A friend of mine pointed this out one day:
We have all, in one way or another, at one time or another, broken the law.
One day a few years ago we were talking and we landed on this topic. I was a fan of Frank Kafka’s “The Trial”, and in the wake of the NSA revelations in 2013 I wound up picking up a copy. I was fascinated with the story and the trials of our protagonist, a bank clerk refereed to as K, comes home to find he was under arrest, but is never told why. At that point he is left at his home and told to come to a certain place and time for the trial. He goes by himself, finds an insane court, and asks what he was charged with only to be dismissed and told to go to another trial. He finally goes to a lawyer who informs him how hopeless his case is but that he can save him. The bureaucratic nightmare of paperwork and lawyers and trials and waiting was gripping, and anyone who’s ever dealt with anything like unemployment, welfare, a court case, or even just dealing with an insurance company will be able to relate.
Yet, I’m reminded of this as I look at the fear illegal immigrants currently have in America.
There are nearly 11 million people in this country right now who have to worry about “The Trial” playing out in real time in a very real way for them. It could be coming home one day and finding out they’re under arrest. It could be walking or driving around town, only to be stopped by an officer and told they’re under arrest. Unlike K who had no idea it was coming, for 11 million people they know it could be coming, and it very easily could be coming soon.
It wasn’t quite like that. In the past, it went very similarly to the ordeal Kafka wrote about. We have people who may check in for their appointments with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) once a month or so, similar to how K would check in with his lawyer waiting for a new court date as they secure their freedom replaying ad infinitum. Yet they know that, similar to what Kafka wrote, they may come home one day to see I.C.E. waiting for them only this time they’re not just under arrest and that the trial may never come.
In this brave new world we’ve seen under such people as Trump, the ritual to secure one freedom with I.C.E. has now become dangerous. While freedom at these check-ins was never guaranteed, for the vast number of people who otherwise follow the law they do it to stay with their families. It has only been recently that that has ended and the people who have broken a law once and, in one way or another, broke another one, have stopped going through the kafkaesque quasi-normalcy of their lives and instead have been given a new one.
The “Trial” Kafka mentions have been replaced with Detention Centers. These largely concrete nightmares of cramped conditions and children left to suffer in conditions we wouldn’t approve for most adult prisoners are the next stop after being arrested and sentenced to deportation. There are lawyers and courts, but the sudden influx most likely will not be tenable and we shouldn’t be a shock when one day you hear that the courts are filled with people trying to not be deported that they wind up not being able to do anything. The Trump Administration has taken the step to repeal the Obama Administration’s ban on private prisons, because where else are these people who’ve committed a crime going to go?
Kafka’s work, to me, was meant as a warning of what happens when we let things get out of control in both our bureaucracies and our government. The nightmare of a seemingly never-ending trial has been replaced with a swift verdict that condemns someone without any due process.