By Jack C. Doppelt, Medill, Immigrant Connect
When Donald Trump took office on Jan. 20, the clock began ticking.
For American politics, for the beltway and for mainstream media, the first hundred days of a new Presidency has been used as a benchmark since President Franklin Roosevelt first invoked the term in a radio address in 1933. Eyes train on the nation’s capital to detect the relations between the President, the administration and Congress.
From the moment of his inauguration, Trump seized on the truism that eyes can be deceiving. He challenged the attendance numbers at his inauguration and ever since, the nation’s eyes have flitted around Trump and the beltway, as if they’re lenses on the handheld cameras of the news media.
For immigrants, refugees, their families and their communities, the first hundred days have been a blur, hard to trust, out of focus and disorienting.
Trump had assumed power after a campaign in which he referred to Mexican immigrants as rapists, bringing drugs and crime; called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on;” advocated a plan for more legal European immigration; pledged to end the H1-B visa because it’s bad for, and unfair to, American workers; estimated that half of the undocumented residents in America are criminals and that there are more than 350,000 criminal illegal aliens in American prisons, not including those whose crime is crossing the border; pledged to restore the Secure Communities Program and expand 287(g) partnerships between ICE and local law enforcement to identify immigrants for deportation; argued that children born in the U.S. of undocumented immigrants should not be considered citizens; and staked out the position that legal immigrants should not enter the U.S. easily, saying, “It’s a long, costly, draining, and often frustrating experience-by design. I say to legal immigrants: Welcome and good luck.”
What were immigrants and refugees in the U.S. and those hoping to come to the U.S. to make of it?
Less than a week after the inauguration, Trump issued an executive order that prioritized deportations for a dizzying array of non-citizens, including those who’ve been convicted of a crime or have a criminal charge pending against them or even have done something for which they could be charged with a crime, and those who in the judgment of an immigration (ICE) officer, pose a risk to public safety. The order called for Homeland Security to hire another 10,000 ICE officers and another 5,000 border patrol officers, empower state and local law enforcement agencies to serve as ICE officers, reinforce the 287(g) program that deputizes state and local law enforcement officers, and provide the immigration status for every person convicted and in jail anywhere in the country.
Two days later, Trump issued another executive order that temporarily banned entry into the U.S. of any nationals from seven countries – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen – temporarily stopped the refugee admissions program, cut in half the number of refugees to be admitted if and when the program resumed, and singled out Syrian refugees as being excluded until further notice.
Six weeks later, after federal courts held parts of the executive order unconstitutional, pointing to Trump’s campaign rhetoric about Muslims as the basis for their suspicions about Trump’s intentions, the President issued a revised version that removed Iraqi nationals from the list of blacklisted countries and that narrowed the order to enable some people from the remaining six countries to enter the U.S., for instance, if they were lawful permanent residents of the U.S. or if they had pre-existing visas or significant contacts here.
We chose to look away from all of that, use it mostly as backdrop and context, and train our eyes, attention, interviewing and reporting on the people impacted by those policies, decisions and proclamations.
We connected with immigrants, refugees, their families and their communities as we’ve always done. That is the raison d’être for social justice journalism.
We focused on Syrian, Mexican, Indian, Korean, Chinese, and African communities, and among what we brought to light are these stories:
The future of fleeing religious persecution and finding protection in Trump’s America by Michelle Baik – The head of Christian Freedom International says the President revoked the executive order just to assuage political opponents, and he’s finding other means to help persecuted Christians.
Winnebago County stands against ICE detention center in Rockford by Victoria Cabales – By this year, there was a different president, a different governor, and a different sheriff for Winnebago County, all Republicans…“The election of President Trump really broke the trust of the immigrant community,” immigration lawyer Sara Dady said. “That’s why it’s so important that local law enforcement work double time to make that up.”
A tale of two school districts’ post-election approaches by Christian Welch – “She couldn’t understand how we teach ‘give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses…’ and then elect a man who is so bent on sending her friends and her family, who escaped tired and poor, away.” said Sophia Perkins of one of her students in a high school history class in Texas. She told another student, “One person can’t build or destroy our country…I explained to her that at the end of it all, we are a country of individuals who take care of each other and grow together no matter how uncomfortable it is.”
Over-policing strains Chicago’s Mexican immigrant communities by Ingrid Cherry and Balim Tezel – With this story, we explored what it might take to open up conversations between police and Latino communities. It became a frustrating experiment. We called police to request interviews with officers who regularly interact with the Mexican immigrant community, and logged the run-around.
