Susan Westerberg Prager Professor of Law at UCLA
Donald Trump made a lot of outrageous campaign statements. I want to know what you are most concerned about, particularly because now he has the power of executive action, and he has a Congress that is prepared to move, legislatively in his direction as well. What do we have to be concerned about now?
As you said, he made a lot of outrageous campaign statements. There’s the wall, the discrimination against many sorts of Muslim immigrants, deporting eleven million undocumented people. But as I think you’re suggesting, there are a lot more specific proposals that are at least as troubling, because frankly, they’re more doable and practical than the other proposals he put forward. What comes most immediately to mind?
I think about this in terms of: What can he do? What power does the president have? What can he do unilaterally, and what can he do only if he gets someone else to go along? I could talk about who those other people might be, as to certain proposals. But I want to start with what I think concerns a lot of people, about eight hundred thousand people right now, people who have Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and the work permits that came along with those. Trump pledged to end DACA, and this is something he has the power to do. Exactly how that’s going to happen is not clear to me. The worst case is immediate revocation and pulling back all the employment authorization documents.
I have to say that the best case is that he lets it lapse, which would mean that people would have those work permits and be able to continue to work in that status. That leads to all kinds of things for several years. There’s a big issue over the use of the confidential information that was provided in DACA applications. That, I’m sure, will be litigated. But he can do this, because it was President Obama who did this as an executive action.
This has led to a lot of concerns, as you might imagine, in communities and families based on their situations. There’s a large need for information. I'm involved with several nonprofits that are trying to get this information out to communities. I think it’s also an important context for the reassurance of building a community.
There are other things that the president can do, and they involve deportation policy and how that’s executed. I’m including raids, which I’m afraid may become a lot more common, at least as much as they were during the George W. Bush administration. There’s also a lot of proposals for things in Congress. He’s pledged to cut off funding for sanctuary cities. There’s, of course, the border wall—although, there is a border wall already.
Then, there’s also a lot more damage that could be done in the legislative landscape. Who’s let in? What are the rules of deportation?
We should remember that, under the Bill Clinton administration, Congress passed and Bill Clinton signed into law a very draconian set of rules which, in many, many ways, made it easier to deport people and made it harder to get in, and things of that nature. Those are all things that could happen.
It looks grim, and it is. But, of course, it’s not hopeless, as long as we have some sense of what is possible for us to do collectively. Help us start this process of thinking about what can happen next by giving us a sense of what opposition to the administration’s immigration policy could look like.
Well, I can start to answer the question by thinking about what has been done in the way of opposition in other situations. The most recent ones that I’ve been involved in have to do with what happened after the Bill Clinton period in the mid-1990s, the 1996 legislation I mentioned earlier. Also, the post-9/11 period and immigrants’ rights. What have we learned from that? What has happened? What mistakes were made? What succeeded? There are many different pieces of this puzzle, and I'm sure I'll leave something out. Let me just mention some of the most important ones.
Obviously, working closely with communities. Right now, we have this tremendous need for information for individuals and families who may have undocumented family members. They may have people who are undocumented and who fear deportation. There’s so much that can be done; that’s a sign both of reassurance and community building. Clearly, mobilizing the grassroots here, building coalitions, including coalitions that may be not the ones that we’re used to or most comfortable with. Including, for example, looking back to the fact that, to a significant extent, before the year 2000, before the year 2004, immigration and immigrants’ rights was much more of a bipartisan issue. I think there are people in the Republican Party who are very concerned about what Trump may do.
Then, of course, one of the things we learned in the mid-2000s especially is the effectiveness of public forms of resistance, and demonstrations and civil disobedience that ultimately led, in many ways, to DACA. One thing to bear in mind is the importance of state and local communities, and in particular state and local governments. I would include here universities, in that this is ultimately where resistance is formed, not just on the ground and in the streets, and also the starting of the building of public opinion and outrage.
One of the reasons I made the comment about exactly what is Trump going to follow through on with respect to his pledge to revoke DACA is because we do have eight hundred thousand people out there. What’s going to happen if his efforts against them becomes very public? I think that litigation has been key. It was key in Proposition 187’s case, in 1994. It’s been key and ongoing ever since the ’96 act, and it certainly did a lot of good on SB 1070. I think it’s important that it be grounded in community concerns. I think one of things that DACA reflects is that there’s a point at which litigation and professional lobbying only goes so far. But litigation is really important.
I also think that it’s important—this is more of a personal note—but I think each of us needs to think about doing well what we know we can do well. We need to get better, each of us individually, at things we don’t know how to do as well as too though. I think we need to take care of ourselves and trust and work with others.
You put your finger on doing what we do well, better, and knowing what we don’t do well and learning. There is a part of this that is about building cross-issue literacy: learning how these issues impact constituencies that we might not perceive as immediately our own. What we need is to think intersectionally across all these issue areas.