Thwarting Donald Trump’s war on immigrants and dismantling the vast deportation machine is possible. It won’t be easy, but it has to be done.
Simply put, Trump’s plan is ethnic cleansing. His actions go far beyond snatching 2,342 children from parents fleeing violence-ravaged countries.
From creating a taskforce to strip naturalized U.S. citizens of citizenship so they can be deported to severely curtailing asylum claims to his Muslim travel ban, Trump has made no secret of his disdain and contempt for people who, frankly, don’t look like him. He even traffics in the language of ethnic cleansing—warning of illegal immigrants who seek to “pour into and infest our country.”
Momentum is building around a movement to slow the president’s deplorable treatment of immigrants, including blameless children. Protests have been going on for weeks. Workers are quitting jobs rather than aid in deportations and are exposing the appalling conditions in the children’s prisons. Major airlines have refused to transport the seized children. An ongoing blockade in Portland, Oregon, shut down the main U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility and jail in the city, and a local organizing group has called for similar actions around the country. June 30 has been declared a national day of action under the slogan “Families Belong Together” to protest the Trump administration’s policies.
Stymieing Trump’s plan means throwing a lot of sand into the gears. Here are some actions you can take, whether from the comfort of your phone or at the front lines of this crisis.
- Think big, look to history and be strategic. The border is where powerful demonstrations can be mounted, as that’s where the Trump administration is manufacturing this crisis. U.S. border guards are illegally preventing migrants fleeing extreme violence and poverty from countries like Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala from applying for asylum. Historically, images of peaceful activists confronting oppressive forces have swayed public opinion. In the 1960s, civil rights activists did that in Selma and Birmingham, Alabama. Youth marching on the Pentagon in 1967 catalyzed the anti-Vietnam War movement. In 2005, when the anti-Iraq War movement had seemingly fizzled out, Cindy Sheehan revived it. Her son had been killed in Iraq the previous year, and she held a vigil for weeks near President George W. Bush’s Texas ranch as he vacationed there. Her protest, which had extensive behind-the-scenes support, put his administration on the defensive and sealed the war as a lost cause.
- Be creative. Trump now wants to jail families indefinitely, which is still illegal. Using families and children in protests makes people confront the added brutality heaped on those fleeing persecution. In the U.S. Senate building, a dozen kids evoked images of imprisoned immigrant children by sitting in the rotunda wrapped in mylar blankets amid cages and surrounded by supporters. In Manhattan, one father took his newborn son to Trump Tower and stood silently with a sign reading, “Imagine your child being ripped from your arms.” In Philadelphia, protesters lined up hundreds of pairs of children’s shoes near a fundraiser being hosted by Vice President Mike Pence. Hundreds of activists in New York flooded an airport to show support for immigrant children being snuck into the city to be held in detention. In Berkeley, a billboard with an image of a shocked child was rearranged so it reads, “We Make Children Disappear — I.C.E.”
- In Portland, Oregon, a group called #OccupyICEPDX drew on the strategy of Occupy Wall Street to shut down the ICE facility and jail in the city. On June 17, activists established a round-the-clock camp outside ICE. They nonviolently blocked ICE’s facility, forcing it to close. The tactic is spreading, with plans for a tent city outside the ICE office in Los Angeles. In New York, according to one reporter, “mothers with babies in arms have taken over the ninth floor of ICE’s NYC headquarters and are chanting ‘families and children deserve to be safe.’”
- Expose for-profit detention corporations. Private companies that run detention centers rake in more than $2 billion a year to house immigrants. Many corporations are sensitive to public opinion. At Microsoft, employees wrote CEO Satya Nadella demanding the company end its contract with ICE. Publicize how these companies profit from and lobby for draconian immigration policies.
- Protest where you can. Prime spots are ICE offices, which are in every major city. Their facilities sometimes include jails to hold immigrants. Many facilities are listed here, both for ICE and its “Enforcement and Removal Units” that carry out raids, arrests, and deportations. There are also scores of immigration detention facilities around the country, many now the site of regular protests already.
