Neoliberal economic policies have created a system of forced migration for many people but the Trump team is planning to ramp-up its assault on immigrants and those who advocate for migrants rights, activist Nativo Lopez explained to Dennis J Bernstein.
By Dennis J Bernstein
On January 17, Kevin De Leon, California’s Senate President Pro Tempore stated “Immigration and Customs Enforcement is reportedly amassing agents from across the United States as it prepares to launch the most aggressive deportation raids under the Trump Administration in northern California in the coming weeks.”
According to Senator De Leon, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen “is exploring pressing criminal charges against state and local officials who implement ‘sanctuary’ policies. “The Department of Homeland Security has even admitted they are considering a move to arrest political leaders such as myself,” De Leon continued, “ who have led the charge in California to prevent the feds from commandeering state and local resources to tear hard working families apart. These extraordinary threats against the President’s political opponents are meant to intimidate us, designed to silence and subjugate us. But they will do the opposite.”
Indeed, an army of immigrants right supporters, in the form of lawyers, human rights and local community activist, and concerned politicians are now mobilizing from one end of the state to the other to fight back.
I spoke about the significance of the ICE threats and the grassroots uprising in response, with Nativo Lopez. Lopez is a longtime advocate for the undocumented Spanish-speaking communities in Southern California, and a spokesperson for Hermandad Mexicana, a social, cultural and political organization based in Los Angeles. I spoke to Lopez in Los Angeles on January 30.
Dennis Bernstein: In terms of deportations, Obama still holds the record as Deporter and Chief, but Trump seems to be pulling out all the stops now.
Nativo Lopez: Well, it is almost like “back to the future” with this administration. We saw the most devastating deportation numbers under the Obama administration and now we are seeing much of the same. Actually the numbers are lower compared to the first two years of the Obama administration. But Trump is continuing the work of terrorizing immigrants and the communities they are a part of. Immigrants are the target but working class communities are really feeling the effects of the repressive measures initiated by this administration.
It has targeted California because it has declared itself a sanctuary state. The government of California, including the attorney general, will now be tested as to what their interpretation is of the term “sanctuary.”
DB: Of course, Obama earned the title “Deporter in Chief,” but Trump now takes it to the next level because he is not afraid to talk in terms of ethnic cleansing.
NL: When he makes references to El Salvador, Haiti, and the continent of Africa, these are the same communities who now live within the US. The proposal that he is now making on immigration, supposedly to save the day for the Dreamers, is to legalize the status of 1.8 million but at the same time eliminate the ability to legally bring family members to the United States.
Despite all this talk about “illegal immigration” over the years, the underlying motive of these xenophobes has always been to reduce legal immigration to the United States from Latin American and Asian Pacific countries. They are intent on preserving their idea of a white America by reducing the ability of nationalized immigrants to bring family members to the United States.
DB: What is your understanding of the right-wing term “chain immigration”?
NL: They are talking from both sides of their mouths. They say people should wait in line and do it legally, and yet we see they are really trying to reduce legal immigration to the country.
Under current law, legal immigrants to this country have the right to immigrate their parents, their siblings, their spouse and any children they have who were born outside the United States. What they are trying to do is eliminate in Congress the ability of a legal immigrant to immigrate his or her parents or siblings. This would reduce by half the number of immigrants who legally come to the United States.
This has happened under both Republican and Democratic administrations. The majority of undocumented immigrants in the United States today are undocumented because of a migration law that was passed in 1978 during the Carter administration which eliminated the right of US citizens to immediately immigrate their parents until the US citizen reached the age of twenty-one.
I myself fought against that legislation because I knew that it would immediately create a balloon of undocumented parents in the United States. After massive resistance and lobbying, we were able to get legislation in 1986, during the time of the Reagan administration, that allowed parents to legalize their status because they had been in the country so long. They were able to obtain legal permanent status.
DB: Instead of chain migration, maybe we should be talking about forced migration.
NL: When we talk about defending immigrants against deportation, we should talk about the right to not immigrate to the United States. What forces so many to immigrate here? Extreme poverty, the inability to obtain employment at a decent wage, social violence, drug cartel violence. This is what is forcing migration to the United States.
Certainly the free trade agreements in Mexico and Central America contributed to the mass emigration from those countries. In Mexico alone, over the course of the NAFTA years from 1994 to the present day, four to five million small farm owners have been thrown off their lands and forced to migrate to America because agribusiness, both in Mexico and the United States, gobbled up those lands and forced production to meet the agricultural needs of the United States. Prior to 1994, Mexico was self-sufficient in its domestic corn production. Today it imports from the United States between 40 and 60 percent of its corn. So those are the push factors that bring migrants to the United States.
I laugh when I hear the former president of Mexico, Vicente Fox, criticize the Trump administration. When Fox was president, he did absolutely nothing to defend those Mexicans who were forced to come to the United States, and he was actually a purveyor of privatization of the petroleum industry to serve the interests of US multinational corporations.
DB: I am looking at a press release from Kevin de Leon’s office, where he writes that “The Department of Homeland Security has even admitted that they are considering a move to arrest political leaders such as myself who have led the charge in California to prevent the feds from commandeering state and local resources to tear hard-working families apart.”
NL: There is such a thing as state sovereignty and a state’s ability to pass laws to protect its residents. At the end of the day, the governor, the president pro tempore, the Latino caucus and other progressive caucuses, the California attorney general–all of them will be tested in the next several days if, in fact, Homeland Security launches the kind of massive detention and deportation that they are threatening against California.
DB: We know that every day about 122 Dreamers are losing their DACA status and are faced with uncertainty about their future. We have seen the Democrats collapse on this issue. Do you expect anything at the federal level?
NL: I really don’t. It is possible that the Democrats cave in and give Trump the $20 billion he wants to build the wall. It looks like he is going to use the Dreamers as hostages to make good on his campaign promise. Our recommendation to the legislators is to not cave in but to fight back.
We want a clean bill, meaning that all DACA recipients should be allowed to obtain permanent resident status without having to concede anything related to the border wall and certainly anything related to the ability of legal residents to immigrate their family members.
There needs to be massive resistance. I know that in Northern California they are talking about organizing a 100,000 person march in February. We need to do that throughout California. We need to resist in the courts, we need to resist in the streets.
Actually, a DACA permit holder stands a better chance of fighting deportation than a person who has nothing. Some argue that if we don’t accept what Trump is offering, we will be putting in jeopardy 800,000 young people with DACA status. The fact of the matter is that there is an injunction in place in the federal courts against the cancellation of the DACA program which is going to take months to work its way through the courts.
My personal and political recommendation is to fight for a clean bill and to throw these people out of Congress and out of the White House. If the complexion of Congress changes in November, that will make it extremely difficult for the administration to move forward with its plans for massive deportation.