Since launching his presidential run a year and a half ago with a speech describing Mexican immigrants as rapists, Trump has made a bevy of promises about how he’d overhaul U.S. immigration policy.
Many of those pledges—such as tripling the ranks of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and building a wall along the southern U.S. border—require cooperation from Congress, which some of his Republican allies will be eager to provide. But what worries pro-immigrant activists the most are the things President Trump can do by himself. “It’s equally scary to think about what could come out of Congress as what he could do administratively,” says Jacinta Gonzalez, field director for the Latino advocacy group Mijente.
That starts with cancellation of President Obama’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which has provided work permits and deportation relief to hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants, some of whom have used their newfound legal status to buy homes or start businesses. As of June, about 742,000 people had qualified for DACA protection, according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Of those, more than three-quarters are from Mexico. Almost 29 percent live in California. “All of his promises, we take him at his word,” says Greisa Martinez, a DACA beneficiary who’s advocacy director for the nonprofit United We Dream Network. “It’s as grim a scenario as we could be able to lay out.”
Once he takes office in January, Trump can also use his statutory authority to resume and expand agreements with cities, curbed under Obama, to share information about undocumented immigrants and involve local cops in immigration enforcement. He can shift how criteria for work visas are interpreted to keep more people out of the country and undo Obama’s DHS guidance creating immigration pathways for entrepreneurs. “He clearly has a mandate to start enforcing immigration laws, and he’s going to act on it,” says Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, an anti-immigration think tank. “I mean, it’s a core promise he made to his voters.”
To make good on his campaign declaration that “anyone who enters the U.S. illegally is subject to deportation,” Trump could also alter or abandon ICE’s current enforcement guidelines, which specify categories such as violent criminals as priorities for the agency’s limited resources. That would expose noncriminal immigrants who are longtime residents—and, in many cases, taxpayers—to a greater likelihood of deportation. “It would be chaotic enforcement,” says David Leopold, former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “And chaotic enforcement is not safe enforcement.”
Much of Trump’s agenda will be met with swift lawsuits from immigrant advocates. Groups are also laying preliminary groundwork for protests, civil disobedience, and congressional lobbying to drum up resistance. They’re preparing to expand “know your rights” training sessions and hotlines for undocumented immigrants, to pass along tips about ICE activity and legal options, and to push cities and states to implement policies counteracting Trump and curbing cooperation with the feds—a stance advocates hope courts and friendly members of Congress can help local governments sustain.
Pro-immigration advocates say they’ll follow the example of activists in places such as Arizona, who used a mix of tactics to push back against that state’s 2010 law requiring cops to check the immigration status of people whom they have “reasonable suspicion” of being undocumented. (The Supreme Court gutted that law in 2012.) Trump’s agenda “would be like the wholesale Arizona-ification of the country,” says Chris Newman, legal director for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. “We will likely have to shift gears in unimaginable ways to fight back.”