By Lee A. Daniels
At bottom, the plan of Donald Trump, the GOP’s political playboy, to “solve” America’s crisis of undocumented Latino immigration is really quite simple: Turn the U.S. into a police state.
Of course, Trump and his supporters, and the rest of the GOP presidency-seekers who are following, sheep-like, in his wake on the issue don’t put it that plainly. In part, that’s because none of them are serious about implementing a deport-them-all scheme.
Even numerous conservative analysts and pundits have said that any such effort would necessarily have to last for decades and cost hundreds of billions of dollars. Trump, buoyed by his mob of rabid supporters, is hustling the GOP, and most of the rest of the GOP candidates are falling for it hook, line and sinker.
This is so even as the August 12 Gallup survey shows 65 percent of Americans support a plan that would allow undocumented immigrants to become citizens if they follow certain “path to citizenship” rules. That includes 50 percent of Republicans. Only 19 percent of Americans favor a mass deportation plan.
Nonetheless, it’s vitally important to consider what a mass-deportation scheme would require – and do to the concept of democracy in America. After all, America does have a long history of using racist reasoning and anti-democratic tactics to subjugate and exclude people of color from citizenship.
There was Negro Slavery, of course, and the sly trick of the original Constitution’s not-quite-concealed endorsement of it. And, later, the Congressionally enacted measures excluding Asians, both immigrants and U.S.-born alike, from citizenship. In the 1850s, there was the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott ruling that declared free as well as enslaved Blacks were not citizens.
Also during that decade the Fugitive Slave Act not only made it easier for Southern Whites to hunt for escaped slaves in the North, it also made it easier for them to kidnap free Blacks into slavery. In the 20th century, the federal government, while fighting Japan and Nazi Germany – both of whom cast millions into concentration camps – imprisoned more than 120,000 Japanese-Americans and Japanese nationals in 10 concentration camps in the West.
White America had a lot of practice shedding morality and corrupting reason and the law to subjugate Americans of color. That dynamic is again at play – even to the point of Trump and his cowardly acolytes among the GOP also-rans claiming children born in the U.S. to undocumented immigrants don’t deserve the automatic citizenship conferred on them by the birthright citizenship clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Exploring the questions buried in Trump’s proposal also underscores how much “skin” Black Americans have in this game as well. The reason is that a mass-deportation scheme will in part require determining at the street level who is and is not Hispanic, and then demanding to see legal proof of citizenship. That people of Hispanic descent are “Brown” and “Black” as well as “White” and café au lait, would require, then, a wholesale racial profiling of not only Hispanic Americans but also U.S.-born Blacks and Black legal immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean as well. All these “colored” Americans will have to have their citizenship papers on them at all times.
Another of the scheme’s management issues concerns the logistics to be used to raid businesses – from corporations to neighborhood stores to farms to small construction and landscape-gardening firms to colleges and universities – to hunt for undocumented immigrants. Ditto for homes and apartment buildings and schools, especially in neighborhoods heavily populated by Latinos. And one can expect that teachers and school administrators will be required by the government to identify those they know or suspect of not having citizenship papers.
Where would the undocumented immigrants caught be jailed while awaiting deportation? Our current prisons are out of the question, being already at maximum capacity. So, does that mean re-opening the World War II-era concentration camps? Would that aspect of it be turned over to the private “incarceration business” companies that have made billions becoming an integral part of the nation’s prison-industrial complex?
Then, there are the questions of the cost: Of hiring the enforcement officers to do the hunting of the immigrants; guards for the concentration camps, and construction of new camps; the unavoidable substantial expansion of the federal immigration bureaucracy; and, perhaps most important of all, the funding for the vast force of undercover government agents, informants and bounty hunters that would be essential to overcoming the rebellion a mass deportation plan would bring into being. The government would need reliable ways of finding the “safe houses,” church sanctuaries, and underground-railroad routes being established to hide undocumented immigrants.
As I said, it’s worth dragging these and other “management” issues of a mass-deportation scheme into the light in order to see that its most damaging cost would be the complete collapse of American democracy. That several of the GOP presidency-seekers are now on record supporting it is one more indication of how un-American the GOP has become.
Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His essay, “Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Great Provocateur,” appears in Africa’s Peacemakers: Nobel Peace Laureates of African Descent (2014), published by Zed Books. His new collection of columns, Race Forward: Facing America’s Racial Divide in 2014, is available at www.amazon.com.