Donald Trump made a lot of campaign promises on his long path toward the presidency. But one of his signature issues from the very beginning was immigration. Trump has said repeatedly he plans to deport every one of the estimated 11 million people living without papers in the United States.
Carrying out that policy would take a massive amount of federal resources and likely result in nearly unimaginable human suffering. Because of that, and because Trump himself has said other conflicting things about his immigration plans, it might be reasonable to think he won't actually carry out this policy.
But many people still are deeply concerned his administration might try.
If you are undocumented, or someone you care about is undocumented, here is what you can do right now to prepare, in case the mass deportation policy becomes reality:
1. Know your rights.
So, if you are stopped by a police officer or an immigration agent:
- You have the right to remain silent.
- No one may enter your home or search your car without your consent.
- If an immigration agent shows up at your home, you do not have to let them in.
- If the agent says they have a warrant, the American Civil Liberties Union advises you to ask them to show it through a window or slide the warrant under the door so you can inspect it. They cannot enter your home with a removal warrant alone. It must be a search warrant or an arrest warrant.
- If you are out in public and an immigration agent asks for your documentation, you must provide it or remain silent. Do not provide false documents. Do not even carry false documents.
- If you do not have immigration documents, you may remain silent and ask for an attorney.
- You may request a translator.
- You are not required to answer any questions or sign any documents without your attorney present.
- If you feel an ICE agent has violated your rights, you can contact an attorney and file a civil rights complaint with the Department of Homeland Security.
The ACLU has more comprehensive advice on what to do if you are stopped by law enforcement or ICE.
2. Make a plan.
The Michigan Immigrant Rights Center offers workbooks in both Spanish and English to help families prepare for possible encounters with immigration agents. These workbooks include a more comprehensive explanation of both your rights and responsibilities in encounters with police and immigration officials. The workbooks also include forms you can fill out to create a power of attorney for your children, list emergency contacts and medical information and even make sure that your pets are taken care of in case you're detained.
3. If you have DACA, stay tuned.
The Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was intended to offer some stability and opportunity for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as young children. Federal data show more than 800,000 young people have applied for the program since it started in 2012.
And if you are one of those people, you are in a precarious situation right now.
Officially, DACA is still in effect, and nothing has changed. But president-elect Trump has pledged to do away with the program as soon as he reaches office. And since DACA recipients had to provide all kinds of information about themselves to the government in order to be eligible (including biometric data and fingerprints), a Trump administration would know exactly where to find you if the mass deportation policy becomes reality.
Susan Reed, managing attorney at the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, says one of the most frequent questions she's been getting about DACA lately is from people who are currently eligible to renew, but are unsure about the program's future.
"It’s impossible to predict exactly what targeting of DACA recipients might look like," she says. "But my advice so far has been that generally I would encourage folks to renew and to file renewals while the program still exists simply because folks are in that database whether they renew or not. So it’s really not a giving of new information."
I also asked Reed what she would tell a DACA recipient who is thinking about changing their address or their job to avoid immigration authorities when or if the program goes away.
"Ultimately, I don't really have legal advice on whether someone should or should not do that," she says. "There's an obvious reality there that I think ... people with different levels of risk aversion will reach a different conclusion about."
4. Think local.
Immigration is a matter of federal law, but federal authorities often rely on local law enforcement to help them find undocumented immigrants. In recent years, some cities have instituted policies to keep information from local police out of the hands of ICE agents. ICE says these policies make people less safe, and Donald Trump has vowed to crack down on these so-called "Sanctuary Cities" by denying them federal funds.
But there are lots of other ways local government officials can take steps to protect immigrants. In
Michigan, one of the big ones is to provide people with driver's licenses. Currently, anyone "unlawfully present" in Michigan is not able to get a driver's license. State representative Stephanie Chang introduced legislation in September to change that.
This year, immigrant rights advocates in Detroit also campaigned for, and won, an effort to have the city create municipal IDs that will help undocumented immigrants and others access services.
"As much as there is a focus at the federal level, what we have seen in recent years – even under a very different administration – is that local elected officials, local communities, they have been crucial and stalwart allies," says Avideh Moussavian, an attorney at the National Immigration Law Center in Washington D.C.
And it's not just about local government. There are already lots of organizations in most cities that offer legal services and all kinds of other assistance to immigrant families. If you're in need of services, or if you just want to chip in to help the organizations that provide the services, the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center has a reference guide to help you find them in our state.
5. Contact your representative in D.C.
Presidents are in charge of enforcing immigration laws. Deportations fall completely under their control.
But members of Congress have to sign off on the funding. Immigration and Customs Enforcement carried out more removals under President Obama than any other previous president. But the mass deportation of 11 million immigrants that Trump proposed would require a lot more money.
Members of Congress will have the final say on whether the funds are approved. If you have thoughts, one way or the other, on a policy of mass deportation, you might want to reach out and let your representative know how you feel.
6. Don't commit a crime.
This may come as news to some people, but living in the United States without papers is not a crime. Legally speaking, it is a civil violation of federal law (That fact, btw, is one reason local police or sheriff's deputies can't just stop people on the street and ask for immigration papers. If there's no crime, there's no justification for a stop or a search).
But driving without a license is a crime. Possessing a fake license is a crime. Many people need to drive to provide for their families. Some people choose to use false documents to try to avoid getting in trouble. But those create additional risk.
"If they have any sort of fake documentation - a fake green card, a fake driver's license - they shouldn't use it," says attorney Sarah Yore-Van Oosterhout of Lighthouse Immigrant Advocates in Holland. "That's a federal felony, and people get deported over that all the time."
And while your friends might think it's okay to drive "buzzed" or to take a toke from a joint on the weekends, these activities are much riskier for immigrants than for non-immigrants. Small crimes aren't small if you're undocumented.
Most immigrants do already know that. It's one of the reasons why the immigrant population in the U.S. as a whole commits crime at a lower rate than the rest of the country.
7. Don't despair.
Many people who fight for immigrant rights were shocked and upset by the results of the presidential election. Many people are afraid now of what might happen to their families.
But most of the people I've spoken to since Tuesday aren't ready to give up the fight.
"It's too despondent I think to completely say that we're not in a period of pretty strong resilience," Avideh Moussavian of the NILC told me. "This is definitely sort of a moment of reckoning, but I think we also need to look around and see there are these pretty remarkable milestones and movements in social justice."
And immigration rights advocates may have some unlikely allies in the fight to halt deportations. Gallup reports two-thirds of Americans oppose deporting all undocumented immigrants. And 76% of Republicans support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
While it's true our next President has said he will triple the number of ICE agents and won't back a path to citizenship, he's also said he doesn't back mass deportations. Four years ago, Trump said he doesn't believe in deporting people who've contributed to their communities, according to CNN.
"You have people in this country for 20 years, they've done a great job, they've done wonderfully, they've gone to school, they've gotten good marks, they're productive — now we're supposed to send them out of the country, I don't believe in that," Trump said in the interview that first aired on CNBC in 2012.
Those words are pretty much the exact argument immigrants, and immigrant rights advocates will be making to members of Congress and the White House once Trump is sworn in.
It is not over yet.