As the nation marks one year after a travel ban that triggered protests and chaos at airports nationwide, local immigrant, refugee and civil rights groups gird for another year expected to be just as tumultuous on the immigration front.
President Donald Trump’s first executive order, immediately blocked by the courts, triggered a year of legal challenges by states and advocates, winding their way up to a U.S. Supreme Court that this month announced it will consider the latest challenge to the third version of the ban.
The initial version foreshadowed a year that saw the administration revoke the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and begin dismantling the Temporary Protected Status program — drawing ever new lawsuits.
“Immigration, refugee resettlement, faith and civil rights groups have always kind of operated independently on these issues, but seeing American values assailed in the last year, all these groups are now working together,” said Joshua Hoyt, executive director of the Chicago-based National Partnership for New Americans.
Composed of 37 of the largest immigrant and refugee rights groups in 31 states, NPNA is among organizations behind the recently launched “We Are All America” campaign that kicked off a week of action Saturday to mark the anniversary. Sixty events are planned this week in 22 states.
“During the past year, the number of refugees admitted to the United States has declined 87 percent. In the first two weeks of January, not a single Muslim refugee was admitted,” Hoyt said.
It’s not unusual for federal action to draw legal challenge. What’s been unusual is the bedrock of the lawsuits: commentary by the president deemed prejudiced against a religion or race.
Congress now lumbers toward a deadline Feb. 8 to enact bipartisan legislation protecting 800,000 DACA “Dreamers” brought to the U.S. as children, an agreed upon requisite to a federal budget.
But initial details of Trump’s proposal — 1.8 million young people offered path to citizenship in exchange for slashing legal immigration by 50 percent as earlier put forth in the White House-backed RAISE Act — were slammed by both parties in advance of a White House briefing on Monday.
“Dreamers should not be held hostage. . . . The White House claims to be compromising . . . . But his plan would put the administration’s entire hardline immigration agenda — including massive cuts to legal immigration — on the backs of these young people,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
Conservatives lambasted the citizenship carrot, despite accompanying demand for a $25 billion fund for border security that includes a wall, restricting of family reunification visas, and elimination of the diversity visa lottery targeting countries historically awarded fewer visas.
Those countries include African and Caribbean nations allegedly the butt of Trump disparagement.
In an Oval Office meeting discussing a bipartisan deal this month, Trump allegedly referred to African nations as “shithole countries,” questioned the need to admit immigrants from Haiti and El Salvador, and suggested the U.S. admit more people from countries like Norway.
The New York Times previously reported that in another Oval Office meeting in June, Trump allegedly said Haitian immigrants “all have AIDS,” Nigerian immigrants would never “go back to their huts” from the U.S., and Afghanistan was a terrorist haven. Trump denies the remarks.
Chicago Bears linebacker Sam Acho’s parents emigrated from Nigeria, and the 29-year-old refuses to give energy to the president’s alleged characterizations of his heritage.
“My parents came here in their early 20s. I was born in Dallas, and I mean, we go back all the time. We go back every other Christmas and spend Christmas and New Year’s in Nigeria, and go every year to do medical mission work with my parents’ nonprofit. I love Nigeria,” Acho said. “We’ve talked about maybe living there one day. Obviously, we’ve got different people on different sides of the fence and not enough people trying to reach out and hear the other side.”
“Dreamers” have drawn bipartisan support as the sympathetic face of the undocumented immigrants. A federal judge this month issued a preliminary injunction blocking the administration’s looming March 5 phaseout of the program while a lawsuit proceeds.
Unaddressed is TPS, which shielded 320,000 immigrants from 10 nations in the U.S. as a result of natural disasters or war in their countries. Haitians are the second largest percentage of TPS holders, with 60,000 facing impending deportation.
State Sen. Kwame Raoul’s parents emigrated from Haiti in the 1950s. His sister runs Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees, a Brooklyn nonprofit aiding immigrants. And on Tuesday, he’ll attend Trump’s State of the Union address as a guest of U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill.
“As a proud Haitian-American, I was insulted by the president’s references to Haiti … his having no clue of the contributions Haitian Americans have made to this country. Like right here in Chicago. Trump Tower sits on the Du Sable Trail of first settler Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable. Or my father, who practiced medicine in Woodlawn and never rejected a patient based on ability to pay,” said Raoul. “The good here is that Donald Trump is very transparent about his racism and prejudice, making it easier for all these legal challenges to have merit.”
The first travel ban suspended and capped the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, and barred travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries. Replaced in March by a second version, that too was blocked by lower courts — though the Supreme Court allowed parts to take effect. A third version in September was blocked by lower courts in December. But the Supreme Court allowed it to take effect pending its hearing the case.
The NAACP last week filed a lawsuit over revocation of TPS for Haiti. Citing the alleged Oval Office remarks, the civil rights group charged the decision was racially motivated.
“When you look at this TPS decision and you look at the statements this president has been making around the table about these countries of color, there’s just no other way to sum it up,” said Karl Brinson, president of the NAACP West Side Branch.