Elena Shore

Trump and the GOP's Relentless Assault on Immigrants Could Come Back to Haunt Them

Immigrant rights advocates say that despite the cloud of fear hanging over communities in the first 100 days of the Trump administration, there is also a growing and increasingly organized resistance. 

“We are seeing an increase in the number of people apprehended for removal,” Melissa Chua, immigration director of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), told reporters on a national press call organized by New America Media and Ready California. “It’s not just growing infrastructure [for future deportations]…we’re seeing it in reality.”

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement made 21,362 arrests from January 20 to March 13 of this year, a third more than during the same period in 2016, according to numbers requested by The Washington Post. The figures include 5,441 non-citizens with no criminal record, double the number during the same time last year.

The statistics reflect a shift in priorities from the Obama administration, which sought to prioritize certain criminals and recent arrivals for deportation. Under Trump, the deportation priorities have expanded so much that they can be used to target almost any undocumented immigrant.

Immigrant and refugee rights advocates say the effect on immigrant communities is palpable.

Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), described it as “one of the most horrendous periods in American history for immigrant families.”

“What we’re seeing,” explained Salas, “is just a harsher way by which DHS [the Department of Homeland Security] is dealing with all matters of immigration, especially when it comes to stays of removal or requests for relief.”

Over 38 percent of the individuals detained in the Feb. 9 ICE raids in Southern California, for example, had only minor infractions, many of them from years ago, according to Salas.

“The other thing that we’re seeing,” she said, “is that they’re being harsher when it comes to individuals who had … stays of removal.

“ICE enforcement is going back and making decisions about those cases,” Salas explained. “Instead of continuing their stays of removal, they’re challenging their stays of removal, their administrative closure.”

Since taking office, Trump has signed executive orders that call for “sweeping changes on immigration,” said Chua of IRC, adding, however, that “many of these proposed changes face some real, significant hurdles.”

Some, like the construction of a border wall, can’t be implemented without funding. Others have been blocked by the courts, including the administration’s attempt to withhold federal funds from so-called sanctuary cities; and both versions of Trump’s “travel ban,” which aimed to curtail travel from certain predominantly Muslim countries and lower the number of refugees allowed admission into the United States. 

“While many of the changes proposed by the administration may threaten refugees, immigrants and their families,” said Chua, “there still exist some real barriers to implementation, offering some real avenues of hope for immigrant communities.”

Advocates say many of these signs of hope lie outside of Washington.

“The immigrant rights movement is getting more organized, more powerful,” said Salas, pointing to local and state efforts that seek to protect the rights of immigrants across the country.

“What is incredible is the many cities and schools defending immigrants,” she said.

On May 1, she noted, about 30,000 people marched in the streets of Los Angeles to defend the rights of immigrants.

“California is moving forward a different vision, a different agenda,” said Salas. The state legislature has proposed various bills that seek to defend immigrants’ rights, from Senate Bill 54 (the California Values Act), introduced by Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), which would prevent state and local resources from being used to cooperate with deportations, to Senate Bill 6, by Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, which would provide funding for legal services for immigrants facing deportation.

By contrast, Texas’ state legislature is moving further to the right on immigration. Texas Republicans just passed Senate Bill 4, a new law signed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, which threatens law enforcement with jail time if they don’t cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

“In the mid-90s, California looked a lot like Texas does today,” said Salas, when California voters passed Prop 187. That ballot measure helped get its supporter, Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, elected. But it led to an even bigger backlash against the GOP in the state, and is largely credited with the mobilization of Latino voters who have changed the face of California politics. 

“Our community [in California] became engaged,” Salas said. 

Texas, which has the nation’s second-largest Latino population after California, could see a similar backlash. “What we’re seeing in Texas is the same kind of mobilization,” she said.

Meanwhile, immigrant rights advocates are helping their communities stay informed. 

“There are many families that are afraid,” said Adriana Guzman, immigrant outreach coordinator with Faith in Action Bay Area. “Our message to them is that there are steps they can take right now.”

Guzman said she is encouraging individuals to talk to a trusted legal services provider to see if they qualify for immigration relief, to make a family preparedness plan, including who will take care of children if something happens to their parents, and to carry the number of a trusted immigration attorney they can call in case of an emergency.

