United States remained strong in 2017. Improved information sharing regarding migrant populations constituted a major step forward. At year’s end there was no credible evidence indicating that international terrorist groups have established bases in Mexico, worked with Mexican drug cartels, or sent operatives via Mexico into the United States. [my emphasis] The U.S. southern border remains vulnerable to potential terrorist transit, although terrorist groups likely seek other means of trying to enter the United States.”

The report covering Canada is much longer. Unlike Mexico, Canada has been home to “violent extremists inspired by terrorist groups such as ISIS and al-Qaida and their affiliates and adherents.” When it comes to land crossings, Canada, unlike Mexico, has been a source of terrorist suspects entering the U.S., though not in great numbers. By far the majority of people who arouse concern try to enter by air. “By the end of 2017, approximately 180 Canadian citizens or permanent residents had traveled abroad to engage in terrorist activity in Syria and Iraq to fight for ISIS and approximately 60 have since returned to Canada.” Yet there has never been a suggestion that a wall be built along the Canadian border.

On 3 February 2019 on CBS’s Face the Nation, Trump actually put forth the position that, “Human traffickers and sex traffickers take advantage of the wide-open areas between our ports of entry to smuggle thousands of young girls and women into the United States and to sell them into prostitution and modern-day slavery.” It was a repetition of what he had said two days earlier. “Human traffickers and sex traffickers take advantage of the wide-open areas between our ports of entry to smuggle thousands of young girls and women into the United States and to sell them into prostitution and modern-day slavery.”

This is the portrait Trump paints of the caravans, mostly consisting of women and children, fathers and brothers from Central America moving through Mexico to make refugee claims at America’s legal points of entry. And just a few days ago. “Human trafficking by airplane is almost impossible. Human trafficking by van and truck, in the back seat of a car, and going through a border where there’s nobody for miles and miles, and there’s no wall to protect — it’s very easy. They make a right, then they make a left. They come into our country. And they sell people.”

These are not facts. There is virtually no evidence to back up such claims. These are products of a fevered imagination and/or a political calculus to stir up fear. His proof offered in his State of the Union Address: “The border city of El Paso, Texas, used to have extremely high rates of violent crime — one of the highest in the country, and considered one of our nation’s most dangerous cities. Now, with a powerful barrier in place, El Paso is one of our safest cities.”

In fact, the Secure Fence Act from 2006 during the George W. Bush administration led to the construction of a fence in El Paso between 2008 and 2009. However, violent crime reached a peak in 1993. 6,500 violent crimes were committed that year. Between 1993 and 2006, crime in the city fell 34%. Two years after the wall was completed, crime rates were actually up 17% from 2006 to 2011.

Police-community relations and cooperation between law enforcement agencies at different political levels were the main factors that contributed to the city’s safety before the border fence was even constructed. It is believed by many that the decision to construct the fence by federal authorities contributed to a degree in the breakdown of those relations. Much more importantly, building the wall “reduced trust and cooperation in immigrant communities” with law enforcement authorities.

“Police chiefs know that to be effective at crime control in this community-policing era, they must have public support. If local police are perceived as immigration enforcement officers, immigrants—both documented and undocumented— will avoid contact with police because of fear of arrest and deportation of themselves or a family member; 85 percent of immigrants in the U.S. live in mixed-status families.” (The Police Foundation Report 2009)

Take another border town, Nogales, Arizona. There a barrier wall was considered insufficient. The army strung miles of barbered concertina wire to further divide the intimately integrated 400,000 people of Nogales, Arizona, USA and Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. The population is split between the two municipalities roughly 50/50. Meredith Mingledorff, spokesperson for the Customs and Border Protection agency (CBP), announced that CBP was in the process of adding four to six additional lines of concertina wire in “high-risk urban areas commonly exploited by criminal smuggling organizations” on U.S. government property, outside of the town’s jurisdiction.

After all, city officials would never have permitted it. They saw no threats. Since the opening of the maquiladora industry through the National Industrialization Program in Mexico, economic integration had increased enormously. Further, American citizens of Nogales resented making their city look like a prison or concentration camp. Yet the CBP claimed that, “Hardening of current infrastructure specifically in high-risk locations of the urban area help reduce the illicit activity, to include violent criminals, in these areas and increase the public safety.”

What threats? The 254 pounds of fentanyl and 395 pounds of methamphetamine seized by border patrol agents in a Nogales bust were narcotics smuggled in a truck heading through a port of entry. A 50-foor long tunnel has been found before it could be used to smuggle drugs. Further, as virtually all studies have shown, undocumented migrants commit crimes at a lower rate than native Americans. U.S. border cities are generally safer than other U.S. cities. Crime rates there have either been stagnant or even dropped in recent years.

For example, in 2016, “border communities like Laredo, El Paso, Edinburg and Brownsville all saw fewer than 400 crimes for every 100,000 residents.” As a Nogales businessman, Eva Kory, said, “You hear on the news that an invasion is coming, but in fact, border communities have been invaded by our own government.” As U.S. Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva stated, “The additional wire is nothing more than a spectacle by the Trump administration to reinforce his twisted narrative of rampant lawlessness at the border.”

