The Democrats are playing a dangerous game of legislative roulette with the lives of vulnerable immigrants in the U.S. This week on Intercepted: As Donald Trump forges ahead with his plans for mass deportations and Democrats flail in their response, Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees co-founder Ninaj Raoul and Yanira Arias from Alianza Americas describe the plight of hundreds of thousands of people in imminent danger of deportation. They highlight the perilous reality facing people with temporary protected status from countries Trump called “shitholes.” Journalist Nick Pinto reveals how ICE agents are staking out churches and homes of immigrant rights activists and tells the story of an organizer who was snatched from the streets of New York and deported to Haiti and another who sits in jail, fighting deportation. Intercept Washington, D.C., Bureau Chief Ryan Grim breaks down a clause slipped into the budget bill that gives the White House authority to fund CIA programs without oversight. He lays out the latest on the Russia investigation, the insanity surrounding the so-called FISA memo, and how the Democratic Party is trying to block progressive candidates from running in 2018. We talk to revolutionary musical artist Seun Kuti, son of the legendary Afrobeat pioneer Fela, and hear music from his forthcoming album, “Black Times.” And Ted Cruz makes a cameo on Arrested Development.
[“Arrested Development Theme”]
Chris Matthews: Let’s hear it for Ted Cruz. From Texas.
Senator Ted Cruz: They’re angry, they hate the president and they’re demanding that Senate Democrats oppose everything, resist everything, shut everything down.
Kasie Hunt: Sir, this sounds pretty familiar. Didn’t you say all this back when this happened to you?
TC: Now I recognize —
Ron Howard (Arrested Development Narrator): But he really didn’t —
TC: That that is a media narrative that you love to tell.
RH: It isn’t.
TC: But it’s worth noting in 2013.
KH: Green eggs and ham?
TC: Sam I am, and that’s Sam I am. I do not like that,Sam I am. Do you like green eggs and ham? I do not like them, Sam I am. I do not like green eggs and ham.
RH: It was weird.
TC: In 2013, I voted repeatedly to fund the government and in 2013, it was Harry Reid and the Democrats who voted no, who voted to shut the government down.
RH: But it wasn’t.
TC: We should not be shutting the government down. I have consistently opposed shutdowns.
RH: He doesn’t.
KH: Sir, you stood in the way of that.
TC: That’s factually incorrect.
RH: It’s not, though.
TC: It’s a wonderful media narrative.
RH: Both things he just said were lies.
TC: This time, Republicans actually stayed united.
RH: Well, that part wasn’t true. But they would have. On the next Arrested Development.
Senator Chuck Schumer: So, we cut the best deal that we could.
RH: They didn’t, but it would have been.
CS: And it’s more than just a vague promise, Rachel. McConnell said on the floor, and I realize, sometimes he’s broken his word before —
Jeremy Scahill: This is Intercepted.
JS: I’m Jeremy Scahill, coming to you from the offices of The Intercept in New York City. And this is episode 41 of Intercepted.
CS: Negotiating with this White House is like negotiating with Jell-O. It’s next to impossible.
JS: Well, this is another one of those weeks where there is just so much happening and happening so fast that it’s extremely difficult to know where to even begin.
Following this agreement that was reached in Congress to end the government shutdown, the lives of hundreds of thousands of immigrants hang in the balance, after the leader of the Democrats in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, put a tremendous amount of faith in a pretty conniving politician, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer: The Republican leader and I have come to an arrangement. We will vote today to reopen the government to continue negotiating a global agreement, with a commitment that if an agreement isn’t reached by February the 8th, the Senate will immediately proceed to consideration of legislation dealing with DACA. The process will be neutral and fair to all sides.
JS: That was Chuck Schumer playing legislative roulette with the lives of extremely vulnerable immigrants in this country. Let’s hope Schumer actually knows what he’s doing.
Coming up on the show we’re going to talk to two people from countries president Trump has called “shitholes.” One of those people could be deported if Donald Trump has his way. And we’re going to hear the story of one immigrant rights activist who was snatched off the streets of New York and deported to Haiti last week, and the case of another activist who was arrested and is now facing imminent deportation.
We’ve also learned that Attorney General Jeff Sessions was questioned for several hours last week by investigators working for Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller. Sessions is believed to be the first cabinet member to have been questioned. We also know that Mueller has officially asked president Trump to sit down for an interview with investigators in the very near future. That’s something that Trump has flip-flopped on. First he said, “Yes, of course I would be happy to do an interview!” But more recently he said he’s not likely to do that. We also learn that James Comey has been questioned in that investigation.
And while the Russia affair continues to consume much of the airtime on CNN and MSNBC, over on Fox News they are obsessed with a memo that they claim is going to blow the lid off of the deep state’s plot to undermine Donald Trump and show that they were using NSA capabilities to spy on American citizens, specifically American citizens around Trump. Of course, we’ve known for quite some time that the NSA has the capability and does spy on American citizens.
Ironically, president Trump and the Republicans, who control the federal government right now, could release this memo. But the deep state is preventing it — or something. Also ironic is that Trump just signed into law the very program that he claims illegally spied on him. And, in that case, Trump had a lot of help from leading Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff, who assisted Trump and Jeff Sessions in keeping those sweeping surveillance powers, including against American citizens, firmly in place.
And in a story that my colleague Ryan Grim broke: Inserted into that bill, that ended the government shutdown, at least for the time being, was a clause that at this moment would allow Donald Trump, or people under him, to secretly shift U.S. taxpayer money to fund intelligence programs with no oversight from the intelligence committees. Now, that’s a shift from 70 years of U.S. policy dating back to the 1947 National Security Act.
After The Intercept broke that story, two lawmakers hit the floor of the Senate in a rushed and ultimately failed bid to take that language out.
Here is Mark Warner, the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee:
Senator Mark Warner: If this exemption is granted, you could potentially have an administration, any administration, go off and take on covert activities for example, with no ability for our committee, which spends the time and has the oversight to say “time out” or to say, “We actually disagree with that policy.”
JS: Democratic Senator Mark Warner. To sift through this cornucopia of shit, I’m joined now by The Intercept’s D.C. Bureau Chief Ryan Grim. Ryan, welcome back to Intercepted.
Ryan Grim: Thanks for having me back.
JS: Let’s start with this language that will have far-reaching implications for the oversight of U.S. intelligence operations that was quietly inserted into this bill that now president Trump has signed into law.
RG: What’s wild is it was quietly inserted, but then we reported on it last week and people started paying attention. So, you couldn’t any more say that it was quiet: noise was made.
And yet, when they brought the bill back to the Senate floor this week, the language was still there. And there was an effort at the last minute to change it from the chairman and ranking member of the Intelligence Committee that failed, but essentially the language is this: For the last seventy years the situation between the intelligence committees and Congress, and the intelligence community is that the intelligence community can only spend money as authorized by Congress and it must tell Congress. Now, it’s usually done in secret, in these classified settings, but at least it has to tell one or two members of the House and the Senate what they’re doing with this congressional money.
This language says notwithstanding section 504 of the National Security Act of 1947, that notwithstanding got the hackles of the Intelligence Committee up and Richard Burr, the man who worked extremely hard to bury the Senate Torture Report, the man who has never met an intelligence activity that he disapproved of, went to the Senate floor and publicly warned that, “look, if this passes, then the intelligence community is going to be able to spend money any way it sees fit without telling Congress for the next three weeks.”
Senator Richard Burr: We want every tool in our basket that we can to give the American people the assurance that we know exactly what’s going on and that we are at least in agreement that they proceed forward, not that they have a free rein, only because they’ve been appropriated a pot of money because an executive request was made — it would be no different under the Obama administration or under the Trump Administration.
JS: This is something that presumably can be debated and could be excised from this legislation going forward.
RG: In three weeks. You can do a lot, you can move a lot of money in three weeks. You can move a lot of money in five minutes, if you have a window of five minutes to move it. The Appropriations Committee blamed this entire thing on the Office of Management and Budget, which is part of the White House — said that, no, don’t worry there will still be some oversight by Congress on this.
