Immigrant-Rights Activists See Turning Point for All Americans

Immigrant advocacy groups say that the country is at a crossroads when it comes to immigration, leaving hundreds of thousands unsure of their future. Photo Credit: Joe PIette/flickr

Stephanie Carson
California News Service

Mark Hedin
Ethnic Media Services

Reporting for the Ethnic Media Services-California News Service Collaboration

SAN FRANCISCO – Warning that the country is heading down a white-nationalist, nativist path, four immigrant-rights advocates issued a call to action last week just hours before the U.S. Senate rejected all four proposals to change U.S. immigration policy, and a second federal court found the president’s “Muslim ban” unconstitutional.

The advocates spoke at a national telebriefing for ethnic media sponsored by Ready California, a collaborative cross-sector effort led by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center.

“We’ve all learned to expect the unexpected,” said Sameera Hafiz, an attorney and ILRC senior policy strategist in Washington, D.C. “The reason we’re here is because of Trump’s decision in September to rescind the DACA program and throw the lives of close to 800,000 young people into chaos and uncertainty.”

“But, while the Senate was ostensibly debating the future of the DACA program,” Hafiz argued, “the reality is that any DACA proposals go hand in hand with eliminating the diversity visa program, severely curtailing the family immigration program and expansive border enforcement measures – far beyond what we think about when we think about border security.”

“While we’ve been focused in D.C. on the legislative side, we’ve been distracted from what the administration is already doing,” Hafiz continued, citing attacks on jurisdictions with sanctuary policies and other enforcement actions against Dreamers, mothers and activists.

Angelica Salas, director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), agreed that what is underway is an attack on legal immigration itself which she called “a white nationalist agenda, [whereby] certain individuals are not qualified to come into the United States based on their country of birth and their religion.”

On average, Salas noted, “Our clients being deported from Los Angeles had been in the country more than 25 years. With the crippling of various legal channels like the Central American minors program, the separation of children from parents, the ending of diversity visas, the list goes on,” she said. “We’re destroying people’s lives.”

“This is not just about the immigrant community anymore,” she continued. “It’s about what kind of country we want and who we are, as Americans.”

Zahir Billoo is the executive director of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and a civil-rights attorney. She hailed the decision by the Fourth Circuit which joined a chorus of courts across the country who have said that the Muslim ban is unconstitutional.

Nevertheless, she noted, “Whether you are from Iran or Somalia, it does not matter what your story is, you cannot come to the US.” Billoo quoted a Georgetown University estimate that 60,000 people had been impacted in their efforts to get an education or see their families.

“We’re optimistic,” Billoo said, but cautioned that what’s legal doesn’t always align with what’s moral. “The court in the past has allowed many unjust things, such as the Japanese internment.”

Adoubou Traore, director of the African Advocacy Network, which provides legal counsel for immigrants of the African diaspora, highlighted the dramatic growth of the African immigrant community, from 816,000 in 1980 to more than 4 million in 2016. Largely faceless and voiceless, this population has borne the brunt of every new restrictive immigration measure, from the Muslim ban to the removal of Temporary Protective Status (TPS).

As immigrants and as Blacks, said Traore, “We are the only group that has been named racially, and coming from countries that have been named in ways that I don’t even want to repeat, but we all heard it.”

Asked about the future of the immigrant rights movement, Salas noted the “tremendous mobilization by immigrant youth. This will only increase as people mobilize around the March 5 Congressional deadline for a solution on DACA.”

“But this is a call to the broader immigrant community and Americans in general,” Salas emphasized.

“We need to stand up not just to be in solidarity with immigrants and refugees, and our brothers and sisters from the Muslim community,” she added. “We need to stand up as Americans – as a country – saying this is not who we are or what our values are. I think this is what’s missing.”