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Featured photograph of Dolores Bustamente supporters at Batavia Immigrations and Custom Enforcement facility, December 17, 2017. By Patricia Rodríguez
By Patricia Rodríguez
Although it is often invisible to many residents across Upstate New York, some of our community members are facing the nightmare of deportation processes. These processes, which disrupt the lives of productive community members, are a symptom of the mass security build-up nationwide that has taken allegedly dangerous immigrants as its excuse in recent years. Arrests, detentions, and deportations have been increasing in New York and nationwide since Donald Trump took office, and they generate much hardship and heartbreak for those affected.
Dolores Bustamante, who has worked for years in the apple orchards in Wayne County, is one community member whose life was turned upside-down on the fateful day in 2014 when she was pulled over by a state trooper for speeding. Bustamante, who is also a member of the Alianza de Mujeres Campesinas (Campesina Women’s Alliance) and a board member of the Central New York Workers’ Center, has been fighting deportation after the trooper turned her over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials during that routine traffic stop. Since that day, she has had to report monthly to ICE officials, and has had to attend at least six court hearings. Each hearing brings tremendous uncertainty and heartbreak for Bustamente, as she wonders if she will get to see her children again. At a rally in May 2017, in front of the ICE Detention Center in Batavia, before she reported to an immigration judge for the fifth time, Dolores said: “My only crime has been to work honestly, and be independent so my family can have a better life.” In her last appearance in front of an immigration judge on December 19, 2017, the judge delayed the hearing due to lack of a translator, giving her another few months in the area as her lawyer works on her asylum request.
Watch Dolores Bustamente and her attorney speak after a December 17, 2017, immigration court hearing in Batavia, New York. Video via Facebook/Workers’ Center of CNY
Dolores came to the United States fourteen years ago, from Morelos, Mexico, fleeing both from domestic violence and from gang violence and crime. Although she risks her own safety and permanence, she has advocated along with other activists from the Workers’ Justice Center of New York (in Rochester) and the CNY Workers Center (in Syracuse), for more just immigration policies. She and others have pressed state officials to come up with adequate policies to protect immigrant communities.
In January 2017, NY State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman published the Guidance Concerning Local Authority Participation in Immigration Enforcement and Model Sanctuary Provisions, which encourages local governments to advise local police and state troopers not to cooperate with immigration authorities during routine traffic stops and other incidents.
Still, the policies that protect the rights of immigrants are not routinely followed. As Carly Fox, from the Workers’ Justice Center of New York said in March 2017, “along the northern border, we have been facing unprecedented numbers of people being turned over to Border Patrol by our local law enforcement” (March 17; Rochester City Newspaper). This and other cases of arrest and deportation are part of a bigger trend of increasing policing of people deemed to be non-citizens.
All the confusion around immigration issues in the political realm obscures much about the fundamental causes of this policing.
For instance, the latest round of the “Dreamer talks” on Thursday January 4, 2018, between President Donald Trump and Congressional representatives did not bring any clarity on the future of DACA (Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals) legislation, which expires in March. DACA has given protection to 800,000 undocumented people who arrived in the U.S. as young children and have fulfilled all the requirements of the law. It only reaffirmed that any possible bipartisan deal on DACA will likely only go forward if Congress approves funding for a border wall, an end to the diversity lottery visa, and a significant change to family-based immigration visas. Trump came out of the talks saying “We are going to have a wall,” but at least one Republican (Senator James Lankford) was cited as saying that Trump doesn’t really mean a massive physical wall. Confusion will continue to reign, likely even after the administration comes up with a written-up ‘framework of border security’ proposal, in the next days or week.
In the meantime, Democrats seem to be open to accepting ‘reasonable’ border security measures, like increased use of drones, drug detention, and surveillance, rather than making a true push for a Clean Dream Act, or one without an ‘you give me this, I give you that’ assumption.
Getting behind a Clean Dream Act is urgent, yes! A clean Dream Act would create pathways to citizenship for Dreamers, but does not use them as a bargaining chip for such things as more deportation centers or a border wall. But structurally, even a Clean Dream Act will not change much if the rest of the mass security buildup that is on the table isn’t stopped.
Beyond the grand plans to fund a border wall, understanding the rest of the always-vague immigration demands being made by Trump since his election is key. Seemingly behind closed doors, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Trump have asked some lawmakers for $18 billion for a wall, $5.7 billion for new surveillance technology, around $1 billion for building road infrastructure in border areas, and another $8.5 billion for added personnel. That’s a total of more than $33 billion over the next ten years! This represents a complete militarizing of border regions, and inland areas as well.
