About 100 people bundled up and braved the cold last night to learn more about Donald Trump’s threat to deport millions of undocumented immigrants at a panel convened inside CUNY’s Graduate Center. It was titled: “Sanctuary City: Asylees, Refugees and Migrants in New York City.”
There are about 500,000 such “aliens” in the city who are part of the social fabric as students and job holders with families. Several panelists said that while these immigrants are here illegally, there are laws in the city and enshrined in the U.S. Constitution to protect them from immediate removal of the kind Trump has suggested.
They made it clear that the president elect doesn’t have the the divine right of kings to deport all of them on his first day in office next month– any more than he can instantly get the feds to cart away up to 3 million nationwide who have been convicted of serious crimes, as he said he would do during a conversation with Leslie Stahl on 60 Minutes last month.
But youngsters under 16 who came here with their undocumented immigrant parents and became aliens themselves eligible for President Obama’s 2012 executive order known as DACA–Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals–are at serious risk under Trump, according to Camille Mackler, director of legal initiatives at the New York Immigration Coalition.
“He could quickly erase this,” she said of Obama’s executive action, noting that DACA– which allows eligible applicants to apply for renewable work permits and a two-year reprieve from deportation– does not constitute a “legal definition” for an immigrant to be in the U.S. “It can be taken away at any time.”
Asked to describe DACA further by moderator and former New York Times correspondent Julia Preston, Mackler replied to an explosion of nervous laughter: “It’s nothing!” She said that applicants to DACA have to provide their social security numbers and other ID, and “that really scares them.” She said her agency had receive an unprecedented number of calls from people about DACA and many feel they’ll become like “sitting ducks” from law enforcement after Jan. 20 when Trump is scheduled to take the oath of office. Mackler stressed later that immigrants were expressing deep fear.
Before the program began, a woman who identified herself only as Louise said she taught ESL in a Brooklyn school and described the kids she knew in DACA as “very good kids. Some of them go to college.” She said Latino immigrant parents told her their younger children were terrified of Trump’s deportation plans and “were crying” after his election, wondering “if they could go back to school.”
Mayor de Blasio has made it plain that New York, a sanctuary city, will resist any effort by a president Trump to force the NYPD to act as a wing of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, in its efforts to detain or round up undocumented immigrants in their homes or workplaces. But two Staten Island pols have sued his office to enjoin the city from destroying personal data on its municipal card program, which began in part to help immigrants get ID.
B+B asked Nisha Agarwal, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, about the lawsuit, which was not discussed in the panel, and she said of the plaintiffs, “They requested the information. They filed the case and now we’re fighting back against it.”
How will the mayor address the threat to immigrants fearing deportation under DACA? “There are many different ways to fight back. There’s advocacy, which the mayor is doing, and some people may be willing to litigate, which they already are in the city and elsewhere. But at this point we don’t know what will happen with DACA.”
What kind of advocacy? “Look at the advocacy that’s already going on,” she said. “There’s advocacy in the streets, advocacy in the courts, I think, are the number of things going on.”
What about civil disobedience? “Sure,” she said.” I think that’s something the community at large might consider.”
Last night’s event was sponsored by the Gotham Center for New York City History. Other panelists included Columbia history professor Mae Ngai, who provided a brief overview of immigration laws, and Heather Axford, an attorney with Central American Legal Assistance in Williamsburg discussing immigrants seeking asylum.