‘Race Is at the Bottom of His Immigration Policy’ – CounterSpin interview with Kica Matos on Trump and deportation

Janine Jackson interviewed Kica Matos about Trump’s deportation policy for the November 18, 2016, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

Kica Matos

Kica Matos: “I think it behooves all of us to wrap our arms around our communities.”

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MP3 Link

Janine Jackson: Few if any groups received more venom from the Trump campaign than immigrants. Slurring millions of people as rapists, terrorists and freeloaders, Donald Trump promised, along with the infamous wall on the southern border and a ban of Muslims, tens of thousands of deportations and the seizure of money that people in the US send to families in Mexico. Distressing as all of this is in itself, it’s coming after years that have already seen many, many family-severing deportations and a struggle to enact reforms.

So what now? Joining us to talk about what’s needed and what’s being done is Kica Matos, director of immigrant rights and racial justice at the Center for Community Change. She joins us by phone from Connecticut. Welcome to CounterSpin, Kica Matos.

Kica Matos: Thank you for having me.

JJ: Let me ask you first: Some are saying—I think wishfully—oh, he can’t possibly do everything he talked about. But the array of harms that a Trump presidency represents for immigrant communities, undocumented and documented, should not be minimized. What is your initial response when people ask you, what now?

KM: So I think a couple of things. One is there is a cautious optimism amongst some of my progressive friends who think that Trump really was engaged in a campaign to win and to win at all costs, and he stoked the fires of bigotry and racism in order to win, and they think that he will, as president, be a different person. I can tell you right now that that is not the case when it comes to immigration.

If you look at his hundred-day plan, he intends in a very short amount of time to defund sanctuary cities; to repeal the relief that was extended to young people, so that they will be subject to deportation; he wants to build his notorious wall between the US and Mexico; and, finally, he intends to deport what he calls “undocumented immigrants with criminal histories,” though “criminal histories” are as yet undefined, but that is a very significant number of people. So the “what now” for us is to mount a formidable defense, and to do everything we can to stop him at the local, state and national level.

JJ: Well, let me draw you out on one point. Because I have seen already some stories with a kind of tone of relief: Oh, if he’s just going to deport the criminals…. You know, we see this also with welfare policy, people looking—liberals, you know—for policy that would punish bad poor people but help good poor people. There’s something very dangerous in itself about this attempt at division, and then the push to legitimize a crime-focused approach to immigration policy in general.

KM: That’s right. And I’ll say a couple of things. One is, they are finding it very difficult to defend their number of 2.5 to 3 million people who they believe to be in this country as undocumented with some kind of criminal history. So we think that A) this number is made up and B) that as they move forward with their deportation machinery, that they’re really going to go after people with misdemeanors or people, for example, who will get pulled over because of a pretextual broken headlight. And one of what we call the architects of hate, Kris Kobach, has already said that in a situation like that, they don’t plan to adjudicate the case. So if you get pulled over with a broken headlight or some minor infraction, their intention, once they find out you’re undocumented, is to deport you.

But it is this dangerous narrative that they’re moving forward to facilitate the deportation of millions, because if we demonize immigrants and we call them criminals, then I think they’re betting on Americans feeling this great sense of ease that, well, look at that, we’re getting rid of the, quote unquote, “bad immigrant.”

And it creates, also, this dynamic amongst the immigrant community that is very uncomfortable for many, where the good immigrant gets saved and the bad immigrant gets targeted for actual deportation. And that’s a narrative that people feel very uncomfortable with, given the fact that they are playing fast and loose with what their definition of a “criminal” undocumented immigrant is.

JJ: And it almost goes without saying — and that’s why, I guess, you have to say it — the conversation and the coverage of immigration is very racially coded. You know, we aren’t talking about immigrants from Belgium, for example.

KM: Uh-huh. When Trump talks about undocumented immigrants, he’s talking about Latinos, and he targets in particular Mexicans, right? To him, Mexicans are the epitome of the vile immigrant. They’re brown and they are repulsive to him, and so he had no problem calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals that he had no problem demonizing. It is very clear to us that race is at the bottom of his immigration policy, because when he or his peers talk about the undocumented, they don’t refer, for example, to his wife, who at one point in time was undocumented in the United States. They don’t refer to the undocumented who are from Ireland or Eastern Europe or any other European country. When they refer to undocumented immigrants, and they demonize these undocumented immigrants, they are talking about brown and black people.

