With the announcement of Donald Trump’s jaw-dropping victory on Wednesday morning, a massive question mark now hangs over the country. Will Trump’s reign be equally as volatile as the GOP candidate’s campaign? Hard to say, since the guy clearly gave very few shits about consistency. What’s more, it’s often next to impossible to understand what, if anything, Trump believes in (even his own ghostwriter has described Trump as a “living black hole”). But our first “orange president” has made one promise resoundingly clear: Immigrants are going to get hit hard.
On Wednesday, a local non-profit, A Blade of Grass, released a statement addressing the anticipated rollback to nationalism, protectionism, and even forced migration (there’s a reason Trump has been compared to Andrew Jackson):
Yesterday was a full stop for many of us who are actively fighting for a more just and equitable society. Fear, exclusion, and hate won big. The problem is that this radical change isn’t a change at all. It doubles down on an existing politics of exclusion and systemic oppression that hurts most of us, and that will keep us divided from one another.
The director of the non-profit, which facilitates “socially engaged art” and has worked alongside groups like the Chinatown Art Brigade to address issues such as gentrification in Chinatown, promised that they would remain determined in their efforts: “Even as the electorate doubles down on racism, sexism, and xenophobia, we must double down on love, equity, interconnectedness, transparency, bravery, generosity, accountability, rigor, and beauty.”
Trump’s intolerant rhetoric is already taking its toll, according to Javier Valdés, co-executive director at Make the Road New York, an organization that advocates for immigrant rights. “Members have told our staff how their children are getting bullied at school because of this,” he said. “Just [Wednesday], they were getting pushed around by other kids: ‘Why are you still in this country?’ It’s concerning all around, but we have people who have gone through worse, and we will continue to figure out how to get past this.”
As racist and xenophobic as all the rhetoric against immigrants was during the campaign, the release last month of Trump’s “100-day action plan to Make America Great Again” made all that intolerance tangible, and its consequences frighteningly real. The plan includes several major provisions that, if fully implemented, will have dire consequences for immigrants and the organizations– even state and local governments– that protect them. And, yes, the wall is there too, with Trump saying that “the country Mexico will be reimbursing the United States for the full cost of such wall.”
Another provision calls for the immediate removal of “the more than 2 million criminal illegal immigrants from the country,” with the added threat to “cancel visas to foreign countries that won’t take them back.”
City Council Member Margaret Chin, who represents the Lower East Side and Chinatown, released a statement on Wednesday that directly addressed the deportation threat, acknowledging many of her constituents are “afraid” now that “we are faced with the reality of a Trump Presidency.” She went so far as to admit, “I share that fear,” but also promised that she would continue her progressive agenda. Chin emphasized that protecting immigrants is her top priority: “First and foremost, we as a City must prepare to protect our people from any ‘deportation force’ that has long been promised by the Trump campaign.”
Another Trump policy promises to “cancel all federal funding to Sanctuary Cities,” of which there are 31 in the United States, which could mean that not only will the city be deprived of a frickin’ buttload of money, but non-profits that depend on some federal dollars will be hurting too.
Valdés said that Make the Road is “getting out in front of it,” instead of waiting around for Inauguration Day. “We’re going to put a lot of pressure,” he said. “These threats of arrests and deportations will not be tolerated, and we will not go back into the shadows.”
On Wednesday morning, the organization moved quickly to voice its disappointment regarding the country’s decision: “This is the darkest of days for our community. A demagogue who has consistently vilified our families has won the nation’s highest office.” Today, Make the Road teamed up with several other immigrant advocacy groups, social justice initiatives and the Working Families Party to launch a #heretostay campaign, which is calling on immigrants and their families as well as their supporters and allies to help “send a clear message to Donald Trump: we are here to stay, and we will not let you tear our families apart.” The first action is this Sunday, when the coalition and protestors will gather for a march outside Trump Hotel.
In his morning-after speech, the mayor had a softer response to the Trump victory, and implicitly brushed aside threats made against sanctuary cities. De Blasio allowed only that he was “disappointed” in the results, but committed to working with the new administration “positively and constructively.”
Essentially, De Blasio’s message to Trump was: you do you, I’ma do me: “New York believes in tolerance. We long ago showed the world that live and let live is the best policy. We embrace civil rights and religious diversity. We always have and we always will […] these values have never been dependent on any one person or any one office.”
De Blasio even went so far as to express some kind of faith in the president-elect: “I take solace in the fact that the president-elect is a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker, and I hope and trust he will remember the lessons of a life lived in New York City.”
But some groups, Make the Road included, aren’t quite ready to agree to an amicable relationship. “I think you’re going to see us taking tactics from the Republican playbook and being the Party of No and blocking everything,” Valdés explained. “We won’t allow it to move forward if it’s going to damage our community.”
Waly is a citizen of the United States who moved here from Yemen. He now works in a bodega owned by his family in Bed-Stuy. During the campaign, when Trump was denouncing Muslims, Waly said, “I was working to bring my family here, but it’s difficult– back home, there’s a war, and so they closed all the embassies.”
