In the 1944 classic film, Gaslight (spoiler alert), Charles Boyer marries Ingrid Bergman following a brief romance and attempts to convince her that she is going insane so that he can discover jewels that he had killed her aunt, years before, to steal. He does this by convincing her that things she sees and hears are not occurring, and that things that she did not do, she did.
Gaslighting is a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality. It works much better than you may think. Anyone is susceptible to gaslighting, and it is a common technique of abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders. It is done slowly, so the victim doesn't realize how much they've been brainwashed.
Although the term has gained recent currency through its use by opponents of President Trump, the fact is there are many practitioners of the fine art of gaslighting in the public square, particularly as it relates to immigration.
For example, the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) has, since its earliest iterations, rendered removable any aliens who entered the United States illegally. This has been true regardless of any other fact relating to the individual alien: whether they are criminals or not; have families or not; take jobs or don't; have communicable diseases or not; or are a threat to the national security or not. Those factors may make them more of a priority for arrest (or, on the other hand, provide an avenue to remain), but the fact is they are deportable, a fact that has been true for at least 65 years.
Despite this fact, there are daily articles in the media relating to a Trump deportation push, dragnet, or priority related to the enforcement of this rule. In fact, if you click on the last hyperlink, you can find the following passage:
Trump's order could also return the U.S. to a policy not in national use since 2007, when the Bush administration raided worksites and paraded handcuffed migrants in front of national media. These raids were used to reinforce the concept of self-deportation, an immigration philosophy that many Trump officials support. Its weapon is intimidation — creating the fear in undocumented communities that at their homes, their jobs, and in their cars on the road, looms the specter of ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement], and with it deportation.
"Intimidation", "looms", and "specter". Sounds pretty creepy and ghoulish, doesn't it? As if Steven Miller and Kellyanne Conway are in the basement of the White House with the witches from Macbeth around a boiling cauldron from which they are summoning visions of families torn asunder, wailing children, and a jackbooted deportation force, the latter of which is spreading out across America like a dark plague of locusts.
In reality, such "intimidation" is the same force that encourages most of us to obey the thousands of laws, ordinances, regulations, edicts, and directives under which we live our lives every day. In the above example, however, the reader is being gaslighted; that is, being made to see that which is legal and ordinary as something dark and extrajudicial.
While in the United States the people rule, the people's representatives (with limited and specific exceptions) reserve the lawful use of violence to the state, to utilize in the enforcement of the laws. In Massachusetts in 2012, a local police sergeant went to the home of a five-year-old girl to collect two overdue library books (a state misdemeanor). Note that this is not an isolated case. Really, it's not. Consider these cases when someone complains about ICE agents wearing body armor that says "POLICE" on it to arrest an alien who voluntarily crossed a boundary of the United States illegally to reside in this country without authority.
Couple that with the "raid[ing of] worksites" and the "parad[ing] of handcuffed migrants in front of national media". Again, this combines quasi-military imagery with the popular "perp walk", a conflation that brings to mind the "struggle sessions" of the Cultural Revolution. What reasons would ICE agents have for the temerity to enter worksites to arrest illegal aliens?
Well, first, it's the law (section 212(a)(5) of the INA) that an alien must have work authorization to "enter the United States for the purpose of performing skilled or unskilled labor." What deep, dark rationale must there be for such a rule? To ensure that the "wages and working conditions of workers in the United States similarly employed" are not "adversely affect[ed]." If that is not a primary obligation of a government that also threatens violence to apprehend library scofflaws, I don't know what is.
It's not the only law that prompts ICE agents to do this. Just last week, the Center held a panel discussion on the history of worksite enforcement, much of which focused on section 274A of the INA, subsection (a) of which is captioned "Making Employment of Unauthorized Aliens Unlawful". Thirty-three years ago (two years before the aforementioned law went into effect), the Supreme Court upheld the legality of the arrest of aliens at their place of employment. The justice who penned such an offensive opinion? That conservative firebrand Sandra Day O'Connor.
