They manufacture a crisis because as much as they wish, there is none

At Christmas the government dropped 1,000 migrants at a bus shelter. They did it on purpose.

You might remember, a few weeks back before they started going on TV to lie about terrorists being arrested at the border and all of a sudden saying it was time for an Alamo-like last stand on the Wall, before The News took over our lives more than it already has for the last two years and Trump bullied his way into getting eight minutes of prime time TV time to tell us things he’s already said over and over again, before he started shouting those same things in the Oval Office while adult men and women with some of the most important jobs in the world snickered as he mocked a reporter for asking why he shut down the government, before he yelled equally petulant defenses of his shutdown on the White House lawn while a helicopter waited to take him places so he could Do Things, and before he sat at a table in Texas behind a big gun and piles of cash and drugs found at the border in an attempt to prove his point — before all of that, you might remember a three-day period at Christmas when the government suddenly and inexplicably dropped off more than 1,000 migrants at a bus station in El Paso.

They did that on purpose, I can report to you now. They did that to scare people and convince them that the crisis at the border they say exists actually does (it doesn’t). They did that because they can and because they don’t give a shit about the consequences, because none of what they do is actually done with human rights in mind.

For the past week I was in El Paso trying to figure out why those people — the people who work for ICE who dropped the migrants off for no good reason — did what they did. Since the government is shut down the people who answer questions on behalf of ICE won’t respond to an email I can’t get an answer to that question. But even if they were at their desks tomorrow morning they would never admit to following orders from Washington D.C. — from Trump, we can assume — that resulted in them dumping more than 1,000 migrants at a bus station in the hope that someone would take a picture of it and that picture would look bad to some people, that it would look like a crisis.

They would never admit to that because it would prove there is no crisis but the one they created. But that’s the logistical reason they won’t admit that they purposely manufactured a crisis. The fundamental reason they won’t admit that or even answer questions about it is that they are cowards.

***

It’s cold and raining in Juarez when I put my friend into a taxi late Wednesday night. I am full of Tecate and chucho. He has had his fill of Jack Daniels on the rocks. I tell him I’ll see him next month when I’m back and we can resume our ongoing conversation of whether Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador — AMLO — is making Mexico more like America or whether Trump is making America more like Mexico. You can have this conversation all day. On the bridge back to El Paso, there are four orange cones marking the invisible line between Mexico and the United States.

“Papers or passport?” the border guard asks.

I show him my Illinois drivers license that says I live in an apartment that I haven’t lived in for four years in a city that I haven’t lived in for two years. I left my passport back in Dallas, the one thing I forgot this trip.

“OK, go ahead.”

Past him is the next obstacle, an airport-style checkpoint in a building that is completely empty except for the two guards standing behind computers they always make sure to tell you to stand the fuck behind.

“What were you doing in Mexico?”

“I’m a journalist.”

“And where do you live?”

“Dallas, now.”

“And what’s in the bag?”

“My computer. A notebook.”

“OK, have a good night.”

No one is manning the X-ray machine that you’re supposed to put your bag through so I walk past it and into El Paso, where the only thing waiting for me are empty streets and an empty hotel room and things I cannot stop thinking about.

***

These empty streets are where the migrants would have ended up if it weren’t for the people at Annunciation House. Since 2014 the government has called Annunciation House whenever it has migrants that they’re going to release. Then Annunciation House finds a place in a church or someone’s home or another of their shelters for the migrants to stay. That’s how it’s always worked. Until October 26.

That day, ICE dropped a couple hundred migrants at the bus station without telling anyone ahead of time. This was before Trump and a bunch of Republicans were trying to scare people into believing we need the Wall with what Aaron Rupar calls “gore porn” about human trafficking and cartels putting tape over womens’ mouths, which is something that Trump keeps weirdly bringing up. Back in late October Trump and his Republican sycophants were busy trying to scare the hell out of people about a couple caravans of migrants who were 1,000 miles away and practically in another fucking hemisphere.

They made up lies about middle-easterners (bad, obviously) and criminals being in the caravan. Fortunate son Matt Gaetz floated a rumor that George Soros was funding the caravan (super bad, it goes without saying). They sent troops to the border who mainly spent most of their time building the camps they slept in before they took down those camps. The troops put up some barbed wire that Trump said was shiny and beautiful. Their field trip to the border probably cost us millions or tens of millions of dollars. By the time the caravans got here they were mostly broken up and ended up in Tijuana, another 1,000 miles from the poor grunts in the Rio Grande Valley sitting around twiddling their thumbs.

