WASHINGTON — The former Bernie Sanders staffer turned on a sepia-toned Facebook live video outside the Phoenix Immigration and Customs Enforcement office where family friend Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos was being held before being deported last week and pleaded with progressives to join the fight.
“This is the time to show up for the undocumented community. This is the time to show up for Lupita,” said an emotional Erika Andiola, a popular and well-respected DREAMer who benefited from Barack Obama’s deferred action program. “All of you who were at the Women’s March, all of you that were at every single protest against Trump.”
Andiola was talking about a mother of US-born children who went to a check-in with immigration officials and was deported after 22 years living in the states over a years-old removal order, but she could have been talking about her own mom, and very soon she will be.
In May, her mother Maria “Guadalupe” Arreola has her own check-in with ICE, as well as a pending removal order. Andiola, who has already stopped her mother’s deportation once, said she will fight, even in the face of the daunting challenge of doing so, against a Trump administration that has already expanded immigration enforcement priorities.
“With my mom, it’s really bad,” Andiola said, letting out a heavy breath in a phone conversation just days after her friend’s deportation. “Trust me, I’m putting up a fight. I’m not just going to sit here and let them take her from me or me self-deporting, that’s not how I’ve done things before and that’s not how I am.”
The problem for even the most hardened activists is that the playbook they’ve used for years is severely limited by an administration that doesn’t have the same pressure points as Obama’s did. They used to reach out to former Sen. Harry Reid or Sen. Dick Durbin, who would make the call to ICE themselves or contact the administration. But last week, efforts to recruit Republican Sen. John McCain to help Garcia de Rayos were unsuccessful.
That’s why Andiola says the new anti-Trump protest energy that has been seen at the Women’s March in Washington, DC, and Los Angeles, and at airports in New York City and around the US to demonstrate against the travel ban on Muslim-majority countries, must also be mobilized to help immigrants.
Andiola, who was a featured speaker at the Women’s March and saw the ferocious pushback against the travel ban, notes with frustration that those outside ICE in Phoenix, Arizona, were the same faces she always sees fighting on immigration. The coalescing of a unified progressive coalition is happening in fits and starts, she argues, but needs to muscle up quickly.
On Sunday, MoveOn.org, the earliest incarnation of what we now know as the online left, held a call for members that grew from 30,000 the previous week to 40,000. And presenting on the call was Cristina Jimenez of the advocacy group United We Dream, comprised and working in defense of undocumented youth and families. The progressives on the call, she said, should pressure their mayors and local elected officials to stand up to Trump’s raids and deportations “and ensure that immigrants in our localities are safe, protected from deportation, and that local police are not deputized to be immigration agents.”
ACLU, MoveOn.org, and Star Trek actor George Takei’s popular social media presence also shared United We Dream online information cards on what to do if immigration officials show up at your door.
Anna Galland, executive director of MoveOn.org Civic Action, said she sees momentum growing to protect immigrants, and that progressives should show up on the issue.
“People who aren’t themselves members of frontline communities really need to show up in the wake of reports of recent raids,” she said. “This is truly a moment for solidarity across lines of immigration status, religion, and national origin.”
But along with grassroots energy, immigration advocates say they also need organized pushback and the support of progressive Democrats, which has at times been difficult to focus during the early days of the Trump administration because there has always seemed to be a new outrage or major issue to react to.
Andiola is hoping to see her former boss Sanders and the group that sprouted from his candidacy, Our Revolution — for which she now works — on the front lines fighting for her mother and immigrants across the country.
But the issue doesn’t yet seem to be the top priority for progressives. Sanders did not respond to repeated requests for comment over multiple days for this story. Jeff Weaver, his former campaign manager and president of Our Revolution, also did not respond to requests for comment. Rep. Keith Ellison, who Sanders backed for DNC chair, also did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Symone Sanders, who worked on black outreach for Sanders, in addition to her role as national press secretary, and is now a strategist for Priorities USA, said it is not enough for progressives to come out forcefully for something like the Women’s March but not for a Black Lives Matter or immigration rally.
“The progressive movement is really going to have to step up on all fronts — today it’s immigration raids, tomorrow it could be infringing on the rights of indigenous communities,” she said.
And advocates hoping to catalyze immigration as the next great progressive fight with protests like Thursday’s “Day Without Immigrants,” which features business owners closing shop for the day, may find that other issues continue to step on the urgency of the immigration battle. A coalition of progressive groups, including Our Revolution, hopes to create a sequel to the Women’s March with the April 15 Tax March, to pressure Trump to release his taxes.
Former Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, who is running to be chair of the DNC, told BuzzFeed News that raids near schools and deporting families and DREAMers are not who we are as a country.
“We can’t and won’t stand for this,” he said. “This is why we must continue to organize, we must continue to march, and we must make our voices heard the way we’ve done over the first month of his disastrous administration. We can’t be silent now and we must hold him accountable.”
The fear, activists say, is that the new administration will mobilize against already-vulnerable immigrants.
“With Erika, one of the fears we have is there are greater risks for us as individual activists, she’s a very public figure, her mother was out there during SB1070,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center (NILC). “Trump is a very vindictive personality, so you wonder not just about him, but the team he has around him, will they take any action? But we’re committed to protecting our leaders.”
For these activists, the current situation is serious. Just 24 hours after Garcia de Rayos was deported from Phoenix after appearing for her immigration check-in, DREAMer Daniel Ramirez, one of the estimated 750,000 young immigrants shielded from deportation under Obama’s 2012 executive actions, was detained in Seattle after officials maintained that he admitted to being a gang member. On Wednesday, Jeanette Vizguerra, who has lived in the country for 20 years, did not go to her check-in, instead taking sanctuary in a church in Denver, Colorado.
