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‘More powerful’ immigrant rights movement emerges outside D.C.

Trump executive orders put pressure on groups to become better organized

Elena Shore, New America Media | 5/19/2017, 6 a.m.

Immigrant rights advocates say that despite the cloud of fear hanging over communities in the first 100 days of the Trump administration, there is also a growing and increasingly organized resistance.

“We are seeing an increase in the number of people apprehended for removal,” Melissa Chua, immigration director of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), told reporters on a national press call organized by New America Media and Ready California. “It’s not just growing infrastructure [for future deportations]…we’re seeing it in reality.”

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement made 21,362 arrests from January 20 to March 13 of this year, a third more than during the same period in 2016, according to numbers requested by The Washington Post. The figures include 5,441 non-citizens with no criminal record, double the number during the same time last year.

The statistics reflect a shift in priorities from the Obama administration, which sought to prioritize certain criminals and recent arrivals for deportation. Under Trump, the deportation priorities have expanded so much that they can be used to target almost any undocumented immigrant.

Immigrant and refugee rights advocates say the effect on immigrant communities is palpable.

Tough times

Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), described it as “one of the most horrendous periods in American history for immigrant families.”

“What we’re seeing,” explained Salas, “is just a harsher way by which DHS [the Department of Homeland Security] is dealing with all matters of immigration, especially when it comes to stays of removal or requests for relief.”

Over 38 percent of the individuals detained in the Feb. 9 ICE raids in Southern California, for example, had only minor infractions, many of them from years ago, according to Salas.

“The other thing that we’re seeing,” she said, “is that they’re being harsher when it comes to individuals who had … stays of removal.

“ICE enforcement is going back and making decisions about those cases,” Salas explained. “Instead of continuing their stays of removal, they’re challenging their stays of removal, their administrative closure.”

Since taking office, Trump has signed executive orders that call for “sweeping changes on immigration,” said Chua of IRC, adding, however, that “many of these proposed changes face some real, significant hurdles.”

Some, like the construction of a border wall, can’t be implemented without funding. Others have been blocked by the courts, including the administration’s attempt to withhold federal funds from so-called sanctuary cities; and both versions of Trump’s “travel ban,” which aimed to curtail travel from certain predominantly Muslim countries and lower the number of refugees allowed admission into the United States.

“While many of the changes proposed by the administration may threaten refugees, immigrants and their families,” said Chua, “there still exist some real barriers to implementation, offering some real avenues of hope for immigrant communities.”

Advocates say many of these signs of hope lie outside of Washington.

More powerful

“The immigrant rights movement is getting more organized, more powerful,” said Salas, pointing to local and state efforts that seek to protect the rights of immigrants across the country.