Since 9/11, the US government has increasingly framed immigration as a national security threat. George W. Bush created the Secure Communities program in 2008, which allowed the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to access biometric data collected by local law enforcement; Barack Obama radically expanded that program, earning the nickname “deporter-in-chief.” Donald Trump campaigned on these issues, claiming that Mexico was sending rapists and drug dealers to the United States and promising to ban Muslims from entering the United States. Punitive immigration policies, so the argument went, were a crucial part of maintaining national security.
Trump’s first federal budget proposal unsurprisingly prioritized immigration enforcement, requesting a $54 billion increase in defense spending, with $2.8 billion of that going to border security. (The final budget cut that border security figure in half, however, and did not include a line item for the president’s beloved border wall.)
This securitization regime targets Mexicans and Muslims, who are framed as “security threats.” The government has consistently billed immigration measures as counterterrorism measures and vice versa.
Members of these communities recognize this change within their own enclaves. A 2007 Pew Survey found that 53 percent of Muslims say it is more difficult to be Muslim in the United States after 9/11. Latinos similarly report a high level of group discrimination. While Muslim Americans experience increased scrutiny at borders and in airports, Latinos face racial profiling in daily life through the DHS’s 287(g) program— which deputized local police to act as immigration enforcers, empowering them to demand papers from anyone they think might be undocumented — and police-immigration collaboration throughout the country. But both groups report experiences of racism and scapegoating.
The opportunities for the two groups to unite around their broadly shared experiences are many. Yet despite their parallels, data I collected between 2013 and 2016 show that Latinos and Muslims did not see their experiences as comparable.
Over one hundred Latino respondents in Arizona confirmed an increase in profiling as a result of security measures and described the state’s use of border controls to fight terrorism, but none mentioned sharing this experience with Muslims. While all Latino respondents said they should collaborate with other groups to mobilize against securitization after the possibility was brought up to them, none brought up the Muslim community as a potential ally on their own.
Similarly, in New York City, I surveyed fifty-five Latino respondents, two-thirds of whom marked 9/11 as a definitive moment that changed the character of their personal interactions and exchanges with local law enforcement. They expressed fear in response to the increased scrutiny of local police.
Still, they described their experiences in isolation: none identified Muslims as a group that is burdened in similar ways. Fighting xenophobia and racism in America alongside Muslims hadn’t occurred to these Latinos.
Other research corroborates the same story. Data collected by the SoMI Project in Boston and New York show that Muslims also failed to connect their post-9/11 encounters with state security to Latinos’ experiences.
Latinos and Muslims do not yet see their experiences as intertwined. Since Trump’s inauguration, however, large movements against the travel ban, the proposed border wall, and aggressive ICE raids have started to make these connections apparent.
The nascent development of the online cry #NoBanNoWallNoRaids gives the American left an opportunity to organize interracial solidarity, make explicit Muslims’ and Latinos’ shared experiences of targeting, and make a national push for immigration reform and desecuritization.
Retreat to the City
The last major, national immigration movement occurred in the spring of 2006, when between 3.5 and 5 million people organized in opposition to federal bill HR 4437. The bill would have criminalized undocumented immigrants, making unlawful entry a felony offense that led to imprisonment and deportation.
Latinos of all nationalities mobilized national protests and generated mass public support. May 1, 2006, “A Day Without an Immigrant,” saw rallies and demonstrations nationwide, all advocating for immigrants rights as workers rights.
Seeing millions in the streets, the Democratic Party took up this movement’s banner and blocked HR 4437. But since then, no coherent national movement has emerged to oppose the record number of anti-immigrant state bills. Instead, activists have focused on local sanctuary city resolutions, which protect immigrants by refusing to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
These municipal resolutions convey a positive message to immigrants, reminding them of their value and efforts to guard their safety. But they are little more than triage: a short-term solution for a massive problem.
What’s more, this push for sanctuary cities and counties can paradoxically become an obstacle for national immigration reform — even an obstacle to solidarity. Although the majority of immigrants already live in places like Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago that promise to protect them, Latinos who are not in these metropolitan areas are left to fend for themselves. Efforts to make urban centers more progressive are welcome, of course. But the Left cannot only retreat to urban centers and coastal enclaves; we must have a national politics that can push back against the most recent wave of anti-immigrant legislation.
