With his ICE raids, Trump is trying to sell what isn’t there. He’s raiding people who aren’t a threat, who haven’t really committed a crime, in cities that are against him, using a tiny agency, obeying a mandate he doesn’t have, to force an issue that doesn’t really exist. It couldn’t be any more make-believe and hollow unless he slapped “Trump” on it. The ICE raids are the story of his life. And of his presidency. A man who’s spent decades writing checks he wasn’t big enough to cash has done it again. Color me surprised.
It’s poetically perfect ICE is tied so closely to Trump. This is an agency full of guys who spend their time conning people. They try to bluster their way into into searches and seizures when they don’t have warrants. The only people they can effectively terrorize are children and the poorest, most desperate people on Earth. There’s never been a better fit between a President and his chosen foot soldiers.
Watching Trump try to execute his purge this past weekend is one of the feeblest uses of power I’ve ever seen. His raids are meant to terrorize immigrant families. We must take them seriously. But we can understand the raids as a threat…and also see them for what they are: try-hard improv bs. Just up and down kindergarten-magician bungles.
Look at the logistics. As Gaby Del Valle reported in June, ICE’s evil superpowers are in the petty range:
Immigration and Customs Enforcement doesn’t have the manpower or resources to track down all of the country’s undocumented immigrants and arrest them — especially not as quickly as the president wants.
Trump’s original tweet called for millions of undocumented immigrants to be seized, as Del Valle wrote. However, when you get down to the actual nitty-gritty, the rumored MAGA butchness of ICE is just … well … so Trumpian:
ICE has about 6,000 deportation officers across the country. The Department of Homeland Security could deploy those officers to the 20 cities that house more than 60% of all undocumented immigrants in the country. But they wouldn’t make much of a dent in the estimated 10.7 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. “When people see news like this, they think ICE is going to be conducting house-to-house sweeps, which they don’t do,” Matt Cameron, a Massachusetts-based immigration lawyer, told VICE News. “ICE and Trump want people to believe that ICE is everywhere, behind every street corner, ready to go. But you can’t logistically deport millions of people before 2020.”
Naturally, ICE doesn’t want to be found out:
In an effort to walk back the president’s ambitions, immigration officials have said that, instead of targeting all undocumented immigrants, ICE would focus its efforts on the 1 million immigrants who’ve been issued final orders of removal. That means their immigration cases ended, and a judge ordered them deported. But that’s still not a realistic goal. Some of those cases are currently being appealed. And during the entirety of fiscal year 2017, ICE only conducted 40,066 at-large arrests, or arrests in communities, instead of in prisons or jails.
I don’t want to undersell the wickedness of ICE, or the horror of their camps. But we’ll forget our advantages, if we don’t consider them clearly. We owe it to ourselves to see the truth. We need to remember the basic nature of ICE and their master, President Trump.
They’re essentially losers, who want to pretend to be like the tough guys they see in the movies. But it’s so much theater club pretense. ICE is so hard-up for manpower and money, they’ve had to partner with 80 other agencies. “But even with the extra reach provided by those relationships, ICE reported 143,470 total arrests in fiscal year 2017. That’s a little over 14% of the 1 million immigrants the Trump administration wants to target.”
Trump’s war on immigrants is more of a grinding, day-to-day cruelty plan, not a single horrific purge. As Vox noted back in June:
The threat of impending deportation will terrorize the roughly 10.5 million undocumented immigrants living in the country as well as the communities they live in. It also serves as the latest illustration that Trump continues to view hardline immigration policy — backed up with threats of force, even if he can’t follow through — as a political winner on the eve of a campaign cycle in which he faces an uphill path to getting reelected.
It turns out the ICE raids are small ball. They’re the equivalent of a moth-eaten Confederate colonel coughing at his nephews to rustle up a flea-bitten old mare out into the midnight lawn so he can cosplay a Klan rally. Stephen Miller, sitting in the White House, understands the political realities:
[Miller] had already urged the Department of Homeland Security to arrest an even smaller subset of the undocumented population: immigrants whose deportation orders were issued this year as part of an expedited adjudication strategy called the “rocket docket,” the Washington Post reported Tuesday. Just over 13,000 families’ cases have been completed under the expedited program since last September, according to federal data. Of those, 12,784 families were ordered deported thus far, though it’s unclear how many of those families remain in the country.
Look at that! Four years of whining and weeping about immigrants and that’s the thunderbolt? That’s what they’ve done with their time? No wall, no coast-to-coast midnight raids, no end to sanctuary cities, no nationwide purge. It was the single largest issue Trump based his campaign on. The immigrant purge was their gotta-have, the one thing they absolutely, positively, had to deliver. And this late-term-paper, weekend-Adderall-binge response is the best they could do!
Have you ever seen anything sadder in your life? Yes, the ICE raids are basically a campaign rally for an unpopular, unhappy President. But they’re so much more than that.
At Paste, we talk a lot about the horror, the absurdity, and the nausea of Trump. But we don’t mention the greater reality of Trump: the sadness of Trump. Existentially, he’s a sad man.
This sadness manifests in so many different ways.
Today, it takes the form of his attempt to play petty Milosevic. It’s pathetic. Just the deeply worthless effort of a deeply troubled, deeply deluded, deeply confused man. A man who so sincerely believed that his Congressional critics were from other countries, that he took to Twitter to rant about it. His screeching about immigrants hiding in the woodwork is straight out of Lovecraft. I’m sure he’ll be firing a shotgun into the White House wainscoting any moment now.
How did Donald Trump become the leading Republican nominee? There was a raving uncle demographic obsessed with immigrants. This was always the fungal undergrowth beneath the flooring of the Republican party. Trump spoke to it in a way no other candidate would. And when he blathered to them, what did he promise them? That their fever dream could become real. The half-assed ICE raids are not merely the overreach of a lifelong over-reacher. They’re rehearsal, a promissory note, a try-hard attempt at what they really want.
What’s this all for?
Yes, it’s for Trump’s base, so they can feel half-baked joy in front of FOX News. Yes, it’s for the suburban audience, who gets creeped out when they see foreign-looking servers at the Cheesecake Factory. Yes, it’s for the weirdos inside his administration, who don’t like people of color. But it springs from a deeper psychosis.
Have you ever been around a congenital liar? Someone who lies out of emotional reaction, out of emotional need? It’s like that.
It’s the lunge of an incompetent Administration, trying for a performative stab at an empty campaign promise.
It’s the reaction of dull reactionaries, groping for something that never was, and never could be again.
No wonder it’s all so hollow. The ICE raids, done by a half-legal agency full of half-wits at half-scale in deeply Democratic strongholds, are sad. Screaming day and night about foreigners in your country is sad. It’s sad in the way complaining about Halle Bailey as Ariel is sad. And the person who embodies this sadness best is the President of the United States. Go to bed, Donald.