Donald Trump made cracking down on illegal immigration the cornerstone of his campaign for president. He has promised to deport millions of undocumented immigrants regardless of their age, marital status or family situation. He said in August that the only way for those folks to gain legal status is to leave and attempt to enter the country legitimately, a process that could take years and guarantees no success.
Immigrant-rights groups this week have been preparing for the worst, meeting with state and local leaders and securing promises that California and Los Angeles will be sanctuaries for immigrants no matter what happens next year. It's generally agreed there are about 11 million people who have come here illegally.
"What we're getting is a lot of questions from people in the community," says Tessie Borden, spokeswoman for the L.A.-based Central American Resource Center (CARECEN). "They're very nervous. They're saying, 'What's next?' "
Trump has vowed to halt the Obama administration's attempts to essentially provide some form of amnesty for undocumented family members, including children, spouses and parents, of those here illegally. The promise has sent a chill through the immigrant-heavy communities of Los Angeles. "There are a lot of questions we can't answer at this point," says Jorge-Mario Cabrera, spokesman for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA).
Father Greg Boyle, a longtime advocate for immigrants, said in a statement late Friday that people have been texting him to express their anxiety. Boyle, founder of the nonprofit jobs-not-gangs group Homeboy Industries, has maintained for years that the community must see hope even in those who are easy to demonize, including gangsters and "the current president-elect and those who voted him into office."
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Yesterday immigrant advocates met with state Attorney General (and U.S. Senator–elect) Kamala Harris, Mayor Eric Garcetti, L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis and City Councilman Gil Cedillo — and all vowed to try to defy any Trump administration attempts at deporting Angelenos who simply lack papers. "Our commitment to our community will not change, regardless of who is in the White House," Cedillo said in a statement.
The mission to thwart Trump's deportation plans could include court battles and perhaps even underground railroads. Trump's platform includes a promise to end sanctuary cities, 31 municipalities that have made a point not to hunt for people living there illegally. Those towns, including L.A., "are in the crosshairs of the Republican agenda," Borden of CARECEN says.
Cabrera of CHIRLA also says that Los Angeles should expect huge, pro-immigrant demonstrations around inauguration season in January. He vowed that their size would overshadow the 2006 "Day Without Immigrants" May Day march down Wilshire Boulevard: It drew 250,000 protesters.
"There's a huge distaste for walls and mass deportations, even among some Republicans," Cabrera says. "We're going to build coalitions to stop the most harmful of Mr. Trump's proposals."