(this piece was written in collaboration with Kevin Amaya)
In 2014, Obama announced the DAPA program as well as the expansion of the DACA program in order to provide temporary relief to potentially 5 million undocumented youth and parents in the US (*). In spite of these executive orders, Obama will be likely remembered by many as the “Deporter-in-Chief”. More than 2 million individuals were deported during his 8 year presidency.
However, it is important to note that during the Obama’s years, the priorities in detention and deportation, were dangerous criminals and recent arrivals to the US (in an effort to deter border crossing). Still, there was an immigration enforcement surge and hundreds of thousands of individuals were deported each year.
Because of these numbers and the numerous raids and deportations, coalitions were formed, such as the very visibly “United We Dream” and locally the GUYA (Georgia Undocumented Youth Alliance). Many other organizations gathered diverse representation to lead protests, gather information and issue reports and develop grass roots initiatives such as GLAHR, Asian Americans for Advancing Justice, Southern Poverty Law, Alterna, etc.
Locally, El Refugio, a hospitality house in Lumpkin County opened its doors to offer warm meals, a place to spend the night, conversation and facilitation of visitation and Immigrant Hope joined a small cohort of non-profits offering legal services to the Hispanic families.
The excellent and tireless work of these advocates and activists at both the local, regional and national level is what many people credit with the slowing down of deportations and the signing of the DACA and DAPA programs in 2014.
Organizers pressured the administration and it worked. Not perfectly, but it got better.
2017 carries the hateful rhetoric of the 2016 election but this time, it is no longer words only; it directives, guidelines, executive orders and memorandums that created a new environment in which we are ALL affected and confused on what we should do, what should we tell the community and even how should we live.
The current President has not only criminalized entire communities with his campaign speeches calling Mexicans (and by extension) all Hispanic immigrants, he has encouraged something that can be explained as “fear of the other”. Fear of the foreigners, fear of the immigrants, fear of the Muslims, fear of those that do not speak English, fear of opposing views, etc. The Southern Poverty Law Center has just issued a report called “A Year in Hate and Extremism” with a wave of hate crimes and hate incidents sweepint the country — 1,094 bias incidents in the first 34 days immediately after the election in November. Overall, anti-immigrant incidents (315) remain the most reported, followed by anti-black (221), anti-Muslim (112), and anti-LGBT (109).
In a post-election survey of 10,000 educators, 90 percent said the climate at their schools had been negatively affected by the campaign with 80% described heightened anxiety and fear among students, particularly immigrants, Muslims and African Americans. Numerous teachers reported the use of slurs, derogatory language and extremist symbols in their classrooms.
The three executive orders signed on January 25 (13776, 12768, 13769) not only focus on border security and the enforcement of current immigration laws (many of them passed during the Clinton years), the orders also normalize the detention and arrests of immigrants that seem to be a threat to public safety at the discretion of the enforcement agent and individuals that may have been charged of a crime EVEN if the charge was not proven or are suspect of having abused a federal program or committed a crime (again at the discretion of the agent) are also subject of detention and deportation.
Recently, a memo signed by Secretary Kelly, calls for the hiring of additional 10,000 men to double down on the enforcement of the executive orders detailed above.
In many cities and communities, ICE agents wearing a “police” vest or shirt have knocked on doors, stopped people on the streets, parking lots and even work places and detained individuals, mostly men, in a way that often times does comply with the official version that only dangerous criminals are being targeted.
In fact, thanks to the executive orders, pretty much everybody that has overstayed a visa, worked in the US without a work permit, etc is not “unlawfully present” anymore; he/she is now a criminal.
Organizations are living systems that (should) change and adapt with their ecosystem and how we re-organize, arrange and consolidate priorities, partners and activities have a lasting effect in our communities.
Key Hispanic markets like California, New York, are leading the pack with collaborative meeting including law enforcement, legal advocates, immigrant advocates and support groups to discuss how to strengthen protections for local residents who are immigrants
In Georgia, GLAHR, Asian Americans for Advancing Justice and Project South are training communities and volunteers as organizers, are distributing “Know your Rights” information and are advocating for the improvement of detention conditions and for a stop to collaboration between ICE and local enforcement.
Organizations such as the Feminist Health Center are incorporating in their priorities to advocate for not only women’s rights but healthcare rights and safer educational institutions.
In Cobb County – which only a few years ago received national attention when a Kennesaw State University Student was turned over to ICE by the local police department – immigrant rights groups are forming to combat anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies locally. One of these groups, The Pro-Immigrant Alliance of Cobb County (APIACC), has seen a sharp rise in messages and calls from people interested in becoming involved since the election. In part of their recent efforts, APICC released a statement demanding that a Board Member from the Cobb County Board of Eduction step down due to racist emails about Mexicans and immigrants forwarded from his personal email account. “We are working tirelessly to bring the stories of immigrants living in Cobb to the ears of local decision makers and soon we will announce some of the positive changes occurring in Cobb”, says Kevin Amaya, member of APICC.
Along with APICC, grass-roots groups of friends are organizing across Georgia to form unincorporated organizations to share valuable information in their neighborhoods.
Social media groups are dispersing information on raids, road blocks, upcoming opportunities to contact local representatives and volunteering.
For many social media activists, priorities have shifted and some who used to post a meme or share an article are now on the streets distributing information, requesting town hall meetings and even donating funds to the causes closest to their hearts.
It is how we galvanize those players and capitalize on their strengths, skills and passion what will drive the evolution, re-creation and re-organization of our communities.
There are way too many Latino-serving organizations that have yet decide how to operate, how to evolve, how to even write a statement about the impact current regulations have in our communities, kids missing school, parents afraid of going out, businesses losing clients, people being let go, rental fees not being paid, etc.
Non-profits are the fastest growing job creators in the country. We are the third largest labor force behind retail trade and manufacturing. Non-profits have immense power to shape conversations and narratives.
We need to be more vocal, take more space. We have done it before and we need to do it once again.
Until now, we have reacted, it is time to anticipate, organize and be prepared.
(*)DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) is an active program and is estimated that has benefited more than 200,000 children across the US. In Georgia, it is estimated that approximately 74,000 children and youth can benefit from the program.
DACA is a temporary relief for children brought to the US before their 16 birthday, currently enrolled in education and who have no criminal background.
DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Parents of Lawfully Permanent Residents) is a program that provides temporary relief to parents of children that are American citizens or are lawfully present (with a green card, DACA). This program was blocked in 2015 by a temporary injunction by the Supreme Court.
DACA and DAPA programs were and still are highly criticized for the way they were announced (vs. comprehensive immigration reform, a promise made twice in Obama’s electoral campaigns) and the limited scope of its reach.