The great human rights activist, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel, gifted the world a powerful legacy about the importance of standing up to power and hate.
“We must always take sides,” he said. “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” He continued, “Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy—national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant.
According to Wiesel, “Whenever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion or political views, that place must- -at that moment—become the center of the universe.”
Immigrants and others wonder whether the nation has reached that moment. Across the country, including here in the inland region, more than a million young immigrants trusted the American government, came out of the shadows and applied for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Implemented in 2012, DACA enabled certain undocumented young people who came to the U.S. as children, limited immigration status.
Now the government knows who they are; who their families are and where they live; and they are worried their families are now at risk of deportation.
Latinos are more than half the population of the Inland Empire—they represent more than two million of the area’s residents; according to the Public Policy Institute of California, however, nearly 242,000 of the area’s residents lack legal documentation.
Throughout the campaign, President-elect Donald J. Trump called for mass deportation of millions of immigrants who are in the country illegally. His election has left undocumented immigrants, their supporters and many other groups including women, Muslims, African Americans, the press, the disabled, etc., feeling threatened—on edge, as a result of the Trump campaign rhetoric.
Tuesday while in Greece, President Barack Obama put the nation and the world on notice. “We are going to have to guard against a rise in a crude sort of nationalism or ethnic identity or tribalism that is built around an us and a them,” he warned.
During an interview with 60 Minutes on Sunday, Trump appeared to temper his position on immigration. When program moderator Lesley Stahl asked whether Trump still intended to deport millions of immigrants—he responded, “What we are going to do is get the people that are criminals and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers, we have a lot of these people, probably two million, it could be even three million, we are getting them out of our country or we are going to incarcerate [them].”
Trump’s opening deportation salvo was not much different from the criminal deportation policy followed by Obama who to date, has deported nearly 2.9 million illegal immigrants mostly due to criminal activity. Obama’s deportation policy has received harsh criticism; however, many immigrants without legal documentation are concerned that—different from President Obama’s deportation strategy— Trump’s efforts may not end with the deportation of criminals.
Another key difference in policies between the two men on this issue is that Obama has deported nearly 2.9 million during his entire eight years as president where Trump has threatened that his first wave of deportation will occur all at once.
Trump talked frequently on the campaign trail about criminal elements in the immigrant community. Interestingly, the Washington Post recently reported that a Trump spokesperson had stated the number used by Trump to identify the number of criminal immigrants in the country was taken from a 2013 fiscal report published by the Department of Homeland Security.
There was however, a misnomer regarding how Trump has continued to use this data. The report referred to a broader population of non- U.S. citizens with criminal convictions. It did include people who are in the country illegally; however, the number also included those who are lawful permanent residents as well as those who have temporary visas.
The Migration Policy Institute of New York University School of Law, a non-political think tank, showed that only about 43 percent or about 820,000 of the 1.9 million highlighted in the Department of Homeland Security Report were unauthorized immigrants with criminal convictions.
During the 60 Minutes interview, Trump also stated, “. . . we’re getting them out of our country, they’re here illegally.” He further claimed that once the border was secured he would make further decisions about the future of the immigrants remaining in the United States without documentation.
"After the border is secure and after everything gets normalized, we’re going to make a determination on the people that they’re talking about who are terrific people, they’re terrific people but we are gonna make a determination at that," he said. "But before we make that determination… it’s very important, we are going to secure our border."
In addition to securing the border, Trump also promised to deport the entire population of immigrants who are in the country without proper documentation (approximately twelve million people) and subsequently require them to “get in line” to apply for legal re-entry to the United States.
After having referred to immigrants as rapists and criminals while also vowing to immediately terminate what he identified as President Obama's illegal executive order on immigration—many now wait anxiously for Trump to decide when and how the other portions of his immigration deportation strategy/policy will unfold.
It has also been widely reported that during the campaign Trump relied heavily on information provided by the Center for Immigration Studies to lay a foundation for his immigration policy—an organization with alleged ties to the country’s nativist movement. The Center for Immigration Studies seeks to limit both illegal and legal immigration.
