Thursday, March 23, 2017

Trump's ICE Bulletin Aims To Shame 'Sanctuary Cities,' But Its Numbers Are Skewed

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

`The bulletin is long, detailed, and intimidating, as it is apparently intended to be: The Trump administration’s first weekly list of suspected crimes by immigrants in “sanctuary cities,” issued by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) seemingly details some 206 cases where suspected illegal immigrants were involved in crimes in jurisdictions where local officials have declined to cooperate with ICE’s detainer requests.

There’s a problem, though: The numbers listed in the bulletin are not what they seem.

The bulletin’s stated intent is to call out the sanctuary cities. “In uncooperative jurisdictions like Cook County, Illinois, and the City of Philadelphia, ICE is barred from interviewing arrestees in local custody. Therefore, in these communities a large number of criminals who have yet to be encountered by ICE are arrested by local authorities and released in these communities without any notification to ICE,” the report said.

“When law enforcement agencies fail to honor immigration detainers and release serious criminal offenders, it undermines ICE’s ability to protect the public safety and carry out its mission,” Acting ICE Director Thomas Homan said in a statement.

Conservative sites promptly picked up on the bulletin’s fearmongering context, running headlines like: “ALERT: Trump Releases Terrifying List Of Cities With Extremely Unsafe Illegals… Do You Live Here?”

However, ICE’s numbers are not quite what they appear to be. In the report, titled the "Weekly and Declined Detainer Outcome Report," 206 declined “detainers” are listed: immigrants marked by ICE for possible deportation but who instead were released by law enforcement between January 28, 2017, and February 3, 2017. ICE typically requests that these individuals be detained by local law enforcement for about 48 hours in order “to allow DHS to assume custody for removal purposes.”

More than half the cases listed by ICE, however, involve people who have only been charged with violations but have not been convicted. Out of those 206 on the list, 116 cases involve pending charges.

The detainers, moreover, are only a tiny portion of the total 3,083 detainers issued throughout the country during that same period. That represents about 15 percent.

Finally, not only is it unclear what period the number cited in the report covers, the figure itself is somewhat murky, since it does not represent all the cases in which immigration authorities sought custody of people facing criminal charges. As a result of this, major cities like New York and Los Angeles are underrepresented on the list.

The large majority of the immigrants on the list, nearly 70 percent, are from Mexico. All told more than 95 percent are from Latin American countries.

The most common charges listed are assault, driving under the influence of alcohol, domestic violence, robbery and sexual assault. Some of the immigrants on the list have been charged with drug possession, resisting an officer and prostitution.

Thanks to one county – Travis County, home of the state capital, Austin – Texas is the most frequently listed state. Travis County accounted for nearly 70 percent, with 142 of detainer cases listed.

State politicians promptly made hay with the bulletin. Governor Greg Abbott called the report “deeply disturbing,” saying it highlighted the “urgent need for a statewide sanctuary city ban in Texas.” Abbott pulled state funding for Travis County programs last month after Democratic Sheriff Sally Hernandez said that she would only honor detainer requests from ICE agents on a limited basis.

“Texas will act to put an end to sanctuary policies that put the lives of our citizens at risk,” Abbott wrote response to the bulletin.

President Trump created the weekly list as part of his first executive order, issued Jan. 25 and titled Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States, a section of which instructed the ICE Director to make such a report public.

The executive order represented Trump’s first steps to make good on campaign promises not only to build a “wall” along the U.S.–Mexico border, but also to crack down on sanctuary cities for shielding undocumented immigrants from federal officials. The order included a plan to publish a weekly list of crimes ostensibly committed by undocumented immigrants.

The section, titled “Sanctuary Jurisdictions,” calls for the Homeland Security secretary to “utilize the Declined Detainer Outcome Report or its equivalent and, on a weekly basis, make public a comprehensive list of criminal actions committed by aliens and any jurisdiction that ignored or otherwise failed to honor any detainers with respect to such aliens.”

Throughout his presidential campaign, Trump was fond of citing various crimes committed by undocumented immigrants. He often invited family members of those who were victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants to appear onstage with him at campaign events.

Trump’s opening campaign statement in June 2015 had set this tone: “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists and some I assume are good people,” Trump said of undocumented Mexican immigrants.

According to the Declined Detainer Outcome Report, the aim of the new order is “to better inform the public regarding the public safety threats associated with sanctuary jurisdictions.” The report also calls for the secretary of state to “make public a comprehensive list of criminal actions committed by aliens.” an Office for Victims of Crimes Committed by Removable Aliens is scheduled to be established, and it will direct the Justice Department to prioritize those immigration prosecutions.

