Icy America

America First! That sounds good. Donald Trump won the presidency shouting that – but it also sounds a bit belligerent, as if everyone else in the world is second, or third, or doesn’t matter at all. It also sounds a bit defensive if not a bit paranoid – as if everyone else in the world has been using us and laughing at us behind our backs, and that has to stop – which is also what Donald Trump has been saying all along. Trump is big on the ties of blood and race and sectarianism – he’s a nationalist. That’s usually framed in terms of economic nationalism – trade deals and such – but he’s often said that NATO is obsolete and that the European Union is a stupid thing. He hopes more nations, like Britain, will leave, and things over there will revert to nations proud of the culture and language and, perhaps, race, standing alone, willing to fight for those things. That gave us two world wars, which was the point of setting up the European Union in the first place, but maybe he hasn’t thought this through. Mike Pence and “Mad Dog” Mattis and others have been telling our allies to ignore what Donald Trump says – he really believes in an interlocking world of alliances that has and will keep things stable. Everyone’s important. He knows that. He’ll say that, eventually. Give it time.

They don’t believe it. They don’t know who to believe. They see an America turning in on itself, sneering at all others while congratulating itself – a reflection of the personality of its new president of course. It’s an icy place that excludes all others, or at least diminishes them. Others don’t matter. They’re useful, or they’re not, but they really don’t matter much. It will always be America first.

That’s a geopolitical worry, but even in minor matters that iciness spreads:

Muhammad Ali’s son, who bears the boxing great’s name, was detained by immigration officials at a Florida airport and questioned about his ancestry and religion in what amounted to profiling, a family friend said Saturday.

Returning from a Black History Month event in Jamaica, Muhammad Ali Jr. and his mother, Khalilah Camacho Ali, were pulled aside and separated from each other while going through the immigration checkpoint on Feb. 7 at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, said Chris Mancini, a family friend and attorney.

Camacho Ali was released a short time later after showing a photo of herself with her ex-husband, the former heavyweight boxing champion, Mancini said. But Ali Jr. was not carrying a photo of his world-famous father – a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Ali Jr., 44, who confirmed his Muslim faith, was detained about two hours, despite telling officials that he’s Ali’s son and a native-born U.S. citizen, Mancini said. It was the first time Ali Jr. and his mother have ever been asked if they’re Muslim when re-entering the United States, he said.

They think they know the source of this:

“From the way they were treated, from what was said to them, they can come up with no other rational explanation except they fell into a profiling program run by customs, which is designed to obtain information from anyone who says they’re a Muslim,” Mancini said in a phone interview. “It’s quite clear that what triggered his detention were his Arabic name and his religion.”

During his detention, Ali Jr. was asked repeatedly about his lineage and his name, “as if that was a pre-programmed question that was part of a profile,” Mancini said.

There is a Muslim ban, or there isn’t:

Reached for comment Friday, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman said in an email: “Due to the restrictions of the Privacy Act, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection cannot discuss individual travelers; however, all international travelers arriving in the U.S. are subject to CBP inspection,” according to The Courier-Journal’s report about the detention.

In short, they can do what they want and should say nothing about it to anyone, but others connect the dots:

Ali Jr. and his mother have been frequent global travelers. The family connects their treatment to President Donald Trump’s efforts to restrict immigration after calling during his campaign for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S.

“This has never happened to them before,” Mancini said. “They’re asked specifically about their Arabic names. Where they got their names from and whether they’re Muslims. It doesn’t take much to connect those dots to what Trump is doing.”

Camacho Ali and Ali Jr. live in Florida. They have not traveled abroad since, and are considering filing a federal lawsuit, he said.

That seems pointless. No lasting harm was done to anyone, but there was that Australian woman:

Australian author Mem Fox has received a written apology from the United States after what she said was a traumatic detention by immigration officials at Los Angeles Airport.

Fox, who was questioned by Customs and Border Protection officers for two hours earlier this month as she was on her way to Milwaukee to address a conference, said she collapsed and sobbed at her hotel after she was released.

She said the border agents appeared to have been given “turbocharged power” by an executive order signed by President Donald Trump to “humiliate and insult” a room full of people they detained to check visas.

“I have never in my life been spoken to with such insolence, treated with such disdain, with so many insults and with so much gratuitous impoliteness,” Fox said.

“I felt like I had been physically assaulted which is why, when I got to my hotel room, I completely collapsed and sobbed like a baby, and I’m 70 years old.”

And she’s an old white woman who writes children’s books:

Fox, whose books include classics such as Possum Magic and Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, said she was questioned about her visa status, even though she had travelled to the United States 116 times previously without incident.