- Target mayor’s offices, state capitals, and governor’s mansions. Trump-branded properties are a great spot for protests. Local officials can do a lot to impede immigration enforcement, if they are pushed by well-organized protests with broad public support. Many mayors claim their city is a “sanctuary city” for immigrants, but have they prevented police from cooperating with ICE, including pulling out of Joint Terrorism Task Forces and mandating punishment for city workers caught giving information to ICE? Is your city providing free legal aid for immigrants caught up in the deportation machine? Are there laws to punish landlords and employers who threaten undocumented workers and tenants over their immigration status? Local officials have many tools at their disposal to hamper ICE, but even supportive ones need to be pushed.
- Vigils and demonstrations at border detention facilities, sit-ins, and blockades of vehicles transporting detained immigrants, peacefully confronting border guards all make for arresting visuals. Effective border protests need hundreds of people along with support for legal, logistics, media, transportation, food, water, housing and medical care. Big liberal organizations and unions can fund this. Crowdfunding can raise a lot of money fast. Those who can’t go to the border can support immigrant rights groups on the border.
- Find out what Latino and immigrant rights groups are doing in your area and support those organizing against ICE and Trump with time, money, and amplification of their message and events. If you do protest outside of ICE facilities or immigrant prisons, make sure to coordinate with groups working on detention and in touch with detainees and their families. Closing a prison can have unintended consequences, such as forcing relatives and lawyers who traveled long distances and spent considerable sums to cancel their trips. Guards sometimes retaliate against prisoners inside when there is a protest outside.
- Dog politicians and candidates whenever and wherever you can and interrupt and disrupt Trump officials whenever and wherever possible. In Columbus, Ohio, protesters received national attention for interrupting a speech by Pence, yelling, “Why are you ripping children from their families?”
- Put immigrants at the center. Find immigrants who can safely talk: “We are the caregivers, nurses, doctors. We grow your food, we harvest it, cook, serve it. We drive the trucks, work in the factories, repair your cars, build your homes.” Humanize immigrants, don’t just treat them as victims. Be aware many immigrants believe fervently in the American Dream. Meet people where they are, not where you want them to be.
- Keep your message clear and simple: “End separation, end detention of families. Let in asylum-seekers. Let in refugees. End the Muslim ban. Reinstate Temporary Protected Status. Legalize DACA and all immigrants. Defund ICE and border militarization. No funding for the wall. This is illegal under international law. It’s a crime against humanity. Stop the war on immigrants.”
- Invite politicians and elected officials to your events. You are more likely to attract them by promoting specific policies. Make them say exactly what they are going to do in front of the cameras and reporters. Make them commit to dismantling the entire deportation machinery that goes back to the Clinton administration.
- Use the media to your advantage. Trump’s actions are so appalling, the mainstream media are sympathetic to protests and are looking for good stories and visuals. Liberal groups, unions, and many veteran organizers have extensive lists of local reporters. Plan protests so that media have lead time, get help writing a press release, and cultivate sympathetic reporters. Create good visuals. When you protest, take lots of video and photos to use across social media.
- Practice nonviolence even if you are not a pacifist. Images of fighting or broken windows will be used to discredit movements. But times have also changed. With neo-Nazis and the “alt-right” in the streets, link up with self-defense groups who know how to confront the violent right. Just their presence can dissuade aggressive right-wingers.
- Don’t ignore history. Be aware how Trump is using children as hostages to push through horrendous immigration policies. Democrats are using the border crisis for electoral advantage, and the detention apparatus is bipartisan. But what is happening now is both qualitatively and quantitatively worse than anything that happened under Clinton, Bush, and Obama. You don’t win people over by bludgeoning them with those woke facts or by weaponizing immigrants. Build a movement and win people to your side. Then you can change their minds. That’s how organizing works.
Arun Gupta is a long-time investigative reporter, a graduate of the French Culinary Institute in New York City, and the author of Bacon as Weapon of Mass Destruction: A Junk-Food Loving Chef’s Inquiry into Taste.