A Weekly Roundup of Politics: ICE, the US Census, and another Trans Death

06.21.2019 Arts & Culture
Ann Lewis
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Trump’s False Claim About Deportation

In a tweet on Tuesday evening (the night before his first campaign rally for the 2020 election) Trump declared that next week “ICE will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States.” Homeland Security’s response to Trump’s statement was unsurprising: “ICE will continue to conduct interior enforcement without exemption for those who are in violation of federal immigration law. This includes routine targeted enforcement operations, criminals, individuals subject to removal orders, and worksite enforcement.”

While it is true that ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) is ramping up its efforts to start waves of mass deportation targeting those who have immigrated illegally, the tweet is massively overstated. Resources at ICE’s disposal are limited, and raiding and deporting millions of people is literally not possible when coupled with the pesky 5th Amendment to the US Constitution (which requires all people within our borders to receive due process under the law). Before one can be deported on a plane back to a different country, they likely need to be seen by a judge and issued legal papers to travel internationally which can take weeks. With 300,000-500,000 people in custody already, ICE is wholly overloaded and Trump’s statement was for all intents and purposes a distraction to rile his nativist base before his first campaign rally in Orlando, Florida.

Citizenship Question on the 2020 US Census in Limbo

If the Trump Administration’s opinion on immigrants wasn’t already clear then newly discovered documents on the hard drive of a recently deceased GOP political strategist may change one’s mind. Currently, there is a battle going on in our court systems regarding whether or not the 2020 census should include a question about a resident’s immigration status. Thomas Hoeffler, the strategist in question, wrote a study in 2015 in which he concluded that, if a citizenship question was added to the census, only “Republicans and non-Hispanic whites would benefit” — the rationale being that undocumented immigrants would not submit the census paperwork for fear of deportation, and thus not be counted. The census tallies residents’ responses and is used to distribute billions of dollars of government funding.

Hoeffler was well known in Republican circles as a gerrymandering genius and had worked tirelessly for many years as a strategist to shift power into the hands of Republicans through redistricting. Some of the documents included an email exchange with a woman at the US Census Bureau from her private email discussing whether or not to add the question. In light of these new documents, the US District Court Judge George J. Hazel, who heard the case, has been asked to reconsider his ruling, siding with the Justice Department on whether or not the government was guilty of conspiracy with intent to discriminate.

To complicate matters further, the Supreme Court is also hearing a similar case after another New York judge ruled that the question should not be included on the form. This means that if the Supreme Court rules it be allowed, there may be room to re-argue it in front of the high court due to new evidence. However, New York civil rights groups involved in the case have since asked the Supreme Court to delay its ruling and to send it back down to the lower courts to review new evidence. While the Census Bureau has set a deadline of July for the printing of the census, the bureau’s chief scientists state that it could be printed as late as October. With the Supreme Court set to recess for the summer in the coming days, we may have an answer sooner rather than later.

Yet Another Trans Woman of Color Dies in Police Custody

Amid the month-long Pride celebrations of the LGBTQ+ community, Layleen Polanco, also known as Layleen Xtravaganza, died in her cell at Rikers Island, a notorious hellhole, in New York City. The 27-year-old Afro-Latina trans woman was found unresponsive in her solitary confinement cell at the Rose M. Singer Center, a housing unit for women. Her family has yet to receive answers about how she passed. Rallies have been held in her honor demanding justice for yet another loss of an over-policed trans woman who was celebrated for her participation in the House of Xtravaganza, a prominent underground ballroom community.

Polanco was arrested in April after getting into a fight with a cab driver and carrying a controlled substance. She had a warrant out for her arrest from a previous charge of prostitution and missing a court date, so she was locked up at Rikers after she was unable to pay a $500 bail.

“Ms. Polanco’s passing is a tragic reminder of the heightened risk and physical and emotional torture that transgender people — especially those from communities of color — face in the criminal legal system, particularly while in custody,” the Legal Aid Society, which had represented Polanco, said in a statement.

Her tragic and mysterious death comes as the New York State legislature is attempting to decriminalize sex work. If the bill passes, it will make New York the first state to fully decriminalize consensual sex work and will protect people like Polanco who was first arrested in a 2017 prostitution sting. The bill, unfortunately, wasn’t passed soon enough.

Ann Lewis is an artist, activist, and writer based in Detroit. Her artwork reflects upon social and environmental justice issues.  

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