Thinking Through “Resist Deportations”: What’s the End Game?

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1985: El Centro, CA. Undocumented workers waiting for deportation at the El Centro Immigration Detention Center. Photo: Robert Gumpert

Of course we should resist Trump (and Obama and all those who preceded him) in their efforts to deport “illegals”, most of whom came to this country because U.S. negotiated “free trade” agreements eliminated their jobs or farms in their home country. How are we to do this in a way that goes beyond symbolic protest?

In what follows I want to briefly outline what I think will be the likely sequence of events to the present course of action that seems to have the full attention of the resist movement, and consider a different course, or at least an additional course, that might have a different outcome.

Non-Cooperation and the Likely Trump Response

Across the country local, and now state, governments are adopting policies to refuse cooperation with ICE. In response, the Trump Administration is rattling swords and threatening dire consequences, the most likely of which will be cutting of federal funds to state and local governments that don’t back down from their non-cooperation positions.

Will Trump follow through? There is little reason to think he won’t. Will court challenges to what Trump does stick? Even if upheld in District and Circuit courts, there is little reason to think they will when they reach the Supreme Court new majority with Trump nominee Neil Gorsuch.

If I am right in that appraisal, who will get hurt when funds are cut? For the most part, poor people, and those public employees whose salaries are paid by the grants that will no longer be. Here’s the dilemma: if it were their decision to take the cuts—as, for example, it is the decision of workers who vote to strike to forego their wages and risk their jobs—that would be one thing. But it’s not. Those who are hurt are not those taking the action.

The local and state governments responsible for the loss of their programs and jobs are likely to fold under this pressure. And the argument against folding is not all that strong. We are talking about national policy. There is just so much that state and local governments can do to buck it. Even the once powerful Dixiecrats finally had to crumble in the face of federal intervention against legally sanctioned racial discrimination in the south. Further, if these governments don’t fold they are asking very vulnerable people to make a sacrifice in whose decision they played no part.

Could these governments make up the loss in revenues? Maybe. It would probably require adoption of new taxes, which would have to be substantial to compensate for hundreds of millions of lost federal income. Will they do it? And even more pertinent, will they do it with “progressive” rather than “regressive” tax measures? None of them have adopted in any substantial way that kind of tax reform thus far.

Conclusion: the end game doesn’t look very good in the present scenario.

Divide and Conquer From the Bottom Up: An Alternative Or At Least A Complementary Strategy?

Our side cannot win this fight or, for that matter, any major fight in the national political arena at the present time, and the picture isn’t a lot different in the states. The cards are stacked against us: conservative Republicans control all three branches of the federal government, as well as a majority of state houses where they are using their authority to devise ingenious measures to limit the franchise for historically Democratic Party voters—particularly African-Americans.

To use a pool analogy, if we don’t have a direct shot at the corner pocket, is there bank shot on the table? I think the possibility for other targets lies in the corporate sector, in particular in businesses or business associations that were public supporters of Trump, in general, and of his immigration policy, in particular.

What would be done in relation to such businesses? Call upon them to publicly demand that the Administration back off its family-breaking policy. What if they won’t go along? Boycott their products and/or services, and use non-violent direct action tactics to publicly shame their executive officers. (A symbolic “don’t buy” day might be used to supplement the “don’t work” day that is now to be engaged in on May 1 by immigrant workers and their allies.)

Could this work? I don’t know. Neither does anyone. But in the 1960s and 1970s when boycott activity seriously damaged the profits of California agribusiness, growers suddenly became friends of collective bargaining legislation. (Up to that time, farm workers were able to engage in secondary boycotts because New Deal legislation creating the national collective bargaining framework excluded them—the direct result of the Dixiecrats who were protecting the near-slave status of southern black plantation workers. But 30 years later, in California, the shoe was on the other foot. Governor Jerry Brown got an excellent collective bargaining law passed by the legislature. (In fact, Cesar Chavez, leader of the United Farm Workers of America, initially opposed legislation. He had the power, via national boycotts, to directly force growers to the bargaining table; he didn’t want to give it up to a third party. History proved him right when a newly elected Republican governor appointed pro-grower votes to the Commission that implemented the law.)

If profits are the leverage, then a whole new set of demands on government is possible. Local and state governments or substantial purchasers of all kinds of goods and services from the private sector; they are depositors in banks; they invest in pension funds; they subsidize various businesses. More research would no doubt uncover more levers.

