Resistance and Resilience 3-D

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Resistance and Resilience 3-D 

By Larry Kleinman









Fear, ever-present.  

Immigration agents sweeping in without warning:  

…questioning anyone ‘foreign’ looking,  

…arresting a father or mother in front of their children,  

…stonewalling appeals for humanitarian “discretion”,  

…separating families indefinitely,  

…drag-netting workplaces,  

…enlisting local police collaboration,  

…seemingly with no end in sight.  

The description sounds like it was “ripped from the headlines”. And it could have been…from  the headlines in 1977 or 1982 or 1985.  

And, of course, from today’s headlines as well.  

It’s terrifying, exhausting and demoralizing. We feel and we know that we must stay in the fight.  But how? 

As described below, one broad takeaway from the similar resistance waged decades ago is the  need to (re-)define “victories” and avoid becoming crushed by the quantity and frequency  of defeats.  

Twenty-nine months in…and (at least) nineeen to go  

Since Inauguration Day 2017, our movement has waged countless battles against the multi pronged assault on immigrants. We can claim key victories, mostly on the litigation front and at  the state/local level, especially in the cities, where most immigrants live. Overall, though, we’ve  lost ground and we’ll certainly lose more in the nineteen months that remain of this  Administration. Even though an electoral wave on November 6th 2018 swept away Republican  control of the House of Representatives, we can count on Trump to accelerate the anti-immigrant  offensive. In the unlikely event that Trump resigns or is removed, Pence’s only change would  probably be toning down the rhetoric.  

There’s a mounting and alarming toll: on immigrants and mixed status families, on immigrant  communities and immigrant-serving organizations, and on our nation and body politic. For most  organizers, community navigators, immigration legal services workers and immigrant  organization leaders, there’s an accumulation of stress and trauma—direct and indirect—that  threatens our well-being and impairs our effectiveness. Fatigue and burn-out are palpable and  growing threats to sustaining our resistance.  

Much of what we’re experiencing—and resisting—today was the norm in the pre-IRCA  “amnesty” times of the mid-1970s thru the mid-1980s. A good deal of it has existed  continuously for nearly a century.  

Resisting “La Migra”  

That was our mission in 1977, when we—a handful of Chicano activists and progressive legal  practitioners (myself included) in Oregon—responded to escalating INS raids by forming the  Willamette Valley Immigration Project (WVIP). Every month, somewhere in Oregon, squads of  agents descended on fields and labor camps, factories, apartments, movie theaters, and dance  halls. Our strategy combined community organizing and “know your rights” outreach, with  deportation legal defense, family immigration services, litigation, and advocacy to build a  community base and to confront/slow the INS. WVIP was part of a modest wave of local efforts  spawned by two national organizations: the Centro de Acción Social Autónomo and the  National Lawyers Guild.  

Powered initially by little more than our righteous anger and mostly aspirational legal strategies,  we soon hit the wall. It wasn’t a border-type wall (that went up years later). It was a wall of  community fear cemented by INS intimidation. A year or so in, we had to confront the fact that  we were “losing” way more than “winning”. We managed to catch INS off-guard and pulled off  a few attention-getting wins. But we prevented very few deportations. Despite knowing their  rights, most workers understandably gave in to INS threats and pressure.  

We came to internalize and adjust to the reality that we were engaged in an indefinite low  intensity war. We could have realistically expected to meaningfully impact only a very small  portion of INS operations. We were way over-matched but we saw that we were not entirely  defenseless. We had to adapt. Tactically speaking, INS waged an intermittent war on the  community and we—in classic guerrilla fashion—combined deep community organizing and due  process legal maneuvering to mount occasional ambushes.  

Eventually, INS agents mostly avoided coming to our town of Woodburn because they (rightly)  anticipated that they’d probably net fewer arrests and might well have to do much more work  than usual to convert arrests into deportations. Our organization and our community came to see  that as our signature “victory”.2  

Low Intensity War”  

If the immigrants’ right movement must embrace the notion that we are, again, in a kind of war,  it seems important that we understand its characteristics.  

Resisting La Migra, a narrative of WVIP’s key battles with the INS—victories and defeats—is available at WVIP and its worker base went on to found PCUN, Oregon’s  farmworker union, in 1985. 

