© Rick Reinhard
Tens of thousands rallied in Lafayette Park north of the White House on January 29 to shout their rejection of Donald Trump's executive order banning entry to the United States of refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim majority countries.
With a few strokes of the pen, President Trump has begun his war on the immigrant community.
The new administration is following through on campaign promises to crack down on sanctuary cities, ban Muslim immigrants, and construct a wall on the southern border.
Immigrant activists and lawyers are going into overdrive, hoping to mount successful legal challenges and use public pressure to defeat Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda.
Here’s a rundown of the situation:
Though Trump’s executive orders blocking refugees and immigrants with work permits at U.S. airports, as well as his threats to sanctuary cities and plans for a border wall got the most attention, legal experts and advocates tell The Progressive they’re particularly worried about a provision in the executive order released on January 25, “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States.” The policy, which doesn’t require Congressional funding or legislation, dramatically expands the targets for deportation.
“He’s happy to deport a nanny as much as he’s happy to deport a murderer,” says Wendy Feliz, a spokesperson for the American Immigration Council. “They’re the same in his mind as far as immigration is concerned.”
Whereas the Obama Administration prioritized immigrants with criminal records, the Trump administration is instructing immigration agents to target people they merely believe committed a chargeable crime, affording agents wide latitude that can be easily abused. And those who commit minor offenses—such as representing themselves on government forms—are now fair game for Trump’s deportation dragnet.
Advocates are already seeing the policy’s effects. According to Lisa Koop, a lawyer with the National Immigrant Justice Center, immigration agents in some places are ramping up raids and detaining people under the new order. They’re especially focused on Central Americans who arrived in 2014, when tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors fled violence-plagued Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.
“Some of these things are certainly within the discretion of the executive to do, horrible as they seem,” Koop says. “The new list of priorities for deportation really cast a broad net, at virtually all documented people. . . . This is a pretty radical departure.”
Jacqueline Stevens, a political science professor who directs the Deportation Research Clinic at Northwestern University, says the move will likely lead to more civil rights violations. The change invites immigration agents to racially profile people who appear to be Latino, much as happened under Arizona’s SB 1070. Parts of that controversial law were later declared illegal by the U.S. Supreme Court.
President Obama’s Administration deported a record three million people during the last eight years.. Its drastic enforcement efforts left the courts bogged down in cases, with a record-high half a million cases pending. In some jurisdictions, hearings are being scheduled for as far into the future as 2020. The backlog is raising questions about how Trump will push through the two to three million deportations he has promised.
Legal resident and citizens may not be able to quickly prove their status to immigration agents, or afford a lawyer to help them navigate the convoluted legal system. Stevens’s own research revealed sporadic cases of citizens being erroneously deported during the Obama years. She worries that under Trump, more people may be illegally deported.
Stevens and other experts told The Progressive the new administration may put further pressure on immigration judges to expedite cases, potentially eroding the rights of those who come before the courts.
Expedited deportations are already used in some U.S.-Mexico border states. The Trump Administration may seek to expand that to include the whole country and increase the arrival timeframe to two years from one, says Feliz of the American Immigration Council says.
For months, a battle of words raged between Trump and leaders of sanctuary cities. With Wednesday’s executive order on interior enforcement, Trump took it to the next level, instructing his administration to withhold funds to cities that refuse to comply with immigration officials.
More than 400 jurisdictions across the country provide safe haven to noncriminal immigrants, and mayors in the some of the largest—New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston—have vowed to resist.
But not all municipal leaders have reaffirmed their commitment to providing a safe haven: The mayor of Miami-Dade County, home to tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants, has ordered the county jail there to cooperate with immigration authorities, a move which prompted immediate protests.
Trump has also ordered the Department of Homeland Security to publish a weekly list of crimes committed by immigrants in jurisdictions that don’t fully cooperate with immigration agents.
In Texas, a showdown on the sanctuary issue exploded on Trump’s Inauguration Day. Sally Hernandez, the newly elected sheriff of Travis County, which includes Austin, announced that her department would severely limit cooperation with ICE, reversing her predecessor’s policy.
In response, Republican Governor Greg Abbott threatened to strip state funding to the county if Hernandez didn’t pull back. He followed that up on Wednesday with a vow to push a bill through the Republican-controlled state legislature to remove from office any state official who doesn’t fully cooperate with immigration authorities.
In a statement the next day, though, Hernandez, remained defiant.
“I am following all state and federal laws, and upholding constitutional rights to due process for all in our criminal justice system,” Hernandez said. “Our community is safer when people can report crimes without fear of deportation.”
Hernandez has the support of local immigrant activists and advocacy groups who have been fighting to stem deportations in their community. It was the key issue of the past year’s county election, says Cristina Park, an organizer with the group Grassroots Leadership. The plan is to keep mobilizing to ensure the change goes through on February 1 as planned.
“The governor is trying to come at local communities setting policies for their own safety,” Park says. “Governor Abbott is talking about imposing his will on the voters of Travis County who voted for this policy and for sheriff Hernandez for championing this policy.”
