For activists in Philadelphia, simply not being Donald Trump may not be enough
Hundreds of immigration activists of all races and ages chanted “¿Cuándo?¡Ahora!” or “When? Now!” as they began walking in the sweltering mid-summer heat. They had come together in a predominantly Latino neighborhood in South Philadelphia near the site of the Democratic National Convention for the nearly two-mile march north toward Philadelphia City Hall to call for an end of the federal deportations that are currently tearing families apart.
The backlash against Donald Trump’s fear-mongering surrounding Mexican immigrants was swift, but Latinos and their allies haven’t necessarily cozied up to the Democrats just yet. President Barack Obama has presided over an unprecedented era of deportations. Philadelphia immigrant activists and other advocates from around country fear that the deportations will continue under a President Hillary Clinton and Vice President Tim Kaine.
Simply being not as bad as Trump may not be enough to appease the Latino community and its allies. In his first major Spanish-language speech as Clinton’s running mate, the Virginia senator said that immigration reform would be high on the agenda during the first 100 days of a Clinton administration. “I don’t believe it,” says Adelina Nicholls, executive director of Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights. “It’s pure election rhetoric.”
Democrats have positioned themselves to the left of the Republican Party on immigration reform. Neither Clinton nor Obama have channeled Trump by proposing to build a wall on the Mexican border or by painting undocumented immigrants as murderers terrorizing American neighborhoods. But immigrant advocates argue that current Democratic policies are far from humane.
Since taking office in 2009, the Obama administration has deported more than two million undocumented immigrants. Those moves led the immigration and civil rights organization National Council of La Raza to dub President Obama, the “Deporter-in-Chief.” In the past two years, President Obama had signaled a willingness to ease up on deportations. In 2014, Obama issued an executive order, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA). DAPA allowed undocumented immigrants who have been in the United States since 2010 and have children who are citizens or lawful permanent residents to be exempted from deportation. Texas and several other red states sued the federal government, and a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction preventing the proposed program from going into effect. Last month, the Supreme Court deadlocked on DAPA, which left the injunction in place.
But to the dismay of Latino and progressive activists, the Obama administration ramped up deportation proceedings earlier this year. This time, those efforts focused on Central American migrants, many of them children, who, beginning two years ago, have been fleeing in droves from the violence in their home countries. During the Democratic primary campaign season, Hillary Clinton had to defend her calls to deport child migrants.
Juntos and Mijente, two Latino-led groups that organized the march also called for halting the expansion of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, (ICE) the federal agency that handles deportations. Local advocates also called for the closure of the Berks County Family Residential Center, some 60 miles west of Philadelphia in Leesport, Pennsylvania. The detention center has been a flashpoint for controversy in the Philadelphia metropolitan area. The Berks County center lost its child-care license but continues to care for children. Advocates for the undocumented say that these types of conditions make life worse for families.
Meanwhile, some protestors carried signs urging Hillary Clinton to “Be The Anti-Trump.” “No papers? No fear! ¿Sin papeles? ¡No miedo!” the protesters continued to chant as they make their way through the streets as Philadelphia police officers on foot and bicycles directed traffic along the way. But a mood of skepticism hung over the protest. Among the marchers is a 13-year-old boy whose mother would have been eligible for the program, if it weren’t for the DAPA ruling.
“Honestly, I don’t have much faith that it would be different,” a protestor named Kelly told The American Prospect when asked about Hillary Clinton’s immigration policies. “It would be more lip service.”