One of the things which is supposed to differentiate modern liberal democracies from totalitarian, dictatorial, and fascist states is the principle of transparency: what the government does — and especially what it does to its own citizens — occurs out in the open for all to see. This helps ensure that the question "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes," translated as "Who will guard the guards themselves?" or "Who watches the watchmen," is "We will watch them."
But the people cannot watch, much less guard, the guardians when government actions are cloaked in secrecy and buried in bureaucratic mazes. This helps authoritarian regimes of various sorts survive because it's hard to rebel when you don't know for sure where the government is or what is can do. This also helps democracies crash because a democratic system requires that sovereignty be invested in the people — and people are not sovereign if officers of the state can simply make them "disappear" without trial, due process, good reason, or anything else that citizens in a liberal democracy assume are necessary aspects of their legal system.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Undocumented Status
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is responsible for dealing with those who are most easily subjected to a nightmare of undocumented incarceration: undocumented immigrants. James Pendergraph, who was at the time executive director of ICE's Office of State and Local Coordination, told a conference of local law enforcement personnel that "If you don't have enough evidence to charge someone criminally but you think he's illegal, we can make him disappear."
Read that again, slowly: a federal law enforcement official openly admitted that without even enough evidence of criminal activity to charge someone with a crime, never mind secure a conviction in a court of law, it's possible to make that person "disappear." They can be held by the government in an undocumented location for undocumented transgressions for an undocumented amount of time without ever turning over any documents to any court, lawyer, or family member. And yet, it's the people being detained who are accused of being "undocumented."
This is a bit like bombing innocent civilians and then accusing them of being "terrorists." Oh wait, Obama is doing that, too.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Suburban Gulag
How is ICE able to detain who-knows-how-many people in this way? They do it right under our noses: ICE controls nearly 200 sites in suburban office parks and commercial spaces all around us, but which are not on any official lists of ICE office locations. These sites are thus themselves undocumented, at least as far as the public is concerned, because their existence is not released on public lists and the buildings themselves do not inform the people in surrounding areas that they are a government space.
What's more, our government certainly doesn't inform anyone that these are detention sites where dozens of human beings are kept against their will. People go to work or even live near these detention centers without having any knowledge of what their government is doing to other people every day. It seems to me that America needs its own Bastille Day — one that can take place at approximately 200 different sites simultaneously around the country. If the government is going to pull a shroud over activities like this, Americans need to rip that shroud off, by force if necessary.
Jacqueline Stevens reports:
It is not surprising to find that, with no detention rules and being off the map spatially and otherwise, ICE agents at these locations are acting in ways that are unconscionable and unlawful. According to Ahilan Arulanantham, director of Immigrant Rights for the ACLU of Southern California, the Los Angeles subfield office called B-18 is a barely converted storage space tucked away in a large downtown federal building.
"You actually walk down the sidewalk and into an underground parking lot. Then you turn right, open a big door and voilà, you're in a detention center," Arulanantham explained. Without knowing where you were going, he said, "it's not clear to me how anyone would find it. What this breeds, not surprisingly, is a whole host of problems concerning access to phones, relatives and counsel."
It's also not surprising that if you're putting people in a warehouse, the occupants become inventory. Inventory does not need showers, beds, drinking water, soap, toothbrushes, sanitary napkins, mail, attorneys or legal information, and can withstand the constant blast of cold air.
The US residents held in B-18, as many as 100 on any given day, were treated likewise. B-18, it turned out, was not a transfer area from point A to point B but rather an irrationally revolving stockroom that would shuttle the same people briefly to the local jails, sometimes from 1 to 5 am, and then bring them back, shackled to one another, stooped and crouching in overpacked vans.
These transfers made it impossible for anyone to know their location, as there would be no notice to attorneys or relatives when people moved. At times the B-18 occupants were left overnight, the frigid onslaught of forced air and lack of mattresses or bedding defeating sleep. The hours of sitting in packed cells on benches or the concrete floor meant further physical and mental duress.
Kafka: The Prophet of Obama's America
To call this "Kafkaesque" would be an understatement because it's way too close to what Kafka himself actually wrote.
Consider these passages from his unfinished novel The Trial. First we have the manner in which the court and court offices are hidden among the housing of the poor:
The examining judge certainly wouldn't be sitting and waiting in the attic. The wooden stairs would explain nothing to him however long he stared at them. Then K. noticed a small piece of paper next to them, went across to it and read, in a childish and unpractised hand, "Entrance to the Court Offices".
Were the court offices here, in the attic of this tenement, then? If that was how they were accommodated it did not attract much respect, and it was some comfort for the accused to realise how little money this court had at its disposal if it had to locate its offices in a place where the tenants of the building, who were themselves among the poorest of people, would throw their unneeded junk.
Then we have the unpleasant conditions in which people caught up in trials are expected to sit through:
The air in the room was muggy and extremely oppressive, those who were standing furthest away could hardly even be seen through it.
K. made no reply, but it was actually not the heat that made him uncomfortable but, much more, the stuffiness, the air that almost made it more difficult to breathe, the room had probably not been ventilated for a long time.
I guess these undocumented immigrants should be happy that they are merely being placed in arbitrary, unreviewed detention. They could simply be assassinated through an arbitrary, unreviewed determination that they are "terrorists". Undocumented immigrants are merely being warehoused like inventory rather than executed, in Kafka's words, "like a dog."
I apologize for not posting sermons recently. If this sermon sounds a bit like "old news," it's because I've been trying to finish it for almost four weeks now. Last week we lost power for the weekend, as so many others did. Before that, and ongoing now, I've been caring for a very sick cat. Most of my free time has been in the vet's office, in an emergency clinic, or just holding her. Thursday I was told that she probably only had 2 to 6 months to live and now we're just trying to make sure she's comfortable and happy for the time she has left.
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