They did all that because there was an election coming and Trump figured it’d be a good idea to scare people so they’d vote for Republicans, who he doesn’t really care about but if they won it would look like he won in a way. So they figured they’d drop a bunch of migrants off at the bus station in El Paso on October 26, a couple weeks before that election. The migrants would be wearing the same clothes they made the journey from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras in. They’d look a little disheveled, probably, and definitely brown.

They’d look different from people like Trump, and people who look like Trump and vote for him tend to really not like people who don’t look like Trump, and themselves.

“They 100 percent did that on purpose to try to manufacture a crisis,” Iliana Holguin, an El Paso immigration attorney told me, laughing that I’d even have to ask a question with such an obvious answer when I know what I know and talk to people like her all the time.

“This is all just a show for them. It’s all to try to scare people and demean migrants.”

They did it again on December 23, 25 and 25, dropping off more than 1,000 migrants in those three days. Why late December? Because it was right before Trump said he’d shut down the government if he didn’t get his racist Ozymandias. That was a good time to manufacture a crisis because a crisis is what Trump and other lying politicians are telling Americans is happening at the border. And only a wall can fix that crisis, they say.

“They did that on purpose,” another El Paso immigration attorney, Carlos Spector, says. “They did that to make it look there is a crisis here when there isn’t.”

***

On Carlos’ desk are two statues. One is of Lady Justice with the blindfold over her eyes. She’s supposed to be blind and it’s not supposed to matter who you are, what you do, what color you are or how much money you have — she’s supposed to treat you the same (she doesn’t). The other statue is of Benito Juarez, the poor, indigenous guy from Oaxaca who stood up for other poor, indigenous people from Oaxaca and elsewhere in Mexico and became president. When the French invaded Mexico, Benito had to leave Mexico City and run the country from a town called Paso del Norte. In that town the building he ran Mexico from is abandoned and crumbling. That town is called Juarez now.

Now Benito looks on in bronze form as I talk to Spector, whose specialty is asylum cases. He tried to get asylum for a young reporter from Mexico named Martin Mendez Pinéda, who I wrote about in April, 2017, and who ended up giving up on his case because he couldn’t stand being in detention any longer. He’s in Tijuana now and laying low, not able to write anymore. After he agreed to be deported, a journalism organization wanted him to come to Washington D.C. so they could give him an award. The Trump administration wouldn’t let him in.

Carlos took Martin’s case when the reporter was still in Mexico. He told Martin that it wasn’t going to be easy, and that they were going to have to fight like hell. Carlos knew this because the first journalist-asylum case he handled back in 2005 wasn’t easy. That was Emilio Guitiérrez, who showed up at the border fleeing the cartels one day, and when he was asked what he was bringing from Mexico said, simply, “We bring fear.” Martin said he was ready. So one day, Carlos met Martin in Juarez and the two of them walked across the bridge.

It was after Trump got elected but before he took office. But all the border agents were already excited. Trump was their guy, and everyone knew it.

“Trump was like manna from heaven for these motherfuckers,” Carlos told me in his office last week. “I mean they already had pictures of Trump hanging in their office.”

When Carlos and Martin got to the other side — the same empty building I walked through last week with my Illinois driver’s license — they approached a guard and asked what line they needed to get in to apply for asylum.

“And this guy, with his hand on his gun, interrupts me and goes, ‘I know who you are. You’re Carlos Spector, the America-hater,’” Spector said. “The guy told me, ‘You know there’s no asylum for Mexicans. There’s no violence there like in Central America.’”[1]

Carlos told the guard — who was Mexican-American — that he didn’t want any trouble and didn’t want to get into an argument over the fact that Martin was exercising his right under US and international law by presenting himself at a port of entry and saying he was seeking asylum. Eventually, the guard let them pass, but Carlos knew something had changed.

“That’s when I went, Oh shit. Things are going to get crazy now.”

***

Now things are crazy. One of the ways Trump is trying to force his wall through is by possibly taking away money from disaster relief, which isn’t really a problem because a lot of the people who voted for Trump don’t need that money either because they live in places where natural disasters haven’t happened or they have enough money to just build a new house when a hurricane knocks their’s down. A few of the poor and middle class people who voted against their own interests and elected Trump might get screwed over if he’s able to take money away from disaster relief to build his unnecessary wall. But most of the people getting fucked by this deal will be poor, brown and black.

