- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 22, 2016

After years of increasing comfort with their status in the U.S., illegal immigrants say they’re being chased back into the shadows, and they blame Donald Trump.

The GOP presidential front-runner put immigration back at the top of the political conversation in June when he announced his campaign, blaming Mexico for sending some of its worst elements to the U.S. And the issue has remained at the top ever since, propelling Mr. Trump and renewing a national conversation that immigrant rights advocates had thought they’d won.

Now states such as Arizona are renewing their own efforts to crack down on illegal immigrants, and Mr. Trump has spawned a new fear among mixed-status families — those with some members here legally and some not — about coming forward to tell their stories.

Rep. Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat, said he went seeking permission of illegal immigrants to tell their stories during a House floor debate last week over President Obama’s deportation amnesty, but families who usually are eager to have their stories told balked this time.

“In the past, it has always been very customary that they have said, ‘Yes. If it will help to share my story, please share it with the American people,’” Mr. Polis told his colleagues. “When I asked over the last few days, and when my staff asked, there were many families who said ‘no’ to having their stories told on the House floor.”

Immigrant rights activists even have a name for it: They call it the “Trump Effect.”

America’s Voice, an immigrant rights group, keeps what it calls the “Donald Trump Hate and Violence Map,” where it tracks reports of threats or attacks on immigrants or Hispanics that the group attributes to Trump supporters or hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.

“We’re seeing that Trump is not only a candidate, he’s really creating political space for folks that want to spew anti-immigrant rhetoric,” said Jacinta Gonzalez, field director for the group Mijente.

It marks a major reversal from recent years, where illegal immigrants had become increasingly comfortable with their status in the U.S. Many of them — particularly young “Dreamers” — would “come out” as illegal immigrants, and they were hosted at the highest levels of government, including seats at Mr. Obama’s State of the Union addresses.

Mark Krikorian, executive director at the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for stricter immigration limits, said Mr. Obama had effectively punctured immigration enforcement, erasing the fear most illegal immigrants had of being deported.

Sanctuary cities that refused to cooperate with federal authorities, and states promising driver’s licenses or in-state tuition at public schools to illegal immigrants, also helped entice illegal immigrants to come forward.

“Illegal immigrants get their cues from the broader society: What do politicians say, what do reporters say, what do schools do? During Obama’s term, the messages that have been sent to illegal immigrants from the broader society say it’s not such a big deal to be illegal,” Mr. Krikorian said. “There really are no shadows. They’re on the front pages of the news, they’re testifying to congressional committees.”

Enter Mr. Trump, who in June kicked off his campaign for president by vowing to deport illegal immigrants and to build a wall to deter new crossers along the southwest border. His plans landed like a stink bomb within the GOP, where party leaders had spent years trying to convince rank-and-file voters they needed to embrace a more lenient policy.

“These politicians are all talk, no action. They’re never going to do anything. They only picked it up because when I went and I announced I was running for president, I said, you know, this country has a big, big problem with illegal immigration. And all of the sudden we started talking about it,” Mr. Trump said this weekend as he rallied in Arizona ahead of Tuesday’s primary. “For the first time, people saw what was going on.”

Exit polls show Mr. Trump’s call has resonated with a large part of the GOP.

But immigrant rights activists say part of the Trump Effect is that it’s spurring legal immigrants — those who are with legal permanent residents (LPRs), who are eligible to become citizens — to complete the process and to register to vote so they can strike a blow against Mr. Trump at the ballot box.

Maria Ponce, an organizer for iAmerica, which is running free citizenship clinics this year, said far from being afraid, she’s encountered mixed-status families where the person who’s in the country illegally is the one prodding the legal immigrant to become a citizen and vote.

“I was talking to an eligible LPR — he was there with his undocumented wife. We have her on record talking about how she was there motivating her husband so he could take that step in November and vote against the racist Trump,” Ms. Ponce said. “Immigrant families are losing that fear and taking that step and supporting their eligible family members.”

Moments when illegal immigrants make a public case still happen, most dramatically at the March 9 Democratic presidential debate in Miami, sponsored by Univision.

Lucia, an illegal immigrant woman from Guatemala, asked what the candidates would do to halt deportations and reunite families after telling of her husband, who had been deported three years ago and hadn’t seen their five children since.

Sen. Bernard Sanders called such situations “wrong and immoral,” while former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Lucia “how brave I think you are, coming here with your children to tell your story.”

Hina Naveed, co-director of the Dream Action Coalition, said the Trump Effect depends on where someone is living. She said in states such as New York, officials promote a “positive environment where they’re comfortable and safe coming out.” But in states such as Arizona, it’s different.

“The ‘Trump Effect’ in day-to-day life is affecting immigrants, definitely,” she said. “Before, people who held these hateful opinions would keep them to themselves. Now they feel empowered. They feel Trump is famous, he has money, he has power, he can say it — now so can I.”

For his part, Mr. Trump has repudiated hate groups and says he rejects their message.

“I’ve always condemned them,” he told CNN this week.

Some immigrant rights groups said while the Trump Effect is mobilizing the immigrant community, so is Mr. Obama’s own enforcement system.

Activists pointed to a series of raids this year conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement designed to round up illegal immigrants who arrived as part of the surge of Central Americans, and who a judge had ordered deported but had absconded.

“What we are seeing is within the Obama administration, there’s even less space to talk about people’s deportation cases,” said Ms. Gonzalez, the activist with Mijente.

She had her own run-in this weekend at Mr. Trump’s rally, where she and two fellow protesters chained themselves to cars to try to block the road into the rally site.

All three were arrested by Maricopa County sheriff’s deputies, but the other two were quickly released, while Ms. Gonzalez was held. She’s been a U.S. citizen since being born to an American mother in Mexico — but she says she was singled out because of her Hispanic last name, and she was turned over to federal authorities for questioning.

ICE officials asked that she be held, and so she was kept in a cell overnight. In the morning she was transferred to ICE custody, where they concluded she was a citizen and quickly let her go, she said.

ICE officials defended their moves, saying in a statement they were following their own procedures: “Ms. Gonzalez-Goodman was recently released from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody after database checks determined she currently holds a valid United States passport. Under current ICE procedures, all foreign-born individuals who are booked into the Maricopa County Jail are interviewed by ICE personnel to determine alienage and removability and whether they would be an enforcement priority for the agency.”

But Ms. Gonzalez said ICE broke its own rules by detaining her when she hadn’t been charged or convicted of a serious crime, and by singling her out in the first place.

“Even singling people out for interview based on country of origin leads to profiling and is a violation of people’s rights,” she said.

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