by Leslie Layton
Immigrant rights advocates are bracing for an uphill fight in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidential victory and encouraging people who could be harmed by an immigration crackdown to take steps now to protect themselves.
“We definitely have a fight ahead of us,” said Kamal Essaheb, director of policy and advocacy at the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), “a fight against the criminalization of immigrants and people of color, a fight for true economic justice for a country where everybody, regardless of the color of their skin or immigration status, can seek opportunities to make their lives better. And immigrants, documented or not, will be a critical part of that fight.”
In a press conference Thursday organized by New America Media, advocates noted the alarm in immigrant communities following the election of a candidate who has promised harsh, punishing and elaborate measures to stop illegal immigration and deport unauthorized immigrants who are here.
Though no one knows to what extent he’ll act on campaign promises, Essaheb noted that Trump has “talked about zero tolerance for criminal aliens.”
“We don’t know exactly what that means,” he said. “We certainly saw that one of the themes in his campaign is painting communities with broad strokes. … The bottom line is he won’t be president for two and a half months and there are concrete things individuals should do to prepare for his presidency. Donald Trump cannot take away the Constitution.”
Speaking by telephone with ChicoSol and with reporters from ethnic publications around the country, Essaheb noted that Trump has said he’ll eliminate Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program that helps certain young adults who immigrated to the country as children obtain a two-year work permit and Social Security number.
Sally Kinoshita, deputy director of Immigrant Legal Resource Center (IRLC), urged people who have DACA work permits but may need to renew them to move quickly on the renewal in the event the program is eliminated after Trump takes office Jan. 20. A renewal can be granted before his inauguration, she said, and the work permit would presumably last two years into the new administration’s term.
There’s been concern that a Trump administration could use information gathered in the DACA application process to deport young immigrants, but Kinoshita said the risk is low for renewals, and DACA participants are already known to immigration officials. Historically, administrative programs have never been used for “wholesale” deportation, though she noted that Trump is somewhat unpredictable.
“There’s a long fight ahead, but we’re ready for it.”
Kinoshita said immigrants should also become familiar with their rights before Trump takes office given the possibility of an immigration crackdown. For example, if approached by an immigration officer, a person has the right to remain silent and obtain legal assistance. More information on rights can be obtained from the “Red Cards” that identify Constitutional rights and inform immigration agents that an individual is asserting his/her rights.
The immigration rights movement nationally has been working for federal immigration reform that would provide a path to legalization for millions of long-term, law-abiding undocumented residents of this country. Essaheb said that is now “a thing of the past, not something we should expect at the federal level in the coming years.”
Essaheb pointed out, though, that some states and many cities have taken steps to “dramatically improve the lives of immigrants” by offering sanctuary, making driver’s licenses possible, or establishing hospital confidentiality policies.
Kinoshita said there may be an increase in deportations and, in view of that, undocumented residents should see a “legal services provider” to find out whether they’re eligible for a government program they may not have been aware of. But the advocates also urged immigrants to be wary of “frauds and schemes” and to find a reputable and affordable provider from an IRLC directory (resources are listed at bottom of this story).
Kinoshita emphasized that Clinton, not Trump, won the popular vote. “We are seeing a lot of panic in the community,” she said. “This election is not a reflection of America in general. The majority of Americans who voted did not vote for Donald Trump. It feels like a major setback, but it’s not a reflection of where we’re moving in the long term.”
Anthony Williams, special projects director from the polling and communications firm Bendixen & Amandi International, said Latinos voted 2-1 for Clinton over Trump. “The notion that there was a Hispanic wave was real,” he said. But an unexpectedly large turnout from white voters in rural areas of key swing states who voted for Trump overwhelmed the effect of pro-Clinton Latino voters.
Essaheb predicts that the struggle for immigrant rights will bring people and groups together. “I think many of us who share similar values are going to be under attack during the next few years,” Essaheb said. “Part of the dynamic is that it will bring a sense of unity among those of us who see America in a certain way, as a pluralistic society. There’s a long fight ahead, but we’re ready for it.”
For information and assistance:
In Chico, the law offices of Sergio C. Garcia offer discounted DACA services. Call 530-899-7373.
In Marysville, California Rural Legal Assistance offers referrals. Call 530-742-5191.
Online, ImmigrationLawHelp.org provides listings of immigrant service providers by states.
For downloadable packets that can guide individuals, families and educators in the process, go to Educators for Fair Consideration here.
Leslie Layton is editor of ChicoSol.