But the Intelligence Committee disagrees on this. And if there’s a gray area, then the intelligence community certainly could say, well, our lawyers said to us that we didn’t necessarily have to disclose what we’re doing to Congress so we didn’t and we moved X billions of dollars during this three-week — once those dollars have been moved, you know, then they’ve been moved.
JS: The whole purpose of setting up intelligence committees that are permanent in both the House and the Senate is to prevent the CIA or other entities in the U.S. national security apparatus that operate in a clandestine or covert manner from essentially freelancing U.S. policy without the direct knowledge of one of the three branches of government. Then, the point of the intelligence committees on their best day is to oversee how the spooks are using the people’s money around the world, correct?
RG: It would be in some ways to prevent the formation of a deep state, a state that was operating completely distinct from the elected representatives. Now, the way that it operates now is there’s a small tether between the intelligence community and Congress, but at least there’s that tether. And there are some members of Congress who are read in on what the intelligence community is doing and so theoretically, then, using that knowledge as they’re crafting legislation and building in authorizations and appropriations, but if they don’t even have that thread of knowledge then they’re operating completely independently of any elected check or balance.
JS: CIA Director Mike Pompeo and others within the Trump administration have been exploring the idea of hiring mercenaries, private contractors, including, at one point, they were looking at proposals from Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater, and also proposals that were put together by former covert CIA officers, to essentially provide Donald Trump and the administration with a way of circumventing their enemies in the deep state — in other words, sort of creating their own privatized intelligence apparatus that would report directly to the White House that also would be outside of the purview of these intelligence committees.
So it, this is a kind of other way of trying to achieve the same result.
RG: The appropriations committees in both sides of Congress have been saying: You should talk to the Office of Management Budget if you’re interested in this. And I actually talked to Senator Burr yesterday afternoon, and asked him about this, since he had been vocal on the Senate floor, and asked him, you know, any bread crumbs? Where would you suggest that people look if they’re trying to figure out this whodunit, and he said, “Check with OMB.” This came directly from OMB. And this is Rick Mulvaney’s jurisdiction, he’s the former Tea Party congressman from South Carolina that now runs both OMB and the CFP.
JS: OMB is the Office of Management and Budget.
RG: It’s the one that controls all of the purse strings for executive money. They had some reason that they wanted to make this change in the language of the law and we don’t yet know what that reason is, but the fact that there is now a public turf war going on between the appropriations committees and the intelligence committees suggests that we’re probably going to find out. When those turf wars become public, the knives come out and people start to talk and reveal what’s going on.
Now, they’re all motivated to win their own turf, so you have to take what they’re saying with grain of salt. But because they’re motivated to win their turf back, they tend to spill things that they would otherwise keep hidden.
JS: You and our colleague Lee Fang have a piece this week in The Intercept talking about how all of these candidates who signed up to battle Donald Trump and the Democratic Party is saying you know, “we want women to run and we want, you know, we want people to run in places where we haven’t been competitive before.” Your story, though, describes a big hurdle that many of these candidates have to overcome and it is the Democratic Party itself. Explain what this story is all about.
RG: It’s wild. In several of these districts you had very typical DCCC, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, it’s run essentially by Nancy Pelosi. And they have a profile of a candidate they like. It’s a business-friendly, very good fundraiser, a self-funder is fine — somebody who has millions of dollars and they’re going to going to stroke a check to themselves that will then go to Washington consultants who then will craft television ads and craft a digital strategy and they’ve got cookie cutter campaigns that will tell you: Don’t put up position statements because then they’ll attack you for whatever you say. And, you know, just run against Republicans, be the opposition to Republicans.
And, you know, so several of these candidates who tried this precise thing in 2016 are now running again after underperforming Hillary Clinton, they’re running again in 2018 and immediately the key party elements that are informally connected to it jumped in behind them to endorse them when you have these progressive or populist challengers to them who have roots in the community, who have big grassroots support, who have small dollar donors that are giving to them at a rapid clip. And here they are going up against party machinery, when they’re saying: “Wait a minute, I thought Obama told us to get a clipboard and run for something.”
And the strangest part is that you might have thought, you would say, all right, well let’s take a hands-off approach to the primaries this year and if the House candidate is so good that they win the primary then great, we’ll support them in the general. But if they need our help to beat somebody that’s funded by grassroots donors, $5, $10, $20, $27 donors then maybe they’re not that good anyway. For the most part, they’re not doing that. There are some exceptions and there’s definitely change going on within the party but it’s happening very slowly. And so, you have a ton of races around the country where there’s, you’re seeing the exact same dynamic in 2016 replay itself.
And I think a decent number of these kind of insurgent candidates are going to win the primaries, and then may go on to win the general, and if they do that, you know, that sends a real message to the party that this is a strategy that can work and that they need to get with it or they’re just going to get run over.
JS: This so-called Nunes Memo, this memo that Sean Hannity and others on Fox and Drudge, etc., have like dedicated their lives to right now to “release the memo.”
Devin Nunes who is chair of the Intelligence Committee in the House claims that there is this explosive document that they’ve pulled together that lays out all the ways in which the Obama administration and officials within the Obama administration were illicitly using tools of the deep state to conduct surveillance on people close to Donald Trump and the Trump campaign, the point being that the Republicans and Fox News are focusing overwhelmingly on this memo, saying it’s the smoking gun that’s going to reveal the plot to stop president Trump from winning or from taking power.
Representative Matt Gaetz: And we need every single American to take a look at this and see what exactly their government did, their law enforcement division did. This is, this is that kind of information and it needs to be public as soon as possible.
Sean Hannity: It sounds to me like a lot of people, Congressman Gaetz, need to be fired and investigated.
JS: This week you had Jerrold Nadler, who’s a Democratic congressman from New York, he went in and reviewed this so-called Nunes memo and said that it was filled with misleading assertions, conspiracy theories sort of woven together and he is now calling on the chairman, Bob Goodlatte, of the Judiciary Committee in the house to share it with the FBI, and our colleague Glenn Greenwald has written a great piece that shows exactly how, if the Republicans really wanted this memo released, they could do it.
What are people saying about this memo, both Republicans and Democrats?
RG: The Democratic line from Adam Schiff world, Democrats who, you know, are most aggressively pushing the Russian investigation, their line on this is that this is a one hundred percent pure distraction from the burgeoning Russian investigation, that this is a deeply cynical effort on the part of Nunes to politicize the FBI, and if you’re against the FBI, the evidence is all tainted and therefore Mueller’s investigation should be either disregarded, or stopped, or tossed out.
The line that’s coming out of the Republicans is this pearl-clutching shock at the revelations that are contained in this deeply troubling, horrifying memo that paints a portrait of a Stalinist America.
Glenn’s point, I think, was the right one — maybe there is something to it. If so, there’s nothing standing between Republicans and releasing this to the public.
JS: We’ve published many articles that show the way in which these surveillance systems are regularly abused by various players in the U.S. national security apparatus, both those with a domestic focus and an international focus. There’s an issue that is attached to this release the memo movement that in advance — I mean, I don’t think they mean for it to be, but it is very relevant to everyone who cares about their privacy and cares about illicit surveillance being done or collection being done on Americans. So, it could be that much of this is filled with conspiracy theories, that Jerrold Nadler or Adam Schiff believe it is, but it still may have that nugget of truth in there, which is: “Huh, does the NSA regularly violate the rights of American citizens?”
But, my God, watching Sean Hannity call for the arrest of an investigation of FBI agents and the firing of like every single FBI official whose name he can find on the Googles, on one hand it’s like, yeah the FBI is a repressive entity with a horrid history of violating civil liberties and the basic right to life of people. On the other hand, Sean Hannity is not an honest broker in this and is doing this for crass political reasons. Am I wrong in that?
RG: That sounds exactly right. It’s not the kind of thing that you want to make judgments on just based on the word of Devin Nunes. You can’t just take this guy’s word for it, especially when he is the one who’s sitting on the documents and has every ability to release them publicly. He can do everything in his power to protect sources and methods and names, but he can release enough so that the American people can make a credible judgment for themselves about whether or not what he’s describing is, in fact, what’s actually happening. And the longer he doesn’t do it the more suspicious his charges become.