Local officials around the country voiced dismay with the bulletin.

“They cast a very broad net in who they included in this list. We’re all still trying to figure out what is accomplished by this list, and also how it’s going to be used,” said Jorge Elorza, mayor of Providence, R.I., which was included in the list.

Elorza noted that Rhode Island generally does not honor most ICE detainer requests, but the mayor said Providence appeared to have been singled out because of a non-binding resolution passed by city councilors in 2011, which Elorza says wasn’t about detainers.

In Oregon, Washington County Sheriff Pat Garrett said the report does not accurately describe the difficulties or potential legal ramifications associated with honoring ICE detainer requests." He noted that 2014 Oregon federal court ruling determined that law enforcement could be held liable for keeping someone in jail for immigration agents without probable cause.

ICE’s aggressive tactics against sanctuary cities reflects deeper problems with its approach to enforcing immigration laws – namely, that the threat of deportation arising out of any contact with the legal system is undermining the ability of law enforcement to pursue real crime. In some ICE jurisdictions, women who have been victims of domestic abuse have been dropping their cases out of fear they might be picked up by ICE agents merely for showing up at the courthouse.

Their fears are not groundless. An NPR report showed a video, circulated widely among immigrants, of ICE agents standing outside a Denver courthouse as they waited to make arrests. Subsequently, four women dropped cases in which they were victims of “physical and violent assault,” according to Denver City Attorney Kristin Bronson, who said they feared they risked deportation if they showed up for a hearing:

“We had pending cases that we were prosecuting on their behalf and since January 25, the date of the president’s executive order [on immigration], those four women have let our office know they were not willing to proceed with the case for fear that they would be spotted in the courthouse and deported.”

In February, an undocumented immigrant was arrested at a courthouse in El Paso, Texas, by ICE agents moments after a hearing at which she had been granted a protective order against her abusive ex-husband.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Donald Trump, the Authoritarian Master of Alt-America

Below is an excerpt from the penultimate chapter of my forthcoming book, Alt-America: The Rise of the Radical Right in the Age of Trump, due out this summer from Verso Books. It seemed especially relevant right now.


From the first day that Trump assumed the presidency, the White House was embroiled in some kind of chaos – some of it internal wrangling, some of it a product of the press responding to his provocations. Longtime Beltway observers were shocked by all the turmoil, believing it signaled an administration already in distress early in its tenure.

But the chaos was by design, something Trump positively cultivated, following the pattern set by dozens of other authoritarian leaders throughout history – using the turmoil to create so much general uncertainty that his rigid, unyielding positions eventually come to define the general consensus. Wielding his Twitter account – which he described as his way of “speaking directly to the people” – like a combat veteran with a grenade launcher, Trump also demonstrated that he was masterful at creating distractions that kept his critics and the press hopping from one “outrage” to another, paying little attention while he quietly enacted his agenda on a broad array of policy fronts.

Trump’s first real foray into asserting an authoritarian style in enacting his agenda came when he followed through on his campaign promises to sign a Muslim immigration ban when he became president. His first attempt at doing this came with one of his first executive orders, issued Jan. 27, banning all travel from seven Muslim-majority nations: Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

When the order came before the courts after several states sued to block it, Trump’s legal team attempted to argue that the order was not a “Muslim ban” – that is, a religious-based ban that would have run afoul of the Constitution on several counts, notably the Establishment Clause – but in short order, ran aground on the shoals of Trump’s own campaign rhetoric. The federal judges who reviewed the case all cited the candidate’s vows to institute a “Muslim ban” as evidence the order was intended to apply a religious test and therefore likely unconstitutional, and ordered it blocked.

The judges’ rulings infuriated the president, who tweeted after the ruling February 4: “The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!”

Yet when the case went before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, Trump’s legal arguments again foundered. “Are you arguing,” queried Judge Michelle Friedland, “that the president’s decision is not reviewable?”

After much obfuscation, Department of Justice lawyer August Flentje said: “Uh, yes.” The appellate court upheld the order blocking Trump’s order.

That weekend, the Trump team sent out Stephen Miller, the 31-year-old “senior adviser” who was a onetime Jeff Sessions staffer closely associated with Stephen Bannon, and himself had a background of dalliances with white nationalists, out to act as the administration’s spokesman on the news talk programs. And he made an indelible impression.