“My heart was pounding so hard as I was waiting to be interviewed, because I was observing what was happening to everybody else in the room,” she said.

“They accused me of coming in on the wrong visa and they were totally wrong about that.”

They were wrong, but it’s too late for that:

The author lodged a complaint with the Australian embassy in Washington, and later one with the United States embassy in Canberra to which she received an emailed letter of apology.

“I said any decent American would have been shocked to the core by what had happened, it was so dreadful,” Fox said.

“And I had an absolutely charming letter from them within hours of my email hitting their desk.”

The author said she was unlikely to visit the United States again despite the friendliness of ordinary Americans.

The friendliness of ordinary Americans, however, doesn’t make up for what she saw:

She said the treatment of others in the airport holding room, including Iranians, Taiwanese and a Scandinavian parent with a small child, was just as poor, and all appeared to eventually have been released.

“I thought: ‘How can human beings treat other vulnerable human beings in this fashion, in public, in full view of everybody?'”

That’s America sneering at all others while congratulating itself and then there was this:

Henry Rousso, a French historian and one of the most pre-eminent scholars on the Holocaust, said he was detained for more than 10 hours by federal border agents in Houston and told he would not be allowed to enter the United States before lawyers intervened to stop his deportation.

Mr. Rousso said in a telephone interview on Sunday that he arrived at the George Bush Intercontinental Airport around 2 p.m. Wednesday on a flight from France when immigration authorities began to question his visa and his reason for being in the United States.

Mr. Rousso, an expert on France after the First World War, was scheduled to give a keynote address on Friday afternoon at a conference organized by the Hagler Institute for Advanced Study at Texas A&M University in College Station.

“It would be in no means difficult to look up who he is,” said Jason Mills, an immigration lawyer who helped secure Mr. Rousso’s eventual release. “His reasons for being here were nothing but beneficial to the United States. He is a man of experience and age,” Mr. Mills said. “There is plenty of history there on him. I don’t understand why he would have been in for the several hours that he was. It is a little alarming.”

It was also icy:

Mr. Rousso said he was interrogated by Customs and Border Protection officers who told him that he was violating immigration law by using a tourist visa to enter the country to attend the academic conference. He said that at first they denied him entry to the United States, and told him he would be put on the next available flight to Paris.

The academics who had invited Mr. Rousso to speak in Texas became concerned when he failed to meet the driver who had been sent to collect him. They scrambled to alert immigration lawyers, the dean of the law school and Michael Young, the president of Texas A&M University.

The issue, Mr. Rousso said, appeared to be an honorarium of $2,000 that he was being paid to participate in the conference. Such payments are allowed for academics visiting the United States, but Mr. Rousso and those involved in securing his release said the customs agents appeared not to realize that at first.

Oops:

It was after 1 a.m. Thursday when Mr. Rousso was given back his passport and cellphone, taken to a public area of the airport and told he was free to go. He said he was told that the agent who originally held him was “inexperienced.”

These things happen, but an item in Foreign Policy suggests that will soon happen more often:

The Trump administration is seeking to loosen some security requirements for hiring Border Patrol agents in order to meet a dramatic surge in immigration enforcement, according to internal memos obtained by Foreign Policy and analyzed by five current and former officials in the Department of Homeland Security.

Customs and Border Protection, part of DHS, is seeking approval to relax some stringent standards that have made it difficult for the agency to meet recruitment targets in recent years. That includes a request to potentially loosen congressionally-mandated requirements such as a polygraph, as well as an entrance exam and background check.

Expect thousands more “inexperienced” agents, but it must be done:

The memo estimates that even with the measures to accelerate hiring, it will take five years and cost about $2.2 billion to help fill out CBP’s ranks to meet President Trump’s quota.

Expect trouble, particularly of this sort:

Some current and former DHS officials and outside experts are concerned that lowering standards could allow the influx of less-qualified candidates who may be susceptible to corruption. CBP is uniquely targeted by drug-trafficking and other transnational organizations seeking out agents they can bribe – with money or sexual favors – to allow drugs, undocumented immigrants, or other contraband across the U.S.-Mexico border.

“We actually lived through this,” said Jay Ahern, a deputy CBP commissioner under George W. Bush, when the agency doubled in size. When reviewing tens of thousands of applicants, he said, mistakes are inevitable.

There’s a reason for that:

According to rights group Southern Border Communities Coalition, between 2010 and 2015, media reported 40 deadly incidents involving CBP, and only one agent was prosecuted. The former head of internal affairs at CBP, James Tomsheck, who declined to comment for this story, claims he was pushed out in 2014 because he fought against a “paramilitary” mindset and a culture of evading accountability for abuses. This week, the Supreme Court is hearing a case to determine whether parents of a Mexican teenager shot and killed by a CBP agent can sue.

