With Whom Will We Stand?

Subway Therapy: New Yorkers respond to the election at Union Square
December 05, 2016
Shannon Gleeson

In the wake of the presidential election, immigrant communities have been thrust into a state of fear and uncertainty over what is to come in a new Trump administration.

Some things are clear. Trump has declared that he will move immediately to deport 2-3 million “criminal” immigrants. This declaration is not surprising, and has been facilitated in large part by deportation and detention mechanisms put in place under the Obama administration.  While it plays well to a public thirsting for a tough approach on immigration, the reality is that “criminals” can include migrants whose only “crime” is crossing the border without authorization.

Trump has also said that he will “immediately terminate” President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA).  The end of DACA is devastating also to the many young people waiting to “age in” to the program (which covers 16-31 year olds). Employers will be forced to fire their now unauthorized workers, costing billions in lost productivity and threatening the well-being of more than 741,000 individuals and their families. Many DACA-mented students will also lose their financial aid. Others fear that they will be among those in line for imminent deportation.

Calls for universities to declare sanctuary are growing, with specific demands to prevent cooperation with immigration authorities. Immigration restrictionists warn that schools that resist are engaging in obstruction, while allied students, faculty and staff demand that sanctuary is a key civil and human rights issue of our era. Similarly, mayors in key immigrant receiving states – including New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and even Ithaca – have reiterated their commitment to protecting the undocumented immigrants in their communities, just as opponents threaten to pull federal funding. Allies champion the show of support, but warn about the absolute power of federal authority – despite these local declarations.

Immigrants stand beside other underrepresented and marginalized communities as they come under attack by an incoming administration that is brazenly appointing racist, xenophobic, homophobic, and misogynist advisors to their new administration.  This is not hyperbole.  Women very concretely stand to lose access to reproductive healthcare and LGBTQ individuals stand to lose a whole host of civil rights and other protections we all take for granted, such as identification access and marriage-rights. Incoming vice president Mike Pence has championed conversion therapy and to restrict reproductive rights for women, targeting especially resources for low-income families. 

Hate crimes against Muslims across the country have skyrocketed, swastikas and other symbols of hate have appeared all over college campuses (covered apparently by tenets of free speech). Meanwhile, Trump advisor and author of a range of anti-immigrant bills in Kansas, Kris Kobach, has proudly championed a Muslim registry reminiscent of Japanese internment. Jeff Sessions, a proponent of policies that led to black voter intimidation and unconstitutional policing practices, is a frontrunner for attorney general.  Steve Bannon, former head of a media outlet that promotes misogyny and anti-Semitism, is the President-elect’s chief strategist. Though he denies the label, white nationalists see him as an advocate in the White House. And victims of sexual assault are reminded of the impunity with which perpetrators are allowed to act, as the new President-elect has not only admitted but boasted of his aggressions, while threatening to sue the women accusing him. This is not tabloid news or pure presidential politics. These are peoples’ lives.

The climate for standing in solidarity with all of these groups will no doubt harden. Reminiscent of the Cold-War, calls to reinstate a council to investigate “un-American activities” has been resurrected. While we weigh the sanctity of free speech, the lives of many students, community members, and workers are literally coming under attack. Therefore, as some shareholders, alumni and trustees no doubt share the incoming administration’s views, to whom will our universities, unions, and business leaders be accountable? Whose safety will we protect and whose well-being will we champion? History will judge us by our actions.

Shannon Gleeson earned her Ph.D. in Sociology and Demography from the University of California, Berkeley in 2008. She joined the faculty of the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations in Fall 2014, after six years in the Latin American & Latino Studies Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her research focuses on the experiences of low-wage workers, the role of immigrant documentation status, and legal mobilization. She has also conducted research on immigrant civic engagement and the bureaucratic processes of labor standards enforcement. Her publications have appeared in the American Journal of Sociology, Latino Studies, Law & Social Inquiry, Law & Society Review, International Migration, and Social Science & Medicine. Her book, "Conflicting Commitments: The Politics of Enforcing Immigrant Worker Rights in San Jose and Houston," was published in 2012 by Cornell University Press.