The War on Immigrants, like all war, employs violence to subjugate and destroy. This  Administration has unleashed and openly sanctioned psychological and physical violence at  levels well beyond standard “law enforcement.”  

“Low intensity” is, of course, not the experience of those most directly affected, but rather of the  broader population. For the most part, ICE is rarely present in any given community. Intensity  does vary considerably depending on factors such as local/state policies and politics affecting the  level of police cooperation, as well as the visible activism of influential allies and/or adversaries.  

The Administration’s War “3-D” meta-strategies  

Though I’ve lost exact count, the Administration’s announced and/or launched well over six  dozen major anti-immigrant offensives. Courts have enjoined some, others await regulatory or  bureaucratic action. Some are full effect. And surely more are on the drawing board.  

Stephen Miller, now former-Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Administration’s other war  commanders all plainly understand that they cannot muster the logistical, legal, and political  force needed to remove even a major fraction of the immigrants without status. To greatly  augment their War’s direct impacts, they encourage Trump’s incessant and pointed hate rhetoric  and rely on it to elevate fear and fatigue, inducing surrender.  

The 3-Ds of intended outcomes are: self-Deportation, self-Detention, and self-Demobilization.  

“Self-Deportation” seeks to pressure some portion of immigrants to leave “voluntarily.” Mitt  Romney made it the centerpiece of his immigration platform in 2012. Today it’s the War’s  central goal and, by now, has forced out as many as several hundred thousand immigrants.  

“Self-Detention” best signifies the intended outcomes of countless repressive initiatives designed  to pressure or demoralize immigrants into a de facto, self-imposed “house arrest.” The  unmistakable messages are: “don’t go to work, school, or clinic, don’t apply for benefits, don’t  petition for your spouse, don’t apply for citizenship, don’t be ‘enumerated’ in the 2020 Census.”  For those who can’t handle the isolation and deprivation, there’s “self-deportation”.  

“Self-Demobilization” is the Administration’s hoped-for effect of targeting some undocumented  immigrants who take visible leadership. It’s a goal of the “Build The Wall” drumbeat and  National Guard deployments, of “mandatory” federal criminal prosecution for border entry  without inspection, and so much more. The core messages are “don’t organize, don’t speak up  or defend yourself, and don’t come to this country.”  

What’s different now…and (sort of) the same  

Seen in the long view, these trends seem like reversions to pre-Obama Era paradigms:  

 ICE freed of internal and executive branch restraints, a virulent resurgence of the  “vigilante” culture which the Obama Administration tried to root out or discourage;  

 Big-scale raids arresting hundreds at work-places, plus “sweeps” seeking those with final  orders of removal (and anyone else they encounter who lacks status); 

 Almost non-existent favorable exercise of discretion in enforcement;3   Shifting USCIS from a “benefits service” to a “fraud detection” oriented operation;4 

Though not completely new, these trends—a mix of negative and positive—seem markedly  different than in past eras:  

 The communications explosion, providing us instant and mass-scale connectivity, but  also plaguing the community with a morass of disinformation, rumor, and…  

 The President’s relentless demagoguery and degradation of fact, dominating public  debate, a gateway for imposing dictatorship;  

 ICE’s capacities and powers: more agents, mass hearings, advanced technology, massive  information sources, private detention facilities, and the “instant final removal orders”5 severely undercutting resistance strategies which rely on due process;  

 Major expansion of immigration legal services, especially community-driven program  and pro bono defense, including litigation;  

 Meaningful protection, solidarity and support from progressive city and state  governments,6 all of which was utterly inconceivable in the 1970s or 1980s;  

 Assertive federal district and circuit courts demonstrating much less deference to  executive powers.  

 Mindset and strategies for combat and life in a Low Intensity War environment  

To paraphrase a Civil Rights anthem, if we’re to wake up every day with our minds set on  freedom—and not on failure, we also have to have our minds set on resilience.  

Historically speaking, the Obama Administration’s 11/20/14 policy shift to priority-only enforcement  represented a huge shift that we can now see more clearly after the Trump Administration eliminated and repudiated it.

 In the pre-Department of Homeland Security days, when USCIS and ICE were one seamless INS, application  adjudications tended to be more hard-edged and adversarial, as well. 