As for the parading of handcuffed aliens? Well, there are these pictures from 2014, during the Obama administration, suggesting that what President Trump may do has been done before.
My first government job (during the first President Bush and President Clinton administrations) included the drafting of opinions regarding section 274A violations. As a trial attorney at the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), again during the Clinton administration, I served as "sanctions counsel" in the San Francisco and Baltimore Districts, prosecuting 274A violations. The enforcement of such violations, including through so-called "raids", is the rule (and the law). The failure of the Obama administration to do so vigorously is the exception.
Additional gaslighting has occurred in recent days. Last week, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director Francis Cissna wrote an opinion piece for The Hill captioned: "Break the chain and lose the lottery — America deserves a better immigration system." He stated:
Our immigration system is failing. In order to effectively protect United States citizens and promote their interests, we must pursue an immigration policy that recruits the best and brightest to our country. When considering who to invite into our country as immigrants, our nation should focus on people's merit: their skills, education and what they can contribute. Not luck or lotteries.
By prioritizing the admission of immigrants based on factors like education and professional skill, we can maximize the beneficial impact of each immigrant on our society. This will lead to both economic gains and a more secure homeland.
Unfortunately, two parts of our current immigration system work directly against this goal: the diversity visa program, also known as the "visa lottery" program; and the current extended family-based immigration system, which allows immigrants to sponsor not just their own spouse and minor children, but a variety of extended family members, including even siblings and their spouses and children. [Emphasis added.]
As if on cue, three days later, "Akayed Ullah, a 27-year-old Bangladeshi immigrant" allegedly carried out a terrorist attack in New York City. Newsweek reports:
According to DHS, Ullah — who authorities say set off a bomb in Times Square in what reportedly was an attack inspired by the Islamic State — obtained the F43 visa to come to the United States by being the son of an F41 visa recipient sponsored by a U.S. citizen sibling.
That is, he was a chain migrant.
Cissna appeared at the White House on December 12, 2017, to discuss the dangers posed by the visa lottery and chain migration. He concluded his prepared remarks with the following:
Finally, let me touch on the subject of chain migration. When I use that word, what I'm talking about is a person who comes to this country and who, in turn, employs one of these many avenues that I just described, principally family-based, to sponsor relatives who are in the home country to come and join him or her.
Because the categories that we have that I just described in family-based migration are so extensive, it's not just nuclear family. You also have, as I say, adult unmarried children; brothers and sisters; nieces and nephews. You can sponsor a person like yesterday's alleged terrorist at the extremity of that chain, and then that person, in turn, can sponsor people and so on, and so on, indefinitely.
Hundreds of thousands of people come into this country every year based on these extended-family migration categories. And it is my view, it our administration's view, that that is not the way that we should be running our immigration system. A system like that, that includes something like the diversity visa program, these extended-family categories are not the way anybody would have designed this immigration system if we could start from scratch today.
What we need is an immigration system that is selective. We want to be able to select the types of people that are coming here based on criteria that ensure their success; criteria that ensure their ability to assimilate successfully in our country. And random lotteries, extended-family connections -- that's not the way to run our immigration system.
So I appeal -- we appeal -- to the Congress as they consider these matters as we speak, and in the coming weeks, to seriously take into account these concerns that we have with the way the immigration system is structured and its vulnerabilities, as I just described, and correct that. [Emphasis added.]
During the subsequent questioning, the following exchange occurred:
Q: How do you deal with people who have been here for years and then become radicalized once they're here? How would any of that deal with what actually happened in New York? He had been here for many years.
MR. CISSNA: So, on that, there's two points. I think the criticisms that we have of the diversity visa program or chain migration -- in particular the diversity visa program -- the vulnerability to exploitation by terrorists because of the low eligibility criteria and because of the prevalence of fraud, that's not changing. That's a sad fact of that program. For that reason, regardless of when the person became radicalized, I just want that door shut because it's a vulnerability. It's been recognized for 15 years. [Emphasis added.]
