In Memphis last week, civil rights leader Reverend James Lawson commented on the recent peaceful, anti-gun violence March on Washington, suggesting that the decision to go to the nation's capitol was a tactical error. He noted how the leaders in D.C., especially those who occupy the White House and Congress, will never change unless a movement takes hold first in our local communities.
- Joshua Roberts | reuters
- Previously on President Trump
Sound reasoning from the leading tactician of the civil rights struggle — a man rooted in peaceful protest, the man who invited Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to Memphis in support of striking sanitation workers 50 years ago.
As immigration becomes the defining 21st-century social struggle, Lawson's thinking is prescient and steeped in historic relevance. The leadership in Washington is using "immigration" as a wedge political issue, and for the moment, they seem to be winning.
Immediately after his inauguration, President Trump and his cohort of nativists took aim at the the refugee and immigrant communities by attempting to enforce a discriminatory travel ban while pushing immigration enforcement resources back into the interior of the country — into schools, apartment complexes, and businesses where families live, work, and play. After some success rebuffing such executive orders in the courts, many thought Trump had been sufficiently brushed back and that he'd move on.
But on September 5, 2017, Trump announced that his administration would end DACA, declaring simultaneously that he was giving Congress time to act because he had "a great heart" and "great love" for those whose security he was submerging in a sea of uncertainty. Of course, like most people for whom Trump claims to have had a "great love," the romance didn't last long.
Last fall, Trump said that he would sign any immigration bill that came across his desk, then as a compromise plan gained ground, he declared that he would never support it after talking with immigration hardliners in his administration (Stephen Miller) and listening to Ann Coulter and his media friends at FOX News.
Throughout all of this back-and-forth, immigrants and their allies have tied the rise and fall of their hopes to the 140-character whims of an individual who has demonstrated that he has "great love" only for himself.
At the same time, we have allowed our local communities to fall in line with the nativist policies of Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. During the week of MLK50, the MPD arrested a local Hispanic journalist and eight activists for crossing a street. The immediacy with which the charges were dropped highlighted the unreasonableness of the arrests.
But quickly dropping the charges did not end the damage caused by the MPD, because the Shelby County Sheriff's Department chose to honor an ICE hold and turn Manuel Duran, the journalist, over for deportation proceedings. In less than a week, Duran went from covering the events of MLK50 in Memphis to a detention center in Jena, Louisiana.
This incident comes just a few months after the Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) arrested 20 workers locally, and District Attorney Amy Weirich initially charged them with using fraudulent documents to obtain employment. The collaboration between ICE and THP was so tight in this case that the THP had them processed by ICE before taking them to the Shelby County jail. Weirich's office dropped the state charges, but only after the U.S. Attorney's office charged the workers with a federal crime: obtaining employment using false documents.
These incidents show that our local police, sheriff's department, and district attorney are being co-opted by the Trump administration to upend the lives of our neighbors and friends, whose greatest crimes were working to support their families and providing media coverage of a protest.
We can't wait any longer for Trump to show his "great heart." This dangerous administration is doubling down on harassing immigrants — because that plays well to the base. We can fight by engaging locally — the Lawson way — to ensure that Trump's efforts at tearing families apart does not occur in our community with the cooperation and consent of local elected officials and law enforcement. Local officials, it's useful to remember, face a local electorate.
Bryce Ashby is a Memphis-based attorney and board member at Latino Memphis; Michael J. LaRosa is an associate professor of history at Rhodes College.