Because this is not somebody like Ron Wyden in the past who was trying to hint at, you know, what Edward Snowden later revealed. And you can criticize the way Wyden did it but he had slightly purer motivations, probably.
But, you know, if he’s not going to put it out then, I’m not saying it should be completely ignored, but we certainly shouldn’t panic around it.
JS: So, you have Adam Schiff on one side and you have Sean Hannity on the other. I’m sure a lot of Democrats are like, “How dare you compare Adam Schiff to Sean Hannity?” But what I mean is that you have this really ahistorical, irrational celebration of the CIA and the FBI happening now by Democrats who absolutely know that they’re promoting a lot of bullshit for their own political reasons. And then you have Sean Hannity, who, you know, sounds like a Black Panther, and it’s like, you know, “down with the FBI!” And it’s like, they’re both unbelievably full of shit. But the truth is in there somewhere that these institutions do regularly abuse their authorities and should be investigated but probably not for the reasons that Sean Hannity wants them to be, and they shouldn’t be praised probably for the very reasons that Adam Schiff thinks that they should be praised.
As we wrap up, I want to just get a quick update from you on the various Russia investigations. We know now that Jeff Sessions became the first member of Trump’s cabinet to be interviewed by Robert Mueller. Mueller is pushing forward with his request to talk to Donald Trump. There’s a lot of discussion about money laundering allegations and possibly Jared Kushner getting implicated. What’s the latest and what’s important for people to know right now?
RG: The smart money, such as it exists in Washington, now would be on this moving towards obstruction of justice charges or an obstruction of justice investigation and money laundering. You look into the Kushner and the Trump empires, my God, they did not want this kind of scrutiny on the on the way that they’ve been moving money around the world as basically their business model, allegedly just becoming a front for money laundering, that’s what the Trump Organization has been accused of.
If Mueller is heading in that direction, then people like Ivanka and Jared are panicked, though it takes them further and further away from the pure sitting down with the Kremlin and colluding in order to win the election. Separate from that, there doesn’t seem to be any question that Russia played some game, but whether they can prove that Jared Kushner called the shots or Trump knew about it doesn’t seem to be as much of the focus. That seems to be moving much towards, you know, obstruction of justice for the investigation into that collusion, and then money laundering which absolutely will involve many Russian entities, many of them connected to the Kremlin because that’s how their political economy works.
JS: All right, Ryan Grim, we’re going to leave it there. Thank you very much for joining us again on Intercepted.
RG: You got it.
JS: Ryan Grim is the Washington D.C. bureau chief for The Intercept.
President Donald J. Trump: Nearly 180,000 illegal immigrants with criminal records ordered deported from our country are tonight roaming free to threaten peaceful citizens. [Crowd boos.] The number of new illegal immigrant families who have crossed the border so far this year already exceeds the entire total from 2015. They are being released by the tens of thousands into our communities with no regard for the impact on public safety or resources.
Crowd: Build that wall! Build that wall! Build that wall! Build that wall! Build that wall!
JS: Donald Trump promised to go to war against immigrants and the U.S. immigration system, and on this front Trump has accomplished a considerable amount in his first year in office.
Since Trump took power, ICE agents have made nearly 40 percent more arrests, amounting to about 400 a day. This includes an increase in the arrests of undocumented immigrants with no criminal record. This month, the Trump administration also started targeting work places, with federal agents snatching undocumented workers at 7-Eleven convenience stores across the country.
Last September, Trump ended the Obama era policy called DACA or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. That has put nearly 700,000 young immigrants at risk for deportation if Congress fails to come up with a permanent solution by March. DACA recipients, also called Dreamers, are people who were brought to the U.S. as children.
At the same time, the secretary of Homeland Security has indicated that he’s terminating the temporary protected status, or TPS, of foreign nationals from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan — some of the countries that Trump reportedly called “shitholes” in a conversation over a bipartisan immigration deal, but that deal quickly dissolved and by Friday we had a government shutdown. Here is Democratic Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal of Washington.
Pramila Jayapal: And Mr. Speaker, as an immigrant myself, I am tired of being called the worst of the worst, I am tired of hearing Mexicans be called rapists or Africans called vulgarities that I cannot even repeat on this floor.
Mr. Speaker, let’s end this shutdown now with real solutions for the American people.
JS: While DACA and the Dreamers have captured much of the focus of the immigration debate, the temporary protected status, or TPS of more than 400,000 migrants is also at risk.
TPS offers foreign nationals from countries experiencing “civil unrest, violence or natural disasters” or other humanitarian crises, deferred deportation and the ability to legally work, receive Medicaid and other benefits while they remain in the United States. Many people with TPS have been in the U.S. for years, some of them decades building a life here. Many of them say that going back to their country of origin is not safe or viable. There are fears that as Democrats flail in their negotiations with the GOP over the spending bill that these TPS recipients could be used as pawns sacrificed to preserve the security of DACA recipients.
What’s often missing from the debate over TPS, the policy discussions and the media coverage, is the historical role that the U.S. has played in destabilizing and bringing violence to the very countries that Trump called “shitholes.” In the case of Haiti, the U.S. has a long, bloody history, from its occupation of Haiti beginning in 1915, to the backing of the deadly Duvalier dictators, to the support for death squads and the overthrow of elected presidents multiple times in Haiti — not to mention the neoliberal economic policies forced on Haiti by presidents of both parties, including Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Last month, according to the New York Times, Trump said that Haitians “all have AIDS.”
Earlier this month, the Trump Administration announced that it intends to cancel temporary protected status, TPS, for nearly 200,000 Salvadorans. Like Haiti, El Salvador has been the target of murderous U.S. policy. In the ‘80s, President Ronald Reagan poured financial and military support into the brutal, right-wing military junta sending around $1.5 million a day in military aid alone. Tens of thousands of Salvadorans were killed and hundreds of thousands were displaced.
Salvadorans in the U.S. were the first people to receive this TPS, temporary protected status, and that happened in 1990. Congress granted this protection to people fleeing from El Salvador because of the war, a war the U.S. played a crucial role in fueling.
In the decades that have passed since, Congress has not developed a long-term solution or created pathways for citizenship for these recipients who have spent their lives working and living and paying taxes in the U.S. Instead, TPS recipients are required to reapply regularly to remain in the U.S.
To discuss the real-life impact that the ending of temporary protected status would have on these immigrants, we’re joined by two people.
Yanira Arias is national campaigns manager for Alianza Americas. She is from El Salvador and is currently in the U.S. under the TPS program.
And Ninaj Raoul is a co-founder and community organizer at Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees, an organization that was founded in 1992 to respond to the human needs of Haitian refugees and immigrants in the U.S. who were fleeing a war that the United States was at the center of.
Ninaj, Yanira, welcome to Intercepted.
Ninaj Raoul: Thank you for having me on.
Yanira Arias: Thank you.
JS: Ninaj, let’s begin with you. First, I want to get your response to Donald Trump’s statement that Haiti and all of Africa and El Salvador are “shitholes” or “shit houses,” and then the way that it’s talked about in the news media in this country.
NR: His comment was pretty much consistent with the racism that he’s expressed even before he became president, while he was campaigning. I think the way it was portrayed in the media created a big distraction. And the real issue, which provoked him to make those comments, I believe is the TPS.
JS: Temporary protected status.
NR: Temporary protected status. So, in the spending bill negotiation that’s going down now, that shut down the government for a couple days, we’re hearing more about DACA and to give 800,000 youth permanent residency, but not as much about temporary protected status, which there are people from at least 10-12 different countries that are totaled 400,000, immigrants that are having their temporary protected status terminated and with final extensions, and it’s important for that population to also get permanent residency.
So, it sounds like they were trying to sneak it on to this bill and that’s when he lost it, and said, “Salvadorians!”
Joe Johns: President Trump deriding immigrants from Haiti and some nations in Africa, asking a group of lawmakers, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” before suggesting that the U.S. should accept more immigrants from countries like Norway.