A General Point

On a broader front, I think those who are now fighting defensive battles over affordable housing, budget cuts in social programs, job losses to off-shoring and similar issues should consider direct action aimed at corporate targets—not symbolic action, like picketing a building where a corporation is located—but action that hurts the bottom line. To do that will require mobilizing on a level not yet reached by most protest action. Those who consider themselves the organizers of these actions need to look at how to add a zero to their numbers.

Government in the present time is not a likely arena for victories. Perhaps head-on confrontation with business is.

About the author

Mike Miller

Mike Miller’s organizing background includes the early student movement at UC Berkeley, field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (1962-end of 1966), directorship of a Saul Alinsky community organizing project (1967-68), and a number of subsequent organizing projects. His articles on organizing have appeared in Social Policy, CounterPunch, Dissent, Socialist Review, International Journal of Urban Planning and Reseearch, Organizing, and The Organizer. He is author of Community Organizing: A Brief Introduction, A Community Organizer’s Tale: People and Power in San Francisco, co-author of The People Fight Back, and co-editor of the recently published People Power: The Organizing Tradition of Saul Alinsky. He directs ORGANIZE Training Center, www.organizetrainingcenter.org

View all posts by Mike Miller →

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2 thoughts on Thinking Through “Resist Deportations”: What’s the End Game?

  1. Re: Alan Fisher’s comment.

    We need to be thinking about how to build for a long-term effort to bring substantive change to the country. Building something that can accomplish that requires interim victories. Defeats do not contribute to building. Engaging in local legislative fights where there is the possibility of winning is surely something to be done. But doing so where there is near-certain defeat suggests a different tactic be used. And winning local city council votes when the deportation machine grinds relentlessly on is not sufficient. We need to figure out how to break the machine–which is a long term question, and one that requires more than electing a Democratic congressional majority in 2018. The present circumstances in which we find ourselves are the result of the action of corporate Democrats (including Obama) as much as they are the result of Trump and the Republican Congress.

    Legal action does not contribute to building, though it might be a useful tactic to delay action while the capacity to defeat it politically is being built.

    Yes, building at the local level is essential. Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) won a majority of the city council there in the last election. It took more than 10 years of building for RPA to get to that point. We need to be thinking of how to build over the long haul, and how a thousand RPAs might connect so that they can become in the Democratic Party what the Tea Party became for the Republicans.

  2. Mike Miller’s essay “Thinking through ‘Resist Deportations'” is a thoughtful piece that prompts strategic approaches to progressives’ efforts to beat back the authoritarian right. Boycotts are definitely an additional tactic that should be used by activists. Their potential is demonstrated by the removal of Ivanka’s line of luxury goods from multiple major retail outlets. I agree that local, county and state governments may back down against Trump’s bullying but I would suggest that that is all the more reason to continue and expand the battle there. It is a clear link to what is and will be drastically damaging to all but particularly to low-income people, people of color, rural people, women, etc. and therefore a battle that will be clear to all as time goes on. The turnout at Congress people’s town halls, young people increasingly running for office, even the Dems recognition of possible election successes in 2018, are all signs of the potential there. Dark Money has won its victories for the right through just such actions and we can too. In addition, I would not under-value legal actions. Perhaps, we will lose all the way up to the Supreme Court but, as in many other battles, there will be more chapters to that story. Let’s not neglect any channel to win greater democracy and equality

    Re: Alan Fisher’s comment.

    We need to be thinking about how to build for a long-term effort to bring substantive change to the country. Building something that can accomplish that requires interim victories. Defeats do not contribute to building. Engaging in local legislative fights where there is the possibility of winning is surely something to be done. But doing so where there is near-certain defeat suggests a different tactic be used. And winning local city council votes when the deportation machine grinds relentlessly on is not sufficient. We need to figure out how to break the machine–which is a long term question, and one that requires more than electing a Democratic congressional majority in 2018. The present circumstances in which we find ourselves are the result of the action of corporate Democrats (including Obama) as much as they are the result of Trump and the Republican Congress.

    Legal action does not contribute to building, though it might be a useful tactic to delay action while the capacity to defeat it politically is being built.

    Yes, building at the local level is essential. Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) won a majority of the city council there in the last election. It took more than 10 years of building for RPA to get to that point. We need to be thinking of how to build over the long haul, and how a thousand RPAs might connect so that they can become in the Democratic Party what the Tea Party became for the Republicans.

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