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On September 5, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions strolled into a Department of Justice conference room, stripped away deportation protection from 800,000 people, and walked away without taking questions. The revocation of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) won’t go into effect for six months, but the administration will take no new applications, and, on a rolling basis, nearly a million young people will become, along with the approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, targets for detention and deportation. Within minutes of Sessions’s announcement, social media were ablaze in indignation, and soon people across the country joined marches, rallies, and walkouts to protest the decision.
Despite the quick turnout that day, Maria Castro, a community organizer with Puente, in Arizona, expressed to me her conviction that “the American public doesn’t understand the magnitude of trauma that this administration has inflicted not just on undocumented communities, but on Latinos [and other minority groups] in general.”
Indeed, there are now conflicting reports regarding a supposed deal reached between the Trump administration and leading Democrats that would help DACA recipients in exchange for added “border security”—a compromise that goes against the wishes of many groups at the forefront of the fight for DACA and is likely to criminalize and harm more undocumented immigrants.
It is clear that there is a need for people not in danger of deportation or detention to engage in meaningful solidarity. On the afternoon of Sessions’s announcement, I stopped by a pro-DACA/anti-Trump rally outside Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue. “Keep the kids, deport the racists!” the crowd chanted. Though most of the documented protesters I spoke with identified as allies, Daniel Shaw, lecturer in Latin American and Caribbean studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, who lent his booming voice for a while as chant leader, balked at the term. He identified as a revolutionary, not an ally, explaining how Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ, an organization that “moves white people to act as part of a multi-racial majority for justice with passion and accountability”) and other activist groups are steering away from the idea of “allyship.” “We need to be part of the struggle, not behind the scenes. Allyship implies a political misorientation,” Shaw told me. Those in solidarity with marginalized groups need to put “more on the line,” he said. And yet, according to Shaw, supporters should also cede leadership to those most affected.
Karen Zapien, chief policy analyst for DREAM Team Los Angeles (an organization I previously volunteered with), as well as an accountant in Los Angeles, told me that an ally “has to have that passion and that burn that we’re feeling.” She also emphasized the “need to fight to move beyond DACA.” The program was always meant to be temporary, she explained, and, while providing some level of relief, has limited lasting impact even for those who qualify (for example, DACA status is renewable every two years with a $495 processing fee, and it protects less than 10 percent of the nation’s undocumented population). More importantly, the program hasn’t directly opened avenues for permanent adjustment of legal status.