“After the election, we’ve been asking folks to prepare,” Armando Carmona, spokesperson for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, told AlterNet over the phone from Los Angeles. “We don’t want to get stuck in fear, but we need to be prepared, and be prepared for the worst.”
Carmona is one of many organizers across the country reeling from the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, following Trump’s campaign of racist incitement against immigrants, refugees, Muslims and the Black Lives Matter movement. Already, Trump has appointed white nationalist Steve Bannon as chief White House strategist. Jeff Sessions, who was determined too racist to serve as a federal judge under the Reagan administration, is Trump’s choice for attorney general. Retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, a war hawk who says he is “open” to torture, is Trump’s designate for national security adviser. The anti-immigrant hardliner Kris Kobach is just one of Trump’s alarming picks to lead his transition team.
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While it is difficult to predict what this bevy of racist right appointees will do once they take the White House in January, undocumented people — or people merely perceived to be undocumented — have reason to be concerned. From day one, Trump ran on an anti-immigrant ticket, issuing outrageous statements smearing Mexicans as “rapists” and repeatedly proclaiming he would build a wall along the US-Mexico border and make Mexico pay for it. He claims that, during the first 100 days of his presidency, he will “begin removing the more than 2 million criminal illegal immigrants from the country.” That threat follows earlier campaign pledges to build a “deportation force” to expel 11 million people.
Trump also says that, in his first 100 days, he will “suspend immigration from terror-prone regions where vetting cannot safely occur” and impose “extreme vetting” on “all people” coming into the United States. In addition, he vows to further criminalize immigrants by imposing a “2-year mandatory minimum federal prison sentence for illegally re-entering the US after a previous deportation, and a 5-year mandatory minimum for illegally re-entering for those with felony convictions, multiple misdemeanor convictions or two or more prior deportations.”
Speaking after the election with Leslie Stahl on “60 Minutes,” Trump said, “What we are going to do is get the people that are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers, we have a lot of these people, probably two million, it could be even three million, we are getting them out of our country or we are going to incarcerate.”
This pledge goes far beyond the troubling precedent set by Secure Communities, which was initiated by George W. Bush and expanded by Barack Obama. According to Dara Lind, writing for Vox.com, Trump’s policy “would put every unauthorized immigrant in the US under a one in four chance of being separated from family, thrown in jail, or sent back to a country that many of them haven’t set foot in for years.”
Kevin Appleby, the senior director of international migration policy at the Center for Migration Studies of New York, told the New York Times that in order to accomplish large-scale deportations, Trump “would have to conduct a sweep, or raids or tactics such as those, to reach the numbers he wants to reach. It would create a police state, in which they would have to be aggressively looking for people.”
Maria Poblet, the executive director of the Bay Area-based Causa Justa, said in an interview with AlterNet that these new conditions require re-calibration. “In this political moment, more than any other, the big Washington DC organizations that are oriented toward getting best possible policy out of the White House are not going to have the solutions,” she said. “There is a need to face the communities impacted right now, to build the broadest possible front to address attacks on immigrants and lift up our shared humanity.”
In interviews with grassroots organizers who work with undocumented people across the country, AlterNet was repeatedly told that the task, now, is not to petition or persuade the Trump government, but to fortify communities on the local level and coordinate resistance nationally, in order to levy the most effective and strategic defense of people at risk. At a time when many are upset, scared and willing to take bold steps to protect their neighbors, communities and families, these organizers are working to develop infrastructure for a nationwide fightback.
Expand the Sanctuary Movement
On November 16, as anti-Trump protests continued to rage nationwide, students at more than 80 high schools and universities across the country staged walkouts, protests and sit-ins to demand that their administrators declare sanctuary campuses for immigrants.
“There was a unified message around students standing up to hate and racism and asking administrators to not share personal information with Department of Homeland Security agencies, to make it clear that ICE is not welcome to campus,” Carlos Rojas Rodriguez, an organizer with Movimiento Cosecha, told AlterNet. “Students were demanding protection for maintenance, janitorial and culinary workers who are taking care of students and the administration.”
Rodriguez says that among immigrant rights networks, “the idea of sanctuary has been floated as a primary weapon of protection” from Trump’s policies. The movement has roots in the 1980s-era sanctuary movement, in which religious congregations transported and housed refugees fleeing violence in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, often at the hands of US-backed militaries and death squads. According to Puck Lo, writing for the Nation, “At the movement’s height, more than 500 congregations nationwide hosted refugees and operated an underground railroad that moved migrants from Mexico to cities all over the United States and as far north as Canada.”
In 2011, Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced it was directing its forces to avoid enforcement efforts at “sensitive locations” like churches and funerals. Organizers with the new iteration of the sanctuary movement have sought to use this protection to expand safety and shelter for undocumented people targeted during the Obama years, which saw more than 2.5 million deportations.
