Our Weekly Discontents, 5/10/21

No end in sight

A lot of people felt heartened at images last week of mothers embracing their children, finally reunited in the United States years after government-enforced separations stemming from the notorious Trump-era “zero tolerance” policy piloted in 2017 and formalized in 2018. The tearful hugs were facilitated by the painstaking effort of lawyers and nonprofit investigators, who’ve worked with the government to track down deported parents and press relentlessly for a better slate of options than these parents have been given so far: have your child returned to the dangerous circumstances that you originally fled from, or give up your right to reunification. Many have chosen the latter, fearful that all of this strife will have been for nothing if they bring the kids back to danger.

The four reunifications last week seemed to be the first step towards a better solution. Officials said they were hopeful that hundreds more families could be reunited in the U.S., and the Homeland Security secretary told NBC News that this might include not only parents, but entire extended families. However, lost in much of the coverage was the fine print: these parents had been let into the country under humanitarian parole, an extremely flimsy, temporary, and discretionary designation that can’t even really be called an immigration status, and which has no path towards permanent residency. In the way of explanation, officials muddled through assurances that they were exploring better options; the unfortunate truth is that there really are very limited legal options for these parents to ever return permanently.

It’s been the elephant in the room since the search first began. Parents’ deportations after the failure of their asylum cases, despite the Trump administration’s extreme efforts to make obtaining asylum almost impossible, are still considered legally sound. In a handful of cases, the federal judge overseeing the case has accepted the lawyers’ arguments that the circumstances of the cases and deportations made them procedurally inappropriate and has ordered parents to be brought back, but this isn’t going to happen for most of the parents. Those who manage to return under a parole program have no obvious path to stay, particularly as they are now once deported.

Even if their children win their asylum cases and become residents, they can’t sponsor their parents until they turn 21. People who have been deported usually can’t apply for asylum again, and even if they manage to do so, are likely to lose their cases again unless the circumstances threatening them have substantially changed, which they generally haven’t. Going down this road could trigger returned parents to just be deported again, an outcome that absolutely no one wants. Some have pointed to a limited number of visas available annually for victims and witnesses of crimes who are cooperating with law enforcement, but this approach would require the Biden administration to formally declare that it is criminally investigating the official conduct of Trump and his high-level staff, something that is very unlikely to happen for a host of reasons political and precedential. Democrats in both the House and Senate have introduced a bill that would grant all parents and children separated without proper cause (already a bit of an iffy determination) the ability to apply directly for permanent residency, but no one’s holding their breath for Congress’ ability to pass any immigration-related measures, no matter how narrow.

Biden has talked a lot about fixing the inhumane immigration policies of his predecessor, righting the wrongs of the past and moving forward, but, setting aside his lethargy in actually moving towards these goals, this situation is further evidence that the government isn’t always going to have a real answer to the open cruelty of Stephen Miller’s vision and policymaking. The harm that he did over a few months in late 2017 and 2018 is permanent, not only from the obvious standpoint of lasting psychological and personal tragedy for thousands of children and parents, but even from a legal resolution one. Our legal and regulatory systems are often not really set up to right wrongs, and the immigration system particularly so. The likelier option is that there will be some more flashy but temporary and limited steps that will generate good press and give the public the feeling of closure. Eventually, they’ll forget.

This is Felipe De La Hoz and Gaby Del Valle, and for BORDER/LINES last week, we took a more detailed look at these families’ predicament and the overlapping obstacles that stand in their way.

Turning it over now to our Discontents crew. If all of this excellent work floats your boat, you should subscribe for a weekly dose to your inbox, and tell your friends!

Welcome to Hell World

Luke O’Neil

Yes but they were very old anyway.

The majority of deaths from Covid in America — over 581,000 by now if you haven’t checked in a while — were in fact people over the age of 75, which I guess means that they “didn’t count.” A gutting and gorgeous essay I published yesterday by Lucy Schilling asks: What if even a very old human being dying needlessly during a pandemic is still a human being who died needlessly during a pandemic?

I remembered later that she had looked at the doctor after he said she would likely die—all of us were just hearing this for the first time—and, for lack of anything else to say, saying this, I think, not to appease him exactly, but just to say something, she said “that’s fair.” But she did not believe it. I know she didn’t believe it. The situation was the same combination of unfathomable and terrifying as a plane crash. Although she’d actually survived one of those when she was younger. 

Earlier in the week I shared a dispatch from Tennessee about all the dumb fuck “legislating to own the libs” lawmakers have been up to down there of late and also a bit about prison gerrymandering from me.

“60% of Illinois' prisoners are from Cook County (Chicago), yet 99% of them are counted outside the county.”

