WASHINGTON >> Immigrant rights advocates are planning demonstrations at dozens of rallies across the country this weekend in what they are calling a “first salvo” against President-elect Donald Trump’s pledged hard line on immigration.
Union leaders and young immigrants are organizing more than 50 protests and cultural events from Philadelphia to Phoenix on Saturday with an aim toward highlighting the power of the immigrant rights movement. Immigrants living in the country illegally also hope the events will make it clear to the incoming administration that they don’t plan to leave the country despite Trump’s calls for a border wall, tougher immigration enforcement and mass deportations.
“This is our first salvo to what may be a long, drawn out campaign,” said Jorge-Mario Cabrera, spokesman for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.
The protests mark the latest chapter in a movement that has evolved considerably since 2006, when more than a million people took to the streets to protest a Republican-backed immigration bill that would have made it a crime to be in the country illegally. The bill was widely viewed as overly harsh and sparked a backlash that culminated in massive May Day marches across the country.
The crowds this weekend are expected to be nowhere near as big as then, including rallies at a church in Washington and teachers’ union hall in Chicago. In Los Angeles and San Jose, California, groups are holding cultural events to show their support of immigrants and opposition to Trump’s proposals.
Times have clearly changed since 2006. The protests born of anger and frustration a decade ago with the immigration bill haven’t been repeated in recent years as the playbook evolved and advocacy groups started making direct appeals to lawmakers and the president.
After multiple proposals failed in Congress, President Barack Obama in 2012 launched an executive effort to protect some young immigrants from deportation.
The creation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, aimed at helping one of the loudest and most sympathetic immigrant groups, was heralded as a good first step by advocates who hoped it would be a prelude toward overhauling immigration laws.
But that didn’t happen, and Republican-led states pushed back against Obama’s plans to expand the program.
Now the focus is on the next administration, and the future of the movement seems as uncertain as Trump’s plans.
As a candidate, Trump promised his supporters stepped-up deportations and a Mexican-funded border wall, but it is unclear which plans the celebrity businessman will act on first, and when. And many immigrants are fearful of the campaign rhetoric but less motivated to protest in the absence of specific actions.
“Right now, all we have is these vague kinds of promises,” said Chris Zepeda-Millan, a professor of ethnic studies at University of California, Berkeley. “Attacks have to occur for people to mobilize.”
One factor that could influence what actions immigrant activists take going forward — and how much support they draw — is how Trump handles the group of more than 750,000 young immigrants covered by Obama’s DACA program. Many are college-educated and politically savvy and have been willing to hold sit-ins and risk arrest to push for immigration changes.
They are also factoring prominently in many of Saturday’s events. Instead of protests, a coalition of immigration groups in Phoenix will have a news conference and information clinic where young immigrants will deliver personal testimony about how Obama’s program changed their lives. A separate event includes a panel with immigration attorneys and experts on how to prepare for changes under Trump.
What is certain is that the immigration rights movement has come a long way since its most public stand in 2006. And the days of nearly everyone staying entirely in the shadows are likely over.
“Coming forward as undocumented and unafraid has been really a hallmark” of the movement in recent years, said Cecilia Munoz, who heads Obama’s Domestic Policy Council and was a top official with the National Council of La Raza during the early days of immigration protests. “The immigration rights movement has developed enormously … and 2006 was a moment in which people came forward and decided, ‘We are not invisible anymore.’”