NR: Because of specific countries that were named, Salvadorians, Haitian, and there are like five African countries that have to TPS. That’s the problem, is that the real issue is not being talked about enough.
JS: Yanira Arias, the country of your birth is in fact El Salvador, and am I correct that you yourself are here with TPS status right now in the United States?
YA: That is correct. I am from El Salvador, and responding to the question that you just raised, the United States has a big responsibility in the shape of El Salvador currently.
The amount of money that the U.S. government sent to the government of El Salvador back in the ’70s and the ’80s did a lot of damage to the public infrastructure, to our economy. And over a million people migrated outside of El Salvador because of the war.
JS: What you’re talking about there is that in the 1980s, the Reagan-Bush administration poured money and weapons and other assistance to prop up a very mercilessly murderous military junta in El Salvador.
YA: One of the most-known massacres, is El Mozote.
Newscaster: We can count 200 in this one village alone. They were mostly women and children, systematically murdered in just one day and night in December 1981 in the village of El Mozote. The killers belong to a special battalion of the El Salvador army, trained by the United States.
YA: There is a responsibility of the Reagan administration on that end.
JS: What is it that you believe remains to this day that we can tie back to the 1980s and the U.S. role in terms of how the United States created the situation and the conditions in El Salvador hat caused this mass migration?
YA: The peak of the migration, the war started in ’79 and 1980, the peak of the migration because of people migrating from, predominantly from rural areas was in 1982: close to 129,000 people left the country to the United States.
In between the years of 1985 and 1990, that number increased to 334,000. A lot of the people that migrated in during those years are now, currently, TPS recipients. And this is people that flew the violence that was financed by the U.S. government and then we have new waves of migration.
President Ronald Reagan: And those who question our efforts in Central America should take note of the heartwarming process — progress that president Duarte has made. The people of El Salvador had another free election in March, economic reforms are continuing and communist guerrillas are losing ground. And none of this would have been possible without the economic assistance and military training and equipment that we provided. And yet, that assistance passed in the House by a very slim margin. If there’s to be peace and democracy in the region, if our neighbors are to be spared the tragedy that comes from every communist dictatorship, we must have the courage to help all our friends in Central America.
YA: It doesn’t make sense that by financing a war — you’re not going to have progress out of a country. Giving money for bombs, it doesn’t translate in more schools. Giving money for military training, it doesn’t translate into a stronger economy. We are one of the slowest economies in the Central America region and all that money that we borrowed during the years for the were financing the destruction of our public infrastructure. And then, lending money to rebuild that what was destroyed while thousands were fleeing.
JS: Right, it’s essentially that the United States was paying for the weapons, facilitating the war and then said, “Oh, by the way, we’ll lend you the money to rebuild the country and we’ll slap interest on it and we’ll put you into this perpetual state of debt.”
YA: That’s correct.
JS: You know, Ninaj, as I watch the coverage in the aftermath of Donald Trump statement, I couldn’t find any major news organization that provided the political context, the historical context to why Haiti has been in a situation where its people would want to flee or need to flee. Haiti, of course, first black republic in the world, first country in the Western Hemisphere to abolish slavery. What has the U.S. legacy in Haiti been from the beginning?
NR: Since 1804, they did not recognize the existence of Haiti as an independent country. And essentially that was an embargo or a blockade that lasted over 60 years. So that hurt Haiti tremendously. And then the United States revisited. In 1915, there was a U.S. occupation with the Marines that lasted 19 years, from 1915 to 1934. They cleaned out the gold reserves of Haiti. They killed many people. They chopped down 75 percent of the trees, good lumber, and shipped it over here, the best trees, and didn’t replant.
And so now when we have these disasters and people wonder why the floods hit Haiti so bad, because of the erosion. That was not even 100 years ago.
And similarly to what Yanira just described, not only in El Salvador, Honduras, just throughout Central America, Latin America — the same thing. They supported these regimes in Haiti, poured money into Haiti, they take the military people and trained them in School of the Americas here in Georgia, it’s the same thing that they’re doing throughout all these countries and a lot of these countries that the people have TPS today.
JS: The U.S. policy, particularly under Ronald Reagan in the ’80s, was to back “Baby Doc” Duvalier in the name of anti-communism. What did it mean in Haiti for the United States to support the Duvaliers?
NR: They, not just financed, but even down to the clothes and the boots that they were wearing came from the United States, these armies. They just went around and killed people. So, it resulted in people having to flee persecution, many that fled by boat in the late ’70s, early ’80s there was a surge of refugees coming in.
JS: When Bill Clinton was the President of the United States, he started warehousing Haitians in the horrid conditions at the Guantanamo Bay prison in the occupied portion of Cuba. Explain that moment.
NR: Clinton campaigned against Bush when he first became president. He criticized the way Bush was treating the Haitian refugees, but when he came in, he actually did worse.
At the time there was 40,000 Haitian refugees that came, that were fleeing persecution, after the Aristide administration, Aristide was the first democratically elected president in Haiti was overthrown after seven months of being in office.
JS: In a U.S.-backed coup, where the United States and George H.W. Bush —
NR: In a U.S.-backed coup.
JS: — Were supporting murderous death squads like FRAP and trying to bolster the same forces that they had supported for so long under the Duvaliers. So, so the people are fleeing this coup and the violent aftermath of it and how did they end up going to Guantanamo?
NR: So, they were interdicted by the Coast Guard and taken to Guantanamo. I believe 1983, there was a treaty that was drafted by, I believe, Rudy Giuliani when he was assistant attorney general, U.S. assistant attorney general, between him and Baby Doc, Jean-Claude Duvalier who was the president of Haiti at the time, saying that if anybody left Haiti by boat within a 12-mile radius, that the U.S. Coast Guard could interdict them and return them to Haiti. Now, this is international waters. The U.S. doesn’t own international waters.
What happened after the coup in 1991, Aristide supporters were being persecuted, about 5000 people were killed and so many of them started to flee by boat. And they were being picked up and taken to Guantanamo.
I went down there, several times, about five times in the early ’90s. Initially I was working with the Justice Department, interpreting, translating screenings, what they call credible fear screenings, to determine whether or not these were economic or political refugees, which in itself is ridiculous because I don’t see how they separate the two — the economics is a result of the political.
And so, hearing the stories, sometimes people were picked up because of their political activity. We met people that were fishing that were picked up. They were picking up people like crazy. This was at the end of the Bush administration, Bill Clinton was campaigning, he criticized Bush’s Haitian refugee policy but when he came in, it was even worse.
Under Bush, 11,000 of those 40,000 Haitian refugees came in as political refugees to apply for political asylum. Under Clinton, even after the State Department had documented human rights abuses and put out warnings for Americans not to travel there and so forth, he closed it down and he created an in-country refugee process, which was people that were in hiding would have to come out of hiding and stand in line, across from a police station of the same police that are looking for them to apply for refugee status.
From 1993 to 1994, only about 1,010, I believe, refugees were given refugee status, compared to the 11,000 that Bush had brought in.
JS: Yanira, I wanted to ask, what are the origins of TPS, temporary protected status?
YA: Remember, between 1985 and 1990, 334,000 Salvadorians migrated the United States due to the war. A lot of the claims, the asylum claims of these over 300,000 people were denied. So, there was a big movement of immigrant advocates, including the American Baptist Church and others.
Thanks to that work, George Bush granted the first TPS for the Salvadorian community. In that time, Congress enacted the act that stated the rules in how a national of that country would qualify for TPS. That you needed to be national from a country that is going through a war, or a natural disaster that includes, as well, an epidemic, or that these both conditions, or one of those conditions, does not allow the national to safely return to the country of origin.
It also stated that TPS, temporary protected status, does not grant you the opportunity to adjust status, to become legal permanent resident, or to become a U.S. citizen — U.S. naturalized citizen.
For the TPS that I am a beneficiary that was granted back in 2001, we had two strong earthquakes in El Salvador in January and February of 2001, and it destroyed most of the infrastructure of El Salvador, and displaced over 1 million people and more than 100,000 people died.