Pretty slick shit right? First you arrest predominantly Black people from large population centers that tend to vote Democrat. Next you cage them in more rural places where the prisons are thereby inflating that district’s raw representational power. Now areas who rely on prisons for jobs and power and wealth can have a leg up on passing legislation that will send more Black people into those same prisons in a massive feedback loop of disenfranchisement.

I also excoriated the Biden administration in this piece for dragging its heels on freely sharing vaccine IP with countries in desperate need of it at the moment.

Perspectives: Past, Present, and Future

Patrick Wyman

We’re conditioned to think of ancient civilizations - the first appearances of the state, urbanism, and writing - as hierarchical societies, where an elite dominated the masses of the populace. The monuments these societies left behind speak to that elite dominance: pyramids, ziggurats, grand temples, earthen burial mounds, and so on. But did it have to be that way?

The Indus Valley Civilization of South Asia would seem to offer a contrary argument. It stretched over what is now India and Pakistan from the Arabian Sea to the foothills of the Himalayas, with five vast cities, dozens of smaller urban centers, hundreds of towns, and thousands of villages. This was a sophisticated world, with high levels of long-distance trade even in cheap bulk goods like salted fish. The same system of weights and measures, the same script, the same building styles, and the same emphasis on hydraulic engineering held sway throughout. But as of now, we’ve found no evidence of a dominating elite class, kings, or even of the larger cities controlling the smaller settlements. That’s the topic of my newsletter last week, and I hope you check it out.

Wars of Future Past

Kelsey D. Atherton

It is hard to overstate how much the “forever” of the Forever War was baked in from the start. Having won the authority for an endless conflict, President George W. Bush gave a speech on September 20, 2001, saying “"Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign unlike any other we have ever seen."

It’s the rare line from the era that has unequivocally proven true. 

As Afghanistan returns to a more central focus in the news, it is important to understand how much the tragedy of its long US occupation, and that occupation’s inevitable end, was baked in from the start. Bush’s choice to also invade Iraq, all but telegraphed from the start, will deservedly get much of the blame. Yet after the failure to capture bin Laden at Tora Bora in December 2001, Bush had no plan for Afghanistan other than semi-permanent occupation. Bush’s 9/20/01 speech is filled with exhortations of the good of nation-building, of the lives improved through the alchemical magic of American military patrols.

Seen through two decades of hindsight, an appeal to protecting the humanity of the civilians caught in expansive war has proven as hollow as the rest of the era’s attempt to win narratives instead of resolving conflicts. In the upcoming Wars of Future Past, I dive into what it means to treat presiding over war as kind of perpetual armor against criticism. To butcher Clausewitz, forever war is just political legitimacy by other means.

The Flashpoint

Eoin Higgins

At The Flashpoint this week I continue my look at service industry workers who are hesitant to return to forward facing jobs as pandemic restrictions loosen.

Last week, I talked to restaurant industry workers about their reasons for holding back on returning.

Sarah, a restaurant professional who is leaving the business, once enjoyed the fast pace and camaraderie that service can inspire in staff. Covid was a wakeup call.

“I think like with everything else in society, the pandemic kind of stripped away the illusion of fairness/equity in the industry, or that it operated differently than other industries,” she said.

I also talked to workers at a Dollar General store in Eliot, Maine who walked off the job over mistreatment and poor pay.

I asked employee Brendt Erikson if he thought the walkout would motivate other Dollar General employees to unionize and fight for better working conditions.

“I would love to see that, but obviously most big box stores have learned to say, oh, we believe unions are important, but they aren’t important in our business, we have an incredible relationship with our employees,” Erikson said. “They try to brainwash employees into avoiding them.”

This week I’ll be talking to retail workers and examining how to organize the service industry. Sign up here to stay in touch.

Discourse Blog

Hi again. I’m Jack Crosbie, writer/ co-owner at Discourse Blog. Here’s what we got up to in the last week. 

Jack Mirkinson blogged about Bill Gates’s pretty rough week, what with getting divorced and also the U.S. finally agreeing to waive patents on COVID vaccines, something Gates had vehemently opposed. Pour one out for that guy

Meanwhile, Sam wrote about Cori Bush’s stirring testimony about her experiences with childbirth, which exposed a hornets-nest of right-wing transphobia. 

We also published our latest issue of the ongoing Worst Politicians in All 50 States series. Two words: New Jersey. Let’s go. 

Rafi also blogged about the absurd intra-GOP fight over who loves Trump the most (not Liz Cheney). And finally, a short list of people who continue to suck: Nate Silver! Mark Warner!Dianne Feinstein! Every single boss! That about  sums it up.