Building a National Campaign for Immigrant Rights and Policy Reform

Building a National Campaign for Immigrant Rights and Policy Reform

By Victoria Dominguez of CARECEN and Equal Voice for Southern California Families Alliance


Image credit: Joseph Voves CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0

Since the November 2016 election of President Donald Trump, the political climate and sense of security within the immigrant community has drastically changed – and with it, the work of many immigrant rights organizations throughout the nation.

Rapid response, direct legal and support services have become the bread and butter of these organizations in this time of fear. Yet the need to envision a national campaign that centers our work beyond the demand for local services has never been more crucial.

During Donald Trump’s long presidential campaign, racist and xenophobic language used to describe immigrant and refugee families became part of the everyday national narrative. Trump’s campaign built itself on the hurt and dissolution of millions of American families and the need for a “bogeyman” to blame for decades of governmental failure. And this strategy worked; it resonated with voters and helped divide communities, resulting in the election of a president who harbors no political experience, has no history in protecting the rights of Americans, and is directly benefitting from the socio-economic hardship of millions.

Now, from working to provide legal services to nurturing the next generation of immigrant rights leaders, immigrant rights organizations have a wide array of strategies and experience in movement building and fighting for the rights of our community. However, the work of these organizations is often limited by capacity and funding to local service areas, and these challenges have posed barriers in the call for a national campaign that can positively transform the future of immigrants.

Immigration and its regulations are a federal issue that is often treated only within state and community limits. This is not to dismiss the great importance of these areas of work, as most of the power that communities and organizations have is in the implementation of federal and state laws. Local work also addresses the immediate needs of our community – which is victim to scare tactics, intimidation, and persecution – and allows for organizing to happen. But in order to secure a future for undocumented immigrants, including ensuring their rights and the rights of future immigrants, we need to task ourselves in looking at the federal government – and, in doing so, at the 2018 elections.

Currently, all three branches of the federal government are controlled by the Republican Party, and within the first few months of President Trump’s administration, it has been made clear that the Republican Party has fallen in line with his racist political platform. Under this administration, fair and humane immigration reform is unlikely. Rather, the president and his allies in Congress will most likely push an agenda that will criminalize current and future immigrants, impose undue burdens on impoverished, unsafe, and politically unstable countries, militarize our southern border, and tokenize “deserving” immigrants.

The 2018 midterm elections will therefore be a deciding point in the future of our community and our nation. All 435 seats in the United States House of Representatives and 34 (out of 100) seats in the United States Senate will be up for election. Any hopes in pushing back against anti-immigrant policy will be grounded in our ability to win back the House of Representatives and the Senate.

This is the moment in which immigrant rights organizations, faith groups, leaders, and allies need to rally around state elections. In the past two years, numerous historic “red” states have shown movement toward more moderate positions due to the amazing work of progressive organizations, thus proving that there is work to be done but wins can be made.

A united front with a shared political platform that is rooted in human rights, inclusion, and dignity can change the future of our nation. Local, state, and national organizations must come together and build this platform and movement. It is our duty to fight at all levels in order to protect our community, now and into the future.

This post is the first of a two-part series. Stay tuned for part two, in which Victoria Dominguez will discuss the need for new narratives, and increased intersectionality, in the national campaign for fair, humane immigration reform.