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(Image via ice.gov)

In scenes mirroring Nazi Germany, Hispanic people are being taken from the street, from their homes and businesses by ICE officers, who bang on doors late at night, dragging people into vans and almost immediate deportation. Sue Arnold reports.

FLYING in to Los Angeles (LAX) airport, I felt a touch hesitant, wondering if I would get through immigration given the Trump Administration’s airport chaos. Luckily I entered without incident.

Visiting the U.S. these days is a little like eating your way through a many-layered cake. On top is the icing — the very wealthy folk whose fortunes allow them to invest in multi-million dollar mansions which provide separation from common folk and any problems to be fixed by their wealth and influence. As I regularly stay in Palo Alto, close to Stanford University and Silicon Valley, I have often walked with my friends by the luxury mansions owned by people like Mark Zuckerberg, as well as homes belonging to some of the wealthiest internet and financial giants. The area is a bubble of beautifully manicured gardens, tranquillity and high security. 

On the other side of Palo Alto lives a substantial Mexican community, mostly jammed into apartments with many family members who are employed as gardeners, cleaners, nannies, shop assistants — doing the dirty work.

Then there is the middle class suffering from considerable economic angst, uncertainty and nightmares which grow each day that President Donald Trump remains in the White House. One of my long term friends in San Francisco is a doctor in general practice. He told me patients have been coming in for the past couple of months complaining of stress, insomnia and anxiety.

My friend reports:

When I asked [my patients] if there had been any dramas in the family, financial problems, the usual sources of stress, the response was negative. Then I asked them if they were watching TV and the response was dramatic.

'I can’t stop watching Trump,' most of them complained. 'I’m obsessed by what’s happening in this country.'

After advising them to turn off the TV and radio, my doctor friend tells me that in consultation with some of his colleagues, they have now decided there’s a new medical condition which they have labelled the "Trump syndrome".

The foundation of this tasteless cake is a climate of fear of nuclear war with North Korea; fear of Trump’s appalling policies and never-ending lies; fear of economic chaos; fear of the impacts of repealing critical environmental laws; terrible fear in the Hispanic communities where lives are being ripped apart as hundreds of husbands, fathers, brothers, wives, mothers and children are deported to Mexico.

As a regular visitor to the U.S. for over 20 years, the changes in American society since the Trump election are only now beginning to emerge. My visit took me to California and to Baja California in Mexico.

I didn’t expect that there would be very much support for Trump in either State but I was genuinely shocked by the stories about the deportation of Mexicans. In scenes more like those from Nazi Germany when Jews were rounded up and sent to concentration camps, Mexican people, described as undocumented migrants and/or criminals, are being taken from the street, from their homes and businesses by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE officers appear to be behaving more like Gestapo as they bang on doors late at night, dragging people into vans and almost immediate deportation. 

Stir into the mix a growing revolution led by many faiths and communities who oppose Trump’s manic deportation of Hispanic people. Although many churches and faith-based communities have set up rapid response teams to deal with arrests and detentions, there is little that these folks can do to prevent deportation. Rapid response team members undergo training in how to respond to ICE raids, which demonstrates the appalling situations that people are facing in helping to protect those from migrant backgrounds.

Here is some of the advice given during training:

Warrant 

  • ICE officers cannot enter a property without a warrant. 

  • The warrant needs to clearly state the individual’s name. 

  • It should have the individual's address. 

  • It should be signed by a judge. 

Observe

  • Write down the badge number of the officer (if you can).

  • Film the interaction and make sure to keep the focus on the ICE officers. 

  • Take notes of any sign of officers being forceful, for example, if they push open a door, pull out identification cards from the individual being questioned, make possible false statements to get the individual to share information about their status, take an individual's personal belongings without a warrant or make homophobic or racial slurs. 

Caution

  • Do not engage with an ICE officer. 

  • Do not interfere during the raid. 

  • Do not start speaking to the individual being questioned because you might risk them sharing more information that they shouldn’t be without a warrant. 

  • Document in detail rather than summarising. 

  • Minimal compliance if case officer addresses you.

Although families are advised not to answer the door at night, many have trembled in fear as it is commonplace for ICE officers to arrive around midnight, banging on the front door demanding entry.

As they are not police officers, this campaign of intimidation is not legal. The only protection families have is to ensure their entrances, windows and doors are locked and to lay low.

However, the processes of deportation are so swift that any legal action is almost impossible. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in his many statements to the media includes claims that the purge is to rid communities of “criminal organisations that turn cities and suburbs into war-zones, that rape and kill innocent people and profit from smuggling poison and human beings across the border”.

President Trump echoed his Attorney General in an AP interview:

We are down 73 per cent at the border, we are cleaning out cities and towns of hard-line criminals, some of the worst people on earth, people that rape and kill women, people that are killing people just for the sake of having fun. They are being thrown in gaols ... all over the country and nobody's ever done it like us, so we are being unbelievably thorough with that.

Most activists working with rapid response teams say that the majority of deportees are hard working people with no criminal records.

In post offices, there are huge queues as Hispanic people attempt to get passports to prove they are not undocumented migrants. Those with a history of minor offences such as parking or driving offences are terrified of the potential consequences.

I was told of one Mexican man who was actually in a government office getting his "green card" when he was arrested by ICE officers, dragged out of the office and deported. A Seattle resident told me about a Mexican family who are now so spooked that they bought cell phones for the two children who go to school and ensure that at last three or four times a day mother, father and children are in contact with each other, just to be certain no one in the family has been picked up.

Many Hispanic families are now staying home, too frightened to go out on the weekends and at night in case one or all of them are picked up. Even some of those who were born in the U.S. have been taken by ICE.

Photo by Sue Arnold.

At local markets and in many suburbs in San Francisco, I saw signs put up by concerned community members speaking out for their Hispanic neighbours. 

According to my Mexican friends, on the Mexican side of the border where deportees are literally dumped, the Mexican Government apparently have problems coping. Some of the deportees are children who have never learned Spanish and can’t communicate or understand what’s going on. Businessmen who have been taken from their premises with nothing but the clothes they stand up in have left families behind with no financial security or future. What happens to these people is unclear. Some attempt to get back into the U.S. illegally — an extremely dangerous exercise.   

In Baja, I spent a few days at the San Ignacio Laguna, the magnificent World Heritage Area where Gray Whales spend time playing with the newborn calves and entertaining tourists from all over the world.

Even here, in this remote wilderness, the impact of Trump’s Presidency is felt. Mexican camp owners told me many Europeans had cancelled their annual trips to the Laguna as they were unwilling or scared to fly into the U.S. because of Trump’s anti-immigrant policies.  

At LAX when I left, there’s an American flag on the wall but the usual picture of the current president is missing. Perhaps it’s a statement, or maybe just a careless omission.

One thing is certain: the U.S. will never be the same again. Many Americans are hoping for Trump's impeachment — an unlikely event. In the next four years, the damage this man can inflict on the most powerful nation in the world is downright frightening and there’s no relief in sight.

You can follow Sue Arnold on Twitter @koalacrisis and Koala Crisis on Facebook here.

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License

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