New York Review
What transformed this activist debate into a surging hashtag was the Trump administration’s family separation policy at the border, which quietly beganmonths before Attorney General Jeff Sessions confirmed in April 2018 the “zero tolerance” policy of prosecuting every undocumented person arriving across the south-western border. By mid-June, Homeland Security was forced to admit that more than 2,000 children had been separated from their parents as a result. It’s important to note that the Trump administration’s family separation policy did absolutely nothing to deter Central Americans from seeking safety in the US. Statistics from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for August 2018 revealed that apprehensions of migrant families and children along the US–Mexico border increased by 38 percent month-on-month, the fifth highest monthly figure ever recorded.
The public outrage that met the new policy was swift, especially after the journalism nonprofit ProPublica released audio of separated children in detention sobbing for their mothers. There was a slate of reporting about the abuses children were enduring while in federal custody, and images of children in cages went viral. There were nationwide demonstrations toward the end of June, and placards bearing the slogan “Abolish ICE” were ubiquitous. That call was arguably a misdirected protest, since ICE—though the leading agency for deportations—was not actually involved in carrying out the separations; that was CBP. Many protesters were probably also unaware that while the Trump administration’s official policy of separating migrant families was unprecedented, the images of private prison company-run “baby buses” and children sleeping on the floor of “cages” date from the Obama administration.
Back in 2013, Marisa Franco was working with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) as the campaign director of #Not1More, a movement that demanded President Obama stop deportations. The campaign, which had the backing of immigrant rights organizations nationwide, was also a response to the unlawful, racist ways that the then-Maricopa County sheriff, Joe Arpaio, was terrorizing immigrant communities in Arizona. (Arpaio was subsequently convicted of criminal contempt over his actions in July 2017; a month later, he was pardoned by President Trump.)
Not1More started with the fight against SB 1070 in Arizona in 2010, an anti-immigrant law that, among many things, essentially allowed for racial profiling. “It was a big shift because at the time, all of us were being told to tie all of our hopes to the promise of comprehensive immigration reform, and we knew it wasn’t going to happen,” Franco told me recently. “We knew our safety wouldn’t happen through Congress. It didn’t seem realistic to us at the time, and even if it did, it wasn’t going to save us from the likes of Arpaio.”
NDLON was one of the organizations that turned away from the doomed legislative effort in Congress, choosing instead to focus on the demand for an end to deportations. The federal agency under the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that is mainly responsible for carrying out deportations is, of course, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. Franco is now the executive director of the social justice organizing network Mijente. It was during a Mijente staff meeting more than two years ago, prior to the election of Donald Trump, that the organization began to discuss what abolishing ICE might mean.
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