Greenville After eighteen months in office there are many of us who wondered if America was ever going to finally draw a line that told President Trump that he had gone too far. Was there going to finally be a point where America forced President Trump to look past his own nose and self-interest and learn something about fundamental national values? Was he finally going to have to learn that hard problems require hard work to solve rather than boasting and bullying, fussing and fuming? Well, we may not like the answer to these questions, but we seem to have found them in his total capitulation over the issue of family separation and child incarceration of immigrants on the border. The heartbreak and trauma of families being torn apart and children weeping created a firewall that stopped Trump and his heavy breathers from Attorney General Session on down to the rest of the gang. We all need to take note and remember this lesson, just as Trump is being forced to do. It could be important on many other issues around health and housing for example.
The Trump beatdown was total. After weeks of claiming an executive order wouldn’t solve this crisis, even though his orders had initiated the crisis, he issued an executive order. After weeks of falsely blaming the Democrats and saying only Congress could take action, he had to eat his words. backdown and face reality. He and his people were swamped by a tsunami of popular, institutional, corporate, and political opposition.
Members of his own party rebelled. Evangelicals and other religious denominations from the Pope down to the storefront churches rebelled, hurling back the hundreds of Bible verses protecting families to the few that Sessions and the head of ICE used to defend Cesar’s renderings in law. Houston said it didn’t want a children’s detention center built in its city. New York State said it didn’t want separated children sent to the state. All four living first ladies condemned the policy. There was conflict within the Fox family over its slanted news on the border. Microsoft workers protested contracts with ICE. The United Nations correctly claimed Trump’s actions were a human rights violation. Mr. Trump meet America drawing a line.
Is this over? Can anyone claim victory? No, not yet.
No one in the administration knows the status of reunifying the 2300 children now in custody, and some in the administration are trying to argue they will be kept in detention, which will increase the political heat. The federal judge’s order limits children being held to a maximum of twenty days, while Trump’s order wants to hold families in detention indefinitely. Few believe the judge will budge. No one has a clue where or how families will be detained. There is seemingly no consensus in Congress. A Senate bill would end family separation, while there are competing bills in the House that both lack the votes to pass.
This is a hot potato that no one wants to touch, and the fight – and damage to Trump and his party – is going to continue until there are real solutions, none of which seem to be anywhere near the hardline policy the president and his people want.
America may be teaching Trump exactly what a hard line really is, and we’re drawing it now.
New Orleans There are a lot of very hard organizing jobs in the country these days, but it’s a feat to claim that any organizers are tasked with a more difficult and heartbreaking struggle than preventing deportations of undocumented people from the United States. Organizers like to win, but the immigrant rights organizations and their organizers claim their victories in the hundreds while witnessing deportations carried out swiftly in the thousands. This is not a new struggle, but in the age of Trump, it is getting more attention. In that vein it was good to see a featured story in the New York Times Magazine by Marcela Valdes entitled “Is It Possible to Resist Deportations in the Age of Trump?” The answer in the piece was “yes,” but not often, and frequently when there is some success it is thanks to efforts by organizations like Puente in Arizona, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) nationally, and organizers like Carlos Garcia, who directs Puente.
I was fortunate to be working in Phoenix regularly before and after the passage of the draconian SB 1070 by Republican legislators attacking immigrants and clearly targeting all Hispanics in the process and often intersected with NDLON during that process and got to visit frequently with Garcia. Their boycott of Arizona cost the state “over $200 million in canceled business conferences,” according to the Times, but more powerfully they were the face and force of resistance in Arizona. NDLON and Puente argued that Arizona was in effect the “Mississippi” of the immigrant rights movement. In the warm glow of the aftermath of the Obama election in 2008, when I was doing a bit of work with several immigrant rights organizations, they were often one of the few and loudest voices pointing out that the emperor was wearing no clothes and that investments and strategic resources needed to focus on resistance and that ground zero was Arizona, even when they were drowned out too often by beltway advocates and money handlers. In the hopes of winning critically needed reform on immigration, many advocates wanted a more muted response to the record breaking level of deportations under Obama’s ICE and Department of Homeland Security and the Secure Communities Act which enabled Maricopa Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s reign of terror. In Arizona, the world looked different and organizers had to respond on the frontlines.
Garcia and Puente’s organizing strategy in the wake of this crisis was classic community organizing translated into effective resistance by creating neighborhood defense committees or comites del barrio like those in Cuba and Nicaragua in order to build a base for real resistance among threatened families. Building such house-to-house strength in recent years required huge courage for immigrants to know and stand up for their rights, and paved the way for the more intense direct action required these days.
The stories of immigrant families being torn asunder in this national eviction are rending and dispiriting, but the terribly difficult work of these organizers and organizations is inspiring. In my house my well-worn “Legalize Arizona” t-shirt from the great Phoenix march against SB 1070 and Arpaio is worn more gingerly now, and we need a new one these days, but it should now say, Legalize America.