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The fight for immigrant rights under Trump

Commentary by Masao Suzuki |
May 9, 2017
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San José, CA - Since Donald Trump became president on Jan. 20, he has carried out two of his three campaign pledges to attack immigrants. He issued an executive order that called for a wall on the Mexican border, and his proposed budget includes a down payment of $2.6 billion to start the construction on the wall. Trump also issued another executive order calling for increased staffing for immigration enforcement and expanding deportations to include all the undocumented, with the final decision to be made by ICE agents. His proposed budget also calls for almost $2 billion to step up deportations and for hiring more ICE and Border Patrol agents. This executive order also threatened sanctions on local governments that did not cooperate with immigration authorities.

However, Trump did not follow through on his third pledge to cancel President Obama’s DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program. This would be the simplest for him to do since it was established by executive action and could therefore be cancelled in the same way and it didn’t involve any funding that must go through Congress. The fact that Trump has not cancelled DACA shows that Trump does consider the political ramifications of his actions and the popularity and support that the program and the participants, the Dreamers, have.

One campaign waged by immigrant rights activists has been to pressure their local governments to become sanctuaries for the undocumented. In response, a number of cities, counties, school districts and colleges have adopted policies that restrict their local police or employees from cooperating with immigration enforcement. One example of this was at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida, where the local SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) won an almost two-thirds of the vote on a referendum, and then got their president to agree not to cooperate with ICE and to maintain in-state tuition for resident undocumented students.

Many (but not all) Democratic Party politicians, mainly at the local level, but also statewide in California, have supported this movement for local sanctuaries and spoken out against the border wall and the step-up in deportations. This is a positive development, because with broader the opposition to Trump and the Republican Party’s oppressive immigration policies, we can have more victories.

At the same time, it is important to remember that the great majority of Democrats still support the so-called Comprehensive Immigration Reform or CIR. CIR is nothing more than a combination of Trump’s policies of border militarization, stepped up deportations, and workplace enforcement, with partial legalization of the undocumented. President Barack Obama pursued CIR with an ‘enforcement first’ strategy that only earned him the title of Deporter in Chief, while the Republicans refused to compromise and came up with Donald Trump.

Thus, it is important for the immigrant rights movement to support the concept of legalization for all as a guiding principle of our movement. This doesn’t mean that the movement should oppose all compromises - in fact the demand for sanctuary status and the DACA program are compromises that don’t stop deportations or legalize the Dreamers, but they don’t make any of the undocumented worse off as CIR would.

The defeat of so-called Trumpcare, the Republican American Health Care Act or AHCA that would have caused 24 million Americans to lose their health insurance is a good thing for the immigrant rights movement. It will make it harder for Trump to turn his other policy proposals into actual legislation that will pass Congress. The immigrant rights movement must take heart from both local victories and Trump’s national setbacks to continue the fight for immigrant rights.

No Wall! Stop the Deportations! Legalization for All!