When the American electorate denied President Trump a second term, it was in response to a number of outrages: the so-called “Muslim ban,” a failed attempt to construct a border wall, a bumbling response to COVID-19. Top among them was a “zero-tolerance” immigration policy that the United Nations Human Rights Council suggested “may amount to torture” (Independent). Then-candidate Biden rallied support in part by promising to “welcome immigrants in our communities” (Democratic National Committee). His election prompted many to share actress Idina Menzel’s sentiment when she tweeted, “My son just hugged me and said ‘mommy no more kids in cages!’ Tears of joy and tears of sadness” (Hollywood Reporter). Immigration policies and immigrant rights soon faded from front-page news.
But as Silky Shah from the Detention Watch Network reported, “His policies so far haven’t matched his campaign rhetoric” (The Guardian).
• Follow Asian Americans United, Juntos, Movement of Immigrant Leaders in Pennsylvania (MILPA), New Sanctuary Movement, VietLead, and Woori Center.
• Sign the petition to #KeepChristianHome.
• Join the phone zap at 2 PM EST/11 AM PST today, May 2, 2023.
Fleeing death threats in his home country of El Salvador, Alexander Martinez entered the United States without papers two months into the Biden presidency. During his detention, he’s been shuffled between six different detention facilities while facing homophobic harassment and abuse from guards. He remains detained despite passing initial screening for asylum. “I never imagined or expected to receive this inhumane treatment,” said Martinez. The Biden administration doubled the number of immigration detainees since the end of February 2021 (The Guardian). U.S. citizens may believe that mass detention of immigrants and asylum seekers is no longer an issue under a Democratic president. Twenty-seven thousand immigrants—many detained indefinitely in overcrowded, unsanitary facilities with little access to medical care during an ongoing pandemic—might have a different perspective.
Community organizations around the country have forced significant concessions from an unjust and inhumane immigrant detention system, but they can use ongoing support to achieve justice and liberation for all immigrants. Advocates were able to push Pennsylvania’s York County Prison to stop accepting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees and secured the freedom of around 100 of those already detained. However, 200 of those already in York were transferred to other detention centers while others were deported (WHYY). In 2021, a coalition of organizations, including Asian Americans United, Juntos, Movement of Immigrant Leaders in Pennsylvania (MILPA), New Sanctuary Movement, VietLead, and Woori Center, rallied outside the Philadelphia ICE office to demand liberty for all detainees.
“There are a lot of organizations, a coalition. We’re here because we now know that because of community pressure, they freed 80-100 people,” Ivonne from MILPA told Anti-Racism Daily, describing what community organizations see as a significant but partial victory. Two hundred York detainees were transferred to other centers. Some were deported. “Now we want those within the center in York and those within any detention center in the U.S. to be freed.”
While immigration issues are sometimes associated solely with the Latine community, VietLead executive director Nancy Nguyen told Anti-Racism Daily that she had fought deportations of the Southeast refugees for 10 years and that Black immigrants suffer some of the longest detentions with the least legal representation. “Obama was considered the deporter-in-chief,” she said. “The way that folks should understand it is that, yes, things got worse under Trump, but Trump only drove the vehicle that Obama created…This certainly is not just a Latinx issue and it certainly is not an issue that started just with Trump.”
“There are many nefarious ways ICE gets into communities. It’s not just about detention centers. ICE is always trying to collude with the police, ICE is always trying to get into your Health and Human Services data, ICE is trying to get into schools,” Nancy said, “So in every community everywhere folks should be making sure to contact their electeds, to make sure that there are no ICE agreements with police. These are info agreements that the police or that your health department or your school districts share information with ICE,” said Nancy from VietLead. “And also donate to your local immigrant and refugee organizations that are fighting ICE on the ground.”
“Allyship” with immigrants that vanishes once one’s preferred political party gains office isn’t true solidarity. It’s using oppressed communities as a political football. There are organizations of immigrants across the country fighting for justice against a disgraceful system at great risk and against incredible adversity. Supporting them is a moral and political responsibility, especially for those with the privilege of citizenship.
“We’re different colors, from different countries, and they aren’t going to stop us,” said MILPA’s Ivonne. “We have the power to say: enough. We want everyone out. We want them with their families.”
• Immigrant rights receive significantly less attention from news outlets and many members of the public now that the election is over.
• In reality, the Biden administration has doubled the number of ICE detainees.
• Immigrant organizations across the country have won victories but need resources and support regardless of who’s in office.