A Special Effort to Support Ethnic Journalists
Veterans of four organizations fighting for true immigration reform participated in a teleconference organized to supplement the reporting efforts of journalists at ethnic and community news organizations covering pressing immigration issues, especially in light of the Trump Administration’s hostile actions and policies.
The four veterans were Sameera Hafiz, Senior Policy Strategist, Immigrant Legal Resource Center; Angelica Salas, Executive Director, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA); Zahra Billoo, Executive Director, Council on American Islamic Relations-San Francisco Bay Area; and Adoubou Traore, Executive Director, African Advocacy Network. Conference moderated by Sandy Close, Director, Ethnic Media Services.
The conference was organized by Ethnic Media Services and Ready California to provide updated information about immigration reform and what it means for the country, proposed policy changes from DACA to H-1 B visas, family reunification travel bans and refugee restrictions, the impact for Muslim and Arab American communities and the targeting of African and Afro-Caribbean immigrants.
What follows is the Q&A portion of the 60-minute-plus forum. Ethnic Media Services and Ready California are based in the Golden State but what’s taking place there mirrors what is happening nationally. A transcript of the Q&A has been edited for style to make for easier reading.
Teleconference held February 15.
First question was from moderator Sandy Close, Executive Director, Ethnic Media Services: “To what extent is the battle to protect immigrant rights being won in the courts or being lost in the legislatures or being held in abeyance in the streets?”
Response by Angelica Salas, Executive Director, CHIRLA, Coalition for Humane Immigration Rights of Los Angeles. “I think that we have demonstrated from California and from a couple of other states, a real sense of standing up for immigrant families. Whether it’s at the state level moving for the California Values Act, but also having the state invest significant dollars for the legal protection of its immigrant citizens and residents. At the state level, really moving forward in advancement of immigrant rights in an anti-immigrant moment.”
“At the local level, there’s been tremendous engagement from municipalities, at the city council level, at the Board of Education level, where families and students have organized to demand that these different legislative bodies and institutions really make affirmative decisions and really move forward policies that protect them.”
“At the federal level, we’re very much on the defensive. Because what we see is that, while our two senators in the continuing resolution fight, the budgetary fight, really stood with immigrant families. That couldn’t be said for other states. So as much power as we have, we’re still having a very difficult time. In the House of Representatives in the state of California, the majority of our state representatives are actually voting in favor of immigrant families.
“However, we have a long way to go when it comes to the last remaining Republicans who still represent California in Congress. Kevin McCarthy, who is in Bakersfield, California, has been one of our arch adversaries at the national level. He’s playing a national leadership role in this debate and he has not represented California.”
“We’re having significant issues right now because many individuals who are seeking to become citizens, in order to have a stronger political voice and really defend their families and their communities, are seeing now a backlog of citizenship applications of over a year.”
“So, even as people want to get more engaged, barriers are put forward in order for them to move forward. Lastly, about mobilization in the street. I think that we have seen the tremendous, tremendous mobilization of immigrant youth in Washington D.C. I still think that more mobilization has to happen of immigrant youth, considering their numbers and that attack. I think that we have a couple of days moving forward, which are important for individuals to mobilize. March 5, which is the Congressional deadline in order to do something and save our immigrant youth. And I think we need to respond to that, but I think this is a call to the broader immigrant community and Americans in general.”
“And really to say, we need to stand up. Not just to be in solidarity with immigrants and refugees and our brothers and sisters from the Muslim community, but we need to stand up as Americans, as a country, saying, ‘This is not who we are.’ And stand up for our values. And I think that’s what’s really missing. That this is not just about the immigrant community anymore. It’s about what kind of country do we want, and who are we, as Americans. Where do we stand And are we going to stand with the nativists and the white supremacists, or are we actually going to move our country forward so it’s a more equitable nation, in which everybody has their rightful place?”