Mexican immigrants seek protection through sanctuary and civic engagement by Daniela Grava – Since Chicago officially became a welcoming city in 2012, more and more churches have opened their doors to undocumented immigrants seeking protection. One church is training teams to evaluate each family who has a check-in with ICE in case they become a victim of deportation and to prepare them with options, physical sanctuary being the last.
Hate is tracking in the Korean American community by Matt Zdun – Two days before the inauguration, Asian Americans Advancing Justice launched standagainsthatred.org, the first-ever website that tracks hate crimes specifically against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders…A Korean American college student says she feels targeted not by what President Trump has said, but by what he’s failed to say to the Korean community. “Being ignored is the most toxic form of racism…He just thinks that we Asians are not gonna do anything anyway.”
Disturbances in the Korean American field with Trump are generational by Kaitlyn Budrow – “The overwhelming majority of the older generation of Koreans think, ‘Trump can do whatever he wants and it doesn’t apply to me because I have my citizenship,’” says Julie Cho of the Korean American Association of Chicago. She says her parents are sympathetic toward Mexican immigrants who are deported, but they feel less understanding of Koreans being deported. “They say, ‘If [undocumented Koreans] have to go back, they have to go back..“They don’t feel bad for them because they know they’ll be okay in Korea.”
Korean-Americans for Trump: Hearing from an emerging minority within a minority by Samuel Brief – The value of local business to the Korean-American population and Trump’s appeal to business owners are a natural match, says Itak Seo. “The stability of the economy in the Korean community is not in a good state, especially beauty businesses, dry cleaning businesses—those businesses are going down. In Trump, people are expecting some type of improvement in every industry. The Korean community thinks that’s the proper way of managing the country.”
As Trump begins his presidency, Korean businesses in Chicago continue to struggle by Ben Pope – With Chicago’s Korean American community migrating in recent decades to the suburbs, leaving behind economically less-successful and culturally less-integrated segments of its population — and as President Trump’s new policies threaten the economic viability of immigrant-owned businesses even more — Albany Park’s so-called Koreatown faces a crises for its remaining Koreans.
Language access for Korean immigrants under President Trump by Aine Dougherty – Brandon Lee, of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Chicago, says he’s glad no “English-only” groundswell has swept across Illinois since the election of President Trump and that no measures have been taken to counteract the fight for language access, but he also acknowledges that the new administration is a roadblock for the organization’s long-term campaign for language access.
Crunch time for Northwestern’s international students stays with them by Max Goodman – College life is hard enough. Listen to what it’s like being an international student with limited options finding employment after graduation and with concerns about being allowed to stay in the U.S. in the meantime.
Trump administration policies, though on hold, have Syrians in the U.S. on edge and guessing by Nora Shelly – Asylum seekers and refugees have this in common: They are more susceptible to mental health issues and homelessness than others in immigrant communities. Additionally, many say the election of Donald Trump and his often espoused isolationist and anti-immigrant sentiments have increased the stress of the application process.
Hyde Park isn’t just any port in Syria’s civil storm by Nicki Kaplan – As Trump was settling into his alien role as President, Hyde Park was extending a welcome to Syrian families who may be among the last clusters of refugees admitted into the U.S. from that part of the world for the foreseeable future. Nadia Khan, of Sirat Chicago, says that ironically the “Muslim ban” that became Trump’s ignominious badge of honor is helping, because it’s bringing people and organizations together to fight it.
At home in Hyde Park: Bridging the divide between home and heart for Syrian refugees by Andy Weir – A combination of students and organizations in and around Hyde Park are helping the refugees not only assimilate but also stay connected with their loved ones back in Syria.
Looking for “shalom”: A Syrian refugee family finds a home within Beth Emet community by Isabella Soto – When Trump’s executive order regarding immigration came down and effectively sought to ban immigrants and refugees from a host of Muslim-majority nations from entering the country, Huda Hidar knew she had to take action. She went to protest downtown with others and was interviewed by reporters. “She said, ‘I wanted people to hear our story.’”
For refugees in the U.S., politics is a luxury by Kathryn Karnaze – Amal and her family arrived in the U.S.at only three months before Donald Trump was elected President. She knew little of the political drama that put him in office. Her husband, parents, and child died in Syria. She isn’t waiting to be reunited with family members, like many other Syrian refugees are. She’s waiting to live a normal life.
One letter. One number: Indian spouses left wanting and qualified for more by Sidney Thomas – Loss of independence is a common thread that unites the spouses of H-1B visa holders, as is the silence. They are prohibited from working. After Trump became President, he signaled to the Indian community that did not support spouses getting work permits.
