Photo by David McNew

Standing Up for Immigrants in the Era of President Trump

Who’s gearing up for a fight—and how you can help

Among the many horrific things to have come out of Donald Trump’s mouth this election season was his pledge to deport millions from the U.S. and build a “beautiful” wall with Mexico’s money. Yesterday, Americans woke up to a new reality in which Trump may actually follow through on his promise. Ripping millions of families apart and spending billions of dollars to fortify the border may have seemed like impossible feats, but the election has shown us we should never rule out worst case-scenarios.

Trump could, for example, easily reverse a program Obama signed into law that currently protects hundreds of thousands of people who came to the U.S. illegally as children, which he has said he will do.

In response to Trump’s rhetoric, immigrants’ rights groups are girding themselves for protracted fights. While unsure of Trump’s willingness to press on with his anti-immigration plans — which would cost taxpayers an estimated $166 billion — they are mobilizing to protect those most at risk.

In L.A.,the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles says it will ramp up the number of seminars and workshops it offers to help ensure that immigrants are made aware of their rights. For instance, spokesman Jorge-Mario Cabrera said, many immigrants are unaware of their right to remain silent and keep their door closed unless an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officer can produce a court order with their name on it.

But the organization needs more experienced lawyers willing to work with undocumented immigrants in order to effect real change. “The biggest thing we want is immigration reform,” Cabrera said. “That’s our number-one goal. If that doesn’t happen, we have to make sure people know their rights and that organizations can provide legal help.”

Cabrera isn’t daunted by the the challenges he now faces. Of course, he said, people are disappointed, upset and anxious about what will happen. But he’s somewhat optimistic that fiscally minded Republicans could prevent Mr. Trump from realizing his economically ruinous plans.

Others, like Juan C. Gallegos, civic engagement manager at the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, are focusing on how to unify their movement and create partnerships with LGBT, women’s and African American groups.

Currently, he noted, the immigrant rights community is split into a number of different, and sometimes competing, factions. These include reformers who want to create new routes towards citizenship; others who believe the fight against deportation should take precedence; and organizations working with churches to create safe sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants.

“Coming together as a single force can be very powerful in order to protect as many people as possible,” Gallegos said. “As soon as someone hits our dragnet somehow, we can point them in the right direction for resources.”

In all these fights, undocumented immigrants could use the support of those who don’t have to worry about their immigration status. Documented citizens who want to help can join local organizations for immigrant rights (like the American Friends Service Committee & Coloradans for Immigrant Rights in Colorado) or volunteer at a church that provides those who are undocumented with safe sanctuary (like the Sanctuary Coalition of New York).

“There are plenty of ways for people to plug in without making the conversation about them,” Gallegos said.

Worried citizens might also consider donating to the ACLU, which recently pledged to utilize its “full firepower” if Trump follows through on his threat to immigrants. “From a civil liberties standpoint, there is no conceivable mechanism to accomplish the roundup that Trump has promised while respecting basic constitutional rights,” the organization wrote on Medium.

Finally, what undocumented immigrants arguably need the most is legal advice. This can be prohibitively expensive, which is why donating to an organization like the National Immigration Law Center can be so helpful.

It’s tempting to believe that Trump won’t be able to follow through on his promises; if the president-elect wants to ape Arizona’s laws, for example — which relied on enforcement tactics like interrogations and arrests without suspicion, unjustified traffic stops, warrantless searches of workplaces and homes, and door-to-door raids of immigrant neighborhoods — these would violate the Fifth and 14th Amendment guarantees of equal protection under the law, according to the ACLU.

Also, given the fact that our courts already suffer from funding problems and backlogs — immigrants today have to wait an average of 635 days for an immigration hearing — Trump would have to approve requisite funding to move immigrants quickly through the system or risk trampling on the Fifth Amendment’s due process protections.

But the most terrifying thing about Trump is how hard it is to predict what he will and won’t do.

Gallegos, for one, isn’t taking any chances. “I can only take him at his word,” he said. “I don’t know what he’s capable of, so I have to plan for the worst-case scenario.”

Steven Blum is a freelance writer in Los Angeles. His work has appeared in Broadly, The Stranger, Blackbook Magazine and The Daily Dot.