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General News    H3'ed 4/25/17

Tomgram: Aviva Chomsky, The Criminalization of Immigrants From Clinton to Trump

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

From his "big, fat, beautiful wall" to his travel bans, much of Donald Trump's push to isolate America, like so much else in his program, has hit a series of ugly speed bumps. Not only won't the Mexicans "pay" to build that much-promised wall, but even Congress is unlikely to do so, as its price tag soars by the week. Of course, much of what Trump wants to do when it comes to keeping "them" out, or throwing "them" out, has (as TomDispatch regular Aviva Chomsky writes today) already been done. Our last president wasn't given the moniker of "deporter-in-chief" by his critics for nothing, and as for that wall, a far more sophisticated, layered version of it is already in place, complete with advanced sensors, cameras, drones, biometrics, spy towers, radar systems -- much of the technology tested on America's distant battlefields -- as well as actual walls. Even if there isn't a single old-fashioned wall along the full length of the U.S.-Mexican border, the construction of the layered "wall" that does exist began in the years of Bill Clinton's presidency and its expansion has continued in a bipartisan fashion ever since.

And yet, even if Donald Trump never builds his wall, his attitude, whether toward Mexicans or Muslims, and the spirit of nativism and authoritarianism he's released in those who police and bureaucratically control America's borders, along with a bully-boy language that relies on phrases like "extreme vetting" and on demands to turn over personal passwords for electronic equipment at the border, will go a significant way toward walling this country in. Take tourism. Just the other day, Dubai's government-owned airline, the largest in the Middle East, announced that it was significantly cutting back on its flights to the U.S. because interest among its customers had fallen radically and bookings were way down. ("The recent actions taken by the U.S. government relating to the issuance of entry visas, heightened security vetting, and restrictions on electronic devices in aircraft cabins, have had a direct impact on consumer interest and demand for air travel into the U.S.")

But it isn't just Mexicans and Muslims, the obvious targets of Trump's banning efforts and other restrictive urges, who are losing their urge to travel here; it's true, too, of Asians and Europeans. According to travel companies, interest in voyaging to America, whether for vacation or business, is down across the planet. Searches for flights to the U.S. have, for instance, dropped by 13% in Great Britain, 35% in New Zealand, and 40% in China. Twenty-nine percent of Britons recently claimed that they were far less eager to holiday in America. (Globally -- go figure -- only Russian interest seems to be up.) And if, as Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly has warned, the present visa-less travel from most European countries comes into question, watch out.

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Already, it seems clear that tourism to the U.S. has taken a genuine hit -- a drop, reports the Bureau of Economic Analysis, of 10.2% for last December, January, and February. According to Tourism Economics, 4.3 million visitors will decide not to come to the U.S. this year, a potential loss of $7.4 billion, and in 2018 those figures might rise to 6.3 million and $10.8 billion. (The "Trump slump" in tourism already underway will obviously also mean lost jobs for the jobs president.)

And don't forget that, as with America's wars, so with the walling in of America, there's a distinct history here for President Trump to build on and, as Aviva Chomsky writes today, it's a history that is remarkably, dismally bipartisan. Tom

Making Sense of the Deportation Debate
How Bill Clinton and Barack Obama Laid the Groundwork for Trump's Immigration Policies
By Aviva Chomsky

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Ever since he rode a Trump Tower escalator into the presidential race in June 2015 and swore to build his "great wall" and stop Mexican "rapists" from entering the country, undocumented immigrants have been the focus of Donald Trump's ire. Now that he's in the Oval Office, the news has been grim. A drumbeat of frightening headlines and panicked social media posts have highlighted his incendiary language, his plans and executive orders when it comes to immigrants, and the early acts of the Border Patrol and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents when it comes to round-ups and deportations. The temperature has soared on the deportation debate, so if you think we're in a completely unprecedented moment when it comes to immigration and immigrants, you're in good company.

Trump has repeatedly claimed that immigrants, especially undocumented ones, are flooding the United States, causing crime waves, and depleting social service budgets. Never mind that the number of such immigrants has been in steady decline since 2008, that immigrant crime rates are lower than citizen crime rates, that the undocumented have no access to most social welfare programs, and that crime figures, too, have generally been on the decline in recent years.

The media has played its own role in fanning the flames. Since Donald Trump entered the Oval Office, news reports have proliferated about rising raids, arrests, detentions, and deportations. These suggest that something new, terrifying, and distinctly Trumpian -- something we've simply never seen before -- is underway, including mass sweeps to deport individuals who would have been protected under the previous administration.

The numbers tell a different story. A Washington Post scare headline typically read: "ICE Immigration Arrests of Noncriminals Double Under Trump." While accurate, it was nonetheless misleading. Non-criminal immigration arrests did indeed jump from 2,500 in the first three months of 2016 to 5,500 during the same period in 2017, while criminal arrests also rose, bringing the total to 21,000. Only 16,000 were arrested during the same months in 2016. The article, however, ignores the fact that 2016 was the all-time low year for arrests under President Obama. In the first three months of 2014, for example, 29,000 were arrested, far more than Trump's three-month "record."

And even though arrests went up during Trump's first three months in office, deportations actually went down, mostly due to the fact that the number of immigrants crossing the border declined.

To those who have been following deportation politics in this country, Trump's policies, as they are now unfolding, have an eerie resonance. They seem to be growing directly out of policies first instituted in the presidencies of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. True, President Obama liked to talk about "our tradition of welcoming immigrants," while our new president has tossed such liberal humanitarian rhetoric in the garbage can, instead playing up a harsh nativism. Still, the fact is that two Democratic presidents laid the groundwork for Trump's developing policies.

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It was, after all, President Clinton who oversaw the draconian "Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act" of 1996. It drastically increased all levels of immigration "enforcement," expanding the Border Patrol, criminalizing numerous types of low-level immigration violations, and facilitating and expanding deportation procedures. (A similar emphasis on casting blame on individuals for structural and systemic problems was also at the heart of Clinton's welfare reform of that same year.)

In many ways, Donald Trump is only reiterating, with more bombast, ideas and policies pioneered under Clinton, that then became a basic part of Barack Obama's approach to immigration. Those policies drew directly on racist tough-on-crime and anti-terrorism police tactics that also helped foment white racial fears.

Anecdotally speaking, there have already been numerous cases of detention and deportation that appear to go far beyond what was occurring in the Obama years. But a closer look at those cases and at the numbers suggests surprisingly more continuity than change. Both the mainstream media and social media have highlighted what appear to be extreme cases of the arrest of DACA ("deferred action for childhood arrivals") youth, also known as "Dreamers," as well as of individuals appearing for routine check-ins with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, or other arbitrary detentions and deportations. Most of these cases, however, have been far more in line with Obama-era policies than readers of such news might imagine. Then, too, "low-priority immigrants" were swept up surprisingly often in what the New York Times in 2014 called "the net of deportation."

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("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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