The Democratic Party, historically, has been just as supportive of ICE as the Republican Party. The corporations clearly understand this and that explains their willingness to continue to make financial contributions to finance the political campaigns of both parties.
SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA – In recent months, the Democratic Party has been navigating an ever-shifting public opinion landscape on the issue of President Donald Trump’s war on immigrants.
While the White House has spared no effort advancing Trump’s “zero-tolerance” campaign versus migrant communities and asylum-seekers, reporting on the government’s inhumane treatment of child detainees and the separation of families has galvanized voters across the political divide.
For Democrats and Republicans, this has major implications for the 2018 midterm elections. Young constituents, especially Latinos, have taken up a renewed interest in political activism, while a majority of Republicans have responded to Trump’s white-nationalist appeals by closing ranks behind his hard-line migrant-scapegoating message.
Nowhere is this truer than in California, where Mexican, Central American, and Latino residents constitute a bulk of the population and legislators have waged an ongoing fight with Washington over its enforcement policies. This has included a defense of its status as a so-called “sanctuary state,” barring state and local officials from helping federal immigration agents detain residents, as well as a lawsuit filed by state Attorney General Xavier Becerra in an attempt to halt the expedited construction of the border wall on the state’s southern border with Mexico.
Some Democratic candidates are now taking up the call to abolish the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, which is tasked with the apprehension, incarceration and removal of unauthorized migrants. Last month, State Senator Kevin de Leon held an “Abolish ICE Cream Social” at the party convention, while potential presidential hopeful U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris has said lawmakers should “critically re-examine“ the agency.
Veteran advocate and organizer Nativo Lopez, the senior political and legal adviser to the Santa Ana-based immigrant defense group Hermandad Mexicana, told MintPress News:
The [Abolish ICE] slogan is politically catchy and arose in the context of Trump’s aggressive policies, especially as it became more apparent due to the separation of children from their parents. The progressive immigrant rights movement has raised this demand from the very birth of ICE in 2003, and it’s become more popular ever since. Now, Democratic candidates are using it as a slogan.
In political terms, this is called cooptation, [but] it’s a political demand that arises righteously from the base – the victimized communities and political grassroots.”
But California Democrats are hardly known for putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to ensuring vulnerable residents’ interests, a fact underscored in a recent report by Oakland-based community newspaper East Bay Express.
The Express found that over the past year, the California Democratic Party has accepted $215,000 in contributions from a range of ICE contractors who profit from the arrest and incarceration of migrants.
The move puts the lie to the state party’s 2018 platform, which states that it “will oppose detention centers that detain or incarcerate based solely on ethnicity, race, religion and national origin,” and support sanctuary laws protecting immigrant residents.
The jarring contradiction between Democrats’ words and deeds is standard nationwide practice for the party, organizer and writer George Ciccariello-Maher told MintPress News:
True to form, Democrats wants to use the migrant crisis as fodder to score points against Trump without mentioning the role they played in creating and perpetuating the crisis.
After all, the same Hillary Clinton who supported the 2009 Honduran coup later insisted she would deport children fleeing the very chaos that she helped create.”
The more you give, the more you take
Longtime immigrant justice advocates see the conflict of interest as clear-cut proof of party figures’ disregard for working-class Latino constituents.
Al Rojas is a seasoned labor organizer and co-founder of the United Farm Workers union who has sharply clashed with party officials for decades. The Sacramento-based veteran advocate sees the Democrats’ stance on immigration policy as abjectly in favor of big corporate interests such as the state’s agriculture firms, which are increasingly reliant on guestworker labor, and the defense contractors who hope to benefit from the continued militarization of the border.
Rojas told MintPress News that the ICE contractors’ contributions to party coffers can only result in major dividends that come from taxpayers’ pockets:
It’s clear that in California these contractors are seeking public money in the millions. At both the federal and state level, the privatization of the prison system has turned the public prison system into a multibillion-dollar enterprise.”
Topping the list of donors is the notorious private prison firm GEO Group, which contributed $140,000 over the last 15 months. The company operates dozens of correctional rehabilitation and reentry facilities for former prisoners, as well as two incarceration compounds for detained migrants: the Adelanto Processing Center in San Bernardino, and the Mesa Verde Processing Facility in Bakersfield.