The auto-reinstatement of previous final orders of removal, a procedure which became law in 1996 but is only  now becoming a central element of strategies targeting the immigrants most vulnerable to summary deportation.

 Mostly in the forms of limiting cooperation with ICE, public funding of deportation legal defense, drivers  license, professional licensing, and in-state tuition and some scholarship funding, plus aggressive, mostly successful  litigation to defend these measures.

That can start with this simple definition: “resilience is the ability to rapidly return to ‘normal’  both physically and emotionally after a stressful event.”  

Every deportation feels like a defeat, but is an especially “stressful event” when it involves a  long-term resident deeply rooted in family and community. We experience and carry an  accumulation of those traumas. But that’s become typical in this low intensity war.  

“Typical” can’t come to mean “acceptable.” Rather, it must be “endurable,” no easy feat.  

One disservice we can do to ourselves is to calculate our worth, or the worth of our resistance as  a “simple sum” with a formulaic “bottom line” of “victories minus defeats.” That will be a  negative number, adding to our psychological burden. In a low intensity war, we strengthen our  resilience when we unqualifiedly value our victories—like INS’s apparent avoidance of  Woodburn—and find paths to acknowledge but move past defeats.  

Elements of a resilience posture  

Resilience is as unique as each of us. It has no set formula, but experience suggests these as  possible approaches relevant to our era:  

Re-imagine “resistance”. For undocumented immigrants in a self-Detention  environment, living your daily life is an act of resistance. This casts resistance much  more inclusively than our reflexive notions of protests and campaigns because it takes  head on what President Franklin Roosevelt famously called out as “fear itself” during the  depths of the 1930s Depression.  

Think—and reinforce—community resilience. The focus on “self-care”, essential though  it is, carries, for some, a connotation that individuals are to blame, thereby deepening a  sense of guilt. A related concern is “resilience” (mis)used to normalize or even  glamorize trauma.  

Summon the power of our “foundational” experiences. At a June 2018 gathering7 on  resistance and resilience, one leader described keeping and occasionally bringing out the  clothing she had kept from that day she crossed the border as a young child.  

Maintain, build and share a local narrative of the value and contributions of intact  families and the loss to community, economy, and psyche that each divided family  occasions. We continue this struggle in the names of those unjustly forced to leave. 

Prioritize connection with our base. Back in the day, house visits and phone calls were  the primary means. That kind of personal interaction often served as a brief respite from a three-day gathering at the CAPACES Leadership Institute convened 21 immigrant rights’ leaders from 15  organizations in the national Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) network. Going forward, the CLI will organize  and host a similar gathering every June. The gathering employs peer conversation and the CLI’s “Seven Dimensions”  method for understanding and dealing with “dilemmas” facing movement leaders in sustaining themselves in the work.

The fear. It reinforced our bond in ways that mobilization outreach and social media  interaction sometimes don’t.  

Connect with folks in other strands of the social justice movement. How are they coping  with anger, fear and guilt? What renews their strength and resolve?  

Remember or visualize heroism from the darkest times of struggle. The outcomes of  iconic struggles color our present-day sense of them: lunch counter sit-ins and “freedom  rides” on interstate buses catalyzed decisive breakthroughs in dismantling segregation in  public accommodations. Try to imagine and learn about how it felt at the time, when risk  of injury and death was acute and breakthrough was anything but assured.  

Remind ourselves that the pendulum of struggle will swing back, powered less by grand  events and more by the accumulation of countless small acts of struggle. These include  acts that slow the swing away from human rights and acts that gather/align our forces for  the swing back. Interestingly, as recently reported in The Intercept, key anti-immigrant  leaders think that they’re already losing. In their narrative, even their dream Attorney  General, their presidential champion-in-chief, and his sway over Republican  congressional leaders will fail to permanently curtail immigration while the white  population shrinks and the Latino population grows.  

The Así Se Puede spirit 

The immigrants’ rights movement has long embraced the farmworker movement’s aspirational  slogan, Si Se Puede. The sense of hope and resolve that it conjures has launched and sustained  countless drives to turn back repression, demand justice and make change happen. We continue  to apply that spirit to the challenges of turning back Trump’s “3D” war on immigrants.  


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