Besides, as the recent raids in Chicago and New York demonstrate, sanctuary cities often aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. The infrastructure connecting local police departments to ICE and DHS already exists: data from, for example, the NYPD, easily finds its way into federal hands.
The variation of implementation by location sends a number of messages to Latinos; as a result, they report feelings of fragmentation and division, and there is little political mobilization at a national level.
Perhaps this is because the few reforms offered by Barack Obama’s administration were just enough to deter mass political mobilization. He used executive powers to pass Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which provided temporary deportation protection for minors. While many rightly praised this executive action as a victory for the immigrant rights movement, the strong push to pass the DREAM Act was halted soon after.
Since the Trump administration has started deporting young immigrants under DACA protection, we now see the urgency in reviving the kind of movement we saw in 2006. Indeed, Trump’s first one hundred days have seen not only a resurgence of immigration reform actions, but new kinds of interracial solidarity among immigrants.
Within the first week of the Trump presidency, the rallying cry of #NoBanNoWallNoRaids suggested the possibility of a new coalition, one that did not exist before Trump took office and one that would not exist were it not for President Trump.
Such a coalition could cut across class. Data show that Muslim immigrants are “highly assimilated”; compared to other immigrant groups, they complete their naturalization process and acquire citizenship more quickly. For the most part, Muslim immigrants also have socioeconomic status and educational levels comparable to native-born Americans.
Latinos are a different story: socio-demographic data show that this group consistently lags behind the general population in both socioeconomic status and education level. Only about 15 percent of Latinos complete a college education, and the wealth of white households is about eleven times that of a Hispanic household. Latino immigrants acquire citizenship in smaller numbers and at a slower rate than other immigrants.
The two groups are similar, however, in that they both generally vote at lower rates than the general population; both Muslims and Latinos have lower political participation turnout in conventional electoral politics as well as other forms of political action. Both have low levels of social and political capital, especially post-9/11.
This could now change if the energy behind #NoBanNoWallNoRaids can be translated into the building of an intersectional coalition that acknowledges that despite their differences, Latinos and Muslims are vulnerable to the Trump administration and have a shared interest in fighting back. The political activation of these groups is a massive opportunity for leftists to organize against systems of oppression with a clear message of solidarity: our liberation is tied to yours.
In the context of immigration securitization, acts of solidarity are necessary between Latinos and Muslims, especially when those whose status is most precarious may not be able to take part in certain political action.
Grassroots, intersectional organizing has allowed for the collaboration between Latinos, Muslims, immigrants, and their supporters in nationwide protests. This coalition was present at the Women’s March on Washington in January, A Day Without Immigrants in February, the International Women’s Strike in March, and, most recently, protests on May Day.
The alliance between Mexicans and Muslims has resulted in joint press conferences, joint rallies, and demonstrations in which advocacy organizations and networks denounce the border wall and the travel ban, publically state that an attack on either is an attack on both, and condemn Trump’s xenophobia. For example, advocates of Latino and Muslim organizations in New Mexico united in their advocacy against Trump’s agenda of mass deportations within the first week of his presidency. Further strengthening these alliances can lead to building power with these two groups with low political capital can work together to turn this around.
Intersectionality as a tactical choice reminds us of the responsibility of the other’s needs, and the political continuities behind these demonstrations against Trump allows us to be critical of the broader structures of power in play. #NoBanNoWallNoRaids is not a single-issue movement solely reacting to Trump, but a way to build cohesiveness within the Left.
Trump’s election, for all the evil it promises, gives us an opportunity to build a true politics of solidarity. Not only does the resistance to the president allow us to take action against institutions like DHS and ICE, but he has also encouraged groups with low social and political capital like Latinos and Muslims to participate in socially transformative movements.
#NoBanNoWallNoRaids is a unified cry against oppression. The Women’s March on Washington provided an opportunity for those who traditionally don’t participate in politics to not just be included but be explicitly called upon to join the resistance. As Angela Davis said at that march, “Inclusive and intersectional feminism calls upon all of us to join the resistance to racism, to Islamophobia, to antisemitism, to misogyny, to capitalist exploitation.”
Trump’s xenophobic policies are a disaster for a wide range of immigrants and people of color. But they can also help weave those groups together to act in solidarity.