Sala’s final comment for the first question: “I just think that this is the moment. Everybody has to see each individual person and however else you can help motivate people to get involved, engaged. To pick up the phone, to call their Senators, their members of Congress, to participate in street activity in terms of protest. It’s really important that we do so because otherwise an incredible level of harm is happening to our communities and it becomes invisible if we don’t take action. And it just becomes even more punitive.”
Sameera Hafiz, Senior Policy Strategist, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, also commented: “I agree with everything Anjelica said, as I often do. And I’ll just add that in this moment, we’re really seeing some of the limitations of legislative action, where, at least on a national level, it’s going to be impossible for us to move progressive policies that support the deeds of immigrant families in the Congress.”
“And then also with the courts, while we have been successful, I think Zahra did a really good job of explaining how a lot of the ban is already in effect. And this administration is stacking up the courts with judges of their choosing. We’ve all read the news stories of their questionable qualifications and their political leanings, as well.”
“And a lot of times when you’re seeking release in the courts, it’s after the harm has already been done. So I think that, just to emphasize the point that Anjelica made, organizing and the power of our communities and building that power really has to support any other form of resistance that we’re going to achieve, in either legislation or litigation. It’s really the our power that we have when we take to the streets, organize, build a community, build their voice, build their power. And that’s what we need to be focusing on in this moment.”
Question 2 from journalist Eric Licas, Inquirer Net. “We’ve had two federal judges rule that DACA protection must stay in place while lawmakers decide on a solution for Dreamers. With that in mind, how important is it that legislators meet the March 5 deadline set forth by the Trump administration to come up with a solution?”
Anjelica Salas responded. “We’ve been actually helping young people who have renewed their applications based on this injunction. And so we are taking full advantage. And in fact, every single day, we are filling out paperwork in the morning and sending it out in the evening to make sure that they get a chance to continue their ability to stay in the country with legal status and also their work permit. The problem that we have with these temporary injunctions is that we have the Department of Justice and the administration basically appealing and continuing to not listen to the courts. And so it’s very likely that we’ll go all the way up to the Supreme Court.”
“So we’re taking full advantage of it, but it’s an uncertain outcome, given everything that we’ve described about judges and where they are at this moment, especially in terms of the Supreme Court. So moving forward, we believe that we need to pursue the litigation strategy and that is, I think, an important avenue. At the same time, if we were to go all the way to the Supreme Court and we have an unfavorable decision, which we believe that would be the wrong decision. However, what is then the permanent solution?”
“And once again, the problem that we have is that DACA was always a temporary solution. What we’ve been fighting for over 17 years is the Dream Act. And even today, we’re falling short of the original intent, which was a permanent solution through the Dream Act for these young people. So I would say, March 5, it was Congress’s deadline to do something. We’re gonna continue fighting beyond March 5.”
Question 3, Manny Otiko with California Black Media. “I see a lot of black and brown people being targeted for deportation. I don’t see people from European countries facing deportation. There’s heavy, Italian, Irish immigrant groups on the east coast and Russian immigrant groups, and there must be some illegals over there. It seems to me that these deportations are just a form of ethnic cleansing?
Adougou Traore, Executive Director, African Advocacy Network, responded. He estimated, “Overall removal from the U.S. from Trump to be about 226,000 a year.” But he also said that for black immigrants it has grown significantly, “something in the proportions of 140 percent.”
Question 4, Henrietta Burroughs with East Alto Today, directly addressed Saamera Hafiz. “What do you think is the best-case scenario in terms of the legislation that’s now before the Senate?” [Note: The four Senate bills subsequently failed].
Sameera Hafiz responded. “I think that the best-case scenario would be that we’re able to defeat the Toomey and Grassley bills. The Toomey bill, again, is the attack on sanctuary cities, or sanctuary jurisdictions. So what it does is it forces compliance around the country and kind of nationalizes the quote-end-quote “partnership” or entanglement of local police with immigration enforcement. One of the tools for doing that is threatening really critical federal funding for jurisdictions that choose to prioritize immigrant communities and not be entangled with immigration enforcement.”