“The president’s powers here are beyond question,” he told Fox News Sunday. “We don’t have judicial supremacy in this country. We have three co-equal branches of government.” He also criticized the appellate court. “The 9th Circuit has a long history of being overturned and the 9th Circuit has a long history of overreaching,” he said. “This is a judicial usurpation of power.”

A week later, on Feb. 21, Miller told Fox that any replacement order would follow the same template: “Fundamentally, you’re still going to have the same basic policy outcome for the country, but you’re going to be responsive to a lot of very technical issues that were brought up by the court and those will be addressed. But in terms of protecting the country, those basic policies are still going to be in effect.'"

So when Trump filed a second executive order banning travel from Muslim nations – reduced to six nations, with Iraq dropped from the list – that, in order to bolster its case, claimed erroneously that Islamist terrorists posed the greatest domestic threat to Americans, and that those six nations had a history of producing immigrants who later committed terror crimes. That order, too was struck down by a federal judge, who ruled that Miller’s Feb. 21 comments were evidence that the order’s intent had not changed.

Floundering displays of incompetence amid assertions of authoritarian certainty such as this became part of the daily White House circus. In mid-February, it emerged that National Security Adviser Mike Flynn had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Russian officials during a November meeting, and after a weekend of turmoil, Flynn was fired. Trump eventually replaced him with a vastly more respected national-security figure, retired Gen. H.R. McMaster.

The chaos became ceaseless. Sean Spicer banned outlets from press briefings. Another cabinet pick, would-be Labor Secretary Andrew Pudzer, was forced to withdraw after allegations of abuse by his ex-wife emerged. Thousands of open government jobs went unfilled because, Trump explained, the administration wasn’t even trying to fill them.

Tension with the press became intense, especially as Trump attempted to control the message to the public. He did this by regularly asserting the Alt-America version of reality, making himself the final authority of what was “factual” in that universe. True to that reality, he inverted the concept of “fake news” on its head by labeling the mainstream press “fake.” While the press scrambled to make sense of his seemingly open dissembling, his real audience – his red-capped Alt-America followers – received the message clearly: Don’t believe the lying press. The only person you can believe is Trump.

Thus, Trump’s response to the increasing blizzard of stories detailing his incompetence was to blame the institutions recording it, rather than addressing the chaos and floundering. At his contentious February 16 press conference, he went to open war with the media.

“The press has become so dishonest that if we don't talk about it, we are doing a tremendous disservice to the American people, tremendous disservice,” he said. “We have to talk about it, to find out what's going on, because the press honestly is out of control. The level of dishonesty is out of control.”

The next morning, he tweeted:

The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!

Trump’s Twitter account, indeed, became his chief agent of chaos, whipping up storms of media and diplomatic controversies that became the focus of much of the daily news reportage around the White House. On March 4, he launched what became his most notorious tweetstorm.

Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my "wires tapped" in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!

Is it legal for a sitting President to be "wire tapping" a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW!

I'd bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!

How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!

It later emerged that Trump was inspired to send out these tweets after reading a Bretibart News story, based on anonymous sources, alleging that Obama had tapped Trump’s phones during the campaign. Fact-checkers found the story to be utterly groundless.

Obama adamantly denied the allegation, as did everyone in the intelligence community. James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence under Obama, told NBC’s Meet the Press that in the national intelligence activity he oversaw, “there was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president, the president-elect at the time, as a candidate or against his campaign.” FBI director James Comey asked the Justice Department to issue a statement refuting Trump’s claim.

In reality, Trump’s tweets had put his own manifest incompetence on public display: Anyone even remotely acquainted with American surveillance knows that wiretapping is an extremely limited practice legally, permitted only after evidence is presented to a federal surveillance court panel that then approves or disapproves the warrant. If Trump really had been surveilled by the Obama administration, as he claimed, that meant there was enough evidence for a court to approve it. He either was making clueless and reckless allegations, or he was in reality in deep trouble.

Nonetheless, the White House continued to insist that other evidence was going to emerge demonstrating that Trump had been right. Sean Spicer spun Trump’s tweets for reporters, using “air quotes” to claim that he hadn’t been referring to wiretapping specifically: "The President used the word wiretaps in quotes to mean, broadly, surveillance and other activities."

Spicer then berated reporters for not picking up on news reports that vindicated Trump, notably a report the night before from Fox News pundit Andrew Napolitano, who claimed that the surveillance had actually been conducted by the British intelligence agency GHCQ: "Judge Andrew Napolitano made the following statement, quote, 'Three intelligence sources have informed Fox News that President Obama went outside the chain of command (to spy on Trump). He didn't use the NSA, he didn't use the CIA ... he used GCHQ.’”