In his SOUA, DT claimed that, “San Diego used to have the most illegal border crossings in our country. In response, a strong security wall was put in place. This powerful barrier almost completely ended illegal crossings.” However, San Diego’s original fencing was completed in 1994According to the Congressional Research Service, that fence alone “did not have a discernible impact” on the number of immigrants crossing the border into the United States illegally or in almost doubling the numbers apprehended between 1994 and 2018.

Do Trump and his supporters fear the demographic changes that seem so disproportionately favour the Democratic Party, a party in which support is based on a coalition of minorities, women, educated youth and progressives that once were the hallmarks of the Republican Party that Abraham Lincoln represented and in which Frederick Douglas, the greatest black American statesman of the nineteenth century, was a stalwart member?

The above recitations are just examples of the efforts to keep people out, even   though the effort to gain entry illegally declined by over 75% from the peak in 1993. 396,579 immigrants crossed the border illegally in 2018; in 2000, there were 1,643,679 arrests.

The other half of the effort entails kicking people out who are not legal residents of the U.S. by diverting resources into deportation, not just of felons, but of overstayers and those found without any proper visa at all. Even those legally in the U.S., but who are deemed likely to become a public charge because of their use of welfare and Medicaid, are being targeted for deportation. The number of undocumented migrants in the U.S, is currently at its lowest level since 2004. In fiscal year 2018, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement removed 256,058 people; ICE removed 409,849 people in fiscal year 2012 during the Obama administration.

In his SOUA, Trump claimed that, “In the last 2 years, our brave ICE officers made 266,000 arrests of criminal aliens, including those charged or convicted of nearly 100,000 assaults, 30,000 sex crimes, and 4,000 killings.” The impression left was that the Trump administration had been more effective in deporting criminals. The facts are otherwise. Even according to a Trump apologist like Steven Camarota, excluding immigration violations, only 67,000 non-citizens in total were sentenced in the federal courts between 2011 and 2016. The total number in 2017 and 2018 had to be less than 30,000.

It is true that ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations made a total of 143,470 arrests in fiscal 2017, a 30% rise from fiscal 2016, largely in Florida, Oklahoma and northern Texas. The highest number of arrests (16,250) were made in the Dallas area. A border town like El Paso had among the fewest arrests (2,000). The reason: DT signed an executive order on 25 January that expanded ICE’s enforcement focus to most immigrants in the U.S. without authorization, regardless of whether they have a criminal record. Under President Barack Obama, by contrast, ICE prioritized the arrests of those convicted of serious crimes.

Under Trump, ICE shifted its focus from border to interior enforcement. In 2009, the year Obama came into office, with his focus on border enforcement and the arrest of non-citizens who had committed felonies, 297,898 were arrested, about twice the number of Trump in his first year in office. However, under Trump, though the number of arrests declined by about 50%, the percentage of those arrested for criminal offences rose from 39% to a majority with prior convictions. What were the vast majority of those convictions? Not assault. Traffic and drug offenses were the most common past convictions. In 2017, 48,454 had prior convictions or pending assault charges. But 62,517 had been arrested for immigration offenses, 76,503 for dangerous drug offenses and 148,893 for traffic offences.

However, the key reports that rile people up are not statistics, no matter how misleading, but notorious individual cases. On 25 April 2018, Luis Bracamontes was sentenced to death in a Sacramento court for killing two police officers on 24 October 2014, Sacramento County sheriff’s Deputy Danny Oliver and Placer County sheriff’s Detective Michael Davis Jr. Bracamontes was an illegal migrant living in the U.S. Trump acolytes publicized this case to support Trump’s policies, ignoring that the arrest had been made under the Obama administration.

What was also ignored was that:

Bracamontes had been deported multiple times before his crime rampage on 24 October 2014

First arrested on charges related to marijuana possession in Phoenix in 1996, he was sentenced to four months in jail and then deported in 1997 when Bill Clinton was president

In 1998, Bracamontes was arrested on drug charges in Phoenix, then released by the office of the notorious Maricopa County Sheriff, Joe Arpaio, “for reasons unknown,” the same sheriff whom Donald Trump pardoned on 25 August 2017; Arpaio had been convicted of racial profiling in open defiance of a federal judge’s court order to stop and desist

LB last entered the country while George W. Bush was president and deported again when caught with marihuana

He lived near Salt Lake City until that fatal 2014 road trip fueled by methamphetamine ended in the two murders

Arpaio, ignoring the 1998 incident, in 2014 lamented the mushiness of federal immigration law; “Once again we are faced with another tragedy on our hands because of a form of ‘backdoor amnesty.”

There was no amnesty, only the hypocrisy and dishonesty of the Trump administration.

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One comment on “Donald Trump’s State of the Union Address and Migrants     Part III: The Balderdash of Barriers at the Border

  1. Tristan Laing says:

    Hi Professor, I was wondering if you might have a copy of the talk you have at the Ontario Student Co-op Association conference, back about ten years ago. I’m asking because at the time I didn’t fully understand the conversation you were having with Freud and Eric Fromm, but I’ve since learned about the NASCO conference in ’68, and I’ve gotten ahold of a transcript of a talk you gave in ’71, and I’m trying to put these pieces together. I think in some ways the co-ops that have survived are really more similar to Rochdale than Campus Co-op in the 1950s (while they lack the “free love” thing, the career-orientedness has merged with a hyper individuality, and a general fear/dislike of the other). So, these conversations about “therapeutic communities” and their pitfalls remain highly relevant for attempts to organize co-ops today.

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