Families held in overcrowded makeshift detention center in El Paso, Texas
People everywhere have been horrified by the revelations about the barbaric conditions that undocumented immigrants and refugees are being subjected to in the growing archipelago of concentration camps overseen by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). These outrages only add to the Trump Administration’s hideously cruel and criminal policies of abducting the children of undocumented immigrants and denying asylum seekers their legal rights.
But as horrifying as these industrial-scale abuses are, can anyone truly claim to be shocked? After all, this country’s loathsome president has said of undocumented immigrants: “these aren’t people, these are animals.” He pardoned Arizona’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio of criminal charges related to his notorious persecution of Latino immigrants in Arizona, and promised border patrol agents that he would pardon them if they broke the law by refusing to accept asylum seekers. He’s even bragged in speeches of coming up with “sick ideas” himself for dealing with undocumented immigrants and refugees. These are the policies Trump has promised all along. They were to be expected.
What is genuinely shocking to many, however, is the extent to which the leaders of the Democratic Party are abetting Trump’s worst crimes.
Their treachery should have been clear from their refusal to open an impeachment inquiry against Trump despite acknowledging that he has committed multiple impeachable offenses. They even refused to subpoena Trump’s tax returns in the first six months when they controlled the House of Representatives!
But the Democratic leaders’ treachery is now glaringly obvious after they moved to join with the Republicans to defeat calls by left-wing Democrats in Congress – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib – to reign in many of the DHS’s worst abuses. Instead they voted for billions in new funding that will allow DHS and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to continue their reign of terror and torture against undocumented immigrants and refugees.
Ilhan Omar righteously denounced the move as “a vote to keep kids in cages and terrorize immigrant communities.” The Co-Chair of the Democrats’ Progressive Caucus, Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, denounced the conservative Democrats who were behind the move, accurately labelling them “the Child Abuse Caucus.” And these expressions of anger have broad support.
The Democratic leadership’s refusal to stand up to Trump and the Republicans flies in the face of popular sentiment. The fact that their vote to fund DHS was unpopular with Democratic voters was evident at the debate of presidential candidates that took place the same day. Almost all the candidates expressed a commitment to decriminalize undocumented immigrants and received enthusiastic support for their position.
The revelations of the systematic abuse of incarcerated immigrants has triggered a wave of protests at detention centers and politicians’ offices around the country that enjoy widespread public sympathy. Few hold any illusions that such targeted actions will achieve any significant reforms while Trump and the Republicans’ rampant lawbreaking is going unchecked. But all hope is far from lost.
The Orange Ogre in the White House and his racist minions are widely despised, and there is a broadly felt sense of urgency that their crimes must be stopped. Rashida Tlaib expressed that sense of urgency when she marked her election to Congress by vowing to “impeach the motherfucker!” And that is exactly what we must fight for.
The fact that the removal of the president from office by impeachment requires a vote of two-thirds of the Republican-controlled Senate understandably prompts some to question how worthwhile a fight for impeachment would be. But this overlooks that impeachment is a process. An impeachment inquiry would give the Democratic majority in the House the unambiguous constitutional power to subpoena documents and testimony from the Trump Administration that could have devastating effect. It could expose the evidence of Trump’s encouragement of the criminal abuse of immigrants, his rampant corruption, obstruction of justice in the Mueller inquiry, spell out his collusion (if not conspiracy in the strictly legal sense) with the Russian government’s efforts to help Trump capture the White House, and expose his racist drive to enshrine lasting undemocratic rule by white Republicans.
This would go a long way toward mobilizing public opinion to oust Trump, ramping up the pressure on Republicans in the Senate to abandon him in the hopes of saving their own positions. At the very least, it would put Trump and the Republicans on the defensive, hesitant to continue their lawless behavior as the 2020 elections approach, and further weakened in the electoral contest itself.
The alternative is to wait passively while Trump lawlessly mobilizes the power of the Federal government to not only deepen the misery of his victims, but also to try to steal another election. And that is an alternative no one should consider.
There is no more effective way to win justice for immigrants and refugees today than to fight to cut the head off the racist Republican snake by impeaching Trump. And the current uprising of protest against Trump’s monstrous crimes against undocumented immigrants and refugees offers a precious opportunity to escalate calls on the Democrats’ leaders in Congress to do so.
The Democratic leadership’s opposition to impeachment can be overcome. This stance is, if anything, even more unpopular than their vote for the Republican bill to give DHS more funding. But it will require massive protests in the streets to force them to act.
The “Squad” of left-wing Democrats in Congress – Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, Pressley and Tlaib – who led the opposition to the Democratic leaders’ betrayal of immigrants with the DHS-funding vote are in the perfect position to lead the way, and they have good reason to. After the vote, Pelosi launched a string of attacks against them, ridiculously claiming in one interview that they have little support outside of Twitter. But if they alone called for a march on Washington to demand Trump’s impeachment, huge numbers of people would respond.
