This Election’s Impact on Immigration

By Andrew Moss

This November, voters will choose between two radically different paths of immigration policy. Should Donald Trump be re-elected president, the nation will embark on a path of deportation, or the attempted deportation, of millions of people living in the U.S. Should Joe Biden or another Democrat occupy the White House next year, the country will likely continue its present course of political compromise: continued restrictions at the border, along with continued or new accommodations for immigrants living here without green cards or citizenship. 

But there’s a third path forward: a path of activism and nonviolent resistance. Knowing about the path doesn’t preclude voting. But knowing about it can help a voter make a more informed choice this November. By knowing about it, some voters might be even be inspired take up actions of their own – above and beyond the marking of a ballot.

But first, consider the path of deportation. Approximately 10.5 million people live in the U.S. who lack citizenship or green cards, according to 2021 Pew Research Center estimates, and the figure may have grown since then. Many of these individuals have lived here for at least 10 years or more. 

Once inaugurated as the 47th president, Trump would begin a massive sweep of these individuals in cities and rural areas throughout the country, using Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers, reassigned federal agents, National Guard soldiers, and deputized local law enforcement officials to do the job. The officers would round up people on the streets, from their homes, and from their workplaces, sending them to large camps constructed on the border and deporting them as soon as possible to their home countries.

Painting undocumented immigrants as a threat to the safetywell-being, and economic security of American citizens, Trump has pushed aside the reality that they pay taxes and contribute in myriad ways to the economic health and cultural vitality of their communities. And since many undocumented individuals live in “mixed-status” households, i.e., where they reside with family members possessing green cards or citizenship, the planned mass deportation would wrench parent from child, family member from family member.

Many young people voting for the first time this year were children when, in 2017, the Trump administration widened the classification of people liable to detainment, and began sweeping them up for deportation. New voters may not remember the pain and terror of that time, as families were pulled apart, and as immigrants began restricting their movements, fearful of being picked up themselves. 

By contrast, the path of compromise can be likened (if you don’t mind a mixed metaphor) to a kind of pinball ricocheting between aspirations for a just, rational, and humane immigration policy and the intense pressures of fear stoked by demagoguery. In its first year, the Biden administration proposed a comprehensive immigration bill that would, among other things, set out a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants living here. But that bill died in Congress, and since then we’ve seen a zig-zagging between fortitude and fear.

Just last month, Biden announced tighter restrictions on the processing of asylum claims at the border, then two weeks later, issued an executive order allowing undocumented spouses and stepchildren of U.S. citizens to gain a pathway to citizenship without having to return to their home countries and endure lengthy waiting times while doing so.

When a miasma of fear becomes so thick that even plain facts and realities are obscured, it becomes necessary to trumpet those facts wherever and whenever possible. And these are the facts: 

  •       that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans, and 
  •       that the American economy needs immigrants in order to replenish the labor force as birth rates decline and older workers retire.

That’s why nonviolent activists play a critical role: they affirm the dignity, humanity, and rights of immigrants, and they pressure the political system to expand its capacities as a multiracial democracy. When, in 2006, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a punitive measure (the “Sensenbrenner Bill”) that would have, among other things, criminalized the provision of benefits to undocumented immigrants, more than a million people, many high school and middle school students, rose up in “mega-marches” in 140 cities to protest the bill, climaxing these actions on May 1 with a nationwide boycott (“The Great American Boycott,” or “A Day Without an Immigrant”). The bill subsequently died in the Senate.

And when the Obama administration failed to provide any support to hundreds of thousands of young, undocumented people brought here as children, many “came out” courageously as undocumented in 2012, pressuring Congress and shutting down an Obama campaign headquarters with a hunger strike. Shortly thereafter, Obama issued an executive order creating DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).

In addition, these kinds of courageous acts have been complemented by the work of countless other activists: allies who helped create “sanctuary city” designations for many municipalities during the Trump years, and who stood up innumerable times to protect immigrants from detainment and deportation.

This November, voters have four choices regarding immigration. Three of the choices directly or indirectly enable the mass deportation of many people: a vote for Donald Trump, a vote for a third-party candidate (a choice likely favoring Trump), or the option of not voting at all (again, a move likely favoring Trump). 

On the other hand, a vote for political compromise, represented by Biden or another Democratic candidate, carries major uncertainties, but it holds out hope for greater responsiveness to the kind of sustained, engaged activism described above. With enough engagement and the right kinds of pressure, we might just get the kind of immigration system our nation needs: not the policies that squander tens of billions on a carceral, dead-end deportation machine, but a just system that invests in enough people and the right kinds of processes to minimize backlogs, expedite asylum claims, and provide the legal pathways that will help immigrants begin working and contributing to a land that needs them.

Andrew Moss, syndicated by PeaceVoice, writes on labor, nonviolence, and culture from Los Angeles. He is an emeritus professor (Nonviolence Studies, English) from the California State University.

This article was sent by peacevoice editors on July 6, 2024

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