Most importantly, Guzman said, individuals should know that they have certain rights under the U.S. Constitution, regardless of their immigration status. These include the right to remain silent, the right to not open the door to agents without a warrant signed by a judge, the right to speak to a lawyer and make a phone call, and to not sign anything they don’t understand or that isn’t true.

“Thousands of community outreach workers are spanning their communities, delivering Know Your Rights presentations,” said Salas of CHIRLA. From helping eligible immigrants become citizens and register to vote, to protesting in the streets and supporting legal challenges in the courts, she said, immigrant rights advocates have been able to “make a statement in these very difficult days.”

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Wrong Writing On the Wall

Sor Vann never thought he would be deported for peeing. A construction worker from Houston, Texas, he urinated at his work site and was convicted of indecent exposure. Later, he did it again and was hauled in for violating his parole, according to The New York Times. In 2002, after serving four years in jail, Vann, 34, was deported to Cambodia, the country he had fled as an 11-year-old during the Khmer Rouge regime.

Vann was detained and deported under a 1996 law signed by President Bill Clinton. Representing a major change in U.S. immigration policy, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act increased penalties for criminal convictions of non-U.S. citizens.

The result, according to a report by the National Immigration Forum, is that "legal immigrants who have lived here for nearly their entire lives are being deported for minor crimes committed years – and sometimes decades – ago."

Virginia Kice, spokesperson for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) says deportations have increased in recent years as a result of the legislation handed down by Congress. "When Congress enacts laws, our responsibility is to enforce them," she says.

Before 1996, a category of crimes known "aggravated felonies" was limited to serious offenses like murder and drug trafficking and only applied to crimes such as theft if the sentence was five years or more. The 1996 law lowered the minimum sentence to one year. In what Joren Lyons, staff attorney for Asian Law Caucus in San Francisco, refers to as "a rather Orwellian twist," the law now includes statutory rape, theft, vandalism and possession of stolen property.

Prior to 1996, legal residents facing deportation were entitled to a hearing that took into consideration factors such as their rehabilitation, family ties and community service, unless they had served five years in prison. The 1996 law virtually eliminated the possibility of such a hearing. Once immigration officials have initiated a removal proceeding, an immigration judge must issue a deportation order if the conviction qualifies as an aggravated felony. Removal proceedings can begin when legal residents renew their green card, apply for citizenship or return to the United States after a trip abroad, regardless of how long ago their criminal conviction occurred.

"The policies are written so that someone who has committed murder as well as someone who has urinated in public become eligible for deportation," says Loan Dao, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Ethnic Studies at University of California at Berkeley.

"If you do not hold legal citizenship, that means that you are at risk of double punishment, being punished in a way that citizens are not," she says. "Remember, all these people have served their time."

In fact, some detainees spend more time in immigration custody than for their crime, according to a report by Lyons.

In the most recent interpretation of the 1996 law, the Supreme Court this month struck a blow against lengthy detentions, ruling it unconstitutional to indefinitely detain people who have been ordered removed if there is no practical means of deporting them. In a separate case, however, it ruled that the United States may deport immigrants to countries where there are no functioning governments (like Somalia) to engage in repatriation agreements with the United States.

This does not change anything for immigrants from Vietnam, Laos and Cuba, which have flatly refused to accept deportees from the United States. They still cannot be deported, though they continue to be detained and face a removal order that currently carries no weight.

Huyen Thi Nguyen, a 65-year-old Vietnamese immigrant convicted of food stamp fraud, was released last week after spending 16 months in jail while she fought her removal, according to Lyons. Nguyen, who had served four years in a Vietnamese political prison, argued that it would be unsafe for her to return to Vietnam, even though a deportation order would have no immediate consequences. She refused to accept a removal order to Vietnam, despite knowing it would have freed her from detention.

Cambodian immigrants faced a similar situation until 2002, when Cambodia, under pressure from Washington, began to accept U.S. deportees. Immigrants who had signed previously toothless removal orders were suddenly eligible for deportation.

Many, like Vann, had fled Cambodia as refugees in the 1970s when the Khmer Rouge killed off one-third of the population. Deportees to Cambodia now face "the trauma of being sent back to a country whose (collective) memory is starvation, murder, genocide, war and deprivation of human rights," says Dao. The U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia in the 1970s, she says, also calls into question U.S. responsibility to those refugees.

