President Obama has deported over 2.5 million people through 2014, the last year that government data is available. This number represents about a 25% increase from what President George W. Bush was able to accomplish. The total number of people deported under the Obama administration might have reached more than three million assuming that the rate of deportations has remained steady since 2014.
In immigration circles, Obama has deservedly earned the nickname “Deporter in Chief,” although he did issue an executive action to prevent some undocumented young people who meet certain criteria from being deported under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA). While Donald Trump has only talked about wanting to deport millions of undocumented people, the Obama administration has actually carried out what the legislative branch has authorized the Department of Homeland Security to do.
Donald Trump has said that he wants to keep his campaign promise to be tough on immigration and recently said that he would deport two to three million people immediately. The President-elect started his campaign with blatant lies calling immigrants from Mexico rapists and criminals, even though data shows that immigrants are less likely to commit crime than native-born Americans.
Given that the immigrant community has felt like it has been under siege for over a decade with the tough immigration enforcement bill that was passed in the House (Sensenbrenner) and was later defeated in the Senate back in early 2006 to the record-breaking deportations in the Obama administration, activists are gearing up for the next round of battles in the new Trump administration. I was able to speak with grassroots activists who have been involved in immigration battles for several years in cities throughout the country who shared their thoughts about how to move forward.
Lizbeth Mateo, a veteran immigration activist and recent law school graduate, based out of Los Angeles, provided some of her insight on advancing the immigrant rights movement. Mateo’s own activism was instrumental in raising awareness for the plight of undocumented youth (also known as DREAMers). She has organized sit-ins, met with elected officials, and even participated in the “Bring Them Home” campaign, where eight other undocumented people returned to the U.S. after visiting Mexico to reunite with family. The goal of the campaign was to alert people to the predicament of families separated by the existing deportation policies. Because Mateo left the country briefly in 2013, she has been denied her request for DACA.
“The tactics that we used in the past will be the foundation for what we do in the future. This means that we will hold all politicians accountable, both Democrats and Republicans. This is not the time to be hiding families. We have to be more public about what we are fighting for and who we are fighting for,” Mateo said. “We will continue to leverage social media, hold rallies and public protests, and contact elected officials at the federal and local level. This includes contacting elected officials about people who are scheduled to be deported who live in their districts.”
Mateo is hopeful that activists will continue to talk about the parents of DREAMers, who often aren’t given the sympathy that undocumented youth receive. She would like to see people move away from the “deserving” and “undeserving” immigrant narrative and instead for people to consider the whole family in this debate.
“Our parents have a lot of wisdom. For example, my parents have talked to the media before, and they never have had formal media training. They speak about their experience and don’t buy into the deserving and undeserving narrative. They don’t apologize for the Democrats and the Obama administration,” Mateo said.
For Tania Unzueta, an activist who works out of Chicago as the legal and policy director for Mijente, a national group dedicated to organizing Latinx and Chicanx, the effort should be on making sure that immigrants are prepared for Trump stressing on self-defense. This involves getting documents in order, reminding immigrants to not open the door to people they do not know, reaching out to local immigrant rights organizations to stay up to date on policies and resources, and informing immigrants of their rights.
“The best form of self-defense comes from an organized community. We have learned a lot about what happens with mass deportation under Obama. Already Trump’s people have said that they aren’t going to change a lot of the systems because they already exist in terms of how to deport people. I expect more of the same, except a wider scope,” Unzueta said.
More of the same would not only mean more deportations, but also more people detained in immigrant detention. On Nov. 30, Jennings v. Rodriguez was argued before Supreme Court. This case concerns whether immigrants should be allowed a bond hearing after their detention becomes ‘prolonged’. A lower court has ruled that a bond hearing needed for immigrants who are detained six months or longer, but the Obama administration has appealed claiming that mandatory detention laws are necessary that that the federal government has the power to detain immigrants indefinitely without a bond hearing. The detention system that Immigration and Customs Enforcement runs already incarcerates 441,000 people per year. Stock in private prison companies that operate immigrant detention centers rose after Trump’s victory.
Carolina Torres Toledo, a coordinator at Right2Work, an organization in Philadelphia, is working to educate her community about undocumented immigrants in her city and how policies affect them. Right2Work organizes a dinner series that provides a platform to people to discuss the plight of immigrant workers in the restaurant industry.
“We are organizing locally. We are really focused on our local city council and bringing together restaurant owners and chefs, who want to protect their workers. In Philly, our mayor has been very supportive of immigrants and is committed to protecting them, but we fear the attacks that could be coming in a Trump administration,” Torres Toledo said.
The mayor of Philadelphia has said that his city would remain a sanctuary city despite Trump’s election. Sanctuary cities do not coordinate with federal immigration officials in detaining undocumented immigrants for nonviolent crimes. Since Trump was elected, over a dozen major sanctuary cities have indicated that they would limit cooperation with the feds in immigration enforcement. Trump is the boogeyman to unite immigration activists and allies because now there is no perceived need to be patient for the Democrats to enact reform.
Prerna Lal, an immigration attorney who works in the East Bay Community Law Center/UC Berkeley Undocumented Student Program who became one of the first undocumented lawyers in the US before gaining legal status, is hopeful that allies of the immigrant community will no longer be complacent when Trump takes office.
“The silver-lining in all this may just be that we no longer have to fight liberal complacency, along with the neo-Nazi extremism,” Lal said. “For years, our left-leaning friends in non-profits were hesitant and complacent, refusing to push the Obama administration to stop mass deportations and detention. Let’s hope that complacency is now put to rest.”