Trump probably thinks Puerto Rico is part of Mexico, so taking money away from disaster relief funding there is like Mexico paying for the wall like he lied would happen this whole time.

They’ll find some way to start building it, because this is all about power consolidation. I honestly don’t even think that every Republican who lies and fear-mongers about illegal immigration and human trafficking and drugs is actually racist. A lot of them are, especially ones like Louie Gohmert who also happens to be astoundingly stupid, yes. Same with Steve King, who doesn’t understand what the big deal is with terms like white nationalist and white supremacist, he told the New York Times before saying, actually, he didn’t really mean the exact thing he just said. But I think a lot of other ones know that if they just release a campaign ad that has some sobbing white person whose son was killed by a drunk driver who just happened to have entered illegally they’ll have a better shot at getting re-elected.

But that’s a different game of power consolidation than the one Carlos talks about. A dual citizen, Carlos is one of the top immigration attorneys in El Paso and speaks about legal issues at conferences in Mexico. He has reddish-auburn hair that’s fading a bit in the front but holding onto its steel wool thickness everywhere else. He is not a prolific curse-word enthusiast but knows how to tastefully employ all variations of “fuck” and “motherfucker” in his conversation. He is one of those people who after a few minutes of talking to, you understand had raised all manner of hell for every authority figure he encountered in his youth. A few minutes more and you see how he has channeled that righteous anger at injustice into the very productive and powerful work he performs.

Carlos says that what Trump is doing is simply an extension of the campaign of disenfranchisement, repression and violation of human rights that the Republican Party has been engaged in since the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Every action has a reaction, and while a lot of people look at the 60s as a utopian era of progress that achieved great victories for vulnerable, poor and minority communities, people like Carlos have paid witness in the ensuing years to what came next: a quiet but powerful and effective counter-revolution.

“Since the inception and creation of this country we’ve always had that duality of the slave owners and everybody else. The racism is so embedded that anyone could have done what Trump did. He could only do it as well as he did because he amplified that racism and said he was going to do something about it. But the plan has been in there for the last 25 years. My sense has always been that it’s always been the goal to destabilize the immigrant community and the black community, and the best way to do that is to go to to the heart of the matter and reduce their ability and desire to vote.”

You do that through laws that create a system of mass incarceration for low-level, non-violent drug offenses, locking up millions of black people. You do it by making it harder to vote by passing voter ID laws and rules like the ones that make sure polling places are closed by 7 p.m. — when many working class minorities are still at their jobs — and other rules that ensure you can’t vote on Sundays, when a lot of people who tend not to vote for Republicans are off work.

You deny human rights to people from Latin America — whose governments also regularly engage in denying them human rights — by purposely making it hard for them to claim asylum or saying if they enter illegally because lines at ports of entry are too long than they aren’t eligible for asylum, Carlos says.

You oppress the Latino community, which you constantly says is full of criminals, by making them criminals through deportation, even if they’ve lived here all their lives and never harmed anyone but one day got pulled over and the cops found out they didn’t have papers so they deported them. That’s how you make a non-criminal a criminal.

Sometimes Carlos goes to Juarez and other places in Mexico to talk with friends, family and people in the public policy and legal communities down there. He has a joke he tells them that he shares with me.

“I tell them in Mexico, you guys are fucking amateurs when it comes to corruption and repression. When you violate human rights here, you do it by breaking the law. When you violate human rights in America, you do it by creating the law.”


[1] Homicide rates in Mexico continue to rise, coming close to levels not seen since the drug wars made Juarez one of the most violent cities in the world around 2010. In 2017, Mexico had almost 30,000 murders, most of them never resulting in an arrest.

P.S. The photo at the top of this story is from Doug Mills of the New York Times. The rest of the photos are from my friend and colleague, Zach Nelson, a photojournalist and videographer who lives in New York. The first photo is of a portion of wall just west of the Anapra, a small village outside Juarez. The second photo is at Casa del Migrante in Juarez, where migrants hang their bracelets and other identification mementos from their time in detention in the U.S. The third photo is in Juarez, looking at the Paso del Norte bridge that leads to El Paso. The final photo is near the border wall west of Anapra, where migrants try to scale the wall and often discard clothes, water bottles and other detritus of migration.