Trump Can’t See Indefinite Detention as Wrong

Terry H. Schwadron

Aug. 24, 2019

It feels as if we have talked about the many ways Donald Trump’s words are inviting a period of authoritarianism. His words divide us, they set one group against another, they ignore fact and substitute propaganda for Truth.

And now he has declared himself The Chosen One to lead us to Make America Great Again. There’s nothing quite like divine authority to act persuasively in a democracy.

Now the Trump White House has taken a substantial step, though not his first, towards establishing his own judgment and secret agencies as deciding people’s fates. He seems to want to be the king over the oppressed, all the while telling them that they are doing great.

Actually, his move was outrageous: The White House announced a policy to ignore court precedent and conflicting regulations for a rule allowing the government to hold people — immigrants in this case — without charges indefinitely in detention.

At the minimum, it is a huge attempt to circumvent the Congress and the law to penalize immigrant families and children. But looked at more broadly, this is a law giving Guantanamo authority for the feds to detain any group it finds objectionable with no changes with no cap on time. This is legal authorization for another Japanese-American round-up.

As one pundit noted, Trump seems to care plenty about every individual child when it comes to abortion, but not so much when those children have undocumented parents who are non-white.

The rule change has now been published in the Federal Register, allowing public comment for 60 days before taking effect. But practically, the rule is certain to be challenged in court and will not kick in until there is some judicial resolution. Specifically, it is supposed to go back to the same federal district judge in California who found that the government was in violation of the law by holding separated migrant children more than 20 days, the cap established by the so-called Flores court decision. That judge, Dolly M. Gee,refused the government’s plea to expand detentions.

The rule change is strictly an executive branch action to withdraw from the Flores consent decree, ignoring a Congress that certainly would have challenged it. As things stand at week’s end, Congress is being lobbied to withhold funds to allow for expanded detention and enforcement. Some estimates of the cost of indefinite detention of thousands of migrants were in the millions of dollars a day.

Last year, immigration enforcement officers used emergency preparedness funds during hurricane season so it could detain the increased numbers of immigrants.

As usual, Trump ignored all the legal, financial, even practical details involved to simply push ahead. Homeland Security officials said the rule change would create a new license protocol that would make it easier for federal officials to expand family detention nationwide. Just how was unclear. It was public outrage over separation of children at the border, and the conditions under which they were being held in privately licensed detention centers that prompted the court challenges in the first place. Presumably, the judge will have to determine that any new rules provide for appropriate conditions for children and families.

The officials said they do not expect to hold families more than two months, and that detentions would send a message that bringing children into the United States would no longer guarantee the family’s release into this country as they await legal asylum or other hearings. But the Trump administration actually had reduced monies for immigration judges and so the waits have gotten long. Trump has targeted these programs as “catch and release” conditions that he wants to eliminate.

According to The Washington Post, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has three “family residential centers,” two in Texas and one in Pennsylvania, though one houses only adults at present. The facilities have a combined capacity of about 3,000 beds, but as of this week, fewer than 900 family members were in custody. Under the regulation, three centers would be built to house hundreds of immigrant families — in Dilley and Karnes City, Tex., and Leesport, Pa. — would have to meet standards set only by ICE, which runs them.

Homeland Security insisted that the detention centers were comfortable places for families, saying one of the facilities has a room with “a big-screen television, cushioned couches and lounge chairs, a gaming area and a separate library that contains books, other television sets, video games and board games.” Critics of the administration have long argued that the facilities were unsuitable for children for long periods of time.

Led byWhite House immigration sidekick Stephen Miller, this move to withdraw from the consent decree has been a special goal towards adding cruelty to the mix of hardships facing migrants. Trump has moved on a wide variety of fronts to limit green cards and permanent residency if immigrants use public benefits programs, to decline flu shots and basic health coverage to undocumented immigrants, and holding children and adults in metal cages on the border.

But none of this explains the effort to toss the Constitution aside and simply hold people at will. It is a step out of Russia or Turkey or China, countries themselves facing increasing disquiet and legal challenges over the moves to silence dissidence or to declare various social groups as terrorists.

That’s what makes this not just another horrible act in a series of moves against the immigrants who come north from Central America. This is about grabbing legal justification for committing a very dangerous societal crime.

Let’s Make America Just Again.


Journalist, musician, community volunteer