The line of questioning shortly thereafter picked up on these points:
Q: Well, you just said that because of the criteria and how low it is, that chain migrant immigrants or diversity lottery immigrants are more susceptible to being self-radicalized. Do you have data on that?
MR. CISSNA: No. What I think my point is, is that if you have immigrant visa programs where the eligibility criteria are low to non-existent -- or even an outright lottery -- you're not selecting for the types of people that we want in this country, according to a criteria that will ensure their success in our nation; that will ensure that they will assimilate well.
Q: I get that that's a matter of priority. You want to select the immigrants, not just have them come in. I get that part. But you seem to saying that these kinds of immigrants are more likely to become terrorists.
MR. CISSNA: No. What I'm saying is that if you have a system that doesn't select at all, or is barely selecting anybody, we don't know what we're going to get. It's better if we take an active affirmative role in our immigration process and establish criteria that correspond to things that we want to see in our immigration pool. [Emphasis added.]
A separate exchange occurred with another reporter later:
Q: We're just not getting the nexus to terrorism.
MR. CISSNA: The nexus to terrorism is that if you have a visa program that is easily exploited by mala fide actors, including terrorists, because --
Q: But you don't know that he did that.
MR. CISSNA: I don't know that -- he didn't come in on the visa lottery program. He came in as an extended-family-based immigrant.
But I'm saying, with respect to the diversity visa program, which is also at play here, that program is -- as the State Department IG found 15 years ago, as the GAO confirmed in 2007 -- exploitable by terrorists or mala fide actors because the criteria are so low and easily faked. And it's a lottery, so on multiple levels it's an open door, it's problematic. It needs to shut. That's what I'm saying about that.
With respect to the individual in yesterday's attempt, I would say, I don't know. I don't have a command of the facts relating to the investigation as to whether or if he was ever radicalized.
What I'm saying is, if you have any sort of visa program which is minimally selective, which is based solely on chance or lottery or low eligibility criteria, then we, as a government, aren't doing our job in picking the people that come to this country in a competent and careful and intelligent way.
And if we're not doing that, bad guys can come in. [Emphasis added.]
The headline in The Hill from that press briefing? "Immigration Services chief: No data to support chain migration, terrorism connection."
Just to recap: On December 8, 2017, USCIS Director Francis Cissna wrote an opinion article in The Hill arguing that ending chain migration, among other steps, will lead to "a more secure homeland". Then, a chain migrant gets charged with an attempted terrorist attack in New York City. Next, Cissna takes to the White House Podium to discuss the national security dangers posed by aliens like that charged terrorist. Then, the press questions whether Cissna's initial theory is correct, and concludes that there is "no data" to support it, despite the aforementioned attack.
Every law student is familiar with the following quote from Henry David Thoreau: "Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk." Simply put, there is no direct proof that the dairy farmer is watering down the milk, but the presence of a fish in it sure does make it seem likely. In this case, the chain migrant with the bomb burns is the trout.
The response of the press on this issue reminds me of another movie, 1933's Duck Soup. As IMDB synopsizes it: "Rufus T. Firefly [Groucho Marx] is named president/dictator of bankrupt Freedonia and declares war on neighboring Sylvania over the love of wealthy Mrs. Teasdale." In one scene, the following exchange occurs between Chicolini (Chico Marx, who is impersonating Firefly) and Teasdale:
Mrs. Teasdale: Your Excellency! I thought you'd left.
Chicolini: Oh, no, I no leave.
Mrs. Teasdale: But I saw you with my own eyes!
Chicolini: Well, who you gonna believe? Me or your own eyes?
With respect to Cissna's conclusion that chain migration poses an unnecessary threat to the United States, the press seems to be channeling its inner Chico Marx: Who are you going to believe? Us, or the chain migrant charged with terrorism?
Gaslight ends when policeman Brian Cameron (Joseph Cotten) convinces Ingrid Bergman that the gaslights really are flickering. Here at the Center, we are doing the best we can do to channel our inner Cameron.