Portland Protests: Rollout of Secret Police Decades in the Making

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Hundreds of peaceful protestors confronted by police (Taken by Ken Lambert of The Seattle Times)

What on earth is going on in Portland, Oregon? Over 50 days of protests in the city have turned into something out of a dystopian science fiction novel with people being taken off the street and thrown into unmarked vehicles by unidentifiable federal agents. The Trump administration instructed the Department of Homeland Security (D.H.S.) to deploy federal agents, including mobilizing Immigration Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) and Customs and Border Patrol (C.B.P), to attack protestors demonstrating against police violence brutality.

Despite it being unclear if Trump or the Acting D.H.S. Secretary has the authority to use C.B.P. and I.C.E. officers in Portland, the thought of unidentifiable police snatching protestors in the middle of the night and taking them to undisclosed locations is frightening; however, unfortunately, it is not new. For decades, immigration activists and civil rights leaders have sounded the alarm on agencies like D.H.S., I.C.E., and C.B.P. that work daily to separate, detain, and deport undocumented immigrants and citizens.

When D.H.S. was created under the Bush administration in 2002, it combined over 22 federal agencies and was the most significant reorganization of the federal government in history. In this reorganization, the department absorbed the entirety of the Immigration Naturalization Services (I.N.S.), merged Border Patrol with Customs Service to create C.B.P., and moved all domestic enforcement duties in I.N.S. to I.C.E.

In 2015, Senator Tom Coburn released his final oversight report, where he criticized the agency for being wasteful and calling on Congress “to review the Department’s mission and programs and refocus D.H.S. on national priorities where D.H.S. has lead responsibility.” Similarly, the report detailed just how wasteful the agency had been with D.H.S. spending with “$50 billion over the past eleven years on counter-terrorism programs, including homeland security grants and other anti-terror initiatives, but the department cannot demonstrate if the nation is more secure as a result.” It is clear I.C.E. and C.B.P. are only symptoms of a more significant issue, which is D.H.S. doesn’t serve its primary objective in keeping American citizens safe.

To make matters worse, C.B.P. and I.C.E. have morphed into the Presidents personal deportation force. Agents have arrested and detained ‘suspected’ undocumented immigrants and citizens at schools, courthouses, hospitals, and work plants. And the way many of these agents snatch immigrants is by showing up in plain clothes with no identifiable police badge and often lying to families that they have a court order to take them. Compounding this awful reality is the fact that C.B.P. forces immigrants who cross the southern border to choose between being detained indefinitely separated or be deported back together to Mexico to await processing.

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Francisco Galicia as he waits to share his story with the press (Taken by Ryan Michalesko / Staff Photographer for Dallas News)

In January, Texas I.C.E. detained Francisco Galicia, a 19-year-old U.S. citizen, and attempted to deport him to Mexico. He was detained for nearly a month with I.C.E. arguing that he was not a U.S. citizen. And this is by no means an isolated incident; since 2002, the agency has wrongly identified over 2,800 American citizens as eligible for deportation with a few hundred being detained for extended periods. Between 2003 and 2010, the government detained or deported a staggering 20,000 American citizens. Furthermore, the Trump administration’s ‘zero-tolerance policy’ eroded due process rights for immigrants while criminalizing migration across the southern border.

To put it simply, D.H.S. has always had too much responsibility with little to no congressional oversight to focus its priorities and mission statement. But, now under President Trump, the agency has grown substantially in unchecked power.

The Trump administration and Acting D.H.S. Secretary have attempted to justify their actions in Portland by stating they have the authority for using C.B.P. agents under 40 U.S.C. § 1315. Regardless of whether or not the administration has the authority, President Trump, D.H.S., C.B.P., and I.C.E. are abusing their power. The problem is that these statutes are purposely vague, and Congress has abdicated their responsibility to the American people to hold these agencies accountable.

Between the over 140,000 Americans dead from the virus, growing civil unrest, and a federal government that is unwilling to take any meaningful steps to lead the country, it is evident we are at a breaking point in the United States. Instead of taking steps to mitigate and address the American peoples growing concerns over the state of the country, the President seems hell-bent on using our moment of crisis to expand his executive authority and put American lives last. What’s happening in Portland is not the beginning; it is the expansion of existing secret police that’s been test-driven against immigrant communities for decades, irrespective of citizenship status. The only difference is that all Americans are now in its crosshair.

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