I was currently living in the United States, I was residing in New York City. I met the criteria just as described, and I decided to apply because my family’s a very low-income family, and knowing the conditions of the country after the devastation of both earthquakes, I decided the best thing that I can do is to stay here, apply, get a job and send money.
And that was the story of many other people that were here at the moment that migrated in just for the violence that pushed me outside of El Salvador, after being tired of being harassed in the streets, many times being victims of robbery. Ever seen since 2001, I have been applying every time we have been granted an extension of TPS.
Filling up all of the forms and paying the associated fees to that, which at the beginning, the first TPS, in 2001, for my case was close to $175, the entire process. The fee for the application for TPS and the biometrics, now we’re paying close to $500. One of the forms is $410 in the biometrics that they always have on file because your fingerprints are never going to change, but you always be charged $85. So, we are paying close to $500 for the same paperwork.
And it’s important to highlight that even issuing that card doesn’t cost anything to the government because we paid the costs associated for that work permit and for that paperwork.
NR: You know that the relief that they gave to Haiti was very limited, so two days after the earthquake in Haiti, the January 12 earthquake in 2010, the Obama administration granted TPS as some sort of relief. One basic requirement was you had to be present in the U.S. on the day of the earthquake. So, people that came in after the earthquake were not initially eligible for it.
JS: Just to understand this in a very, like, nuts and bolts way: earthquake happens, Obama administration says, “we’re going to give temporary protected status to Haitians who are here in the United States as tourists.” Right?
NR: Overstayed visas.
JS: Overstayed visas, what have you. The rationale for it was: we’re going to do the humane thing and not send them back to a country that’s had this epic disaster.
NR: Right. In fact, folks that were waiting to be deported to Haiti, some of them were released because they put a hold on deportations to Haiti at that, at that moment.
JS: What was the long-term plan, according to the Obama administration, for people that were granted TPS.
NR: It can be granted anywhere from 6 months to 18 months that you can, you’re allowed to have employment authorization and Social Security card.
Therefore, you can work. In our case, it was 18 months. But it could be less; like, as we saw, last year they only extended for six months for the Haitians, until just recently they terminated and extended for the maximum of 18 months, every time it’s going to end, you don’t know if it’s going to be extended until just days before it ends. So you’re living in an uncertainty.
So, we, a lot of us advocated for reinstatement of TPS, in 2011, they reinstated it where they included people that were there until one year after the date of the earthquake.
And every time it was extended, we didn’t know if it was going to be extended, we didn’t know how long for how long it was going to be.
NA: And that’s the case for the Salvadorian community, where close 200,000. And then, if you put together, over 200,000 TPS recipients from Haiti, from Nicaragua, Honduras, and other African countries, and Nepal, it’s a lot of money the we contribute in order to receive that documentation, that permanent, that temporary protected status and our employment authorization.
JS: Ninaj, what’s happening right now under Trump that is of greatest concern to you regarding people with temporary protected status.
NR: So, he’s been terminating temporary protected status as the date comes up. Last year, in the case of the Haitians, they had extended it for six months instead of the normal 18 months. And they sent down John Kelly to Haiti for a few hours to see the conditions and decide whether or not it was OK. And he decided that Haiti was fine and it was OK to send 60,000 Haitians back.
So, they just decided November 20th or 21st that they would terminate TPS for Haitians. They just took the same decision for El Salvador, and some of the other countries as well.
JS: Yanira, what does that mean for you personally given that you are here on TPS status?
YA: The first thing that came to mind is my family because I know how much the contributions, the economic contributions means for them. It’s not for my elder parents, both retired, one is 93, the other is 73, and the money that they are receiving after many years of working in El Salvador, it doesn’t even give them the basics to survive.
One of my siblings was a direct victim of harassment by guns, and he hasn’t been able to find a job for over five years. I’ve been supporting him as well. And he’s a father of three teenagers.
So basically, I am not just providing for my parents, my sibling, but also my niece and nephews for them to have the opportunity to finish school, to have food.
And for me, the cancellation, the termination of TPS, it’s not just an economic impact for my family, but also knowing that El Salvador has the highest rate of violence in the hemisphere is not an option for me to say that the program is going to be cancelled and just go back.
JS: So, once you received TPS, you then were legally allowed to work in the United States, correct?
YA: That’s correct.
JS: And you were paying taxes in the United States?
YA: I am paying taxes. There is a billion contributions to the Social Security that’s money that mostly benefits U.S. citizens.
JS: Ninaj, what do you think is a just resolution to this situation?
YA: I think whether it’s Haitians or anyone else from any country that has TPS, these are people that have lived here for many years, and in some cases over 20 years. Under the Trump administration, everything, the whole process has been delayed for people to get their employment authorization.
We have people that applied for the last six months that still didn’t get the employment authorization, that would be finishing today, that would have been ending today, paid the $495 that Yanira talked about, and they still hadn’t received their employment authorization.
So, you’re interrupting their employment, their driver’s license, you have — you get your driver’s license for five years or ten years depending on what state you are, but if you have TPS, it actually has a date on your driver’s license of when your TPS ends.
So, if you’re Haitian, then it said today, January 22. So you wouldn’t have been allowed to drive past that date.
JS: So, it just immediately, it immediately ends.
YA: Yeah, and you would have to wait for everything to be processed, which is being processed much slower now under the Trump administration.
JS: Yanira, how do you think this should be resolved? What do you think should happen with people that are here with temporary protected status?
YA: It’s in the hands of Congress. The president said that the Secretary of Homeland Security as well agrees on that, that only Congress has a solution to adjust the status of the 300,000 TPS recipients.
In the history of TPS, since the first TPS, back in the early ’90s, we have never had this many bills in the House and in the Senate. We just have five bills in the House asking for adjustment of status for TPS recipients, and one in the Senate. And that is the result of the amazing work of hundreds of activist organizations and TPS recipients across the country.
And also, we must value that there are elected officials listening to these requests, but also are aware that we have a very difficult political environment.
We will continue to reach out to elected officials in both chambers, the House and Senate, and try to find a solution. The only way to fix this is adjustment of status, legal permanent residency.
JS: What happens going forward for organizers or for ordinary people? How do people get involved or make a meaningful contribution to trying to end the kind of xenophobic deportation policies?
NR: Well, as Yanira just mentioned, there are about five pieces of legislation that are in place that just, as of October, really, just in the past few months, and we didn’t know we were going to have this because everyone was only focused on DACA, so this is just for TPS. And that’s a result of organizers from all over the country coming together, because before we were in the shadows, TPS was in the shadows of DACA, because we were individual countries with TPS for different reasons and that we’re ending on different dates. And so, everything was looking, looked at individual.
But when we joined our forces together, many of us are part of this national TPS alliance, that’s when our forces became stronger because instead of saying 50,000 Haitians here, this many, 50-60,000 Hondurans here, 200,000 — and then there we one even smaller numbers in the African countries — we all came together as a 400,000 people. We’ve been able to make our voices heard. Most of the folks and the leaders in these organizations and TPS committees all over the countries are TPS holders.
And so, we go, we gather to Washington, we’ve been going every month, making our voices heard, telling our stories to the legislators directly from the mouth of the TPS holders saying, “You will be separating my family.”
So, I think the best thing to do is to support some of these specific groups.
JS: Yanira, I’m wondering what your message is to people in this country, in the United States. Why should they care about your plight or the plight of other people that are in this temporary protected situation and may very well be deported?
YA: Well, we are your neighbors. We are your coworkers. We have deep roots. And we are part of the fiber of the United States. And we have been contributing for many, many years.
And it’s part of the core values of the United States of welcoming people fleeing from violence. It’s part of the values and the history of the United States welcoming those looking for a fair opportunity, the difference that made that you welcomed many families fleeing from dire situations from Europe.
JS: Ninaj Raoul.
NR: I just want to say, people that are angry about these racist remarks that are being made by the president of the United States. One way they can help is when they express themselves about this anger, remember what the roots of these remarks were. This is when he was talking about the population with TPS. These are populations with TPS: Salvadorians, Africans, Haitians — that’s what he was referring to. Support our effort to get permanent residency for people they have TPS and expressing your anti-racism.
