When Donald Trump is inaugurated as president on January 20, local organizations in Washington are ready to fight and advocate for authorized and undocumented immigrants, refugees, Muslims, and members of other minority groups that Trump has threatened and targeted with xenophobic and racist rhetoric since the beginning of his presidential campaign.
From proposing to target 11 million undocumented immigrants with a new deportation force, to proposing to create a registry for Muslims and ban anyone of the faith from entering the United States—not to mention the xenophobic rhetoric and apparent wave of hate crimes and harassment following his election—Trump has given immigrants and refugees many reasons to worry.
“Across the board, people are rightly scared about what’s to come,” says Cuc Vu, director of the Seattle Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs (OIRA). “It’s important for allies and residents to understand that this fear doesn’t just exist among those who are here without authorization—it exists along the entire spectrum of people who are immigrants and refugees.”
To this end, the city of Seattle is already working to help support immigrants and refugees and keep them informed of their rights and resources available to them, Vu says. “Organizationally, we’re not scared.” Vu points to Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s recent declaration that Seattle would remain a welcoming city for undocumented immigrants and the city’s willingness to fight the White House to protect immigrants.
The city is limited in what it can do—for example, it can’t provide immigration lawyers, which is one of the most desired services for immigrant individuals and organizations, according to Vu.
But the city can be an active participant, she says. This includes city departments providing information, and helping nonprofits like the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP) with its programs. Vu says the city is especially focused on supporting the children of immigrants and refugees.
How immigrants should prepare
Jorge Barón, executive director of the NWIRP, says his organization’s main response will be continuing their work of 32 years: defending people in individual cases in immigration court and when they’re facing deportation proceedings, “and filing affirmative cases to protect people’s rights in federal courts or state courts when necessary.”
“It’s going to be some of the same things. It’s just going to be much more work,” Barón says. Under Trump, he says, “I think it’s gonna get even worse—much worse is what we’re anticipating.”
For now, the NWIRP is educating people on their rights, how they can prepare for being detained or deported, and what resources they’ll have at their disposal. The organization is also making sure people know that they won’t be rounded up on the morning of January 21. “There’s some level of anxiety that this is going to be imminent, and that’s not something that we anticipate.”
Still, there’s much for immigrants to be prepared for, according to Barón. For instance, when questioned by an immigration officer, immigrants should get a lawyer right away and, most importantly, not tell the officer their citizenship or immigration status, as it could be used against them. If they are detained, Barón said, people should not sign off on their deportation because there may be options to fight for their case. And people should make a plan for if they are detained or deported. If you’re arrested at work, who will pick up your children from school? Do your kids have someone authorized to take care of them, and do they have passports if they need to travel with you? What about paying for a lawyer, and a plan for who will take care of your assets and property?
“It’s not something that people want to think about, necessarily, but unfortunately the reality is that these are practical things that could have an impact on community members,” Baron says.
“It’s not just undocumented people who are going be targeted, it’s going be the entire community potentially,” he adds. “And obviously there’s a lot of mixed-status families.”
Long-term permanent residents with even a minor criminal record could be at risk of deportation, even if they’re here lawfully. This is because “given that president-elect Trump has said he wants to deport millions of people—well that’s going to mean going after some of those folks as well.”
Like the NWIRP, immigrant advocacy organization OneAmerica will be focusing on organizing in immigrant and refugee communities and making sure people know their rights, according to executive director Rich Stolz. OneAmerica will also work on building coalitions with other organizations with similar progressive goals, advocate on the state and local level, and partner with national organizations. There are a range of issues to focus on that will impact immigrant and refugee communities, Stolz says, from immigration enforcement to the erosion of the social safety net and reproductive rights that may accompany the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
So far, Stolz says, there are some great coalitions coming together, between labor, immigrant organizations, and others.
Different immigrant groups face different impacts
Diane Narasaki, executive director of Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS)—which provides a broad array of behavioral health programs, human services, and civic engagement activities services in Seattle and Bellevue—believes that Asian Pacific Islander immigrants and refugees will face unique challenges under a Trump administration. This is because around 60 percent of the community consists of first-generation immigrants and refugees. Among them are many undocumented immigrants and possible recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy.
The API community is also very diverse, and includes Muslims. “The anti-immigrant and xenophobic statements made by the incoming administration, including raising the specter of a Muslim registry, pose the same sort of threat that the alien registry did to innocent Japanese immigrants who were subsequently incarcerated, along with their American children, in American concentration camps during World War II,” Narasaki wrote in an email to the International Examiner.
Arsalan Bukhari, executive director of the Washington State Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), notes that 2015 saw a record number of hate crimes against Muslims in the United States, and that according to opinions polls, around 50 percent of Americans—not just conservatives—support Trump’s ban on Muslims entering the United States.
“So that tells us that Trump is simply offering solutions to ideas that people already have in their minds, fears and insecurity they already have,” Bukhari says. CAIR has been preparing for the coming Trump presidency by mapping out different possible ways a Muslim registry might take shape, while monitoring hate crimes and providing information to Muslims about what to do if attacked or harassed, or questioned by the FBI. The organization has also been urging Muslims who are immigrants and refugees to apply for citizenship if they don’t have it. Bukhari notes that there have been reports of people from Muslim countries or with Muslim-sounding names facing undue delays in being granted citizenship, something they should also report to CAIR.
“These are unprecedented times and there’s a lot of uncertainty,” Vu says. “But what we do know is that change happens when people commit and stay the course.”