The Attempt to Gaslight America Over Open Borders

New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez believed she had found a smoking gun when she introduced into the Congressional Record an April 23, 2018 memo advocating “zero tolerance” signed by Thomas Homan, former Acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director (2017-2018). She clearly didn’t know what she was getting into when she called out Homan in a Congressional hearing on border zero tolerance policy held on July 12, 2019. Homan, a former police officer in West Carthage, New York, and then an Immigration and Naturalization Service officer, where he served as a border patrol agent, an investigator, and a supervisor, schooled Ocasio-Cortez on the law and the obvious.

Homan referenced 8 United States Code 1325, the law of the land establishing criminal offenses relating to improper entry into the United States by an alien. The text of the law is unambiguous: “Any alien who (1) enters or attempts to enter the United States at any time or place other than as designated by immigration officers, or (2) eludes examination or inspection by immigration officers, or (3) attempts to enter or obtains entry to the United States by a willfully false or misleading representation or the willful concealment of a material fact, shall, for the first commission of any such offense, be fined under title 18 or imprisoned not more than 6 months, or both, and, for a subsequent commission of any such offense, be fined under title 18, or imprisoned not more than 2 years, or both.” First offense is a misdemeanor. Second offense is a felony. Both are criminal offenses.

The 8 USC 1325 was enhanced in 1996 by Congress attaching lengthy entry bans for violators similar to those found in European countries. For example, if an alien is found to reside in the United States without authorization for more than a year, he is deported and barred for entering the country for a decade. The 1996 amendment was necessary to empower immigration officials in the face of a sharp increase in the number of apprehensions on the US-Mexico border. The Clinton Administration aggressively enforced immigration laws, deporting 12 million illegal aliens during his two terms, as well as investing in barriers, personnel, and detention facilities.

The nation entered the new millennium with more than 1.6 million apprehensions along the southern border annually. This ebbed considerably after that until 2004 when the number again passed the one million apprehensions mark. This promoted more legislation in 2006 to tighten border control. More barriers, more personnel, more detention facilities. During his two terms, President George W. Bush deported 10 million illegal aliens. This strategy, which Obama continued, with six million deported during his two terms, resulted in substantial reduction in apprehensions.

Because of aggressive immigration policy, which enjoyed bipartisan support during this period. Trump entered office with the lowest level of apprehensions along the southern border of any recent president. However, the numbers began to grow again during the first full fiscal year of his presidency. Anticipating a new crisis, Trump moved aggressively to stem the tide. I discuss this in a series of blog entries written over the last few years. I have also spent considerable time explaining why national borders are integral to democracy and the worker struggle. I became aware that the subjectivity created by neoliberal globalization was making my points increasingly difficult for persons I regard as comrades to grasp.

A burgeoning migrant crisis is the context of Homan’s tenure as Acting ICE Director (a position he would resign in June of 2018). In that position, Homan was asked to implement policies that were hardly novel. Indeed, these measures, however muted under Trump (previous administrations have been far more aggressive), were nonetheless in keeping with the path established by US governments decades before. Homan informed Ocasio-Cortez that he was acting under the guidance of then US Attorney General Jeff Sessions with respect to the law. The memo he had signed was an endorsement of zero tolerance in an attempt to deter persons from attempting to cross the border. Family separation is a consequence of enforcing zero tolerance, he explained. If you have not already, watch the exchange at the top of this entry.

Homan is right. On September 27, 2018, I said the same thing (read the first two paragraphs of my blog entry “Law Enforcement and Family Separation”). I wrote that entry because I was surprised that so much was being made of family separation given the routine nature of the phenomenon as law enforcement practice. Of course, nobody wants to see families separated. But the media was not only not explaining the policy to the public in a forthright manner, they were twisting facts in an attempt to delegitimize a president they did not believe should hold office. I did not want Trump to be president, either. But he was fairly elected. This was establishment-manufactured fear. They knew they were creating a false perception.

The establishment media and cultural managers kept repeating that, whereas family separation was a Trump Administration policy, family separation was never an Obama policy (Obama was, after all, a “class act”). But either family separation was policy under Obama or it wasn’t policy under Trump. The logic behind this claim is straightforward: if you believe that the effects of policy detaining or deporting immigrants who are illegally here is part of the policy, then Obama’s policy was to separate families. Family separation under Trump was an effect of his policy. Do you see? Put another way, whether some effect is policy depends on whether you include the effects of policy as part of the policy itself. You can’t have it both ways. (It doesn’t matter what I think about this.) 

If one is consistent, and intent and effect is what they mean by policy, then this follows: given there is a significant likelihood that when a person is taken into custody in the United States, whether it is for illegally crossing the border, domestic violence, burglarizing a home, or any other criminal offense for which an arrest is effected, and the person taken into custody has children, family separation is by consequence policy throughout the United States, occurring on a daily basis, and occurring far more often to citizens than to immigrants.

Given this fact, why are politicians like Ocasio-Cortez neglecting families being separated everywhere every day in the United States? It’s happening in the communities of color that they claim to care so much about. Of course, it’s happening in white communities, as well. Why is Ocasio-Cortez advocating a double standard that discriminates against citizens and legal residents by advocating non-enforcement of the law against illegal aliens? 