“So if we are able to defeat that, I think that is a really big victory for those of us that have been working on promoting better policing practices and the safety of all members of our community. Also, as I mentioned, the Grassley bill has adopted the White House policy. So, it contains the elimination of the diversity visa program, significant cuts to family immigration and a real bad picture on enforcement, both at the border and the interior.”
“So being able to defeat those bills are really important. But as Anjelica mentioned in her talk, what we’re talking about is not a solution for Dreamers. What’s presented here is so much more. It’s creating trade-offs, giving up, compromising so that we can … Holding Dreamers hostage for the kind of Republican and nativist agenda that Trump has been promoting.”
“So a lot of folks within our immigrant movement have stood behind the McCain and Coons bill, which, again, has protections for dreamers, but also some reasonable border security measure. So, perhaps that’s the best-case scenario. But again, I think the question always comes up, if there is a bill that moves out of the House, then what is the past forward? And I think those are really big obstacles that would come and they’re a challenge however this Senate bill moves.”
Question 5, Sunaina Barathi with India West Newspaper, regarding the Morton memo of 2011 which prioritized deportations. “ICE seems to be ignoring the provisions of this memo in choosing who is getting deported. It seems to be rather random, and I wonder if you could comment of the future of the Morton memo, and whether you expect it to be rescinded?
Zahra Billoo, Executive Director, Council on American Islamic Relations-SF Bay Area, responded. The Morton memo has been rescinded. That was the executive orders that were put in early in the beginning of the President’s [administration]. So, at this point, all those prosecutorial equities, et cetera, are no longer, have not been, actually, in effect for the last year.
“And so what we see is that they might say that they’re not doing the indiscriminate enforcement, but they do. Most of these individuals who are being deported are long-term residents, individuals who have lived here most of their lives. And at the end of the day, any of the ICE officials or detention removal folks would say, “If they’re undocumented, they’re a priority.”
Question 6, Peter White with Tennessee Tribune. “What’s the worst-case scenario? The news is all bad, it seems. So there’s supposed to be these enforcement things that are gonna get rid of bad folks that we don’t want here, that don’t share our values. But the realities that I’m hearing is that they’re sort of rounding up and deporting long-time residents who pay taxes and have raised their children and have jobs et cetera. So I guess my question is that. What’s the way forward. Let’s say one of two of the least objectionable bills passes in the Senate, but what happens when it gets to the House, in terms of the bad news?
Anjelica Salas responds: “Well, our perspective is that it’ll get worse. “Speaker Ryan has said that he will not move forward a bill that does not meet the Trump administration’s many requirements. Amongst that is the deportation and the kind of fast-tracking of individuals in detention to deportation. So at this moment, things are very dire. And that’s why I think it’s so important in my call to all Americans of goodwill to really speak up. Because otherwise, we’ll just have more of what’s happening, which is mass-roundups, in the early, early morning or at nighttime.”
“We just had a situation here in Los Angeles where there is a very well-known area where people go and sit down and eat and shop and ICE just showed up and started asking all the employees of the different businesses for their social security cards. And then they are now gonna be checking those social security cards then go back and figure out who is undocumented and whether or not, or they’re false documents.
So I think is that the kind of country that we wanna live in? And I think all of us need to answer that question and what are we gonna do about it?
Question 7, Fernando Torres, a freelancer. “A question for Anjelica, if she can define more specifically what is nativism, white American agenda? I don’t understand what that means. I have a question for Mr. Traore, and I wanna thank him because he’s putting this perspective that is very little-known in this country, the black immigrants. And I want to know if you have been able to create alliances with establishments, Afro-American organizations, human rights organizations, social organizations, Afro-American, here in this country? And if they are receptive of it, each of, black immigrants in this country.”