"Deporting people based on the fact that they're non-citizens implies that immigrants carry with them this notion of criminality," adds Dao.

Immigration Reform Sabotage

Two weeks ago, as President Bush declared that "el sueno americano es para todos" (the American Dream is for everyone) in a satellite speech to the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the White House was working behind the scenes to sabotage any immigration reform bill from coming to a vote in Congress.

According to reports from the Wall Street Journal and statements by Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), the White House asked Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to prevent the immigration bill AgJOBS from being voted on in the Senate. The bill, sponsored by Craig, would have provided a pathway to legal status for up to 500,000 agricultural workers. It had wide bipartisan support from the agricultural industry and from unions, and was backed by 63 out of 90 senators, including 26 Republicans.

But if the Republican leadership thinks they can gain Latino votes by praising immigrants publicly, even as they work privately to pull the plug on any immigration reforms, they are underestimating the savviness of Latino voters, says Maria Echaveste, President of the Nueva Vista Group.

"Latino voters and immigrant voters are not easily fooled," she said in a National Immigration Forum held on Friday.

In fact, Latinos have been following the progress of immigration reform bills AgJOBS (the Agricultural Job Opportunity, Benefits and Security Act of 2003) and the DREAM Act (the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act) on the front pages of Spanish-language newspapers and on Spanish TV and radio stations. They have also tracked the lack of progress of the much-publicized immigration reform bill proposed by President Bush in January.

Latino voters can see through the political rhetoric, according to a poll conducted after Bush announced his proposal early this year. The poll, conducted by Bendixen and Associates and released by NCM, found that a majority of Latinos (63 percent) said it was a valid criticism that President Bush does not care about immigrants and that his plan is only aimed at getting Latino voters to support him in the 2004 election.

Latino voters continue to feel ignored by political candidates. In a Zogby Poll released on June 23 of this year by the National Council of La Raza, 60 percent of Latino registered voters said the political candidates are ignoring the issues most important to the Latino community.

According to the poll, there is strong agreement across all Latino subgroups that undocumented immigrants that have lived, worked, and paid taxes in the United States should be provided a path to U.S. citizenship.

Whether the White House's attempts to block immigration reform could produce a backlash against Bush among Latino voters remains to be seen.

But it wouldn't be the first time, says Cecilia Muñoz, Vice President of the National Council of La Raza. "When immigration heats up as an issue and there is anti-immigrant rhetoric, regardless of party affiliation, ethnic and immigrant voters get angry and vote. In the past this has been an issue that motivated people to turn out and vote."

"The White House has yet again broken its promise to Latinos," adds Echaveste. "The Republican leadership and the Bush White House are in danger of finally having people across the country understand that."

Despite Bush's pro-immigrant rhetoric, Eliseo Medina, vice president of Service Employees International Union in Los Angeles, says Latinos have seen raids in their communities, a climate of fear among immigrants, deportations to Mexico and the blocking of immigration reform bills.

"If the Bush campaign wants to win Latino and immigrant votes," Medina said, "I would suggest they save the millions of dollars on advertising and instead enact immigration reform."

"Of course," writes Pilar Marrero in a July 19 editorial in La Opinión, "it is much easier to give grandiose speeches about how great immigrants are, and then not do anything to bring the majority of the country towards an understanding of the complex problem of immigration. That would mean exercising leadership."

Ethnic Communities Speak out Against Gay Marriage

A new wave of opposition to same-sex marriage is gaining ground among ethnic communities and recent immigrants, according to ethnic media reports. In San Francisco and in cities across the country, ethnic communities are "coming out" in full force, forming their own religious coalitions and organizing protests to oppose same-sex marriage.

If gay-friendly comedian Margaret Cho is your idea of the Korean-American community, look again. The image of Cho marching at a rally for gay marriage, as appeared in the May 19 edition of the Korean-language newspaper Korea Times, is anything but typical.

A commentary in the Korea Times just four days earlier may be a more accurate reflection of the community's politics, according to community insiders. The author compared same-sex marriage to mad cow disease: Gay marriage "destroys holy marriage and the cycle of life. It makes humans mad, so I call it mad human disease," writes Young Goo, who is a pastor at a Christian church.

Ethnic Christian coalitions are at the forefront of the movement against same-sex marriage.

