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Mark Dowie

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Donald Trump’s Modern-Day Gestapo

Posted on Apr 20, 2017

  NWDC Resistance organizer and co-founder Maru Mora Villapando outside the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Wash. (Ted S. Warren / AP)

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The Republican Party likes to tout “family values.” Its website says, “The family is the bedrock of our nation. When American families flourish, so too does our country.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan told an undocumented mother at a town hall meeting earlier this year, “What we have to do is find a way to make sure that you can get right with the law, and we’ve got to do this in a good way, so that the rug doesn’t get pulled out from under you and you and your family get separated.” He added, “That’s the way we feel, and that is exactly what our new incoming president said he wants to do. ... We don’t want to see you separated from your family.”

But under Donald Trump’s presidency, the idea of family values has turned into even more of a joke than before, due to explicit policies that are tearing families apart over a piece of paper.

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There are growing numbers of heart-rending stories of family separations, such as that of 13-year-old Fatima Avelica, who videotaped her father being taken into custody by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents on his way from dropping her off at school. Avelica’s sobs, heard over the recording, are a haunting soundtrack to the scars she will bear all her life from the memory of the moment her family was ripped apart.

Equally horrifying is the story of Desiree Mares, whose father, José, was picked up by ICE agents—in a manner that recalls Nazi Germany’s Gestapo, or secret police—and deported to Mexico within 24 hours. Eighteen-year-old Desiree is reeling from the loss of a man she considers her best friend and who, as a single parent, raised her for most of her life.

We should all be chilled to the bone at the accounts of plainsclothes ICE agents hunting and ambushing undocumented immigrants. In his account of Mares’ arrest, LA Weekly reporter Jason McGahan wrote, “The agents knew where he lived, they knew where he worked, they knew his daily routine and what route he took to work. ‘They were watching me,’ [Mares] says.”

ICE agents have even taken to tracking immigrants in courthouses and arresting them. So angry was one judge at their conduct that she wrote a letter to the departments of Justice and Homeland Security about ICE agents who “appear to be stalking undocumented immigrants in our courthouses to make arrests.” Both departments responded that such arrests will continue. As a result, in Los Angeles, “reporting of crimes like sexual assault and domestic violence are down by one-quarter in immigrant communities.”

While well-meaning Americans may imagine that only criminal immigrants are being targeted for arrest and deportation, in reality, deportations of immigrants with no criminal record have doubled in the first few months of Trump’s tenure, compared with the rate under President Obama. Around the country, but especially in immigrant-rich communities, families are experiencing deep fear of ICE agents wearing unmarked clothes, stalking them and disappearing them or their loved ones into detention centers or out of the country.

Detention centers that hold immigrants while they wait for their court dates are big business for private contractors like GEO Group and CoreCivic. Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) in Tacoma, Wash., which is run by GEO, is the largest immigrant detention center on the West Coast, with a capacity to hold up to 1,575 people. About 750 immigrants being held there were on hunger strike as of April 13, protesting the conditions of their detention.

Maru Mora Villalpando, co-founder and lead organizer of NWDC Resistance, told me in an interview that since Trump took office, “a lot of court dates [for detainees] have been postponed again and again, not for weeks but for months.” Some detainees are so fed up over being locked up that, according to Villalpando, they say, “ ‘I just want my court date, either to fight my case or just to get deported,’ but they’re not getting that.”

Trump did not begin the practice of detaining undocumented immigrants who are waiting for their court dates. President George W. Bush did, and President Obama continued it when, as a self-professed liberal Democrat, he could have put a stop to it. In fact, Obama oversaw the detention of mothers and children, so-called “family detention,” which has continued under Trump.

According to the International Detention Coalition, “Under international law, immigration detention is only ever meant to be used as a last resort and where it is necessary, reasonable, and proportionate to a legitimate government objective,” and in fact, “immigration detention is only to be used after non-custodial, community-based alternatives to detention … have been explored in each individual case.”

Had Obama ended the detention of undocumented immigrants entirely, it would have been much harder for Trump to revive the infrastructure of privately run centers like the NWDC. Now, Trump is able to point to his predecessor’s policy and simply expand it.

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