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  • The New Resistance:Immigrant Rights Mobilization in an Era of Trump
  • Austin Kocher

I want to use this short essay to illustrate the opportunities and tensions within grassroots immigrant rights organizing that emerged in response to the election of Donald Trump. No one disputes the centrality of anti-immigrant rhetoric and restrictionist policies within the Trump campaign (De Genova 2017, Hernández 2016), so I will not recapitulate those observations here. What I argue, however, is that immigrants and immigrant allies did not passively observe the presidential campaign and election of President Trump. Rather, they actively developed multiple strategies of resistance to the deportation agenda of the Trump administration, even before that agenda began to materialize, and continued to organize during the first tumultuous weeks of President Trump's hotly contested executive orders. Although these efforts are primarily reactive, they nonetheless illustrate the capacity of immigrant communities and allies to act with creative political agency. Moreover, immigrant rights mobilization does not occur in a vacuum, but constantly intersects in productive and conflicting ways with other social movements. Geographers who are interested in how Latin American immigration is remaking the U.S. socio-political landscape would benefit from a grounded view of how immigrant rights mobilization is remaking urban politics.

Although both Campaign Trail Trump and President Trump issued a litany of potential threats to immigrants living in the United States, the Trump administration's actual threat to immigrant communities can be usefully captured in the three executive orders issued during the first week of Trump's presidency. Two of the three memos were issued on January 25, 2017. The first executive order, called "Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements" (Exec. Order No. 13767, 2017), accused the federal government of "failing to discharge [the] basic sovereign responsibility" of preventing immigrants [End Page 165] from crossing the border surreptitiously; the memo sought to further militarize the border and to speed up deportations for anyone seeking entry into the United States, including refugees from Central America who are seeking asylum. The second executive order, called "Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States" (Exec. Order No. 13768, 2017), abolished the Priority Enforcement Program (PEP) created by President Obama under a memorandum issued on November 20, 20141, and promised to rely once again on the widely-criticized Secure Communities and 287(g) programs (Aguilasocho et al., 2012; Armenta, 2012; Coleman, 2012; Nguyen & Gill, 2010; Strunk & Leitner, 2013) to facilitate greater numbers of deportations by enrolling in the help of local law enforcement agencies. Taken together, these two memos represented President Trump's condemnation of President Obama's deferral-based approach to immigration enforcement that characterized his second term, and reintroduced aggressive border and interior enforcement reminiscent of the George W. Bush era and President Obama's first term. The third executive order, called "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States" (Exec. Order No. 13769, 2017), abruptly denied previously-approved green card holders from entering the United States, creating pandemonium at airports along the eastern seaboard as flights arrived from Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. The substance of the memos is certainly more complicated than I have summarized here. But the key is that these three memos, when taken together, represented the fruition of threats against immigrants made on the campaign trail, and became the new legal context in which immigrant rights groups mobilized.

Just as the Trump administration's immigration policies hardly represent a dramatic break from the Obama administration before him, grassroots immigrant rights organizing did not suddenly emerge on November 9, 2016. Indeed, much of the response to the election drew upon existing strategies and social networks developed over the past decade. For instance, young undocumented activists known as DREAMers pressed Congress and the president to act for over a decade (Galindo 2012; Wadhia 2013), and are largely responsible for President Obama's creation of the DACA program2. Nonetheless, the election of Donald Trump and his three hastily-issued executive orders generated widespread panic and fear that, in many cities, became channeled into mass mobilization in the form of protests, vigils, and marches, as well as more sustainable creative projects that sought to...