And that’s in this context:

The administration’s rush to beef up border security comes as illegal crossings into the United States from Mexico have sunk to their lowest levels in four decades; among Mexican immigrants, the flow has in fact reversed since 2000…

As for the son of the boxer, and the seventy-year-old Australian writer, and the French scholar, Kevin Drum asks this:

Whenever we hear stories like these, there’s one thing that’s constant: the border agents act like complete assholes. Why? Even if you think someone is here on the wrong visa or an expired visa or whatnot, why treat them like shit? What does that buy you?

It buys you a way to sneer that it’s America first, and the New York Times adds context:

In Virginia, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents waited outside a church shelter where undocumented immigrants had gone to stay warm. In Texas and in Colorado, agents went into courthouses, looking for foreigners who had arrived for hearings on other matters.

At Kennedy International Airport in New York, passengers arriving after a five-hour flight from San Francisco were asked to show their documents before they were allowed to get off the plane.

The Trump administration’s far-reaching plan to arrest and deport vast numbers of undocumented immigrants has been introduced in dramatic fashion over the past month. And much of that task has fallen to thousands of ICE officers who are newly emboldened, newly empowered and already getting to work.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement is ICE and is icy now:

Interviews with 17 agents and officials across the country, including in Florida, Alabama, Texas, Arizona, Washington and California, demonstrated how quickly a new atmosphere in the agency had taken hold. Since they are forbidden to talk to the press, they requested anonymity out of concern for losing their jobs.

The White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, said on Tuesday that the president wanted to “take the shackles off” of agents, an expression the officers themselves used time and again in interviews to describe their newfound freedom.

“Morale amongst our agents and officers has increased exponentially since the signing of the orders,” the unions representing ICE and Border Patrol agents said in a joint statement after President Trump issued the executive orders on immigration late last month.

That may be a problem:

Two officials in Washington said that the shift – and the new enthusiasm that has come with it – seems to have encouraged pro-Trump political comments and banter that struck the officials as brazen or gung-ho, like remarks about their jobs becoming “fun.” Those who take less of a hard line on unauthorized immigrants feel silenced, the officials said.

But boys will be boys, playing soldier:

Agents are, in fact, predominantly male and have often served in the military, with a police department or both. New agents take a five-week Spanish language program as well as firearms training; they also learn driving maneuvers and have to pass seven written examinations and a physical-fitness test that includes an obstacle course.

The element of surprise is central to their work, and the sight of even a single white van emblazoned with the words Department of Homeland Security can create fear and cause people to flee. To minimize public contact, the arrests are frequently made in the early morning hours.

A supervisor in Northern California described a typical operation, with teams of at least five members rising before dawn, meeting as early as 4 a.m. to make arrests before their targets depart for work. To avoid distressing families and children, the agents prefer to apprehend people outside their homes, approaching them as soon as they step onto a public sidewalk and, once identified, placing them in handcuffs.

But arrests can appear dramatic, as agents arrive in large numbers, armed with semiautomatic handguns and wearing dark bulletproof vests with ICE in bright white letters on them. When they do have to enter a home officers knock loudly and announce themselves as the police, a term they can legally use. Many times, children are awakened in the process, and watch as a parent is taken away.

These guys are having “fun” with this, in that sneering Trump kind of way, but sometimes they hit a wall:

Perhaps their biggest challenge, said the supervisor in California, is the agency’s steadily deteriorating relationship with other law enforcement agencies, especially in liberal-leaning cities that have vowed to protect immigrants from deportation, known as sanctuary cities.

In one city alone, the supervisor said, the police once transferred 35 undocumented immigrants a day into federal custody, compared with roughly five per week during the final years of the Obama presidency.

On Thursday, Los Angeles, a sanctuary city, asked that ICE agents stop calling themselves police officers, saying it was damaging residents’ trust of the city’s own police officers.

It’s safe to assume the ICE agents laughed at that, but the old way is giving way to the new way:

Although all of the agents interviewed felt the old priorities had kept them from doing their jobs, John Sandweg, an acting director of ICE in the Obama administration, defended the rules as making the best use of limited resources. Without them, he said, fewer dangerous people might get deported. “There are 10 seats on the bus, they go to the first 10 you grab,” Mr. Sandweg said. “It diminishes the chances that it’s a violent offender.”

He said that he had spent a lot of time on the road, speaking at town halls where he heard a great deal from the rank-and-file agents about the priorities. “Certainly they were not terribly popular,” he said. “They wanted unfettered discretion.”

Agents said that even with the added freedom, they would still go after the people who presented the greatest danger to the public. And what Mr. Sandweg called unfettered discretion, they called enforcing the law.

