Nearly 2,000 protesters — labor leaders, activists, state and local officials — marched in a boisterous demonstration in Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest city, in December to show their opposition to an expected crackdown on undocumented immigrants after President-elect Donald Trump takes office January 20.
“I do recognize that he will be the president for the next four years,” said state Senator Kevin de Leon, one of California’s top-ranking Democrats. “It’s our reality. We want to find common ground where we can find common ground, but we’re also prepared to defend the prosperity of California.”
De Leon, who is president pro tem of the California Senate, says the state’s prosperity comes from an immigrant-friendly environment, where local officials remain at arm’s length from federal immigration enforcement.
The state has engaged Eric Holder, the former attorney general under President Barack Obama, to represent its interests in anticipated battles with the Trump administration over issues from immigration to climate change. Holder is now a private attorney.
California is one of 12 states that allow undocumented residents to obtain a driver’s license. Local leaders say that cities — many controlled by Democrats antagonistic toward the incoming Republican president — will do more.
Los Angeles has instituted a $10 million legal fund for residents threatened with deportation. Chicago has set up a smaller fund, and San Francisco officials are considering a similar move.
More than 2.7 million undocumented migrants were deported under Obama, earning him the title, “Deporter in Chief,” from his critics. During the campaign and since the election, Trump has insisted on even tougher enforcement of immigration law.
“Anyone who has entered the United States illegally is subject to deportation,” Trump said in Phoenix on August 31 in his most comprehensive speech on immigration to date. “That is what it means to have laws and to have a country. Otherwise,” he said, “we don’t have a country.”
He has since walked that back to focus on the 2 to 3 million illegal immigrants with “criminal records.”
Trump promises to end “catch and release,” the practice of releasing some detainees to the community while they are awaiting immigration hearings, and to cut federal funding for so-called sanctuary cities, such as Los Angeles, which limit the sharing of information by local authorities with federal immigration officials. He also promises increased enforcement in the workplace.
In addition, he said he will end DACA — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — a program enacted by President Barack Obama in 2012 that has shielded from deportation 750,000 young people who came to the U.S. as minors.
Trump told Time magazine in December, however, that on this issue, at least, he is willing to “work something out.”
Most dramatically, congressional Republicans are working to realize one of his chief campaign promises, a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Los Angeles united
At the Los Angeles protest march, attorney Emily Robinson of the Loyola Law School Immigrant Justice Clinic said, “We’re sending a message that Los Angeles is united for immigrants’ rights, that we’re going to stand strong. We’re not colluding with ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement].”
Trump’s promise of stricter enforcement leaves legal immigrants divided. Some oppose the plan for stepped-up enforcement, and others support it.
“I don’t think anybody legal would want to see illegal immigrants, especially who have committed crimes, to stay in this country,” said David Wang, who helped organize support for Trump in the Chinese-American community during the campaign.
Despite fears surrounding campaign rhetoric, Luis Quinonez, a member of Trump’s Hispanic Advisory Council, said the only people who have anything to fear are criminal immigrants and what he calls “extreme Muslims” bent on violence. “Anyone who wants to do harm, they are not wanted, they are not welcome, we’ll pursue them.”
More than 11 million U.S. residents are undocumented, 3 to 4 percent of the population. As federal enforcement intensifies, local leaders say the debate has moved from Washington to cities like Los Angeles.