JJ: Well, I see limits even in possibly sympathetic coverage. For example, I’m seeing praise heaped on the Los Angeles Police Department for saying that they aren’t going to work with federal law enforcement to enforce immigration policy, that they won’t randomly ask brown people to show their papers. And while I think that’s good, it seems like kind of a low bar.

KM: The reality is when the immigration authorities decide to move forward with deportation under Trump, the low-hanging fruit, as you say, are going to be brown people—brown people like me, I’m a Latino—and I think there’s going to be a lot of racism that’s going to advance the enforcement machinery: pretextual stops, stop and frisk, racial profiling. The Trump administration is already saying that they’re going to go after undocumented immigrants and anybody who surrounds them. So if they’re looking for John Smith, and you happen to be next to John Smith and you are brown, they will come after you as well if you can’t show your papers. So this to us is a very intentional effort to malign and demonize people of color in this country.

And so it behooves sanctuary cities, and cities who care about their communities, to do everything they can to protect them. Because these policies will not just affect those targeted, it will affect entire communities. I think it will come as no surprise that we live mostly—except for, you know, gerrymandered districts—in multi-racial communities. And those of us who do live in multi-racial communities will wake up one day and see our next-door neighbors taken away.

We’ll go to our church and wonder what happened to that family, and we will learn that that family was deported. We will see acts of terror in public spaces, in houses, in places where people work. And so I think it behooves all of us to wrap our arms around our communities, and it behooves city officials and state officials to mount a control wall — talking about walls — good strong walls to protect their residents from the terror that Trump and his administration intends to unleash in a few months.

JJ: Are sanctuary cities — I’ve been very interested to hear cities proclaiming themselves, or underscoring that they are, sanctuary cities. Does that have a legal underpinning, or is that a statement of an intention and policy? How tough is that?

KM: Yeah, so, the understood definition of sanctuary city is any city that refuses to carry out the law enforcement job of immigration and customs enforcement. There were efforts under Obama with 287(g) and Secure Communities to encourage local law enforcement to carry out the mandate of immigration and customs enforcement, to advance deportation. Many cities resisted. When people talk about sanctuary cities, a lot of the time they’re really referring to the refusal of local communities to carry out deportation policies for the federal government.

But more broadly, sanctuary cities are understood as places that protect the undocumented immigrant and provide a haven for them and provide the opportunity for immigrants, irrespective of their status, to be welcomed, to be productive citizens in their respective communities, and to engage in the civic life of the cities.

So if you look at some of the anti-immigrant organizations, Center for Immigrant Studies has a broader definition of sanctuary city, where they define sanctuary cities as any city that is friendly towards immigrants. So where I live, for example, New Haven, Connecticut, it’s considered a sanctuary city under their definition, because the city implemented a program to offer city identification cards to any resident of the city, irrespective of their status. So if you go by that broader definition, there are hundreds of sanctuary cities in the United States, and many of them are already engaged in acts of defiance, publicly letting the federal government know that they will do absolutely everything they can to protect immigrants in their communities.

JJ: Let me just ask you, finally, is there anything that you think reporters could be doing more of or less of in these difficult times, particularly with regard to coverage of, not just the White House moves on immigration, but on the status of immigrant communities generally?

KM: I have seen the damage that happens in communities when aggressive deportation policies are carried out. And let me just be really clear about something: They traumatize families, they traumatize communities, and they rip apart the fabric of whatever community, whatever city these deportations are carried out in. I think that journalists should tell those stories. When they hear of deportations, and they hear of raids being carried out in whatever community they’re in, I would encourage them to cover those stories, interview the families that are impacted, talk to community members.

Because I want to believe, despite the outcome of the election, that most Americans care about justice, that most Americans really want to live up to the ideals of our democracy. And the kind of vision and future that Donald Trump sees for Americans, I want to believe, is not what Americans want at the end of the day. The average length of stay here, the median stay for undocumented immigrants, is 15 years, so we are talking about people who have made their lives in this country.

Many undocumented immigrants live in what is known as mixed status families, so there are many instances of undocumented parents with US citizen kids. So when that deportation machinery starts revving up, I want reporters to talk about those US citizen kids who are orphaned because of the horrifying policies that our government is choosing to carry out.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Kica Matos. She’s director of immigrant rights and racial justice at the Center for Community Change. They’re online at CommunityChange.org. Kica Matos, thank you very much for joining us today on CounterSpin.

KM: Thank you for having me.

This piece was reprinted by RINF Alternative News with permission from FAIR.