From afar, it seems that the bipartisan solution to this round of Dream Act talks might result only in spending less than $33 billion on these security state measures, rather than making any radical changes to the ever-increasing build-up. One of the bills currently being discussed in Congress is H.R. 3548, or the Border Security for America Act of 2017 (sponsored by Rep. Michael McCaul R-TX). It has 77 current co-sponsors, including Republican New York Representatives John Katko, Peter King, Daniel Donovan, Chris Collins, and Lee Zeldin. The bill would enable the Secretary of Homeland Security to take actions to “construct, install, deploy, operate and maintain tactical infrastructure and technology in the vicinity of the U.S. border to deter, impede, and detect illegal activity in high traffic areas” including checkpoints, reinforced fences, and physical barriers such as border wall system. The bill includes an authorization of up to $10 billion through the fiscal period 2018-2021, which would in part fund the hiring of 26,370 more Border Patrol agents and more than 27,725 CBP (Customs and Border Protection) agents. On top of this, DHS will likely get other approvals to hire thousands for the already 20,000-strong ICE division.
Jose Guzman Lopez, an Ithaca resident for 11 years before he was detained by ICE in May 2017, was released on bond last week.
H.R. 3548 includes the provision that DHS can carry out activities without regard to 36 federal laws, Including the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Air Act. Up until October, the list of federal law exemptions included Freedom of Information Act laws, which would have given carte blanche for any U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials to operate without having to disclose their actions to anyone. This waiver was removed at the request of one of the co-sponsors of the bill, Rep. Martha McSally (AZ), the day after journalist Dylan Smith, from the Tucson Sentinel, brought attention to the proposed exemption in an Oct. 3rd 2017 news article. Rep. McSally provided no clear explanation of why it was there in the first place, although Smith’s article from October 4th, 2017 cites a Congressional source as saying that “the wording of the law repeats past waivers granted by the secretary of Homeland Security.” This means, allegedly, that these exemptions are already part of the protocol.
All of this emphasis on security and secrecy should not be a surprise to some of us, as the build-up has been happening in the U.S., Mexico and Central America as far back as the late 1980s, since the intensification of the War on Drugs. It intensified with the tying of the Homeland Security state with the Global War on Terror, after 9/11. As scholar Alfonso Gonzalez argues in his book Reform Without Justice, in the early 2000s the U.S. Southern Military Command (SOUTHCOM) and other U.S. foreign policy institutions ‘began to speak of [migration and other issues] as ‘transnational threats’…that cut across borders and boundaries, across seaways, across the air, and in the end, are threats to the United States as well” (2014, 104).
Today, Central American governments cooperate with the U.S. government in draconian anti-gang and anti-drug emergency plans, for which the U.S. contributes billions of dollars. Since 2015, Plan Alliance for Prosperity pits together the U.S., El Salvadoran, Guatemalan, and Honduran governments in work toward neoliberal development and a ‘law-and-order’ infrastructure that only deepens the inequities and racial and other discriminations that run deep in the region. In addition, the U.S. Central American Security Initiative has spent $1.7 billion in resources, training operations, detention operations, and deployment of roadside blockades throughout Central America since 2008. A similar militarization plan exists in Mexico, Plan Mérida, which is included in H.R. 3548. In addition, according to journalist Todd Miller in his new book Storming the Wall, the U.S. intelligence community has also identified global warming as a driver of immigration especially from the Caribbean. A series of ‘integrated advanced’ simulations have been executed, with the goal of strengthening joint operations between SOUTHCOM, CBP and the Coast Guard to block boats and ships in high waters before they reach the U.S. coast. These plans fail to address poverty, crime, and resolve nothing about the situations that lead to migration.
To return more close to home, and as a part of these anti-migrant schemes, the REAL ID Act passed by Congress in 2005 established standards and requirements (such as a social security number, and the creation of databases with residents’ personal information) for states to follow in relation to granting and use of driver’s licenses. New York State is currently working to become compliant to this federal law. When the law takes full effect, likely by October 2020, it will represent one (more) way for local and federal government officials to police anyone whom they think is a non-citizen.
It is inhumane that people’s DACA status is being used as leverage for this massive militarization scheme. Let’s understand that the security buildup is not new, but now is increasingly visible throughout the U.S. One way to resist this is to organize from the grassroots to build collectives and solidarity around immigrant activist groups. These groups demand that legislators, CEOs, farm owners, and others don’t just stick their heads out to defend their own interests. It is time to begin to put an end to the punitive system, and create a coalition of grassroots groups that demand an end to this security state build-up that uses destructive and unjust mechanisms to resolve immigration issues.
Patricia Rodríguez is an Associate Professor of Politics at Ithaca College, and member of the Steering Committee of the Tompkins County Immigrant Rights Coalition (TCIRC). Contact her at email@example.com.