On Sunday, President Donald Trump drew criticism from civil rights activists after tweeting, “The United States of America will be designating ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization.”
Many critics pointed out that the word “terrorism” has lost some of its original heft since the “War on Terror” (a phrase that even Donald Rumsfeld expressed regret about using during his tenure as secretary of Defense). Some even compare it to how frivolously jingoists used the word “communism” during the Cold War.
U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar has frequently been called a terrorist simply by virtue of her Islamic faith and Somali nationality, and in one particularly disturbing episode, Trump’s supporters chanted “send her back” after he mentioned her at a July 17 rally in Greenville, North Carolina. Omar is a U.S. citizen.
Omar is not an anomaly, either, and Muslim immigrants are not the only ones who are treated as potential terrorists. Mexican-American immigration activist Erika Andiola says in her Homeland Insecurity podcast that immigrants have been commonly perceived as terrorists ever since the Department of Homeland Security was given authority to preside over immigration enforcement.
“We have two agencies that are extremely rogue and that have completely focused on people like myself and people like my family instead of focusing on real threats,” she says, alluding to DHS agencies Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). “Now [DHS] is so big; it’s so rogue and has really terrorized a lot of people in our communities. We want to tell that story.”
In the first episode of Homeland Insecurity, Andiola points out that both CBP and ICE stem from the defunct U.S. Customs Service, which oversaw immigration enforcement under the purview of the Treasury Department. Customs dissolved on March 1, 2003, when a massive bureaucratic reorganization placed the agency underneath the umbrella of the newly established DHS. In addition to splitting Customs into CBP and ICE, this reorganization also put DHS in charge of other law enforcement arms such as the Secret Service.
These changes evaded the attention of most people, as they were seen as nothing more than mundane transitions of bureaucratic power, but DHS’s carte blanche to, as Andiola puts it, “go rogue,” made immigration enforcement profoundly authoritarian.
“Things have changed within the past two decades,” she says.
Homeland Insecurity consists of various interviews with immigrants who were affected by these policy changes, as well as some of Andiola’s personal anecdotes, but some of the details of these effects come from various interviews she conducts with the public officials who made these changes happen in the first place, including former CBP Commissioner Robert Bonner, who personally coordinated with former President George W. Bush on the department transformation.
On the third episode, Andiola expounds on how these changes affected Texas. One of the interviewees, former executive director of Grassroots Leadership Bob Libal, said, “Texas was Ground Zero for the expansion of immigration detention and the incarceration of immigrants. Up and down I-35 from Laredo all the way to Waco, there are detention centers that really dot the highway.”
This stretch of highway is so notorious for its presence of immigrant detention centers that it has earned the nickname “Detention Alley.”
Andiola is familiar with the presence of immigration enforcement in Texas. While she lives in Phoenix, she serves as the chief advocacy officer for Texas nonprofit Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), the largest immigration legal aid group in the state.
“We have an office in Dallas, and we have offices in other cities, but what we have seen is that Dallas is one of those cities with the worst immigration enforcement when it comes to raids,” she says. “It’s actually one of the places where we have the highest amount of raids. Some of the biggest raids have been in Dallas.”
Andiola was 11 years old when her family moved to the United States, but it wasn’t until her college years at Arizona State University that she became politically active.
The infamous Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio — the subject of numerous federal civil rights lawsuits — raided her home in 2008 in search for her mother. They didn't find her, but they ended up arresting her uncle instead. With immigration being such a personal issue to Andiola, she says it wasn't easy interviewing some of the very public officials who changed her livelihood for the worse.
“I’ve been the one who has been raided and who has been impacted by everything that has happened, so it was really hard for me to accept we were going to talk to these folks,” she says. “At the end of the day, I came around, because it is important to have context into what’s happening inside, how all these things are unfolding.
“I think those people that agreed to talk to us, for one reason or another, really helped us connect the dots and make a point of how we got to this point in America with DHS.”
Indeed, Andiola calmly and eloquently points out the string of events that have led the United States to this point in history, where animosity toward immigrants is open.
“What’s important to [me and] RAICES as a whole is that we change the narrative on immigration, and that more people start to understand what this whole system is about, how it came to be and how we can change it.”
The first four episodes of Homeland Insecurity are available at homelandinsecuritypodcast.com.