PROGRESSIVE PERSPECTIVE: Marshall, ICE investigative division

Welcome to Douglas Harding’s first column as news editor. Check for his columns every other week this semester.

Welcome to Douglas Harding’s first column as news editor. Check for his columns every other week this semester.


In the past week, you may have read several headlines claiming Marshall University’s $4.25 million partnership with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the investigative arm of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), is aimed at combatting the infamous addiction epidemic, which has infected so many aspects of our lives and communities in Appalachia.

However, aside from a few vague and calculated direct quotes of university officials and involved politicians published uncritically, no real explanation has been offered regarding how, specifically, assisting the Trump Administration’s anti-immigration fear mongering may accomplish such a task. Why, in the state with simultaneously perhaps the lowest percentage of immigrants amongst its populace and the most evident danger to those immigrants of any state in the country, does a major public educational institution insist on cowardly allocating resources toward helping bigoted agencies lock up even more struggling poor people across the country instead of focusing on helping those people? Whose side are we on, anyway?

If you don’t believe that will be the outcome of this partnership, along with striking fear in the hearts of minorities in our communities who know all too well the cruelties carried out casually by organizations like HSI and ICE, then what, exactly, do you suppose the impact will be?

The most likely attempted explanation of this partnership is that aiding HSI investigations on poor, often innocent, struggling, working people in our communities will eventually turn up a few low-level drug dealers to be thrown behind bars in a pathetic excuse of attempted justice, subsequently making all of us safer from the unfathomable wrath of these evil mind-bending substances. Or so the story goes…

But would it really? Or would it simply be another way for law enforcement, and in this scenario, the Trump administration, to exercise its bigoted tactics masqueraded as justice to further demonize individuals, especially minorities, who are already disproportionately arrested and punished for drug-related crimes, in poor, struggling communities throughout the country?

We need real answers, and our communities need real help, not even more demonization and disproportionate persecution and policing of poor struggling folks within our communities, which is precisely what the MU-HSI partnership seems to promise to bring us.

If there is any doubt in your mind about the mission of HSI, don’t take it from me, take it from the experts in this ever-present battle against bigotry. According to the National Immigration Law Center, “HSI […] has played an increasingly significant role in carrying out brutal tactics to target immigrants for deportation. […] While HSI wants the public to think that it focuses primarily on national security and transnational crime, it is responsible for the ramp-up of worksite enforcement.”

Such tactics are represented in HSI’s crucial role in countless workplace raids across the U.S. in recent years.

In these raids, HSI regularly unlawfully persecutes innocent people of color by the tens and hundreds, assuming guilt based on skin complexion, often detaining and arresting innocent citizens (who also have families) for hours with no justification or compensation. What interest does our university and its students, staff and faculty have in aiding such xenophobic barbarism? And if that isn’t what is happening, why aren’t we getting any clear-cut answers? The university would not explicitly comment when I reached out. 

Per NILC: “Worksite raids are a violent and widely condemned enforcement tactic that tear parents away from unsuspecting children, cause profound psychological harm, destabilize local communities, and generally undermine all workers’ job-related rights. […] In the last year HSI has expended far greater resources in pursuing criminal charges against workers — usually for nonviolent unlawful reentry charges unrelated to the criminal investigation that prompted the raid and only identified after HSI took the workers into custody and fingerprinted them (see examples from the raids in Tennessee and in Sandusky and Canton, Ohio).”

It is heartbreaking for anyone in West Virginia, or anyone with a loved one living in West Virginia, to even attempt to fathom the impacts of desperation, trauma and addiction on every aspect of the lives of our brothers, sisters and ourselves, and that is unquestionable. However, we must resist the urge to blame, target and intimidate those struggling along with us, in spite of the endless attempts of agencies like ICE and HSI to normalize and institutionalize doing so.

The harsh reality is this: If you feel the system is rigged against us, and you are outraged that someone has been blatantly profiting off our pain and suffering while our brothers and sisters are dying in the streets, you are undoubtedly justified in your sentiments. However, if you believe the puppet masters pulling the strings behind the curtains of our corrupt criminal justice system (or our politics) are those lower on the socioeconomic and political power scale than ourselves, not only are you sorely mistaken, but you have also been fooled by corporate propagandists pitting us against each other to further their own fortunes and careers without any reconciliation for their morally vapid actions.

The vast majority of drug-related deaths each year in the U.S., and in Appalachia and Huntington specifically, are the result of regular folks desperate to deal with endless pain and trauma by using legally produced pain pills that have been poured into our communities callously by the pharmaceutical industry while wealthy elites wearing suits and ties turn killer profits and sneak out the back door as low-level offenders are punished for their crimes.

We simply must understand the roots of this addiction epidemic expand far beyond any local dealer or group of dealers cashing in on our pain while struggling to cope, survive and make a living themselves. Furthermore, if MU and HSI are serious about combatting the infectious impact of this addiction epidemic on our communities via punishing those making our suffering inevitable, they should be investigating officials in Washington D.C., Wall St. and, certainly, anyone with any sort of power within the pharmaceutical industry, not raiding homes and businesses within our communities based solely on bigotry, prejudice and racial profiling.

Dear fellow Marshall community members, so often we get caught up celebrating our excellence with unified exclamations of “We are…”, often justifiably so. But today I think we ought to be asking ourselves these questions: Who are we, exactly, and what do we stand for? Bigotry, prejudice and demonization of those struggling the most amongst us, or courage to fight for our brothers and sisters when corporate oligarchs and corrupt police state propagandists are doing everything in their power to pit struggling folks against ourselves?

Douglas Harding can be contacted at [email protected]