On May 18, 100 people gathered in Los Angeles to voice their opposition to same-sex marriage. Among the speakers were Latino activists Luis Galdamez, spokesperson for the Campaign for California Families, and Vicente Martín, president of the organization Familia Hispana, which represents 1,900 Christian churches in California, reports Marilú Meza in the May 19 issue of Spanish-language daily La Opinión.

A recent "Rally to Protect Marriage" in Sacramento was co-sponsored by BOND (Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny), a Christian organization dedicated to "rebuilding the family by rebuilding the man."

"If California legalizes same-sex marriages," says BOND founder and president Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, "it will destroy the family, especially the black family."

On April 25, some 7,000 people in San Francisco's Sunset district -- primarily Chinese Americans and Christians from 180 Bay Area churches -- protested same-sex marriage, reports Julie D. Soo in the May 21 edition of San Francisco's English-language weekly AsianWeek. Gay marriage "could lead to the extinction of the entire human race," said event spokesman Rev. Thomas Wang, as reported in the Chinese newspaper Sing Tao. "There will be no future if the United States does not repent."

Marcos Gutierrez, host of a Bay Area Spanish-language talk show on La Grande 1010-AM, estimates that 65 percent of the people who call in to his show are against same-sex marriage. Most of these defend their beliefs by quoting the Bible.

Religion is the backbone of politics opposing gay marriage, according to a national survey of 1,515 adults of every ethnicity conducted Oct. 15-19, 2003, by the Pew Forum and the Pew Research Center. More than eight in 10 opponents of gay marriage said it ran counter to their religious beliefs.

Ethnic groups in San Francisco are far less supportive of the city's decision to issue marriage licenses to gays and lesbians than the city's white population, according to a citywide poll of 1,034 people conducted on March 2, 2004, by the Chinese American Voters Education Committee. While 76 percent of Caucasians said they supported the decision to issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples, only 62 percent of Latinos, 49 percent of African Americans and 38 percent of Asians agreed.

There are cultural and historic reasons for the Chinese community's strong backlash against same-sex marriage, says former political candidate Rose Tsai.

"Chinese, in 5,000 years of history, have acknowledged that homosexuality has always existed. But, it is accepted with the understanding that you don't glorify such relationships," Tsai is quoted as saying in AsianWeek.

Chinese Americans value family and community over the individual, adds Rev. Cal Chin, a senior pastor at the Presbyterian Church in Chinatown. "I wouldn't use 'conservative' to describe Chinese American views," Chin says in the same article. "I would say that Chinese Americans are more corporate in their thinking; they think about how an individual and an individual's actions impact the community. You can't act in isolation."

Many new immigrants, especially those from China and Korea, believe that same-sex marriage goes against their culture. But radio talk show host and San Francisco community leader Julie Lee says this may change as people become more educated. "China used to jail homosexuals, but even China has become more open-minded."

Some reject the notion that same-sex marriage is a civil rights issue.

Rev. Raymond Kwong, who organized the rally in San Francisco, leads the newly formed Bay Area Christians for Traditional Marriage (BACFTM). "We are sympathetic to true minorities. Gays and lesbians are not a genuine minority," he says in the AsianWeek report. "I have talked to many African American ministers and they are incensed that the civil rights bus has been hijacked by a radical group. When were there separate entrances for gays and straights? When have gays gotten worse jobs and lower pay than straight people? I've never seen any gays who had to go to the back of the bus."

Detria Thompson, in the March 19 edition of the black newspaper San Francisco Bay View, writes that many African Americans believe that race "easily trumps sexual orientation in the now crowded different-discrimination sweepstakes." But this "assumes that lesbians and gays have the option, if not a duty, to mute their behavior so as not to alarm straight people." Yet, "all gays and lesbians can't 'pass' for straight, and even if it was possible to do so, being able to 'pass' misses the point."

White gays and lesbians may experience less discrimination than African Americans, but they still experience discrimination, just as educated middle-class African Americans still experience racism, Thompson writes. "Quantifying discrimination by demographics is necessary, but is usually futile and counter-productive precisely because your pain never quite measures up to mine."

Elena Shore works for NCM, an association of over 600 print, broadcast and online ethnic media organizations founded in 1996 by PNS and members of ethnic media. Aruna Lee contributed to this report.
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