Anjelica Salas responds. “So, very quickly, what that means is the belief that there is intrinsic value in some people and there is a devaluing of others. And in this situation, it’s the devaluing of people of Asian, African, or who are of different ethnicities just based on their country of origin. I mean, this is very much aligned in terms of what Trump said around “s-hole nations,” right? That there are some countries that have value, and others that don’t, and usually those that do are white, in terms of race.”
“The other thing is then, what are those policies in immigration that have allowed people, people of color, to come into our country. And then let’s get rid of those policies, mainly family unification, which came out of the winds of the Civil Rights Movement when we changed our immigration policies in 1965, so that they were more equitable. I hope that helps.”
Adoubou Traore also responds: Yes. And of course, as I was saying, this is a time for solidarity among all immigrants of all origins, first of all. You know, beyond races and anything else. And then for us, black immigrants, there’s always been the need, the desire to connect with our brothers and sisters, you know, African Americans. And I was saying it, it is what it means to be black in America. So, we don’t have a choice. We’re faced with the same thing.”
“And that’s why at the African Advocacy Network, not only working along with other community organizations, serving all kinds of races, but we also pay a very specific attention to working with groups like Black Alliance for Just Immigration. The Black Immigration Network. But, of course, there’s much more work to do. And that’s why I say, this a time of solidarity. This is a time of opportunity for us to catch up on things that we didn’t look closely at. But again, in face of adversity, we have no choice but getting together and going together and facing this and fighting together.
Wrapping Up, Sandy Close, moderator. “What should we as journalists be watching for? We are all holding our collective breath and what is the key thing in the news we should be anticipating, or on the ground, even invisible?
Sameera Hafiz responds first. “I think that this moment that we’re in is just the moment of fight for immigrant justice and racial justice, this is a long-term fight. And so we need to stay focused and keep looking at the stories and highlighting the stories and voices of directly impacted people and we as a movement are gonna stay focused on this long-term fight for justice.
Anjelica Salas responds next. “I think it’s really important as reporters and communicators to be able to talk about impact. What is gonna be the impact of these policies on the day-to-day lives of immigrants. Number two, is I also would caution you not to adopt the language of many of the anti-immigrant politicians. And one example of that is the mass use of the word,’chain migration,’ as an example.”
“But there’s many more. Because what ends up happening is, you’re basically, these are not neutral terms. They actually have a position on them. So, what is the actual policy being debated, the legal framework is family unity, unification, so I really urge you to adopt neutral titles or neutral names for many of these policies.”
Billoo, next responder. ” I actually want to reiterate something that I believe Anjelica said earlier. And it’s that our ask would be that in covering these stories, remember that there’s a human impact. So as the Fourth Circuit challenges the Muslim ban, and we wait for the Supreme Court to decide on what it will do, the stories that the American public needs to hear is that while all of this is happening, people’s lives are on holds.”
“Loved ones are separated. Parents can’t see their children. And people are being forced to stay in places that may be unsafe for them or their families, all because the Trump administration promised in 2015 that they wanted to ban Muslims from coming into the United States until they could figure out what is going on.”
More than two years have passed, they haven’t figured out what is going on, and people’s lives are on hold and are deeply impacted by these racist policies.
Adoubou Traore responding to question about what journalists should be looking out for. “I mean for me it’s very important that people know that when we are speaking about immigrants, at the end of the day, we’re talking about human beings. And another thing I really think we need help with is helping America and helping the immigrant community to make the distinction between the people who are working for a specific politic and America and what it stands for.”
“And that immigrants are here, not for Donald Trump. Immigrants are here for America and what America has set forth. And this is what we believe in and that we’re not coming here with hate, that we’re not criminals. We’re just human beings looking for a safe haven. And dreaming like any other American here”
So I think this is especially important and also, I just wanted to add something, it’s actually important to let immigrants know that we’re not alone. That we have each other, that we have other Americans, who don’t have any issue with immigration and who are ready to fight with us and that we should not give up on ourselves, and giving up also on the people … our cause.”
Gregg Morris can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org