How the nation ultimately moves forward on the issue of immigration will largely be determined by whether Trump’s actions as president match his campaign rhetoric.
Immigrants, whether legal or otherwise do have some constitutional protections. The Constitution gives everyone in this country the right to “due process” even when someone is in the country illegally. These individuals must be processed through the immigration courts—courts that are heavily backlogged with more than five hundred thousand cases already scheduled across the nation into Fiscal Year 2017. Collectively, the five immigration courts in California already have nearly 100,000 immigration cases scheduled into 2017, not including those calendared for this fiscal year.
In a statement to the press on Tuesday, California Senate President pro-tempore, Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) responded to Trump’s statement on 60 Minutes that he will deport as many as 3 million undocumented immigrants immediately upon taking office. De Leon promised to defend, if needed, the rights of immigrants here illegally. "It is erroneous and profoundly irresponsible to suggest that up to three million undocumented immigrants living in America are dangerous criminals." (This was a reference to the Migration Policy Institute number referenced above.)
He continued, “It also appears to be a thinly-veiled pretense for a catastrophic policy of mass deportation that will tear apart families and weaken our economy.”
De Leon’s statement went even further. De Leon called upon the President-elect to reconsider and retract what he identified as Trump’s “preposterous” statement [on deportations].
Perhaps the portion of de Leon’s statement of greatest significance to California immigrants who lack legal documentation and their supporters in the inland region was the following, “I also want to assure the millions of people who are here pursuing and contributing to the California Dream, but lack documentation, that the State of California stands squarely behind you,” he said. “State leaders will defend your due process rights and aggressively avail ourselves of any and all tools to prevent an unconscionable over-reach by a Trump administration in California.” De Leon concluded, “We will protect our people and prosperity.”
In the meantime, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan denied to CNN that the nation would build a mass-deportation force and stressed Trump’s goal was to secure the border. “We are not planning on erecting a deportation force. Donald Trump is not planning on that,” he cajoled. “We should put people’s minds at ease, that is not what our focus is.”
But, peoples’ minds are not at ease. Every day since the election, thousands have taken to the streets around the nation in opposition to Trump’s mass-deportation ideology and other Trump promises equally as concerning on a host of issues that range from concerns over the future viability of Planned Parenthood and the overturning of Roe v. Wade to the re-implementation of Stop and Frisk and Tough on Crime initiatives to the repeal of the Affordable Care Act to the denial of Climate Change and a host of other issues—people have expressed fear over what the future may hold.
"Don't be afraid,” Trump encouraged protestors during his interview with 60 Minutes. “We are going to bring our country back."
On election day, Republicans gained control of all three branches of government—however, despite their proclamations, the election was no mandate. Trump won the presidency with fewer votes than Romney received when he went down to election defeat in 2012. In addition, it appears Trump may lose the popular vote by what many estimates have proffered will be near two million votes.
When Ronald Reagan was elected President of the United States in 1980, Civil Rights icon Jesse Jackson credited Reagan’s victory to a perverse coalition of the rich and the unregistered. This was because in many of the red states carried by Reagan, he won them by fewer votes than there were–unregistered Black voters in those states. Nearly forty years later, in 2016, Trump won the presidency with a perverse coalition of the angry and the apathetic. The Republican margin of victory in key swing states could have easily been off-set by Democrats who decided to stay home.
Americans have heard what Trump has said, now the country waits to see exactly what he will do. An even greater question however, may be–what will the American people do in response.
On Monday, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said his department will refuse to comply with a Trump deportation order. The mayors of several sanctuary cities across the nation, including several here in California have stated they too will defy any such deportation order.
“First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out– because I was not a communist; Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out– because I was not a socialist; Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out– because I was not a trade unionist; Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out– because I was not a Jew; Then they came for me– and there was no one left to speak out for me.”
– Pastor Martin Niemoller
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