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US Immigration Policies Foreshadowed Violence Against Protesters

Trump Administration Planning to Send Federal Agents to Other Cities

Federal officers run after dispersing protesters in Portland, Oregon, July 22, 2020.  © 2020 AP Photo/Noah Berger

Outrage is mounting across the United States over the abusive tactics of federal agents, led by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), against protesters in Portland. Video footage and reports from protesters in Portland appear to show agents using excessive force against protesters and journalists and arbitrarily arresting and detaining people.  

But the Trump administration shows no signs of changing course. Today the president announced that federal agents would also be sent to Chicago and Albuquerque. “This is the kind of thing we see in authoritarian regimes, ” Mary McCord, a Georgetown Law professor and former national security official at the US Department of Justice, told the New York Times.

While the actions of DHS agents in Portland are disturbing, they are also familiar. Human Rights Watch researchers working on US immigration policy have for many years seen DHS agents engage in lawless and abusive tactics against non-citizens in communities across the country. Numerous reports by Human Rights Watch and other organizations have documented frequent abuses, with little accountability.

The events in Portland are also part of a continuing pattern of DHS agents violating the rights of US citizens. In 2019, Customs and Border Patrol agents were revealed to have harassed, surveilled, interrogated, and detained journalists, lawyers, and activists at the US-Mexico border, interfering with their freedom of speech and movement. Border Patrol agents have been accused of racially profiling US citizens in border communities – in one case, two US citizens filed suit after being detained in Montana because Border Patrol agents had heard them speaking Spanish. 

We have been watching President Trump stigmatize migrants and asylum seekers as dangerous and a threat to the US for years. We are now seeing him describe US protesters in similar broad strokes. Sending agencies with a long track record of abuse and little relevant training to police US cities highlights the contempt this administration has for the rights of US citizens and non-citizens alike.

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