struggle for the border
President Donald Trump on Feb. 15 announced a state of emergency to obtain $8 billion for a border wall between the US and Mexico. A significant amount of the funds are expected to come from the Department of Defense budget, but Trump was not clear regarding funding or spending plans. The declaration was announced in a statement to the press that included information about trade negotiations with China and various other unrelated concerns. Trump gave this speech moments after he signed a spending bill passed by Congress, which prevents another government shutdown. The bill included about $1.4 billion in funding to assist with border security, which is far lower than the $5.7 billion demanded by Trump for his wall during the government shutdown.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Feb. 1 condemned US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for force-feeding detained migrants. According to a report from the Associated Press, detained men at the agency's El Paso Processing Center have been participating in a hunger strike since early January. ICE officials said that 11 men are striking, but AP reports the number may be closer to 30. In order for ICE to consider detainees to be a hunger strikers, they must miss nine consecutive meals. In mid-January a federal judge authorized ICE to force-feed six of the protesters. An ICE official told AP that it is "exceedingly rare" for a judge to authorize force-feeding. The detained men have been protesting "rampant verbal abuse and threats of deportation from guards" and long detentions while awaiting a hearing. Most of the hunger strikers are from India or Cuba.
UN Special Rapporteur of the human rights of migrants Felipe González Morales on Dec. 24 called for an independent investigation into the death of Jakelin Ameí Caal, a Guatemalan migrant child who died while in US Customs and Border Protection custody. Jakelin was detained, along with her family and other migrants, after crossing the Mexico border. The factual causes leading up to her death are currently disputed. In the report, Morales stresses the importance of finding out what happened to Jakelin, stating that "if any officials are found responsible they should be held accountable."
The Trump White House issued a proclamation on Nov. 9 that bans migrants caught entering the US unlawfully from seeking asylum. The ban's stated purpose is to funnel immigrants from Mexico and Central America to ports of entry along the border, where they will be allowed to apply for asylum "in an orderly and controlled manner instead of unlawfully." The ban is set to last for 90 days, or until such time as the US strikes a "safe third country" deal with the Mexican government. The opening paragraph of the statement makes reference to the caravan of Central American migrants currently traveling through Mexico. It states that this group "appear[s] to have no lawful basis for admission into our country" and "intend to enter the United States unlawfully or without proper documentation and to seek asylum."
The lines are starkly drawn in Pittsburgh—and, hopefully, across the country—in the wake of the Oct. 28 synagogue massacre that left 11 dead. Today, President Trump visited the synagogue, and was joined by the Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer. This took place over the protests of Pittsburgh's Mayor Bill Peduto, who asked the White House to delay the trip in light of the sensitive situation in the city. While the rabbi at the Tree of Life Synagogue, the massacre site, welcomed Trump, many members of his own congregation clearly dissented. More than 35,000 people signed an open letter to Trump from the local chapter of the progressive Jewish group Bend the Arc, stating: "You are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you fully denounce white nationalism." Hundreds demonstrated against Trump's visit under the standard of another Jewish progressive formation, If Not Now, with banners reading "ANTI-SEMITISM = WHITE NATIONALISM" and "ANTI-SEMITISM UPHOLDS WHITE SUPREMACY."
A group of environmental advocacy organizations filed suit (PDF) against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Oct. 18 over concerns that the border wall will result in detrimental environmental impacts to the areas surrounding the wall construction sites. The Secretary of Homeland Security's office has issued a series of waivers, dubbed the Lower Rio Grande Valley Border Wall Waivers, that would exempt construction projects related to the planned border wall from federal environmental regulations, including the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act and the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act. The advocacy groups argue that the broadness of the waivers would violate the Take Care Clause, the Separation of Powers Doctrine, the Non-Delegation Doctrine and the Presentment Clause of the Constitution.
In Episode 13 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg deconstructs Trump's executive order ostensibly ending the policy of family separation on the southern border, and demonstrates how it actually lays the groundwork for indefinite detention of migrants on military bases. The Central American peasantry, expropriated of its lands by state terror, CAFTA and narco-violence, is forced to flee north—now into the arms of Trump's new gulag. The judiciary may yet pose an obstacle to enforcement of Trump's order, but this brings us to the Supreme Court's upholding of Trump's Muslim travel ban and the grim implications of Justices Anthony Kennedy's imminent resignation. With Congressional calls mounting for putting off confirmation of Kennedy's replacement while Trump remains under investigation over the 2016 electoral irregularities, a constitutional crisis is imminent.
In what the New York Times somewhat hyperbolically calls a "clash," US Border Patrol vessels have over the past two weeks stopped at least 10 Canadian fishing boats near Machias Seal Island between Maine and New Brunswick. Canada has responded by beefing up its Coast Guard patrols in what is being termed a "disputed gray zone" between the two countries' territories. "There is no illegal immigration going on there," a bewildered Canadian fisherman told the Times. "It seems silly." Most observers see it as related to the current bitter trade dispute between Washington and Ottawa. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation says the US Border Patrol has stopped over 20 Canadian vessels so far this year in "contested waters" in the Bay of Fundy, and "has no intention of stopping." The so-called Grey Zone consists of some 700 square kilometers of lucrative lobster waters where the Bay of Fundy meets the Gulf of Maine, although few actually live in it. Machias Seal Island is a migratory bird sanctuary maintained by the government of Canada, but is otherwise uninhabited.