Standing Together to Meet the Challenges Ahead
U.S. Representative Luis V. Gutiérrez
Published in the First Quarter 2017 issue of NETWORK’s Connection Magazine
There is no doubt that this is going to be a difficult year for America. Immigrants, women, people of color, Muslims, environmentalists, the LGBT community – there are many groups firmly in the crosshairs of the new Administration and the new Congress. Though only supported by a minority of American voters, the new President, Donald Trump, will not be shy in taking action to enhance his brand. We do not yet know the specifics, and it is clear that his opinions change about as quickly as you can hit refresh on your Twitter feed. But Trump’s lieutenants are the most clearly ideological and dangerous set of leaders ever assembled in American government on immigration and any number of issues we may care about. There is a vindictiveness coming to government the likes of which we have never seen, and with shadowy figures like Breitbart’s Steve Bannon or the Federation for American Immigration Reform’s Kris Kobach calling signals behind the scenes, there is reason to prepare for the worst.
Immigrants and immigration were important campaign themes – or I should say, slandering immigrants and immigration were. The irony is that support for sensible immigration reform actually increased and support for mass deportation decreased during the year and a half that Trump campaigned for the White House. Across numerous polls, roughly 80% of the American people favor letting undocumented immigrants stay in this country and about 60% among Trump supporters. But that is not likely to translate into any sensible policies coming out of Washington. We expect to see the same recycled, deportation-only bills come through the House Judiciary Committee, but the difference will be that we no longer have a reliable Senate or White House backstop to contain self-destructive immigration ideas.
Their game plan is simple: make legal immigration harder for everyone – and impossible for most people – and then rail against the resulting illegalities, decry the black market, label everyone as criminals, and use good old fashioned fear of “the other” to marginalize immigrants. The goals will be to demonstrate that Republicans are being tough, cruel, and unsympathetic to immigrants – especially undocumented immigrants — and tough on Mexico and Muslims in particular.
To most Republican lawmakers, the illusion is more important than the substance of legislation because they are trying to placate their own voters, whom they fear because their own voters are being whipped up by advocates for reduced immigration who will not be satisfied until every undocumented immigrant is marched across the border and the country is sealed off from the world. It is an unachievable goal, not to mention a self-destructive one, but the tail is wagging the dog, and the minority of immigration opponents are dictating what does and does not constitute being “soft on immigrants.”
That Trump and Congress are being driven by such ideological extremes will be the downfall of their agenda. Americans favor legal immigration and are rightly concerned about uncontrolled and illegal immigration, but those driving the issue in the Republican Party are opposed to immigration, period. They want fewer people – especially fewer people of color – in “their” country. The American people don’t believe we will deport 11 million undocumented immigrants and they are right. But those driving the issue are hooked on the mass deportation fantasy and the idea that more than 10 million people will self-deport. Most Americans, however, do not think a wall will actually work as an immigration control strategy and they sense that immigration is broader and deeper than the physical border to the South.
But many Americans still voted for Trump because he tapped into the frustration many people feel because no one has been able to make immigration a safe, legal, and orderly process for the American people and those who seek to become Americans.
So, supporters of immigration and immigration reform need to stick to our principals and keep fighting for our vision of a modern, 21st century immigration system because our vision is what the American people actually want. We have to do a better job of communicating that immigration reform is about more than being kind or respectful to immigrants. In the transactional world of American politics, doing something “for” one group is often perceived as doing something “against” everyone else, which is simply not the case with immigration.
And we must support our allies who will also be targeted by the Republican agenda, be that women’s health care, LGBT rights, people of color claiming their rightful place in America, or a business-driven assault on working people and mother earth. We must join arms with clergy and labor, progressives, and moderates so that when Republicans try to come after one of us, they will have to come through all of us. If the new President comes for the Muslims, I will be a Muslim. If they come for women’s rights, I will stand with women. When they deny climate science, I will make my voice heard. We must heed the warning Benjamin Franklin made to his fellow signers of the Declaration of Independence: “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”