In the face of the incoming Trump administration, says Rodriguez, now is an important time to “declare sanctuary in cities, colleges, universities, congregations, shelters and community centers.” He indicated that the aim is to deter, as well as defend against hardline policies, posing the question, “What are some policies or symbolic statements that locations can use to send a clear message to ICE and the incoming administration that there is going to be a confrontation, and allies are willing to put their bodies on the line?”
Meanwhile, Trump has pledged that in the first 100 days of his presidency, he will “cancel all federal funding to sanctuary cities,” setting up potential battles between his administration and local lawmakers. According to Poblet, “Depending on the strength of local progressive movements, and the support they have in city hall, this could be a chance for lawmakers to be the champions of the people they represent.”
Get Ready for Rapid Response to Raids
If people are unable to make it to an officially recognized “sensitive location” before ICE comes for them, organizers are preparing to bring sanctuary to them. “The idea is that if ICE comes to someone’s house, they can’t leave to seek sanctuary with the congregation,” explained Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and director of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia. “So we’re bringing the congregation to them. We’re calling it ‘sanctuary in the streets.'”
Pedemonti’s organization works with 19 congregations in the Philadelphia area, including churches and synagogues, and hopes to double that number, in part by reaching out to area mosques. “We have an emergency hotline that people can call if ICE shows up, and it is staffed 24/7,” he said. “Our plan is to have an alert system so that if ICE comes to get someone, everyone shows up at their house as soon as possible to pray, sing and film ICE. The purpose is to accompany and show solidarity with the family and to pressure ICE not to do this.” Ideally, explained Pedemonti, a small number of the rapid responders would be willing to risk arrest to stage a direct action in defense of individuals targeted for deportation.
He said that before the election, 65 people were signed up to this rapid response team; now, there are 930. “It’s been amazing and powerful,” said Pedemonti. “Every day, 100 people are signing up. The next step is to get everyone trained.”
Carlos Garcia is the director of Puente, the Arizona-based human rights organization that played a key role in unseating Sheriff Joe Arpaio in the November election. A prominent Trump surrogate, Arpaio spent 24 years terrorizing Maricopa County, Arizona residents by erecting a tent city prison he referred to as a “concentration camp”; publicly humiliating and torturing people incarcerated in his jails; and repeatedly defying court orders to stop racially profiling people of Latin American descent.
Garcia organizes in a state with some of the harshest immigration laws on the books, including SB 1070, which “requires police to determine the immigration status of someone arrested or detained when there is ‘reasonable suspicion’ they are not in the US legally,” according to a summary from the ACLU. In this climate, Garcia says, it has been important to “create defense committees and really think of ways to defend ourselves. This means neighbors helping neighbors, finding places willing to provide sanctuary, finding allies. It means documented people being willing to risk arrest and stand in the way of people being taken. It’s going to be important to alter our tactics once we understand how they’re coming for us.”
According to Garcia, coordinated defense is also critical once an individual is detained. “Where are your belongings, do you have children who need to get picked up, what are your plans in case you get picked up?” he posed. “Individuals should be creating their own defense plans. We’ve been doing it in Arizona for a long time.”
“Trump has explicitly named Muslims and undocumented communities among his first targets,” Darakshan Raja, a Washington DC-based organizer, told AlterNet. “Underneath the larger umbrella of immigration raids and the targeting of non-US citizens, Muslims without citizenship will be among the first to be targeted, including refugees, and undocumented community members.”
From the onset, Trump has built his candidacy on Islamophobic threats, vowing to impose a “total and complete” ban on Muslims entering the country and openly calling for the profiling of Muslims and patrolling of “Muslim neighborhoods.”
Reuters reporters Mica Rosenberg and Julia Edwards wrote Tuesday that Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state who helped draft Arizona’s hardline immigration laws, “said in an interview that Trump’s policy advisers had also discussed drafting a proposal for his consideration to reinstate a registry for immigrants from Muslim countries.”
Kobach already advanced precursor policies in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, when he worked as a staffer in George W. Bush’s justice department and aggressively pushed the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) program, a registry for men over the age of 16 who hail from countries deemed to pose a “terrorist” danger to the United States. Of the 25 nations listed, 24 were majority-Muslim. Those policies were fiercely opposed by groups including the New York-based organization Desis Rising Up and Moving, which is now working to develop a strategy of resistance against Trump.
Meanwhile, registries that disproportionately target Muslims have been maintained under the Obama administration, in the form of the US government’s overreaching terrorist watch-listing system.
In contrast to Bush and Obama, Trump and his supporters have been far more overt about the aim of creating a Muslim registry. Carl Higbie, a prominent Trump supporter and spokesperson for the Great America super PAC, recently told Megyn Kelly on Fox News that a potential Muslim registry has an earlier “precedent:” the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. The proposed registry also invokes another historical disgrace: the compulsory licensing of Jews living in countries occupied by Nazi Germany.