JS: Ninaj Raoul is the director at Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees. Yanira Arias is the national campaigns manager at Alianza Americas.
Thank you both for joining us on Intercepted.
NR: Thank you.
YA: Thank you very much.
JS: The rapid deportations of two high-profile immigrant community leaders from the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City has sent shockwaves across the immigrant rights community.
And now a new report from The Intercept details the unprecedented surveillance and attempted warrantless searches and stakeouts of New York churches and the homes of activist leaders Jean Montrevil and Ravi Ragbir by ICE agents.
New York’s Mayor Bill de Blasio has vowed that his is a sanctuary city, but The Intercept article lays out how the NYPD assisted ICE agents in their attempt to deport Ragbir.
Jean Montrevil was deported to Haiti last week after being snatched by federal agents as he walked down a street near his home. This raised the stakes for Ragbir, who feared that ICE agents may try to take him, even though he is in the midst of an appeals process.
Ragbir’s case is a complex one. He’s a legal permanent resident in the U.S. He has a green card.
But a decade ago he was convicted of a nonviolent crime involving fraud and served time in prison. In the years since, he’s become a public figure in the immigrant rights movement and with Trump’s radical commitment to deportations, especially of people with criminal records, Ragbir has found himself in the crosshairs of the Department of Homeland Security and ICE.
Ragbir is the executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition, which is an interfaith network devoted to resisting detention and deportation of immigrants in New York. He’s now scheduled to be deported to Trinidad and Tobago after living as a legal permanent resident in the U.S. for 20 years. Jean Montrevil, who was deported last week, had lived in the U.S. for 30 years.
To talk about all of these events, we’re joined by journalist Nick Pinto. He wrote this report for The Intercept.
JS: Nick, welcome to Intercepted.
Nick Pinto: Thanks for having me.
JS: So Ravi goes for this hearing last March, March of 2017, a few months into Trump’s presidency, a big crowd of people show up, what happens then in his check-in with ICE?
NP: Sure. So, in that instance he did walk out, again, a free man. But they shortened the leash on him and said, “You need to check in on a shorter interval than you you’ve been checking in.” So he was next due to check in with ICE January 11, this year. And I think talking to him and to his legal team in the lead-up to that, I think they had been feeling fairly secure that whatever else might happen, he was not going to be taken into custody that day. And I think that confidence first began to be rattled a week beforehand when another immigrant, who also was sort of had a leadership, high-profile leadership position in New York’s New Sanctuary Coalition, a Haitian guy named Jean Montrevil was picked up by ICE officers. He was coming home from work, going home to his place in Queens and there were a bunch of ICE officers outside his door who picked him up.
He was scheduled for a check-in March. He hadn’t given ICE any cause to expect that he wouldn’t show up there. He has a family, runs a business, he was hardly a flight risk and yet he was picked up at his home and moved very quickly to a detention center in Florida, and, from there, deported to Haiti. And so that was the first alarming thing that sort of made Ragbir and his team wonder if something had changed in the rules.
And the second thing was that that same day Montrevil was picked up, Ragbir’s legal team was meeting in Judson Memorial Church in the Village to sort of plan for his upcoming hearing, and a number of the people who were coming in and out of the building were, noticed some suspicious cars outside the building. They had dark, tinted windows, distinctive unusual antennae, they had unremarkable New York State plates. But following the thing with Montrevil, they wondered, “What’s going on with these cars?” And at a certain point some of them decided to go out and sort of actively check in with these guys.
And one woman rolled down her window and said, “No, I’m not with ICE, but I’m not going to tell you why I’m here either.” Another car that they sort of rapped on the window of rolled down his window and when he did, one of the people I spoke to looked into the foot well on the passenger side of his car and saw a DHS license plate, which certainly led him to conclude that this was an ICE car.
So, this starts to get them quite rattled, the feeling that they might be under some sort of surveillance. They begin to wonder, “Well, if Montrevil was picked up at his house and there are cars here outside the church, what’s going on outside of Ravi Ragbir’s home in downtown Brooklyn.”
And so, they send some people out to his home to look at what’s going on that block and those people tell me that they saw several more cars also with unusually dark, tinted windows, also with these strange antennae, also idling.
Now, I should say, I asked ICE whether they were engaged in surveillance of Ragbir’s home, of Judson, of any other churches and they declined to answer that question. They did, however, tell clergy associated with the New Sanctuary Movement who had come in to talk with them that they were not involved. So while they haven’t denied that to The Intercept, they did deny it in a private conversation with clergy.
JS: But also, when you described that meeting that clergy had with Scott Mechkowski, ICE’s deputy field office director for New York, this ICE official seemed to already know why they were coming in there to talk to him and actually drew a connection between the two cases you’re referring to.
NP: Right. The clergy had gone intending only to talk about Montrevil’s case, but they say that very quickly Mechkowski himself drew the connection and said, “Look, these are the two highest-profile cases we’re dealing with right now and what you have to understand is that our hands here in the field office are tied. These people are eligible for deportation and we’re going to make determinations based on what we have to do. We’re not going to keep kicking this can down the road. We’re going to make a determination one way or the other on it now.”
JS: So, then what happened?
NP: The day for the check-in came and Ragbir went in with some family members and his lawyers and first they met in the cafeteria on the sixth floor of the Federal Center and I was in there with them. Meanwhile there was a substantial crowd outside and the appointed hour came and he had been asked not to check in in the usual place where ICE usually handles scheduled check-ins but rather to check in at Mechkowski’s personal office. And, at the time, I think they didn’t really know what to make of that. They thought maybe ICE was sensitive about the possibility because this is a high-profile case of creating some disorder and they wanted to contain that. But as soon as he sat down it became clear that they intended to take him in.
He was informed that as of that moment he was in custody. For whatever reason, he briefly fainted. I think he hadn’t eaten a whole lot going into this meeting, I think he was anxious. He recovered in short order but nonetheless he left the building in an ambulance, handcuffed in an ambulance, and his supporters outside had reluctantly planned for the possibility that he might not be coming out. As the ambulance was leaving the building, there was a rush to physically block the ambulance. There was a sense that they were taking this high-profile symbol of the movement away and they were trying to deport him and there was just a spontaneous immediate movement to, people were hurling their bodies in front of this ambulance.
[Chanting on the street: Ravi! Ravi! Ravi!]
JS: How were they moving the people that had hurled themselves in front of the ambulance out of the way?
NP: With some fairly unrestrained laying on of hands. Both DHS, law enforcement and members of the NYPD’s strategic response group.
JS: That’s interesting, because New York is a sanctuary city according to Mayor Bill de Blasio. But you what you’re saying is NYPD did facilitate the removal of Ragbir in this ambulance by assisting in moving demonstrators or his supporters out of the way. NP: They assisted in that way, and they also assisted in that when the ambulance ultimately shook free of these supporters, the strategic response group provided a police escort for the vehicles transporting Ragbir first to one hospital, then to another, then to a temporary detention and then escorted them all the way to the city border at the mouth of the Holland Tunnel.
So, in that sense, they certainly did assist in, you know, the early stages of the deportation of Ragbir. Now, I asked both the police and city hall about this and their position is: We don’t do this. Ordinarily we are not ordinarily in the business of providing ICE with escorts for people detained for deportation. We got involved because there was disorder in the streets and it’s our job to prevent disorder and we continued to provide this escort because there had been disorder earlier and we wanted to be able to assist if there was any more.
Eighteen people were arrested, including several clergy members and a pair of city council members.
JS: Ultimately they take him to Newark Airport, which is in New Jersey and then fly him to Florida.
NP: That’s right. Things do not usually move this quickly for someone taken into custody in New York City. From the moment that they saw which way things were going, Ragbir’s lawyers had taken steps to file for a habeas writ in the Southern District to prevent him from being deported or even taken from the New York area. And, indeed the court did order that he not be taken from the New York area.
