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Welcome to America: our vicious border controls just got nastier

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Border guards and immigration cops, boosted by Donald Trump's election, are sowing terror and wrecking lives in south western US states. Migrants and campaigners spoke to Alistair Farrow
Issue 2549
Imprisoned: migrants rounded up by border guards face deportation
Imprisoned: migrants rounded up by border guards face deportation (Pic: U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

Osmar Epifanio Gonzalez-Gadba was found dead, hanging in his cell at the Adelanto immigration Detention Facility in California on 22 March. He had been detained while attempting to cross the US-Mexico border.

His tragic death underlines the brutality of border controls that US president Donald Trump is making even tighter and nastier.

Silvia crosses the border every day. She lives in Las Cruces in the US state of New Mexico, but her children go to school in Mexico and her partner lives there.

“He was deported eight years ago,” she told Socialist Worker. “He tried crossing back again in September but they caught him, beat him up and threw him in prison.”

This vicious border enforcement has turned Silvia’s life upside down, and she’s noticed a change for the worse since Trump’s election.

“Normally when I cross I have my baby with me and it’s not a problem,” she said. “Recently the guards have started asking me, ‘Do you have something to prove the baby’s yours?

“‘Why don’t you have something?’ I gave him some paperwork but he said it wasn’t enough.”

The power that border guards are given over people’s lives is a recipe for abuse.

Two teenage sisters from Guatemala, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union filed claims last month that a guard had sexually assaulted them.

They say a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer detained them at the border, took them to a field office in Presidio, Texas, and assaulted them in a side room.

One of them, Clarita, said, “What happened in that closet has caused me so much pain and sadness. I’m telling my story because I don’t want anyone else to go through this.

“This is the only way we’ll be able to ensure this never happens again.”

One 2015 investigation found that CBP agents were far more likely than those from other state agencies to be involved in sexual harassment and assault cases.

For anyone looking for a chance to harass and humiliate foreigners, the CBP offers a golden opportunity.

It hired 15,000 extra agents between 2006 and 2012.

Its former chief of internal affairs James Tomsheck said few were adequately vetted, and argues that this could have led to many other abuses going unrecorded.

No amount of vetting could make border enforcement fair or humane. But Trump wants to draft guards at an even greater rate.

He announced the recruitment of another 15,000 border guards and immigration cops in a much shorter time.

His promised extra funding has yet to kick in. But Alan Dicker from the Detained Migrant Solidarity Committee told Socialist Worker that Trump is already having an effect on border cops.


“The differences seem more related to attitude shifts and directives—they’re more comfortable now being more arbitrary and bullish than before,” he said.

No wonder the organisations which represent border guards have backed Trump.

The National Border Patrol Council (NBPC) supported his presidential election campaign.

And Paul Zukunft, a commandant in the US coastguard, said recently that Trump and his aides “get it”.

Detentions on the south western border have dropped by over 50 percent since Trump took office, according to statistics released last week.

The Trump administration claim that’s because people have been scared off.

“Detention centres are at capacity,” Linda Rivas from Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Centre told Socialist Worker. “They are not letting anyone out. If you come to a border crossing and ask for asylum, you will be detained.”

That’s partly down to a new criteria introduced in February this year—the “credible fear” interview. Asylum seekers have to demonstrate they have credible grounds for being fearful for their lives.

“Asylum officers can now deny asylum on this basis and whether or not they think it will hold up in a court of law,” said Linda.


“Immigration judges usually agree with the asylum officer’s determinations, and once a judge has agreed people are deported within five days.”

That’s an increasingly common story and even those with “legitimate” asylum claims face huge obstacles. On 5 February this year a young journalist fled Mexico, fearing for his life because of his writing about the Mexican state and the police.

Martin Mendez Pineda received death threats at his home and in the street, and was beaten by police eight times. So he came to the US claiming asylum—and was thrown in prison.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) department did not dispute the legitimacy of his claim. According to ICE documents seen by Socialist Worker, the reason Martin was not given parole was because he failed to establish “substantial ties to the community”.

That’s a tall order for an asylum seeker fleeing death.

Barack Obama deported more migrants than any other president in US history.

Now Trump is rolling back even the limited protection that existed then. Previously it was policy not to hunt for people if they did not have warrants out for their arrest, for instance.

And in Texas a state-wide law is due to come into effect soon which will effectively make all cops into immigration officers.

Rogue officers and state troopers are already acting outside of the law, calling in ICE agents whenever they suspect people of being undocumented.

State troopers can already erect checkpoints on roads up to 100 miles from borders.

Now ICE agents are reportedly “piggybacking” on these to catch undocumented migrants.

Sylvia said, “ICE officers are doing raids and going house to house in the area where I live.

“They pretend to be police and knock on people’s doors to get them to come out. They hide near to stores and wait for people there as well.”

The mayor of Los Angeles has asked ICE agents to stop calling themselves police because it undermines trust in the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).

That ICE could make even the notoriously corrupt and racist LAPD fear for its image is a frightening thought.

Racist US attorney general Jeff Sessions announced last week that he supported ICE policy of camping out at courthouses to pounce on undocumented migrants.

In a recent case in El Paso one transgender woman was arrested by ICE agents after attending a court house to get a restraining order against her abuser. When she came out, she was detained by ICE agents.

New rules and a threat of further clampdowns are creating an atmosphere of fear. “People are fearful, understandably,” Linda said.

Border guards harass migrants
Border guards harass migrants (Pic: U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

“There haven’t been any reported targeted raids to pick up immigrants in El Paso yet. But there also seems to be a decline in people coming in and asking for refuge.”

“We are going to see a decline in people reporting because they will be too scared,” said Linda. Crimes against individuals will go unreported because of victims’ fear of deportation.

Some city administrations have declared themselves “sanctuary cities” that allow residence to undocumented migrants.

There has been a new movement to declare them since Trump’s election.

It comes partly from a renewed focus on city administrations by the Democrats after their defeat in the congressional and presidential elections.

That’s partly where the new “sanctuary city” movement comes from. The far larger part is the movement from below in churches, workplaces and on the streets.

ICE agents told one Texas judge that they would be carrying out what appear to be punitive raids in Austin because of the city’s semi-sanctuary city status.

The city’s sheriff had previously declared that ICE agents would not have carte-blanche to pick up immigrants from prisons and courtrooms.

But in February ICE agents carried out traffic stops in Austin’s Latino neighbourhoods to catch undocumented migrants.

Alan told Socialist Worker, “There’s been a definite doubling down of ICE’s denial of parole and lack of transparency.”

That new, increasingly vicious attitude has led to the shocking revelation last week that half of all recorded federal arrests are related to immigration.

People are scrambling to get work permits granted or extended before Trump restricts their right to do so.

But Linda said that’s inadvisable because “it puts you on ICE’s radar. If they weren’t aware of your existence before, they will be now. You effectively expose yourself.”

This typifies the tragic and farcical bind the US immigration system puts immigrants in—following the law could get them thrown in prison.

Obama’s immigration system was monstrous. Trump is on the warpath, and his even nastier version is still only beginning to take shape.

It must be opposed.

Some names have been changed to protect people’s identity

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