In light of these proposals, Raja says it is important to incorporate organizing against Islamophobia into the push to expand sanctuary.
“We need to be clear that if there is somebody being targeted, we are going to fight back and protect the communities that are uniquely targeted,” she said. “When the white nationalist groups say they are going to violate a mosque or a community center, a rapid response network should be mobilized to come out and provide a defense field. If there is a hate crime, activists should be ready to mobilize and physically show up and intervene.” When it comes to a registry, Raja says the goal should be “total shutdown” and zero tolerance for profiling of any community.
Cindy Wiesner, national coordinator for the US-based Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, agreed, telling AlterNet that “we have to think about community protection and defense and sanctuary cities as more expansive. It’s important that we’re not only thinking about undocumented people, but also gender-nonconforming people and Muslims.”
“There is also a need to defend social movements,” Wiesner continued. “We’re going to see the increased criminalization of movements.”
Build Organizations and Alliances
Amid this worst-case-scenario planning, it is important to maintain infrastructure to build power over the long haul, say campaigners.
“We have to ensure that our organizations that do true base-building organizing have the support they need to make it out of the next four years alive,” Jacinta Gonzalez, an Arizona-based organizer with Mijente and #Not1 More, told AlterNet. “This looks like funding and giving support when they are attacked. We won’t have deportation defense if we don’t have organizations that know how to reach out to local communities. This means you should think about how you can support local groups doing this work in your own backyard.”
According to Rodriguez, “For folks who are asking themselves what they can do, it’s going to take a little bit of research. Go on a phone or computer and try to figure out who the local groups are that are trying to support immigrant families at this time.”
Pedemonti maintains that “a key lesson from the George W. Bush administration was, even when the federal landscape was terrible, we could move things locally. You can build more power, engage more people, to influence national fight. In a time when we are seeing the rise of white nationalism, we will need to hold up our light and values even stronger and brighter.”
Of course, this doesn’t mean that the fight is solely local, and many organizers say they are in the midst of efforts to connect and strategize on a nationwide level. Poblet says she expects “there will be new organizations that emerge out of this period,” explaining, “I think this is a period of reorganization.”
Carmona explained that in Los Angeles, reorganization took the form of a 500-strong popular assembly just days after the election. “Folks shared testimony, personal experiences and their understanding and analysis of what’s happening,” he said. “We had breakout groups to think about how to do more assemblies in our own communities, how to organize know-your-rights workshops, how to develop legal defense strategies and how to generate awareness about challenges that may arise with next administration.”
Meanwhile, on the national level, Carmona is involved in the Alto Trump campaign, which he described as an effort to “consolidate resources and experiences about how folks are organizing in their own locales.”
Sarai Portillo is an organizer in the red state of Alabama, where residents face the most draconian anti-immigrant bill in the country, HB56, described by the ACLU as “an extraordinary attempt to regulate every aspect of the lives of immigrants.” Portillo, the executive director of the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice, told AlterNet that “the alliances we were able to make with African-American communities and faith communities have been important.”
“It seems like dark times, but even in dark times there will be light at the end of the tunnel,” Portillo continued. “That light is people power.”
Refuse to Normalize Fascism
“We were never going to get Arpaio to stop doing what he was doing, but we could spread widespread condemnation of what he was doing,” said Garcia. “We might not be able to stop him, he might deport as many people as he wanted, but we could expose his bigotry and call the moral question to everyone.”
According to Garcia, “It wasn’t just the vote that brought down Arpaio; it was actions, lawsuits and making everyone see who he really was. And then we used the vote as a tactic. When he started coming after us in 2007, his approval ratings were really high. We exposed his contradictions, racism and unfairness that was put forth. The lessons can be applied to Trump as well, because we expect him to be just like Arpaio.”
Less than two weeks after Trump won the electoral college (but not the popular vote), many media outlets and political foes are already rushing to normalize his hate and call for a peaceful transition of power. Meanwhile, ordinary people across the country are taking safety risks to continue their anti-fascism protests, and hate crimes nationwide continue to climb, with the Southern Poverty Law Center documenting 701 such incidents so far.
Wiesner says now is a time for non-compliance, arguing, “We owe it to the planet, the next generation, all the people at the crosshairs of his attacks and ourselves to obstruct the imminent danger of what all of this means, from emboldened racist individuals to the rape culture that just got validated to the dig-burn-and-dump model that will be touted as the way to save our economy, to the regressive and harmful policies and Supreme Court rulings we will see at every level, including social services, education, policing and Social Security.”
“I am not trying be righteous,” she continued. “I am genuinely afraid, and I firmly believe in the power of people. I am heartened by all the people, especially young people in the streets. That is the movement I come from. We must disrupt, obstruct, hold each other, strategize, organize, and fight like we never have before.”