“The discretion has come back to us; it’s up to us to make decisions in the field,” a 15-year veteran in California said. “We’re trusted again.”

And there will be tens of thousands more of them, hired with no requirements for a polygraph, or an entrance exam or a background check – trusted to do this work, in the name of America First.

Sandra Hernandez, the vice president for communication at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, writes about these things:

One case I reported on involved a U.S. citizen who had once before been wrongly deported to Mexico. When I met him, he was a candidate for deportation after he’d been convicted of drug possession. Again and again he told ICE he was an American, born in California’s Madera County. His family produced a birth certificate but neither the agents nor the immigration judge were convinced. Instead he was threatened with an added charge: impersonating a U.S. citizen. It took publishing a newspaper story about his plight to gain his release.

In another case, agents attempted to deport a Senegalese man who had a legal stay from a federal court allowing him to remain in the U.S. while his case was adjudicated. ICE dealt with him under a covert program that forcibly drugged immigrants with powerful psychotropics so they wouldn’t resist as they were loaded onto commercial airliners for the trip “home.” At LAX, airline officials refused to transport him. He eventually succeeded in court and is now a legal permanent resident.

There’s the young man in Washington state with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status. He was rousted from bed and accused of being a deportable gang member. His lawyers say the charge is only supported by doctored documents. On Wednesday, federal agents removed a Salvadoran woman, reportedly scheduled for emergency brain surgery, from a Texas hospital bed.

The stories pile up, but it’s more than customs and immigration:

Jeena Sharma, 25, was applying for a work visa to the United States when news came that two Indian engineers had been shot in a Kansas bar by a man who drunkenly questioned their immigration status.

News of the shootings, which took place last Wednesday, was quickly eclipsed by other developments in Washington, and even in Kansas, but the same cannot be said of the Sharma household of Mumbai, where Ms. Sharma has received emphatic maternal lectures about her plans to move, starting first thing in the morning.

“She asked me: ‘Why do you even need to go to the States? Why do you need to go to a country that doesn’t want you? I’m going to be scared for your life every day,'” Ms. Sharma said.

Even as she endeavored, patiently, to convey to her mother the difference between Kansas and New York City, where she hopes to move, Ms. Sharma felt her own apprehensions growing, as the days passed and President Trump made no statement on the crime.

Why do you need to go to a country that doesn’t want you? There are reasons, because of the immediate specific needs of tech industry for one, but no more:

India is second only to China as a feeder to American colleges, with around 165,000 students enrolled in the 2015-16 school year, according to the Institute of International Education. Indians are the largest recipients of temporary skilled worker visas, known as H-1B visas, which the Trump administration intends to cut back. And close to half a million Indians, who mostly went to the United States legally as students or tourists or on work visas, have stayed on after their visas expired, the Pew Research Center estimates.

Reports of rising American hostility toward immigrants have stunned many Indians, said Alyssa Ayres, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, who visited Hyderabad recently.

“I had a guy on a plane sitting next to me, who turned to me and said, ‘Is it true, what they say about America under Trump?'” she said. “There is a kind of confusion: What is happening to the United States? People can’t believe what they’re reading.”

There’s only one answer:

Nageswara Rao, 71, whose son and daughter work in the software sector in the United States, said he was “not much worried,” though he does dispense regular advice on safety measures.

“It is always better to keep away from bars,” he said. His children are safe, he added, “Because they don’t go to these bars where white people are more.”

That’s good advice, but none of this is Trump’s fault:

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Friday that it was “absurd” to suggest any connection between President Donald Trump’s rhetoric and a triple shooting in Kansas that some witnesses described as racially motivated.

“Any loss of life is tragic but I’m not going to get into that kind of – to suggest that there’s any correlation I think is a bit absurd, so I’m not going to get any further than that,” Spicer told reporters during a press gaggle recorded by the Washington Post.

Fine, but there was the event:

Adam Purinton, a 51-year-old resident of Olathe, Kansas, was arrested on Thursday in connection with a triple shooting the night before.

He allegedly shouted “get out of my country” before opening fire on Wednesday and later told a bartender that he had killed two Middle Eastern men, according to a report by the Kansas City Star.

This was an “America First” event, but Alok Madasani and Srinivas Kuchibhotla were quite legal immigrants from India, not the Middle East, and Kuchibhotla later died, and Purinton was charged with one count of murder and two counts of attempted murder. Maybe he can get a job with Customs and Border Protection. They won’t be doing background checks anymore.

Donald Trump has changed things. We have become him. America is turning in on itself, sneering at all others while congratulating itself. It’s an icy place now.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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