Then there are those with upcoming court dates like Juan Miguel, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico who is scheduled to appear for his asylum case in April.
“I’m scared that when I show up they’ll put me in detention right then and there or deport me,” Juan Miguel told BuzzFeed News.
The 40-year-old was deported three times. The last time he was deported to Mexico was in 2015. At that time, he worked in Nogales, Sonora, in Mexico and sent money to his wife and kids on the US side of the border.
One night, Juan Miguel said, he was kidnapped by a cartel and, along with a group of other people, forced to dig tunnels underneath the border fence. After nine days of grueling work, people started screaming that the Mexican government was coming. Seeing his armed captors run, Juan Miguel also ran until he felt safe enough to catch his breath.
At the suggestion of an immigrant rights group, Juan Miguel asked for asylum at the border and was placed in detention for eight months without a bond hearing. That changed when a federal court ruling, Rodriguez v. Robbins, required that detainees locked up for six months or more be given a bond hearing.
He’s settled back into life with his family in Tempe, Arizona, and is heavily involved the immigrant rights movement there. He visits detainees at Eloy Detention Center and recently met with a delegation from Mexico that was concerned about the treatment of Mexicans under the Trump administration.
Despite his activism, the thought of now going to court weighs on him.
“We have to wait and see what happens in the immigration courts,” Juan Miguel said. “If they do end up locking people up or deporting them, I just don’t know. I don’t want to be in a detention center again, that was hell.”
“They have a thirst to do their job and are just going to town with it.”
Karla Navarrete, staff attorney for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, doubts people will be detained in courtrooms, because they are supposed to be neutral spaces.
“But for check-ins, you should be wary. You should go, but you should go with an attorney,” Navarrete told BuzzFeed News. “I know it’s scary, but it’s better than having someone come knock on your door and putting people around you at risk. At the same time, I do believe it’s hard to tell people it’s going to be OK.”
When she tried to help an undocumented man who was caught in an ICE sweep last week get out, an agent told her things were changing, Navarrete said.
“I feel like a lot of ICE officers feel like they’ve been suppressed in doing their jobs for the last eight years, even though that’s ridiculous because Obama deported more people than in the past,” she said. “They feel like people have gotten too many passes… They have a thirst to do their job and are just going to town with it.”
Besides emboldened immigration agents on the ground, conversations with Trump administration officials reveal the scope of the challenges facing activists and immigrants. Appearing on Meet the Press Sunday, senior policy adviser Stephen Miller said the emphasis is on removing immigrants that commit crimes that threaten or endanger public safety, but that he “cannot order a federal law enforcement officer in ICE” to ignore the laws of the United States.
Further, he said it would “be highly unethical for me in the White House or anybody else to pick up the phone and call an ICE officer and say, ‘Well, when you encounter this particular felon, we’d like you to pretend the law doesn’t exist.’”
Asked about Andiola and her mother, a Trump official told BuzzFeed News they didn’t know who she is. But in discussing whether the administration might employ some sort of prosecutorial discretion on individual cases in the future for someone like Arreola — who has a removal order because she re-entered the United States in 1998 after an initial deportation order was given to her at the border — the official went down the same road as Miller, questioning whether activists want criminals out on the street.
Pressed on Meet the Press, Miller said “an immigration judge makes those decisions. An ICE officer makes those decisions.”
But David Leopold, a lawyer who represented clients in many high-profile immigration cases in the Obama years, said Trump gave judges and immigration agents all the leeway they needed to argue that everyone is a removal priority by how broadly the administration wrote the executive order on interior enforcement.
“When I read these priorities two weeks ago, I jumped out of my seat because they really do encompass almost every undocumented person in this country,” Leopold said.
He pointed to Section 5 of the executive order, which sets as a priority any immigrant who has been convicted of any criminal offense; someone who has only been charged; someone who has committed a “chargeable offense” but has not been charged; someone who engaged in fraud, such as working with a false social security number; has received public benefits; is subject to a final order of removal, but who has not complied with their legal obligation to depart the country; or someone who poses a public safety or national security risk, in the judgment of an immigration officer.
About 40% of undocumented immigrants crossed the border without inspection, Leopold said, so that’s already 5 million people subject to deportation. Someone who did not receive due process may nonetheless have a final order of removal against them and an immigration agent would have incredible leeway to decide if an individual is a risk under these guidelines.
Everyone from a person with a parking ticket to a murderer could be included in the same enforcement priorities boat.
“So [press secretary Sean Spicer] or Trump can say we’re going after bad people, but mothers and grandmothers and fathers are living in fear,” Leopold said.
Activists worry that the administration will do just that, labeling everyone a hardened criminal who deserves to be expelled from the country. That’s why they say Facebook Live, as Andiola used last week, will be an important tool to show Americans who is actually being targeted.
“This is about the soul of the nation and who we are as Americans,” NILC’s Hincapié said.
But to Jeffrey Lord, a former official in the Reagan administration who went to bat for Trump on CNN during the campaign, the president has always been clear on what he plans to do. He cited Americans who have been killed by undocumented immigrants, which Trump elevated to national prominence during the election.
“I am of the belief that what he’s going to do here is set an example, he’s going to rigorously enforce the law and say we can’t just do this,” Lord said, adding that Trump’s promised border wall will have a big, beautiful door for legal entry. “There’s no question this is going to be a flashpoint, this is just the beginning.”
And Andiola says she will need the force of the progressive movement for the coming clash.
“It’s interesting how the rest of the progressive movement is now paying attention to injustice and suffering because there’s a boogeyman talking about it,” Andiola said. “Our house has already been raided, my mom’s been detained before, we’ve grown a lot stronger, but we’re picking ourselves up and having a plan, we’re not leaving this country without a fight.”
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