News & Politics

John Kelly Is Enabling Trump's Tyranny

Darkest side of the Trump agenda: Kelly reveals his true colors and ICE seeks to join the intelligence community.

Chief of Staff John Kelly.
Photo Credit: a katz / Shutterstock.com

There's been a lot of news the last couple of days about White House chief of staff John Kelly, whose protective embrace of staff secretary Rob Porter in the face of multiple charges of domestic violence seems to have finally led official Washington and the media to grapple with the fact that the retired general is not the upstanding man of integrity everyone insisted would straighten out the chaotic and unprincipled White House. This was actually obvious long before Kelly was named to the post and he has demonstrated it many times since he moved to the West Wing.

Among other things, Kelly was instrumental in pushing President Trump to blow up a bipartisan DACA deal and earlier this week told an interviewer that some immigrants who were eligible for the DACA program had been "too lazy to get off their asses" and apply. Kelly brings out the worst in Trump, not the best (whatever that may be) -- they are too much alike in their throwback attitudes about women, immigrants and people of color. All the flowcharts and discipline in the world can't make up for that. That Kelly would protect an abuser is the most unsurprising thing in the world. It's his main job.

Kelly's attitudes weren't exactly a secret before he went to the White House to babysit Trump. any of us were actually slightly relieved to see him leave his former post as the secretary of Homeland Security, where his hardline anti-immigrant attitudes were being implemented in ways that had direct effects on people's lives. Unfortunately, DHS, and particularly Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), is still eagerly carrying out his mission. ICE officers were reportedly giddy with excitement at the election of Donald Trump, who promised to let them "take the gloves off" and go after any undocumented workers and their families they choose. His promise to crack down on sanctuary cities had them over the moon.

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This presents a contrast with the FBI and members of the intelligence community who, in spite of all the GOP handwringing about private texts between a couple of FBI agents as evidence of disqualifying partisanship, at least don't go around openly celebrating the winners of presidential elections. FBI agents do tend to be conservative, as law enforcement generally is, but it's not considered a good look to openly demand more power and authority. That's the sort of thing they usually leave to friendly politicians.

ICE agents aren't like that. They pushed hard for the authorization to increase harassment, pursuit and incarceration of people for the "crime" of being a non-citizen in America. They were very upset by the Obama-era regulations that prioritized deportation of undocumented workers close to the borders and those who had committed actual criminal acts, beyond just crossing the border.

It's not as if ICE wasn't busy under the previous administration. They deported a whole lot of people. Millions. But it wasn't enough. ICE demanded the authority to go after law-abiding workers who've been in the country for decades and have families.They wanted to raid businesses and homes and arrest people who were minding their own business, paying taxes, going to school, joining the military and otherwise behaving as ordinary members of society.

Now they are doing it. Immigration arrests have increased by 42 percent since Trump took office and they are getting more and more aggressive. Take the example of Amer Adi, a successful businessman and pillar of his community in Youngstown, Ohio, who had lived in the U.S. for 40 years with an American wife and children. Adi had worked with his congressman to gain legal status, but after Trump took office last year ICE put an ankle bracelet on him.

In January, Adi and his wife decided to self-deport so they would not be separated, but were told at the last minute their case was stayed indefinitely. He was told to come into the ICE office on Jan. 15 for a routine check-in. When he did, he was taken into custody and deported to Jordan two weeks later without being allowed to see his family. More and more stories like this are reported every day.

ICE is very serious about chasing down every immigrant who has entered the country illegally or overstayed a visa. Its agents want to use every possible means to get that job done, which explains why they are now pushing to have ICE reclassified as an intelligence agency and get access to all that surveillance data they are collecting on average people going about their business.

Betsy Woodruff at the Daily Beast reported that this initiative began during the Obama administration and has accelerated under Trump since there's a good chance he will actually approve it:

If ICE joins the Intelligence Community, then its officials will have increased access to raw intelligence, unfiltered by analysts. This could prove useful to both of the agency's components: Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), which investigates transnational crimes, including drug trafficking, money laundering, cybercrimes, and arms trafficking; and Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), which arrests and detains undocumented immigrants.

Apparently, there can't be too many law enforcement agencies rifling through the private lives of average people. You can bet that these ICE agents would not just be invading the privacy of undocumented immigrants. That's not how "raw intelligence" works.

Moreover, there's a very good chance they will work with friendly local and state law enforcement using the techniques described in this 2013 article by Salon's Andrew O'Hehir, which results in people being unable to get due process and a fair trial under the guise of protecting national security. Homeland Security officials are already using junk science to justify long-term surveillance of Muslims. This group of eager beavers have little or no training in the required constitutional procedures and are unlikely to be apt pupils.

One can't help but wonder if all the newly-hatched right-wing civil libertarians who have recently fashioned themselves as warriors against the shadowy "Deep State" are at all opposed to ICE joining the intelligence community and getting access to all that secret surveillance. Somehow I doubt it. These folks seem to only care about the civil liberties of Donald Trump and the people who work for him. They are more than happy for the government to spy on average people. They just voted to expand its powers last month. If legislation come to the floor allowing ICE to join the "Deep State" I would guess that every last one of them will vote for it. If they don't, Donald Trump can always sign an executive order giving his ardent supporters at ICE anything they want. It's happening.

 

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.