Intelligence officials in the UK were outraged, dismissing the allegation as “utterly ridiculous.” Fox News backed away from Napolitano’s claims, and shortly afterward suspended him from appearing on the network. But Trump adamantly refused to apologize, claiming that Spicer had only read the news story to reporters.

As the media tried to make sense of it all, Kellyanne Conway’s delicious turn of phrase, “alternative facts,” was heard often. Pundits and late-night comics had enjoyed a field day with the term, using it to scornfully refer to the administration’s growing record of spinning a spurious version of reality.

Conway herself had grown weary of being the butt of their jokes. “Excuse me, I’ve spoken 1.2 million words on TV, okay?” she told an interviewer. “You wanna focus on two here and two there, it’s on you, you’re a f—ing miserable person, P.S., just whoever you are.”

What Conway’s critics missed was that, despite their derision – and to some extent, because of it – the gambit worked.

Overall, Trump’s travails seemed to hurt him badly in the polls. By mid-March, according to Gallup, only 37 percent of Americans approved of his performance, while 58 percent disapproved. Those were shockingly low numbers, especially compared to other first-term presidents at similar junctures in their tenures, who were generally in high-approval zones: 62 percent for Obama, 58 percent for George W. Bush, 60 percent for Ronald Reagan.

And yet in the places where it really mattered – that is, in the congressional districts of Republican Trump-backing lawmakers – Trump’s ratings remained high, well over 50 percent. Conservative-oriented polls by Rasmussen put his approval rating at 55 percent. Among Republicans over, 81 percent found Trump “honest and trustworthy.”

"I think he's doing good," Gary Pelletier, a Buffalo, N.Y., retiree told a local reporter. "People are complaining that he's not doing enough, but I'm all for whatever he's doing."

"He's doing everything he said he was going to do," said another Buffalo resident named Phil Pantano, 60.

This was always the role that Alt-America has played: a refuge for people who reject factual reality, a place where they can convene and reassure one another in the facticity of their fabricated version of how the world works. From its beginnings in the 1990s as an alternative universe with its own set of “facts,” to its growth during the early part of the new century through the spread of antigovernment conspiracism, through its evolution into the mainstream of conservatism through the Tea Party, and finally its ultimate realization as a political force through the ascension of Donald Trump, Alt-America’s primarily usefulness was as a ready tool for right-wing authoritarianism. The army of followers was already fully prepared by 2015, when Trump picked up their waiting scepter.

It was also the real-life manifestation of Robert Altemeyer’s “lethal union” of right-wing authoritarian followers with a social-dominance-oriented authoritarian leader: that moment, as Altemeyer says, when “the two can then become locked in a cyclonic death spiral that can take a whole nation down with them.”

Other experts on authoritarianism similarly fear the outcome of Trump’s authoritarianism. “You submit to tyranny,” writes Yale historian Timothy Snyder, “when you renounce the difference between what you want to hear and what is actually the case.”

Accepting untruth, Snyder warns, is a precondition of tyranny. “Post-truth is pre-fascism,” he writes, and “to abandon facts is to abandon freedom.”

Snyder sees Trump’s insistence on setting the terms of reality as a classic ploy: “This whole idea we're dealing with now about the alternative facts and post-factuality is pretty familiar to the 1920s,” he told Vox’s Sean Illing. “It’s a vision that's very similar to the central premise of the fascist vision. It's important because if you don't have the facts, you don't have the rule of law. If you don't have the rule of law, you can't have democracy.

“And people who want to get rid of democracy and the rule of law understand this because they actively propose an alternative vision. The everyday is boring, they say. Forget about the facts. Experts are boring. Let's instead attach ourselves to a much more attractive and basically fictional world.”

The political reality on the ground, however, will depend on how Trump responds to challenges to his authority. His history so far, particularly his manifest incompetence, points to a bleak outcome.

A longtime Democratic presidential adviser warned Ron Klain told Ezra Klein: “If Trump became a full-fledged autocrat, it will not be because he succeeds in running the state. It’s not going to be like Julius Caesar, where we thank him and here’s a crown.

“It’ll be that he fails, and he has to find a narrative for that failure. And it will not be a narrative of self-criticism. It will not be that he let you down. He will figure out who the villains are, and he will focus the public’s anger at them.”