ICE says that it didn’t get that information until he was already in transit.
JS: Interesting. So, courts in New York order this. He’s in Florida anyway, regardless of what whether they knew or didn’t know. And then he gets returned at some point to New York.
NP: Right. It took, it took a couple more hearings and some argument back and forth as to whether ICE was obligated to bring him back to New York. As I understand it, the judge strongly suggested that ICE might want to consider bringing him back and without saying that they were bound to do so, the next day ICE said that they had decided to bring him back.
JS: So, he is returned to New York and what is the current status of Ravi Ragbir’s case?
NP: He’s being held in detention in Orange County in the Hudson Valley — Orange County in New York state. So, he has a couple of things pending — this was also important, is that there a number of open proceedings which could have a real effect on his deportability.
So, his lawyers are making the point that if indeed one of these motions is basically asking the federal court in New Jersey that convicted him initially of wire fraud to reconsider its decision in that case. If they did that, the underlying cause for his deportability would vanish and that is open. That petition has not been resolved. And ICE is attempting to deport him, even though conceivably they could deport him and the next day he could be back to being a legal permanent resident.
JS: Is the argument that his lawyers have been making basically that: This was not a violent crime, he did his time for it, he’s an upstanding member of our society and that he shouldn’t be have his green card stripped?
NP: So, I think there are, it’s confusing because there are many levels of argument here. There are some strict legal arguments that his initial conviction, there were some actual problems with his legal conviction, with the counsel he got and with how that unfolded.
JS: The hypocrisy also of you know, look who went to jail for this massive fraud against so many homeowners and others in this country, and it’s like, this is the guy they pin it on?
NP: Right. There are technical legal arguments for why his conviction was inappropriate. But then, you know, I think there are also, his lawyers certainly make the case that this is someone who has paid his debt to society, who has family here, who has deep roots here, who hasn’t lived in Trinidad for more than a quarter of a century.
And then, I think there’s an even higher level of argument that comes from many of his supporters in the New Sanctuary Movement, which is that: No one is illegal and that the violence of deportation and banishment is never appropriate.
JS: As you’ve been investigating this, would you say that you started to see what appears, in its early stages, to be a pattern of law enforcement showing up in places where New Sanctuary Movement is or is it an isolated case or two?
NP: Certainly people inside the movement are starting to see enough data points that they think something is happening. So it’s not just what we’ve already talked about outside Ragbir’s home and Judson Church. Other churches in the New York area that have congregations that have a lot of undocumented immigrants or just provide services to undocumented immigrants say that they in recent months have been seeing ICE agents, in some cases come into the church, in other cases sort of lurk outside and try to interview people as they’re coming in and out of worship services in a way that they had not seen before.
And ICE’s spokesperson pointed me to their public policy on how they handle places of worship which is, “We generally don’t go into places of worship, but we totally reserve the right to if we think it’s necessary.”
The pastors that I spoke to are alarmed and outraged because they see the effect that that is having on the people that they serve, that it’s creating an enormous amount of fear and it’s making people wonder: “Can I go to church this evening?”
JS: In some sectors of the same movement that you’re describing, Obama was called the deporter-in-chief and certainly did deport, you know, record numbers of people. Are you hearing from the sources that you talked to within this broader movement or others in the immigrant rights community, is this really new under Trump? Because I’ve had the sense for years, all sorts of immigrants are facing targeting and threats, if not actual deportation, under both Democrats and Republicans.
NP: That’s certainly true.
JS: Is there something different happening under Trump beyond the horrid, racist, xenophobic, anti-immigrant rhetoric?
NP: It’s been a little early to say. But I think yes, we can say a number of things are different.
One is that the prioritization has been thrown by the wayside and now they can come for anybody. And, as time goes on and, you know, we start to be able to look at numbers in a more coherent way, I think this administration might be on track to be deporting more people than Obama did.
JS: Well, and one of the lawyers that you interviewed referring to Montrevil’s deportation said, “It’s absolutely new for ICE to be deporting people who still have open appeals.”
NP: Right. And to the extent, and again, ICE won’t comment on this question, but to the extent that they are targeting people for deportation not because of anything unique in their status but because they are vocal, because they are political, because they are talking about what’s happening here, that starts to look like using the mechanisms of deportation to achieve political ends, which, you know, could make someone anxious.
JS: When you talk with people that are working on this issue day in, day out, what’s the sense you get of the strategy right now on how to combat this moment that we’re in, not just about these specific issues but in general the xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment and the fact that Trump is, as of now, still the president.
NP: For folks in the New Sanctuary Movement, the heart of their work has to do with really bearing witness. Right?
So, when people go in to these check-ins or these legal proceedings alone, often without lawyers, New Sanctuary sends people in to be with them, friendly faces to just escort them in so that they know they’re not alone and so that the officials handling their cases know that they’re not alone. And they pray outside of ICE detention centers, they pray outside of Federal Plaza and so an enormous amount of what they do is just making these invisible processes that cause so much individual harm to the people who are subjected to them, making them visible. And I think their feeling is that you just have to keep doing that, that so much of what’s happening right now is possible only because: What it actually looks like at the granular level when it happens to a mother, when it happens to a kid, when it happens to someone with a family, that we only allow that to happen because we don’t actually see how incredibly violent it is.
JS: I can’t imagine the horror of, particularly if you have small children or you’re in a medical program here, you’re elderly and you’re receiving care and you have a support community, walking into a place with no legal representation and knowing that, that may be it for you — that you’re going to be deported.
And Nick Pinto, thank you so much for your reporting and for this exposé. We’ll link to it on our podcast website. Of course, it’s on theintercept.com. Nick Pinto thanks for being with us on Intercepted.
NP: Thanks for having me. It was fun.
JS: Nick Pinto is an independent journalist and his article on this case can be found at theintercept.com.
JS: To end today’s show, we’re show going to talk to the musical artist, Seun Kuti. He’s from Nigeria, a country also targeted in Trump’s racist rants. Last month, according to the New York Times Trump said that Nigerians in the U.S. would never “go back to their huts” if they came to the United States.
Seun Kuti is the youngest son of the legendary Nigerian musician, activist, revolutionary Fela Kuti. Fela was one of the most important musical performers of modern times. He lived his life under various dictatorships in Nigeria and he bravely chronicled their crimes in poetic lyrics backed up by massive orchestras.
Fela was a genre of music unto himself and he pioneered the musical ideology of Afrobeat. Fela was regularly surveilled by the military juntas in Nigeria and he and his family and band mates and community were subjected to raids and beatings. Fela himself spent time in prison. He died in 1997, but his revolutionary spirit lives on. And for people who really know the music of Fela Kuti, his influence can be heard across the globe in the music of artists, some of whom may not even know his name.
Some of Fela’s children have also carried on the tradition and Afrobeat style. His youngest son Seun is himself a revolutionary and has taken over as the band leader for the Egypt 80. In fact, when Seun was a small child, starting at age 9, he used to open for his father and he would be backed up by the Egypt 80. Seun followed in his father’s footsteps, and when Fela died, Seun became the front man for the Egypt 80 at the age of 14. Seun Kuti’s forthcoming album “Black Times” will be released in March. His music, like his father’s, is militant and made for people who struggle.
[“Last Revolutionary” by Seun Kuti & Egypt 80]
Seun Kuti joins me now from Lagos in his native Nigeria. Seun, welcome to Intercepted.
Seun Kuti: Yeah, thanks for having me on the show.
JS: So, I want to begin just by getting your response to the U.S. president Donald Trump calling Haiti and El Salvador and the entire continent of Africa a “shithole.”
SK: I think the problem that the Western media has Donald Trump is that he’s unmasking the system. You know? He’s unveiling the system for what it really is, and they don’t like that, because the Western system of global white domination depends a lot on plausible deniability, and Trump, in his ignorance, is erasing that.
The fact that Trump sees Africa as a shithole country is no different than — it’s nothing. Because words don’t hurt me, you know? I mean, I’m too tough for words to prick.