He admitted that he didn’t like either presidential candidate, but seemed more peeved by Trump. “He’s talking nonsense to catch people’s attention,” he said. “Islam is not a terrorist group, these people are not even real Muslims.” Surprisingly, though, Waly was fine with heightened security and the enactment of a more thorough vetting process for visas and immigration. And aside from widespread ignorance about Muslims, he said things weren’t so bad right now: “I’ve been through worse, so, for me, this is nothing.” Waly first moved to the U.S. in 2003, when the fallout from 9/11 and hostility toward Muslims was at its height. “People were harassing me, I didn’t know English.”
Trump’s 100-day plan outlines a more refined version of his ban on all Muslims– specifically, the policy would “suspend immigration from terror-prone regions where vetting cannot safely occur. All vetting of people coming into our country will be considered extreme vetting.”
A cab driver named Raees, who became a citizen after immigrating to the United States, said he payed taxes even when he was undocumented, and that he’s never been anything other than productive member of society. He pointed out that policies like Trump’s anti-immigration measures are the result of “ignorance”– Raees’s home country, Pakistan, would certainly qualify as a “terror-prone region,” but that doesn’t mean all Pakistanis should be regarded as suspicious. “I’m not in this world of Muslims doing terrorist activities, I’ve never spoke to them because if you kill one innocent person, it means you kill all of humanity,” he said. “It’s a very small part of Muslims, I don’t think they are even Muslim, I condemn them very strongly.”
Raees admitted that, even though he’s a “clean-handed person” who’s never done anything illegal (“I’m not a criminal,” he said), Trump’s victory in the elections has made him “nervous,” especially when it comes to his family. “I’m scared about my kids. [Trump] is trying to change the frame of mind of different people, he’s trying to make division. Oh my God, that’s not good– he’s trying to highlight the racism in the United States.”
Of course, he’s not the only one who’s upset about this polarization. Since election night, protests have raged on in Union Square and beyond– dozens of people and a sizable police force gathered in Washington Square Park this afternoon. So, it was surprising to hear one shop owner, Naz, say that he was ready to accept whoever was in power. “He’s my president now,” explained the immigrant from Bangladesh who said his family has been here for more than 40 years. “I am a citizen, just like you. You and me are the same person. We have everything here. I’m just a working man, I trust him.”
Naz sells a variety of soaps, candles, shea butter, and oils at his shop, in addition to incense– the Obama variety regularly sells out. Like many shops in Bed-Stuy, Naz keeps a portrait of President Obama behind the counter. He pointed up toward the framed photo: “He will come down, and the new president will go up.” Something tells me that’s not going to be the case anywhere else in Bed-Stuy. Naz said that the Obama incense, however, would stay.
For undocumented immigrants, however, it’s not so easy to shrug and hope for the best. “People are obviously really, really scared right now,” said Heather Axford, an attorney at Central American Legal Assistance. The organization serves local immigrants from its office in the basement of the Transfiguration Roman Catholic Church on Williamsburg’s south side.
Axford and her colleagues work primarily with Central American immigrants facing deportation– “removal defense” as she called it. “We’ve been doing this and basically expect to have to do significantly more of it.” Deportations are expected to go up, and Axford said she anticipates workplace raids to come into play as well.
Already under the Obama administration, deportations went up dramatically, and presently the system is “very, very backed up,” Axford said. The way it works now, immigrants can’t just be tossed across the border– rather, they’re entitled to a hearing. “A normal case, your hearing is going to be three years out,” she explained. This is partly due to the current administration’s policy of prioritizing certain cases, including people with criminal records and repeat offenders. Meanwhile, everyone else gets pushed to the back of the line. “So, some cases you’ll get a hearing rather quickly, and other cases you’ll wait for years and years.”
Aside from upping enforcement and cracking down more in general, Trump is promising to put an end to prosecutorial discretion. “From the immigrants’ perspective it’s very helpful because if you’re in removal proceedings and you fear that your chance of winning release is tough– which it often is, because asylum is very limited and difficult to win– it gives you a little bit of a reprieve for the folks who have been here, who haven’t gotten arrested, who are paying their taxes,” Axford explained. “That apparently is going to end– basically, they’re going to try and enforce removal orders with everybody.”
Meanwhile, it’s a waiting game. And until January 20, when the inauguration takes place, and Trump’s first 100 days actually begins, many immigrants and their advocates will prepare for a Trump presidency through protest, safety measures, but mostly just going about their regular lives, which is the whole point of their struggle anyway.
No matter what happens, immigrants are some of the most resilient people around, which gives people like Javier Valdés hope in the struggle. “That’s something that’s just part of our DNA,” he said. The most important thing people can do right now, he pointed out, is to unify: “We’ve found that the best way to combat this–because some of us have experienced this in our country of origin–is to come together as a community. We’re making sure everyone feels supported and loved and that they know there are people out there in the world who care about their humanity. Now we’re going to take action and fight back.”