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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.
So how can those not directly affected by DACA’s repeal or other attacks on undocumented immigrants help support, defend, protect, stand in solidarity with, and empower those targeted by the Trump administration’s racist and chauvinist politics?
Below are some concrete steps you can take to stand in solidarity with the DACAmented, the undocumented, and other marginalized and oppressed communities.
1. Think hard about what being an ally means.
Cindy Milstein, in Taking Sides, writes that some traditional forms of allyship “structurally reinforce the hierarchical power that we’re fighting against by asking a small group to represent the views of many people with a variety of different lived experiences.” Milstein offers the ideas of affinity and mutual aid as alternatives to traditional forms of charity or allyship. Being an ally isn’t kowtowing to the first person of color or undocumented person you talk to; nor is it entering into a vertically structured authoritarian political organization. True and effective allyship is building trust within a community, recognizing how you can be most effective, and understanding, as Milstein puts it, that “we all have a stake in one another’s liberation.” “The masses of so-called white people will [also] benefit from social transformation,” Shaw told me at the September 5 rally.
Jonathan Jayes-Green, of the UndocuBlack Network, uses the term “accomplice” instead of “ally.” He wrote to me: “To be an ally to our communities under attack in 2017, people should be ready and willing to sacrifice comfort and resources while following the lead of those at the margins.”
2. Learn your politics and history.
Where do the immigrants in your city or neighborhood come from? Find out. Reach out to them. Ask them how best you can plug in. Learn about the politics that are labeling your neighbors undocumented and are threatening to detain and deport them. Deportations—and the underlying xenophobic politics—are not new to Trump. Obama deported more people than any other president in US history, and the country has suffered through multiple periods of mass roundups in the past, from the WWII internment camps to Operation Wetback in the 1950s.
For current immigration politics, here is a fact sheet from the American Immigration Council explaining the status of DACA and the Dream Act. Some books to provide further context: Aviva Chomsky’s “They Take Our Jobs!” and 20 Other Myths About Migration, David Bacon’s Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Migrants, and Todd Miller’s Border Patrol Nation. Some reporters and wise minds to follow are Esther Lee, Maryam Saleh, Julianne Hing, Jonathan Blitzer, Juan Escalante, and Jorge Rivas. Outlets or organizations that put out action alerts, briefs, and further context include National Immigrant Law Center, United We Dream, and Immigration Impact.
3. Donate, Organize
There are a lot of migrant-support and -protection networks out there. One good way to decide which to support: Find out which are migrant led. Mijente, Puente, BAJI (Black Alliance for Just Immigration), and RAICES are all great options.
In addition, UndocuBlack Network, the ACLU, Grassroots Leadership, Make the Road NY (and Aliadxs, allies of MRNY), and No More Deaths—among many others—are all doing crucial work in litigating, organizing, and defending Dreamers and the undocumented.
Lynn Tramonte, deputy director of America’s Voice, described to me the need for national fund-raising, but also emphasized the crucial role of small-scale grassroots organizing. She cited the Akron, Ohio, chapter of the Immigration Alliance, which, like many local organizations, was formed to do the kind of the basic support work that can get glossed over at a national level, including driving undocumented people to medical appointments or court dates, or writing personal letters of support to immigrants fighting their cases in court. If you’re not sure where to find the organizations in your area, you can start by searching the affiliate and partner lists for national groups like United We Dream and the Center for Popular Democracy.
Cesar Vargas, an immigration-reform advocate, also described the importance of local organizing. He traded contact information with his neighbor so that, if ICE were to come to his house, a protection network would be alerted. It’s not just about immigration, Vargas explained, “At the end of the day, we’re building a stronger neighborhood.” I asked how allies can plug into these sorts of networks, and he stressed that in many instances they don’t need to be built from the ground up. Go to (or call for) town-hall or community meetings, and search on social media for ways to connect with your neighbors.
Vargas and others also emphasized the importance of simply spreading the word: Talk about what you’re learning within your community groups, whether they be sports teams, unions, teacher groups, even just friend networks. If you’re a business owner, attend a Know Your Rights training and find out how you can make your place of business a safe space for employees and customers. Host a fund-raiser to support a local organization, and make it clear to all of your customers that you stand for immigrant rights.
As for donations, an urgent need right now are funds to pay for DACA recipients’ renewal applications, which at nearly $500 can be prohibitively expensive. With the renewal deadline, October 5, fast approaching, groups such as Make the Road NY, Orange County Immigrant Youth United, and United We Dream are raising funds to help process these applications.
4. The Ballot
If you decide to vote, be careful whom you vote for. If you’re serious about immigration reform that doesn’t just feed dollars to the border-security complex and further string along millions of immigrants through an expensive and decades-long court process, you’re going to have to lean way left of most mainstream Democrats. Voting down the party line to stop Trump isn’t enough when lives are on the line. Obama oversaw the build-up of a huge and brutal immigration-police force—both at the border and in the interior. Support pro-migrant candidates, look for third-parties or independents, or run for office yourself. And once candidates are in office, hold them accountable. Check sources such as the National Immigration Justice Center or Immigration Impact for updates on legislation. If your representative, for example, is backing draconian, family-shattering laws like the Criminal Alien Gang Member Removal Act, work to vote them out of office.
5. Open Your Home, Your School, Your Church/Mosque/Temple
Traditionally, immigration officers have regarded schools, churches, and hospitals as “sensitive locations” and do not typically conduct immigration raids in them. But, as with much in the Trump era, propriety and respect seem to have gone down the drain, and sensitive locations may not be as safe as they once were. That said, ICE agents aren’t storming houses of worship yet, and establishing your church, temple, or mosque as a haven for the undocumented could prevent possible deportations. Here is a toolkit provided by the National Sanctuary Movement, in case your place of worship is interested in offering sanctuary. (Note: Though some cities call themselves sanctuary cities, federal authorities still have jurisdiction to apprehend people without papers, and often do. In Los Angeles, for example, a so-called sanctuary city, ICE conducts frequent raids.)
Rev. Alison J. Harrington, of Tucson’s Southside Presbyterian Church, where the sanctuary movement began in the 1980s, told me about the importance of trying to work in an appropriate way, and avoiding the “white savior mentality,” in which allies open their churches or their wallets to “save” the oppressed. Harrington urged patience and humility: “Reach out to groups and organizations in your community and offer to provide a meal for one of their meetings.” Or offer to provide childcare. As Harrington explained, this switches the traditional power dynamic in which it is, so often, the brown women taking care of the white kids.
Take to the streets, agitate, engage in civil disobedience. The gains of the civil-rights movement would never have been won without direct action and civil disobedience. While that movement was rightly black-led and black-organized, allies played an important role as, for example, Freedom Riders—activists who rode buses in mixed-racial groups across state lines to challenge unconstitutional segregation laws—as well as behind-the-scenes supporters and frontline agitators. Show up for protests (if you’re not sure where to start, check out WeAreHeretoStay.org’s list of events around the country). Make noise. Demand justice. And do so with respect and proper deference for those with most on the line.
The public perception of Dreamers has shifted since Obama first issued DACA, and in the wake of Trump’s revocation of the policy, even many Republican politicians now agree that Congress must act quickly to pass legislation to protect those affected. But a replacement to DACA that throws other undocumented immigrants under the bus is not acceptable. Call 866-575-9410 to be connected to Paul Ryan’s office and demand a DREAM Act with no border wall or enforcement spending. Then call or write your own senators or member of Congress to tell them we need just immigration reform.
Castro, from Puente, reminded me, “Allies need to understand that their goal is to help remove obstacles from the immigrant community. People don’t need saving, though they may need support.”