Who Is Guarding the Guardians?

When it comes to the kinds of concerns that triggered the Black Lives Matter movement, it is clear where the Trump administration stands. During the campaign, he said unequivocally that the police should have more power. One of his executive orders was dedicated to reinforcing that intent. While it’s clear that AG Jeff Sessions will roll back the Obama administration’s efforts to investigate abuse, police and sheriffs are accountable to local jurisdictions, not the federal government.

That is not the case with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Ultimately they report directly to the president’s Secretary of Homeland Security, which is why the news about their latest deportation activities are alarming. Beyond the numbers rounded up in recent raids are three individual situations that indicate where things are heading.

Recently I wrote about the case of Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos. She came to the U.S. 22 years ago at the age of 14, and had been caught up in a workplace raid organized by Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The Obama administration allowed her to stay in this country under the condition that she check in with authorities regularly. As she was doing so on February 8th, she was arrested and deported back to Mexico.

Over the weekend Daniel Ramirez Medina, a 23 year-old DREAMer who had qualified for Obama’s deferred deportation program, was detained in Seattle. He has no criminal record, but ICE claims that he is a self-admitted gang member. While I don’t have the specifics on that so-called “confession,” I am aware that law enforcement officers often use a list of criteria to determine gang affiliation. If someone meets enough of them – they are deemed to be a member of a gang. Some things on a list like that are clear (i.e., convicted of a crime as part of a gang), others can be innocuous (i.e., posed in a photograph with a known gang member – who might simply be a friend or relative). It is likely that what ICE means by “self-admitted” is that they used a list like that – absent any criminal record – with Medina.

Last week ICE officers went into family court in El Paso to arrest Ervin Gonzalez, who was filing for a protective order as the victim of domestic violence. It is assumed that her assailant (who was already in ICE custody) is the one who tipped officers off about her legal status and whereabouts.

These three examples demonstrate why the current activities of ICE are so chilling. They have targeted a person who was cooperating with law enforcement, a vulnerable young person who should be protected by DACA and a victim of domestic violence. That is why Linda Greenhouse asks, “Who Will Watch the Agents Who Are Watching Our Borders?”

That uncomfortable question came to mind as I read articles over the past week of the growing numbers of raids, roundups, the knocks on the door, the flooding of “target-rich environments,” a phrase an anonymous immigration official used in speaking to The Washington Post. What’s a target-rich environment? “Big cities,” the official explained, “tend to have a lot of illegal immigrants.”

Clearly, with President Trump’s executive orders having expanded the category of immigrants deemed worth pursuing and deporting, the gloves are off…

It matters because along with entrusting our immigration enforcers to keep us safe, in the president’s often-tweeted phrase, we also entrust them with the responsibility of treating unauthorized immigrants not as prey but as human beings entitled to dignity, even if only minimally to due process…

The Roman poet Juvenal asked: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who will guard the guardians? We need to ask that question now, urgently. I fear the answer.

I agree with Greenhouse. I, too, fear the answer. That’s because the person who is guarding the guardians is ultimately Donald Trump.

UPDATE: In addition to the examples above, there is an equally deplorable report from Virginia, where ICE agents were waiting outside a church to arrest homeless men who were leaving a hypothermia shelter.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.