But I was surprised that the old liberal media is still silent about the atrocities that Obama committed in Libya, and Syria, and El Salvador, and all these same countries that everybody’s so pissed off about, some words being said about, Obama treated Africa like a shithole. Bush treated Africa like a shithole, you know? So just because Donald Trump articulates it, doesn’t mean I need to see something new. There’s nothing new to see. In fact, I think that’s a toning down of the things we’ve experienced.
If I’m just going to experience bad words from Trump, I prefer that to the actuality to being the shithole that past Western governments have made Africa to realize that it is, you know? So, I don’t think this is anything that anybody should be losing their mind over.
[“Don’t Give That Shit To Me” by Seun Kuti & Egypt 80]
JS: The new album that’s coming out in March has very revolutionary strands that run through it, where you’re invoking the name of various liberation fighters and freedom fighters. And it feels in a way like this album is aimed at a lot of young people globally.
SK: Well, for me it’s not only young people, I think it’s directed at the poor and working class people of the world. Listen to any head of state, any big-time leader in this world use the word “poor people.” They don’t say poor people anymore. They are completely erased out, because nobody lobbies for them, and there’s no representation whatsoever for the poor.
For me, I think this is a message for humanity, not only for young people to rise-up for humanity, to stand on the side of humanity. Like this whole trump brouhaha, Trump said this, Trump said that is just salty liberals. This is the way elites behave. They hate to lose anything.
When the liberals lose, the leadership turns salty, the elites turn salty in the group, they start to promote some kind of division. You know? And then everybody begins to repeats their narrative.
And this is what is really destroying the world: The fact that everybody regurgitates the narrative of the elite. You know, as if they care about the people, as if they care about the Earth, as if they care about our social constructs. They only care about the dollar.
I mean last year, the elites took 85 percent of the money that was generated in this world. one percent of the population of this world took 85 percent of the money that we generated last year. And it’s only going to rise, every other year, and that is the new outrage in the world, and that is what is causing so much pain, and that is what I want people to see.
I want my message not only to be as something that speaks for young people, but all people, so that we begin to speak with our narrative, we begin to say our own things. Because nobody else is saying those.
[“African Dreams” Seun Kuti & Egypt 80]
JS: The era when various African nations achieved independence is now, you know, many decades removed and it seems as though there is a sort of recolonization of African countries that is occurring through a combination of Western, white powers.
SK: The recolonization started immediately after the independence. But, you know, the Western media hailed the coup plotters as strong leadership, the kind of leaders Africa needed. You know, military dictatorships were entrenched, and strengthened by Western governments in Africa.
The ideology that give Africa its independence has long been betrayed. In my country today, Buhari is an 80-year-old general who was in this same military that destroyed our original dream in Africa. Because, you see, the African military is an occupying force. The African military in every country is not an army of the people. You have to understand, all of them are conscripted by the colonial masters trained to protect Western interests and they are still an occupying force in our countries still today.
You know, the modern army is not allowed to raise its own leaders. And, you know, when people tell me about how little progress Africa has made since its independence, I’m like, “Africa was not allowed to be independent.” As soon as we were independent, coups were planned all over the country, and nobody talks about that. There’s no outrage about that. And if we do not address unseen hand, I don’t think there’s any way we can get to the roots of the problem or the solutions to it.
JS: In the case of Nigeria, you have the most populist country in Africa, you have incredible mineral and natural resources, and yet Nigeria is constantly ruled by corrupt leaders who collaborate with, in particular, multinational oil corporations and American oil corporations that both literally kill Nigerians but also kill the land. What about the role of oil companies in propping up these dictatorships in Nigeria?
SK: Nigeria was colonized by a company, United Africa Company, UAC. This is how the West operates. They put a company. You know?
Now our problem is coming, can we compete with these companies? Impossible. These companies are not companies: They are governments. You know, Shell is a government. Chevron is a government. Texaco is a government. So, all companies are governments that, they have unlimited political backing by government. They are the arm of imperialism.
ITT is the company that America used to destroy the whole of South America. So that’s why I keep saying, until the people can stop their governments from imperialism, sabotaging the growth of indigenous people all over the world, they cannot be changed.
I mean, countries have been destroyed because of these people. Millions of people have been killed for these people to sell oil and take oil.
[“ITT” by Fela Kuti]
JS: Your father had his song “ITT” which, ITT of course, as you were you were referring to, it’s International Telephone and Telegraph, but your father changed it to “International Thief Thief.”
JS: As I’m listening to your music and your commentary about contemporary institutions like the International Monetary Fund and Western powers, you can definitely see the legacy of your father manifesting in your work today. What would you like to see happen in your home country of Nigeria given that Muhammadu Buhari, who is in power now, was also in power when your father was alive and this is his, you know, next go around. But what should happen in Nigeria, in your view?
SK: We need to organize and energize. You know, the indoctrination we have so far, to the motherland people, here on the continent, you know? The psychological damage that has happened over these periods that we’ve been under this subjugation and oppression, from within and without.
You know, because you have to understand, so many elites here perpetuating the same evils against the motherland people. So, we just need to energize and organize so we can embrace the reflection we see in the mirror.
For me, right now, I don’t even see Africa as the only home of motherland people. You know, everywhere all motherland people deserve the opportunities and the wealth of Africa. Africa should be used to better the life of motherland people, of its children that are scattered all over the world, due to the history of slavery and whatever happened in the past.
So, for me, I need an Africa that is looking inward. You know? To take our own destiny, you know, in our hands. So, this is what we get in Africa. You know, the narrative, you know, that sometimes there is an opportunity, America backs it, the media backs it, everybody spins with it, they sell it to the people, packaged. And we forget the essence that has been betrayed by those things. Justice must not be betrayed.
JS: Can you talk about your views and feelings about Afrobeat and what it represents today?
SK: Afrobeat is a movement, you know? Not just a musical movement, but a social, political movement to create an expression for the life of people.
The musical expression, Afrobeat is the musical expression of African existence.
JS: What was the concept that your father was employing when he would form these large, sort of orchestra-type ensembles where you had the dancers and so many musicians? What’s the philosophy behind that kind of performance?
SK: It’s simple — because music is social. You are blessed with the gift, you must empower as many people as you can. This is not a personal gift. Maybe, you know, you’re almost a slave to this gift. You know, big band music, you bring many musicians to eat and everybody can also make a living from that. And also, it gets you the big sound.
[“Corporate Public Control Department” by Sean Kuti & Egypt 80]
JS: What do you want people to take from the album that you’re giving in March?
SK: I want the world to — it’s solidarity, you know? I want to wish solidarity. You know? All people, you know, involved in all the struggles all over the world for the progress of humanity, for the progress of even our social development, you know that counters the narrative.
JS: How do you view your personal future? Are you going to run for a political office? Are you going to remain a revolutionary artist? What’s the future for you?
SK: I don’t know, man. The future is right now. You know? Right now. That’s it. It’s easy. Every second is the future. You know? So. I guess I’m still a revolutionary artist. [Laughs.]
SK: But seriously? What can I say?
SK: It is what it is. I take it one step at a time and, I go where the ancestors lead me.
JS: Well, that’s a great note to leave it on. Thank you very much for joining us Intercepted.
SK: Thank you very much, man.
[“Black Times” by Seun Kuti & Egypt 80]
JS: And this is the title track off the forthcoming album “Black Times” from Seun Kuti and Egypt 80. And that is Carlos Santana backing up the vocals there. This album is brilliant, political and exhilarating. It drops in March. Make sure to pick it up.
[“Black Times” continues playing.]
JS: And that does it for this week’s show. If you’re not yet a sustaining member of Intercepted, log onto theintercept.com/join. Sam Sabzehzar is our honorary producer, and we thank you very much for your generous support.
Intercepted is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. We’re distributed by Panoply. Our producer is Jack D’Isidoro, and our executive producer is Leital Molad. Laura Flynn is associate producer. Elise Swain is our assistant producer and graphic designer. Rick Kwan mixed the show. Our music, as always, was composed by DJ Spooky. Happy Birthday to my colleague Ali Gharib.
Until next week, I’m Jeremy Scahill.