Prisoners, advocates, and elected officials have condemned GEO Group for the systematic ill-treatment and abuse of migrants at its facilities. In 2017, three deaths occurred at the Adelanto Center, one of which was a suicide and the other two a result of medical neglect. Yet the company’s contract with the city of Adelanto was extended to 2021 last year. The agreement guaranteed that a minimum of 975 beds would be filled at the prison for the duration of the contract.
Mesa Verde also has its share of problems. In 2016, the ICE Office of Detention Oversight reported that the compound failed to meet 12 of the 16 standards listed in the inspection. Not only did guards routinely use excessive force and solitary confinement – a form of torture – against detainees, but no policies or procedures existed to respond to sexual abuse.
In comparison, state records show that the California Republican Party received $40,000 from GEO over the same period.
A number of other corporations gave the Democrats $75,000 over the same time-span, including multinational consultants Deloitte, Ernst & Young, and Grant Thornton, as well as the political action committee for ICE partners and military contractors Boeing and Northrop Grumman.
According to the Express, ICE databases of federal contractors show that the consultants have raked in millions through their contracts managing data and records for the bureau. In the meantime, Boeing and Northrop Grumman have received billions over the years for their contracts militarizing the border and strengthening ICE’s technical capacity to track and identify unauthorized migrants.
Ron Gochez, a militant advocate for migrant rights and the political secretary of grassroots socialist organization Unión del Barrio in Los Angeles, told MintPress:
This is not surprising at all. The Democratic Party, historically, has been just as supportive of ICE as the Republican Party. The corporations clearly understand this and that explains their willingness to continue to make financial contributions to finance the political campaigns of both parties. That speaks to the true nature of the Democratic Party and their intentions.
If ICE’s biggest contractors did not believe that their interests would be safe with Democrats in power, why would they donate to their campaigns?”
Money talks, election promises walk
Democratic officials seem to have been caught off-guard over the revelation of the contributions. Alameda County Democratic Party chairwoman Robin Torello told the Express that the party has always shown its support for immigrants, “Dreamers,” and families hurt by ICE’s detention and removal regime. The official said:
I don’t know what to say to that. I just know that the party will continue to work against ICE and all it stands for, and will make its best efforts to follow our platform and our values.”
Yet Democrats sang a far different tune under former President Barack Obama, whose record-breaking deportation and arrest rates led to him being dubbed the “deporter in chief” by critics. Scoffing at the dithering message of party officials, Gochez explained:
For Democrats to pound their chests today as champions of immigrants’ rights is shamefully hypocritical. Today, some are finally joining the popular calls to stop the family separations, deportations, caging of children, and so on. But where were they in the past eight years when the Obama administration was deporting an even higher amount of people?
Now that it’s popular to oppose Trump and his hateful anti-immigrant rhetoric, some Democrats are jumping on this [Abolish ICE] bandwagon to win more votes but at the same time, they’re accepting contributions from these companies who carry out Trump’s orders.”
But party officials are now hoping to back off from what voters see as dirty money. Last month, California Democratic Party chair Eric C. Bauman announced that private prison corporations’ money would no longer be accepted by the party, and that any contributions received since his May 21, 2017, election would be donated to “immigrant rights” organizations. The party received $65,000 only 10 days before that date — a bit less than half of the $140,000 donated by the prison contractor.
Lopez sees such squirming by the party as an indicator of a possible opening for change, noting that a case could be made that their appropriation of the “Abolish ICE” slogan “is good to the degree that it weighs on Trump and Republicans and defeats them politically.” Yet he warns that the use of the slogan “becomes opportunistic when they don’t actuality operationalize the slogan by presenting legislation.”
“Left and grassroots should force the Democrats to be congruent, or denounce and expose their opportunism and hypocrisy,” Lopez added.
Gochez is dismissive toward the Democrats’ track record, blasting the contributions as proof of Democratic collusion in the bipartisan war on workers, poor people and migrant communities:
It’s a disgusting contradiction, and a reminder that neither party will ever really represent the interests of immigrants.”
Top Photo | United States Senator for California Kamala Harris speaks at the “Families Belong Together: Freedom for Immigrants” March on June 30, 2018, in Los Angeles. Willy Sanjuan | Invision | AP
Elliott Gabriel is a former staff writer for teleSUR English and a MintPress News contributor based in Quito, Ecuador. He has taken extensive part in advocacy and organizing in the pro-labor, migrant justice and police accountability movements of Southern California and the state’s Central Coast.