If the Squad called for such an action, that would be an important break from their current approach of using small protests to back their legislative agenda; it would embrace the potential for truly massive mobilizations. And it is long overdue. It is scandalous that since the massive Women’s March protesting Trump’s inauguration, there has not been another mass mobilization despite Trump’s mounting outrages.
The Democratic presidential candidates should also be called on to support such a march on Washington. Those who refuse would be exposed for their cowardice.
And importantly, every social movement organization that can influence the Democrats – immigrants’ rights organizations, trade unions, civil rights organizations and especially socialist organizations like the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) – should urge them to do so. And where these organizations’ leaders fail to act, their members should organize to force the issue.
It’s vitally important to recognize how the fight to impeach Trump could prove decisive for causes far broader than just the urgent need to alleviate the suffering of undocumented immigrants.
The Democratic congressional leaders’ opposition to impeaching Trump is bound up with their fear of the increasing popularity among democratic voters of radical reforms that threaten the interests of this country’s capitalist ruling class of billionaire financiers and industrialists. Policies like Medicare for All, a Green New Deal and massively raising taxes on the rich threaten the obscene wealth of the “one percent” who control the Republican and most of the Democratic politicians. As Nancy Pelosi famously said of the Democratic party, “We're capitalists, and that's just the way it is.” What’s more, increasingly vocal opposition to the United States’ imperialist wars abroad and especially its support for Israel’s worst crimes against the Palestinians, threatens to undermine the U.S.-dominated global order that is essential to its capitalists’ imperialist plunder.
The congressional Democrats don’t want to impeach Trump because they want fear of his re-election to scare Democratic voters away from supporting a left-wing presidential candidate like Sanders. They want to argue that his candidacy would be too risky.
With this in mind, we can see how Nancy Pelosi’s insistence that impeachment requires bi-partisan agreement with Republicans, and Joe Biden’s campaign message that he will cooperate with Republicans in the future in the same “civil” spirit that he worked with racist segregationists in the past, is a preview of how they wish to govern. They want to use the supposed need to cooperate with Republicans as their argument for why radical reforms addressing wealth inequality and the climate change emergency are impossible. And to do that they cannot afford to trounce the Republicans by impeaching Trump and mobilizing the support of millions with the promise of radical reforms to benefit working-class, poor and oppressed people who haven’t voted in the past.
In this light, the move by the Democratic leaders in Congress to support the Republicans in extending the financing of DHS’s reign of terror against immigrants is an urgent reminder of the stakes in the fight for impeachment. Previous Democratic administrations have either dramatically worsened the repression of immigrants and the oppression of people of color, or else betrayed their promises to alleviate those conditions. Democrats have taken turns with Republicans in power in Washington for years in presiding over the continued deterioration of the living standards and rights of all working-class and oppressed people, demoralizing those who supported them and paving the way for Trump’s rise to power.
Where left Democrats like Sanders and the Squad are advancing the interests of working-class and oppressed people, they deserve support against their right-wing opponents. But their project of turning the Democratic Party into a genuine representative of working-class and oppressed people, and to solve the masses’ interests by reforming the capitalist system, is a dead end. The solution to capitalist society’s social and environmental crises will require huge upheavals of struggle by increasingly organized masses of working-class and oppressed people that culminate in the overthrow of capitalist rule. That will require a working-class socialist party that will not compromise with capitalist interests because it is committed to their overthrow. And each advance in struggle today can help show the way to that revolutionary solution.
1. theatlantic.com, “Trump’s Unpardonable Challenge to the Constitution” (theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/04/a-clear-cut-take-care-violation/587101/).
2. usatoday.com, “Trump ramps up rhetoric on undocumented immigrants...” (usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2018/05/16/trump-immigrants-animals-mexico-democrats-sanctuary-cities/617252002/);
also “Trump: 'That Was My Sick Idea' ” (youtube.com/watch?v=9XBZ6QUOODU).
3. Ilhan Omar on Twitter, June 27, 2019, (twitter.com/IlhanMN/status/1144328009048047617);
also Rep. Mark Pocan on Twitter (twitter.com/repmarkpocan/status/1144324911583780864).
4. huffpost.com, “2020 Democrats Overwhelmingly Back Decriminalizing Border Crossings In Thursday Debate” (huffpost.com/entry/decriminalizing-border-crossing-democrats-2020_n_5d15884ee4b03d6116392906).
5. “Pelosi: Democrats are capitalists” (youtube.com/watch?v=MR65ZhO6LGA).