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General News    H3'ed 2/7/19

Tomgram: Arnold Isaacs, A Catalog of Heartlessness

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Think of it as the real-world feedback loop from hell. In October 2001, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan and launched a "war on terror." With the invasion of Iraq a year and a half later, that war would begin to spread across much of the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa. It would, in the end, collapse states, turn cities into rubble, help spread terror groups across the region, and above all, unsettle and displace staggering numbers of people on a planet already in turmoil. That invasion of Iraq, for instance, led to a Sunni-Shiite civil war, urban ethnic cleansing, a disastrous American occupation, and the creation of al-Qaeda in Iraq, a group that would later morph into ISIS (whose leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, met other key figures of that future movement in an American military prison). The subsequent war against ISIS began after militants from that terror outfit took several of the country's largest cities in 2014, while the American-trained Iraqi military collapsed and fled. In the course of that war alone, an estimated 1.3 million Iraqi children were displaced. (According UNICEF, conflicts have displaced 30 million children on this planet in recent years.) Refugees from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan in particular headed for Europe, which, in turn, helped spur the growth of right-wing populist movements there that thrived on anti-immigrant platforms, only increasing the pressure on the displaced of this planet... and so it went.

Developments over the years in Central and South America, thanks in part to a set of grim U.S. policies there, spurred similar rounds of disintegration, displacement, and flight -- and in the rich country to the north, a similar growth of right-wing populism. From the moment Donald Trump descended that escalator in Trump Tower in June 2015 to announce his entrance into the presidential race, he would denounce immigrants (Mexican "rapists") and hail the "great, great wall" that he was going to build to protect the United States from them. He followed up with Muslim bans, rejected small numbers of Syrian refugees, and lately has touted the supposed way in which the various migrant feedback loops from American policy merged -- Islamic terrorists secretly crossing our southern border (fake news!).

As TomDispatchregular Arnold Isaacs suggests today, the results domestically when it comes to U.S. policy towards migrants (legal or not), the displaced, and refugees could hardly be meaner or uglier. It's a record of vindictiveness, right down to the mistreatment of even the smallest children at our southern border, that might seem hard to match, but don't underestimate Donald Trump. Tom

A Cruel War on Immigrants
Trump's Policies Hurt People Instead of Fixing the System
By Arnold R. Isaacs

"Make America Cruel Again." That's how journalist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Shipler has reformulated Donald Trump's trademark slogan. Shipler's version is particularly apt when you think about the president's record over the last two years on refugee resettlement and other humanitarian-related immigration issues.

President Trump's border-wall obsession and the political uproar over it have dominated the news, while the alleged dangers of illegal immigrants -- whose numbers he wildly exaggerates -- have dominated his rhetoric. But the way he's altered immigration policy affects many more people than just the migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border who are at the center of the wall debate. Many of those currently or potentially harmed by his actions are not outside the law, but are in the United States legally, some with permanent residence status and others on a temporary or provisional basis. Many more, including tens of thousands of refugees who would be eligible for resettlement, are seeking entry or lawful residence through normal immigration procedures, not trying to sneak into the country.

Among those lawfully here who have been affected by Trump's policies are nearly three-quarters of a million "Dreamers." Brought here illegally by their parents, they have qualified to remain under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Those young people have spent well over a year not knowing if they will lose that protection under the current administration, despite strong public support and bipartisan political approval of the program's premise that it would be inhumane and unfair to penalize young people because of their parents' actions.

Another 250,000 people face possible deportation if the administration wins its legal battle to terminate their temporary protected status (TPS), which allows those who have been displaced by natural or manmade disasters in their countries to remain in the United States. If it weren't for court rulings blocking both the enforcement of a presidential order to end DACA and a series of directives from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) ending TPS for recipients from specific countries, a large majority of the one million people in those two categories would lose their legal status between now and September.

During the government shutdown, President Trump conditionally offered to extend temporary protection under DACA or TPS for another three years in return for support from congressional Democrats for his border wall. Whether any such reprieve will be part of an eventual legislative compromise on the wall remains to be seen, but even if it is, that will only further delay, not remove, the threat hanging over the lives of a million people. And the president's switch raises a pointed question about his previous stance: if he now believes that letting dreamers and TPS recipients stay for another three years won't endanger public safety or damage other national interests, why did he want to expel them in the first place?

A proposed change in a different set of immigration rules could take a heavy toll on still another group: lawful immigrants who are seeking the right to legal employment. As drafted by DHS, the new regulations would set much stiffer standards for the requirement that a green-card applicant be self-sufficient and not "likely to become a public charge" (that is, "primarily dependent on the government for subsistence").

For many years that requirement was applied only to programs that extend cash assistance for income maintenance, such as welfare or Social Security disability payments. Under the proposed drastic expansion of those guidelines, immigrants could also be penalized for using food stamps, Medicaid, or various housing assistance programs.

The burden of those rules, as an analysis by the Migration Policy Institute points out, would fall most harshly on the most disadvantaged applicants. One probable outcome is that women would have a harder time "because they are less likely to be employed than men, generally live in larger households, and have lower incomes."

Although those rule changes are not yet in effect, they have already led an unknown but significant number of low-income immigrants to forgo food stamps, Medicaid, or other benefits -- assistance they are legally entitled to and badly need, but fear might jeopardize their chances for lawful permanent residence.

A Case Study in Cruelty

President Trump's refugee policy offers perhaps the single best case study of how far he and his team have steered away from compassion. Using the law that lets the president set a ceiling for the admission of refugees, Trump has sharply reduced that annual cap, bringing it to by far the lowest level in 40 years.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)

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