Let me say this again: Politicians and establishment media focus on the tragedy of families being separated at the border while completely ignoring the tragedy of families being separated every day in America, in our cities, our suburbs, our rural communities. You know what I am talking about if you have ever watched Cops. Yet this escapes the progressive gaze. Why? Frankly, because there is nothing there that makes for good virtue signaling. News organizations could take their cameras and ride along with police officers and record disturbing video of family separation all day long. But that’s not newsworthy. Because there’s no agenda.

Doubt me? Nobody is suggesting that we should stop the police attempting to take a man into custody for breaking and entering because he will be separated from his children. Even as a child screams in terror as law enforcement rips her from the arms of her father and puts the man in the back of the police car, we understand that this is happening because of what her father did. She can’t be detained with him. That would be cruel. An adult male facility is no place for a little girl. She may be turned over to CPS. She may enter the foster care system. Everybody recognizes that it’s the father’s fault this is happening to her. He shouldn’t have been breaking the law. The officers are doing their duty in effecting the rule of law in a constitutional republic. This is not controversial.

Progressives don’t want you to worry about family separation per se. It’s never been a big deal to them. Or to you, frankly. It’s ordinary. It’s a matter of course. Progressives want you to support their agenda for open borders, and so they use emotionalism and propaganda tactics to shape your perception and cultivate your opinion. They want you to believe that family separation is only something that happens at the border, that it is not normal. They want to make family separation appear extraordinary. Then you will think, “What monster separates families?” Well, the law enforcement officials who protect you and your communities — and they do it every day as a matter of procedure.

Why are immigrant detention facilities portrayed as concentration camps when they so obviously aren’t? (“Migrant Detention Facilities are Not Fascist Concentration Camps.”) Progressives need you to associate border control with the worst possible thing imaginable, so they pick the Holocaust. Timothy Snyder’s recent piece in Slate: “It Can Happen Here” is paradigmatic. Snyder, a history professor at Yale and member of the Council of Foreign Relations, a neoliberal / neoconservative think tank at the center of the denationalization project, expresses disappointment with the Holocaust Museum chastising those who hijack the Holocaust for their political ends. He calls it a “moral threat.”

But what Ocasio-Cortez and her ilk (and Snyder) are really doing is exploiting the Holocaust to create a moral panic. There is no relationship between border control and genocide, yet they drag the horrors of the Nazi death machine into their polemics to shape public perception. In their bizarro world, CBP and ICE are morphed into the SS and Gestapo. The President becomes a nascent fascist dictator. Transporting families for deportation conjures images of Jews forced onto train cars. The goal is to get you to ask yourself false guilt-engendering questions like “Did we really mean it when we said ‘Never again’?” We’re on a slippery slop to something like the Judeocide in their telling. Yet we have yet to see even the first step. Because it’s not at all like the Holocaust.

In the 1920s, the United States sharply restricted immigration, turning away millions, deporting scores more — no Holocaust. President Bill Clinton built barriers and camps, deported 12 million illegal immigrants — no Holocaust. Bush and Obama built more barriers and more camps, between them deporting 16 million illegal immigrants — no Holocaust. Trump’s border control policy is anemic in comparison. Why is this comparison being made in the first place? Why did the Holocaust Museum have to check the hyperbolic rhetoric of TDS sufferers with plain truth?

Part of this is the false belief that history repeats itself, that we can use the past as a guide to predict the future generically. Bad historical theory begets bad politics. The world is a very different place than it was in the 1920s-1940s. Even if we supposed history gave us some ability to forecast, the facts of previous paragraph are not helpful for those who wish to push the second-coming-of-Hitler line. It’s mass manipulation in spite of the lessons of history. It comes off as a form of gas-lighting, an effort to make the public believe something is happening that isn’t really happening — all for the sake of an open borders agenda.

From the very beginning I thought, because of how crude it was, that this would never work. Why open borders is desirable is because labor markets are tightening with the long economic expansion and tightening labor markets risk a fall in the rate of profit. Capitalists need cheap labor. They don’t care about borders or workers. The nation-state is not integral to them. Profits are. And profits depend on the exploitation and marginalization of labor everywhere. What leftwing mind doesn’t grasp this? But I had not fully understood how far the left has moved away from class-based political analysis and struggle and how much they have fallen for the trick of neoliberal-styled cultural pluralism and emotionalism.

This is what neoliberal propaganda in the age of identity politics looks like. Ocasio-Cortez and her posse are functionaries for the transnational power elite in tune with the message of the cultural managers. At the same time, the Democratic leadership of both the House (Pelosi) and the Senate (Schumer) shut down the government to avoid doing something about a crisis they initially denied was a crisis at all before claiming it was a manufactured crisis. Even when the party leadership had to come around (if only because 2020 is looking disastrous for them), Ocasio-Cortez and her crowd refused to vote for aid to help migrants. Then Ocasio-Cortez pulled her stunt at the border (“Ocasio-Cortez and the Powers of Expectation and Identity”).

This is fake humanitarianism. What matters is making the president look bad in order to advance open borders and gain power in 2020. For this, migrants suffer. But I don’t think Americans are going to fall for it. I think Ocasio-Cortez lives in a small universe with a weak gravitational pull. The Democratic Party is posed to fly apart. The downside is that this keeps voters away from Bernie Sanders. Ocasio-Cortez and crew have claimed the label “democratic socialism.” They taint him.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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