Trump’s actions have stricken fear in the hearts of young people benefiting from President Obama’s deferred action program, or DACA, which allows those who came to the U.S. before they were sixteen to apply for a two-year renewable work permit and relief from deportation.
Backpedaling on previous promise to deport them, too, Trump had suggested he might show leniency to the country’s roughly 750,000 DACA recipients. But after Trump’s first week, advocates are even more uncertain of what he’ll do. Republicans are reportedly divided on whether to repeal DACA, with some in the President’s circle urging him to do so.
The program has been a life-changer for Alejandra Gonzalez, a twenty-eight-year-old Milwaukee resident. A sophomore at Alverno College studying health education, Gonzalez is afraid the opportunities DACA opened up for her will vanish with a stroke of Trump’s pen.
And what she and many dreamers feared when the program first rolled out has come to pass: The Democratic administration they trusted has been replaced by anti-immigrant Republicans, who know who they are and where they live.
“Hearing all these executive orders that are happening now, it just scares me that I’m going to lose all that.” Gonzalez says. “I was surprised by how fast he’s moving on things. Executive order after executive order. I can’t keep up with it.”
The best legislative hope for Gonzalez and others lies in the bipartisan bill known as the Bridge Act, which would temporarily continue the DACA program until comprehensive reform can be passed.
Co-sponsor Senator Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, had told The Progressive he was encouraged by Trump’s Time magazine interview, as well as recent remarks by House speaker Paul Ryan in which he appeared to distance himself from some of Trump’s harsher proposals.
But in light of these past week’s actions, the bill’s path in the Republican-controlled Congress is more uncertain.
On Friday, the Trump Administration issued a late-afternoon ban on refugees from Syria. It also enacted a temporary ninety-day entry block for seven Muslim countries: Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, Sudan, and Syria.
Suzanne Akhras Sahloul, a Syrian immigrant who helps refugees and immigrants resettle in the Chicago area, said the move is devastating for the hundreds of thousands fleeing Syria, where roughly half a million have died since the conflict start and eleven million have been displaced.
Several of the asylum-seekers she’s working with are in the midst of the already extensive vetting process, which takes roughly two years. But with Friday’s announcement, their fates are in limbo. One of her clients is a single mother with three children in Chicago trying to reunite with her adult son, who, along with his own family, is now stuck in Jordan. After getting halfway through the vetting process, his future is now uncertain.
“Refugees are fleeing for their lives,” Akhras Sahloul says. “They come here to restart their lives, now to be blamed for crimes they have not committed.”
European leaders, the United Nations, and leaders of affected countries have all condemned the Trump Administration’s move. Some warn that, contrary to the White House’s stated objectives, the ban will actually make the United States more vulnerable to Islamic extremists.
“Just as the first two executive orders, they’re untethered from reality,” Koop says. “It deals a significant blow to our American commitment to protecting refugees and those strong traditions. It deals a blow to our standing internationally.”
Advocates are already taking the battle to court, and, in some instances, winning. Federal judges in at least four states issued stays on Trump’s Muslim entry ban over the weekend, after immigrants with valid visas were detained at airports around the country. Protests erupted across the country against the ban.
The Council of American-Islamic Relations, one of the nation’s most prominent advocacy groups, announced it will file a lawsuit Monday to defeat the order. Experts point to the constitutional prohibition against discriminating on the basis of religion, as well as the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, which bars quotas based on national origin.
Regarding Trump’s attacks on sanctuary cities, Stevens and others point to a series of federal court decisions that say the national government can only limit funds directly connected to the behaviors it objects to. So, for example, the administration can’t block grants for Chicago Public Schools just because the city won’t share information about undocumented immigrants in its jails. Already, municipalities are gearing up their lawyers to mount legal challenges should the Trump Administration follow through with its threats.
Mass mobilization will be critical. As the reality of the Trump presidency set in, Gomez says she decided “to get off the sidelines.” She began volunteering with Milwaukee-based Voces de la Frontera, one of Wisconsin's largest immigrant rights groups. The group was one of dozens to organize marches in fifty cities the weekend before Trump’s Inauguration.
Voces and other groups are ramping up efforts to provide immigrants with information on everything from how to respond when ICE comes knocking to applying for citizenship. They’re also working to expand the network of sanctuaries available in case of emergency.
In Texas, Parker says more and more churches are actively reaching out to immigrant communities to let them know they can count on them as safe havens. In the Midwest, Koop is involved in efforts to bring more local parishes into the fold. Trump’s Wednesday order even prompted Boston Mayor Marty Walsh to offer City Hall as a safe haven.
It’s also likely that without Congressional funds, Trump won’t be able to build the wall—estimated by some to cost between $15 and $25 billion—or be able to add thousands of new immigration and border patrol agents. Advocates are organizing rallies and phone banks to pressure elected officials to vote against such measures should they come up.
“There’s nothing in stone,” Feliz says. “His threats are real, and he’s trying to make good on his threats. But there’s a Congress and there are courts, and there’s a system set up to push back on his grand plan.”