Immigration policy can’t be painted with a broad brush. Unfortunately, that message hasn’t quite reached the likes of Donald Trump, the newly-embattled president, who has been met with intense local and national resistance to his recent executive orders. With the stroke of a pen, Trump sent people scrambling at airports around the world, with an authoritarian edict that seemed more like 1939 than 2017. Trump’s actions are only temporarily halted by a federal court challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union.
But whenever there’s a crisis, there’s an opportunity. (I learned that lesson firsthand during my stint in public relations.) And this current state of public policy pandemonium presents one such opportunity: to build solidarity, working relationships, and even community across various racial and ethnic lines.
I’d been hoping to see the emergence of this kind of “unity in resistance,” which began fomenting the moment Hillary Clinton conceded defeat—despite her winning by three million votes—to the man who insulted a Muslim gold-star family and posed at his desk, fork ready, to dig into a taco boat and tweet how much he “loves Hispanics” on Cinco de Mayo.
Thankfully, that unified front has now arisen, from collaborations between local and national groups. They believe Chicago has the potential to become a model for other “Sanctuary Cities.” But above all, they’re working to ensure no one is left out of efforts to stop a reckless executive.
On January 28, for example, the Arab American Action Network called for an emergency rally at O’Hare, to protest Trump’s Muslim ban. The call was answered by groups across the spectrum: the Council on American Islamic Relations, another Muslim civil-rights group, was there, but so were the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, and the Organized Communities Against Deportations, which serve populations from around the world.
These executive orders were “clearly the direct manifestation of Trump’s racist, anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-black campaign, which led to his victory in the election,” says Hatem Abudayyeh, AAAN’s executive director. “Because we understand it this way, we are able to broaden the unity and the resistance. All nationalities are affected, not only Arabs.”
Steve Moon, director of organizing for Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Chicago, agrees.
“Different members of Asian-American communities have been subject to xenophobic, racist, and Islamophobic policies over history,” he says. “We can look at the Chinese Exclusion Act, Japanese Internment—and even post-9/11 for Muslim South Asian and Arab communities—and we’ve seen this pattern of our community being scapegoated and criminalized.”
Thus, Moon says, in the face of Trump’s policies, “we’re going to resist as a community.”
—Hatem Abudayyeh, AAAN executive director
For another relevant example, look no further than a recent press conference at City Hall between OCAD, Mijente—a Latinx social justice group—and Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100), where they urged Emanuel to revise the Welcoming City ordinance, a local law passed to protect vulnerable immigrants.
Even though Mayor Rahm Emanuel has assured Chicagoans that he’ll do everything he can to maintain our status as a “sanctuary city” protect the city’s many immigrant communities, some advocates believe his administration can do much more: The law currently exempts from protection undocumented immigrants who face an arrest warrant, who have any felony convictions, who are awaiting trial on a felony charge, or who are suspected of being gang members.
“If the question is about safety . . . then there should be due process,” says Tania Unzueta, national policy director for Mijente. “Undocumented people have asked us why it is that Chicago, and cities like it, want to treat undocumented people differently than they treat citizens.”
And although it might strike some as strange that a group like BYP 100, focused as it is on the struggles of black Americans, would show up to this fight, the alliance makes perfect sense, says the group’s national public policy chair, Janaé Bonsu.
“Since Trump has made it clear that he is on the side of all law enforcement . . . we have to understand this issue as one of linked fate,” Bonsu says. “Policies that address policing, incarceration, and criminalization must be part of the demands of the immigrant rights movement.”
While these emerging coalitions are encouraging, the work of pushing for inclusive and equitable immigration policies—and of resisting Trump more broadly—doesn’t appear to be limited to advocacy groups. If the recent spontaneous, nation-wide protests are any indication, there’s a movement happening—one driven by desires to build bridges between diverse communities, rather than divide them with border walls and travel bans.
Even if it’s attending a protest, or leading a direct action, there’s a space for everyone in the movement, and more than one way to help create change.
“If you are financially able, donate,” says CAIR Chicago communications coordinator Hoda Katebi. “If you have skills, use them.”
She elaborates: “Volunteer as an attorney. Create movement art as an artist. Don’t think that you aren’t useful or talented enough to support. Whether you can cook or can hold a sign, you are valuable, useful, and needed.”
But above all else, Katebi says, speak up:
“This is not the time to stay silent. This is not the time to wait until you are directly affected, if you are not already. Your action is needed now. Your solidarity is needed now. Your rage is needed now . . . Don’t ever forget that silence is complicity. And right now especially, we cannot afford to be silent.” v