07.12.2019 Culture

A Weekly Roundup of Politics: New Orleans, ICE raids, and Jeffrey Epstein

Ann Lewis
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New Orleans is at the Brink

Right now the Mississippi River, particularly in New Orleans is high-high (like 16 feet above sea level high). The city is flooded with three feet of water in the streets, forcing residents to abandon their cars and switch to kayaks, canoes, or boats. The levees were rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina decimated them — which is a relief — but they’re only built to hold 20 feet of water. With the river just shy of cresting the levees, reports of Tropical Storm Barry are unwelcome reminders that climate change is indeed upon us. 

The river has sustained these high levels all season with consistent above-average rainfall throughout spring and summer. 

To put it into perspective, when Hurricane Katrina hit, the river levels were at three feet — they are now standing at 16.

Katrina was a Category 5 hurricane and the third strongest to make landfall in the United States. Tropical Storm Barry, which will likely become a Category 1 hurricane just before it makes landfall, will carry upwards of 75mph winds. This will cause damage, but not the same kind of catastrophic destruction that Katrina brought. 

While it won’t be the winds of slow-moving Tropical Storm Barry that will bring the destruction, it will be the water. With the levees just barely holding back the Mississippi River now, and the promise of more torrential rainfall, Louisianians are preparing for flooding. If the levees can’t hold the water in the 9th Ward (made famous after it was obliterated by Katrina) it will likely see catastrophic flooding once again. To prepare, the city is closing over 200 flood gates meant to protect areas from flooding — but if the river crests, the damage will be undeniable. The storm is expected to make landfall on Sunday morning

ICE Prepares Raids for This Weekend

As New Orleans poises itself for flooding, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) is preparing to raid thousands of immigrants in major cities around the country for deportation. Many of the folks who are on this targeted list are people who have been served final notices of deportation or who haven’t shown up to their scheduled court appearances. Trump, unlike the Obama Administration, is not strictly focused on targeting those who have criminal records first, but rather is rounding up those whose only crime may be that of skipping out on a court appearance (hardly a reason to be deported). The raids, which were promised by Trump, will likely take place in Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, and San Francisco. 

An arising question is, where will ICE detain all of these people before putting people on planes back to the country from which they came? Cities like Los Angeles and Houston, which are along or near the southern border, are already inundated with record numbers of refugees overcrowding Customs and Border Patrol detention centers. The Department of Homeland Security stated that it will do its best to keep families together, if possible, and will house any overflows in hotels — particularly in Texas and Pennsylvania. 

Trump delayed the raids last month at the behest of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi after concerns about the logistics of managing families who have children who are citizens. Legally, ICE agents will have to wait in hotel rooms with the children until a family member with legal status can come and claim them. But many are left wondering what will happen to those children who don’t have anyone else?

The amount of resources these raids will absorb is significant and will separate even more immigrant families.

The delay of the raids has allowed many immigrants to get their plans in order. Information circulating in immigrant communities includes tips like if ICE agents appear at your door, you do not have to open unless they have a warrant from a judge. 

Yet Another Privileged Rapist

Convicted sexual offender and billionaire Jeffrey Epstein is back in prison after his arrest earlier this week at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey. A simultaneous raid on his sprawling 21,000 square foot Manhattan townhouse found hundreds of pornographic images of underage girls in a locked safe. Epstein was convicted in 2008 of two counts of prostitution in Miami after his ruthless lawyers negotiated a sweetheart deal that was hidden from a multitude of victims. After Palm Beach detectives discovered the sexual assault and rape of countless underage girls, his lawyers negotiated another jaw-dropping deal with then US District Attorney for Southern Florida Alexander Acosta (now Secretary of Labor under President Trump). 

All of the counts against him, which included sex trafficking and conspiracy would’ve landed an ordinary man in prison for life. Instead, Epstein got 13 months in a private wing of a county jail with work release 6 days a week for 12 hours a day. 

A man that literally raped over 80 girls in Palm Beach was given this deal by a man who now oversees the Department of Labor and is in charge of fostering and improving the welfare of workers. It just doesn’t make sense.

Acosta, who bowed to significant pressure from Epstein’s lawyers, is now facing calls for his resignation. If he was unable to secure justice for dozens of young girls and women who were manipulated, abused, and raped by Epstein, many are wondering how he can stand up to other powerful men and their lawyers when it comes to the rights of American workers.

Epstein’s nefarious acts have not been limited to just Palm Beach and New York, but evidence also points to two private islands he owns in the Caribbean, as well as his home in New Mexico. 

This is yet another case to add alongside the likes of high profile serial rapists like Larry Nassar, Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, and R. Kelly. While most of these men abused their victims with their wealth and privilege, Epstein is the only one who was able to wield his wealth and privilege to maneuver out of a justifiable prison sentence. For this second time around, federal prosecutors in New York are hoping that justice, finally, will be served. 

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

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