By Kica Matos
“They don’t want us here. That is why Charlottesville happened”. On the same weekend that white supremacists terrorized people on the streets of Charlottesville, a young Somali woman was training with dozens of other young people on how to counter the kind of hate and racist violence spread by white militants.
She was one of about 70 young people gathered in Morristown, New Jersey for a youth leadership training led by the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM). All of the youth in the room were either immigrants or U.S. citizen children of undocumented parents. Despite their age, they are already bearing the heavy burden of being an immigrant and a person of color in a country that no longer welcomes them. Many live with the constant fear that their government will, at any time, destroy their family unit by detaining and deporting their parents. So here they were, on a Saturday, learning the principles of organizing and advocacy and what it means to step up and fight for justice and to keep their immigrant families together.
Even for them, Charlottesville was hard to process. In the early afternoon, they talked about what they saw - white supremacists wielding torches, spewing their hatred and inflicting deadly violence on those standing up against their bigotry. The faces of the young organizers registered fear and horror. The silence in the room was heavy. And then the questions began to emerge. Why wasn’t Trump denouncing the white supremacists? Where was the police? Were those people carrying weapons really racist militias? One young woman approached me and quietly asked whether “what happened to the anti-racist protestors could happen to us too?”
At what point do we say Trump is a white supremacist? Because the truth is that no person of color is safe in Trump’s America. For these young people and their families, they are dealing with the consequences of a Presidential candidate who relentlessly demonized immigrants and Muslims, paving the way for the ensuing spike in hate crimes. Now as President, he is unleashing an extreme anti-immigrant agenda that has already resulted in the detention and deportation of thousands.
The administration wants to set aside more than $6 billion of our taxpayer dollars this upcoming fiscal year for more enforcement, more deportations, the building of a wall and the mass criminalization of immigrants. Immigrants are back in the shadows, living lives filled with uncertainty and terror.
And that’s not all. A deadline looms for early September for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA, an Obama-era program that deferred deportations for immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. But Trump has not said if he will rescind the program or defend it in court.
This is a major test for the president. Will he side with white supremacists who want to cleanse this country of all people of color? Or will he keep his word to treat Dreamers with “heart?”
So far, all we see is how the Trump administration has facilitated a climate of hate – one in which white supremacists and neo-Nazis no longer feel the need to hide under robes. Instead, they seem to feel a kinship with the administration. In the words of Klu Klux Klan leader David Duke, Charlottesville “represents a turning point for the people of this country… We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump… That’s why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said he’s going to take our country back.” Indeed, Trump’s conspicuous silence in the days following the violence in Charlottesville was proof to many of his complicity with white supremacists and their agenda. Under pressure, he disavowed the racist hate, only to go back and call neo Nazis “fine people.”
Trump has surrounded himself with white supremacists in the White House – people who are intent on making America White Again in part by rolling back civil rights laws ― while ramping up efforts to criminalize of people of color. He is using the machinery of government to attack Muslims, deport immigrants, criminalize African Americans and disenfranchise people of color.
Ultimately, Trump and his agenda will be soundly defeated. He will be trounced not only because more and more Americans are stepping up and speaking out in support of our rights and our democracy, but also because our country is becoming increasingly diverse, with the fastest growing population being people of color. That includes the young people who gathered in Morristown, N.J. to learn how to advocate for themselves and their families. As the young Somali woman concluded, “I am not going anywhere. I will stay here and I will fight for my rights, and those of my family.”
Kica Matos is the director of Immigrant Rights and Racial Justice, Center for Community Change.