“The history and the story of immigration here is one of, primarily, exploitation,” says Isa Noyola.
Noyola, a transgender activist based in Phoenix, is the deputy director of Mijente, one of the country’s most prominent immigrant-rights organizations, representing Latinx communities around the country. When Biden was declared the winner of the 2020 election, Noyola pointed to a dual sense of relief and hope: that the whole system of immigration in America (and the myriad constructs that affect it) needed an overhaul, and that there was now an opening to advance her movement’s work on that.
“Immigration alone, in terms of how we’ve constructed it, has grown and exploited human labor, has exploited human migration,” says Noyola. “And so when you mix in capitalism, when you mix in transphobia, when you mix in xenophobia, and all these isms, it is no surprise that Trump inherited an immigration system that was already harming communities and actually doing exactly what was it supposed to do.”
In light of the potential changes in immigration rules that could come under a Biden administration — from temporary protected status (TPS) to asylum to student visas — Rolling Stone convened a series of roundtable discussions to reflect on the past four years, and look to the future. This is the third and final installment, and it includes a group national immigrant rights movement leaders from around the country.
For Murad Awawdeh, co-executive director of New York Immigration Coalition — an association of over 200 immigrant rights groups of all different backgrounds around New York state —Trump’s dizzying pace of new immigration rules provided a blueprint for how to mobilize.
“The past four years have taught us how to be more resilient in our advocacy and our fighting for our communities. It was one attack after the other and it was persistent. It built up our strength as a movement to be able to respond as quickly as we had been able to,” says Awawdeh. “We are in a different place than we were in 2016 right before the election. At one point the movement space was really thinking about different ways to protect our community, and temporary statuses were the way of doing that because of how the Senate and Congress’s makeup were. I don’t think that we can do that anymore.”
Amaha Kassa is the founder and executive director or African Communities Together, who represent pan-African communities around the U.S. In working with those communities, Kassa points to some inherent contradictions of how their members were able to enter the country.
“It’s really a system where corporations can freely cross borders, capital can freely cross borders, information, goods can flow across borders. But where people who are looking for safety, who are looking for opportunity, freedom, a better life for themselves and their families, looking to reunite for their families, where they are made to bare the burden of proof that they have a right to migrate,” says Kassa, who argues that the immigration system does not seek to ultimately exclude immigrants from entering the U.S., but to exclude them from entering legally.
“When we talk about immigrant exclusion, really what that’s seeking to do is not to keep out immigrant workers, but to ensure that they don’t have the social and economic power to bargain better wages for themselves, and dignity on the job, and that they’re excluded from citizenship,” says Kassa. “Underlying that, we really have a panic about the demographic future of this country, as a conservative and wealthy white elite sees the writing on the wall, and sees that in the near future this will not be a white majority country.”
The future of immigration in America — and of a Biden administration rolling back Trump rules — while also building new ones, is too early to predict. But for these advocates, the people power of their movements has become self-evident.
“I know that are communities are poised to resist. They’ve demonstrated that over and over and time and time again, whether it’s been the Democratic party or even the Republican party has counted us short,” says Noyola. “With very little resources, we’ve shown up to demonstrate that we can build power, and that we have a voice and that in that voice we continue to resist the systems that harm us, that criminalize us, that target us.”
And for the first time in a long time, there seems to be hope for building a more equitable future for immigrants, and immigration, in America.
“We need to think long-term here, and the only really long-term solution is really having a fair and just system, and providing freedom and dignity for the 11 million undocumented folks here in the United States,” says Awawdeh. “What kind of immigration system are we going to have after that?”
Part One in this series:
Part Two in this series: