February 13, 2018
By Harold Meyerson | Mar 09, 2018
As the Senate begins its deliberations on DACA, the ICE Deport Anyone Campaign rolls on. On the Prospect home page today, we’ve posted an article by David Bacon on the efforts of California unions to defend immigrants—and not just their own members—from expulsion, and co-published a piece with Capital & Main on the 5,000 DACA recipients in California who are teachers.
In its zeal to meet deportation quotas, ICE has shown complete indifference to such trivialities as whether their detainees have committed serious crimes or are esteemed members of their communities. As a piece in Monday’s Washington Post documented, ICE arrested 37,734 “non-criminals” in 2017, breaking up families and communities in the process.
The closest parallel in American history to ICE’s current expulsion mania is the grim saga of the Fugitive Slave Act. The act, passed by a Southern-dominated Congress in 1850, effectively gave police power to slaveholders and their agents to go into the non-slave states of the North to capture and re-enslave African Americans who’d achieved the status of free men and women by crossing the Mason-Dixon line. Then as now, federal law conscripted the local authorities in Northern states—where the pursued were welcome—to cooperate with the hunters, and on occasion federal forces were sent to help in the apprehensions.
And then as now, the reason that federal forces were sent was that many in those Northern states sought to thwart the slaveholders and the soldiers. African Americans concealed their hunted brothers and sisters, on a couple of occasions overpowering the slaveholders to free them again. State and local governments passed laws forbidding such cooperation, much as California has passed such laws today. Masses of people turned out to protest the seizures, just as rapid response teams do today.
Underpinning both these abysmal episodes in our history is a sectionalized racism. The Fugitive Slave Act effectively imposed Southern slave codes on Northern states that had no desire to enforce them. The ICE raids impose the racism and xenophobia of the worst parts of Trump’s base, disproportionately clustered in heavily white regions home to few if any immigrants, on states like California and New York, where immigrants are not just welcome but an axiom of local life.
In response, a number of local and state governments have offered legal assistance to ICE arrestees and forbidden police cooperation with them, while activists have turned out in the streets and the courts to support the detainees. All necessary actions, but there’s still more that could be done. At least so long as ICE continues to arrest and deport immigrants with no regard for what they’ve done and who they are, ICE agents should be treated as Northerners treated the slaveholder-kidnappers. Sit-down demonstrations obstructing ICE offices seem a good way to start.