Trump administration sparks introspection in Desi communities by Katie Pach – The Trump administration has made the choice for the Desi communities. The dial has turned from a quiet sense of safety to an angry sense of injustice. For them, it is disconcerting to sit by and pray that they not be next. In this era, is there the luxury of apolitical stance? Some of the difficulty in organizing is the conflict within the community itself. Histories of anti-black racism and Islamophobia within the South Asian community presents particular challenges and problems that divide Desis and contribute to political silence.
Indians on H1-B visas worry what President Trump might bring by Amit Mallik – Trump signed a “Buy American, Hire American” presidential order on Apr. 17, which seeks to “ensure that H-1B visas are awarded to the most-skilled or highest-paid petition beneficiaries,” as soon as possible. No official action has been taken against H-1B visa holders or the program, but with Trump’s directives, the writing is on the wall, suggesting the gateway to the country for many would-be immigrants is in jeopardy.
If the H1-B lottery bubble for Indian tech workers bursts, so be it by Will Ragatz – As Donald Trump has stepped in and shaken up so many different aspects of immigrant communities, the Indian IT sector hasn’t escaped being effected. Trump has pushed severe reform to the H1-B program, and his overall rhetoric, which many have received as anti-immigrant, has stirred fear and anxiety even among young Indian tech workers already living in the United States.
Indian American immigrant families face the need to bring mental health issues out of the closet by Allyna Mota Melville – Due to the Trump presidency, more undocumented women have been suffering in silence. The prevailing feelings of fear and anxiety around stepping out into the world and getting help during the Trump presidency have harmed the ability of abused women to reach out. “They are aware they don’t have the correct documentation, and they know that they are vulnerable to deportation, so there’s been a decrease in people seeking service,” says Radhika Sharma of Apna Ghar.
Sikh in America: Visibility, violence, and virtue in the era of Trump by Audrey Debruine – Simran Jeet Singh, of the Sikh Coalition, senses that hate incidents have surged recently, based in part on an uptick in the number of xenophobic threats he personally receives online. “What that tells us is these feelings were latent,” Singh says. “They’ve been sanctioned by Mr. Trump and his administration, and I think that is the impetus for what we’re seeing around here.”
Chicago’s Chinese-American community plans, thrives and quietly mobilizes by Melvin J. Butler II – Improvements along with the expansion of the community southwest into neighborhoods such as Bridgeport and McKinley Park demonstrate how the Chinese-American community is thriving. Still, many in the community feel vulnerable. President Trump’s executive order banning travelers from certain Muslim-majority countries and ICE’s stepped up deportation efforts have chilled the air for members of this bustling community.
This is another in the continuing partnership linking immigrant and refugee communities with one another through the lens of social justice journalism.
The first illuminated the phenomenon of the American dream for a cluster of extraordinary Chicago-based global immigrants whose dream is even grander than borders. Theirs is of
being in two places at once, living here and staking a claim to the future of the country they won’t leave behind. Those stories were published in Dec. 2009 – Chicago’s global immigrants: Beyond the American dream
The second explored the impact of the 2010 U.S. Census count on their communities and were released simultaneously on Jan. 15, 2010, in the city’s ethnic media and on Immigrant Connect. Check out the series here – Census stories link diverse immigrant communities
The third examined the relationships between immigrants and their children, and discovered that immigrant communities are crossing the generational divide in ways that resonate for one another. They were released in June 2010. That series is here – Immigrant communities cross the generational divide together
The next dealt with the homeland – the place, the memory, the heritage – and the multiple meanings it has for Chicago’s immigrants. They were released in December 2010. That series is here – Home and the homeland: Chicago’s immigrants keep connecting
The next looked into the risks but also the options of health care in immigrant communities. The stories were released in early June 2011. That series is here – Health care for Chicago’s immigrants: Alternative options and risks
We explored the many challenges immigrant communities face in attending and acclimating to college. The stories were released in December 2011 and January 2012. That series is here – Education dream of immigrants more than an Act
The next series came as immigration wedged its way into the 2012 election cycle, and with it came some misleading shorthand; that immigrants vote Democratic and that immigrants means Latinos. The immigrant landscape is far more nuanced than that, and so is their politics. The stories were released in June 2012. That series is here – Immigrants don’t fall in line for 2012 elections
In 2013, attention turned to young immigrants; the sons and daughter of immigrants, many of whom were in the U.S. without proper authorization, some not even knowing it. In June, 2012, President Obama had issued an executive order that allowed certain young people who entered the country as minors, to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and eligibility for a work permit. We followed up with stories focused on the lives and issues of young immigrant. The series, which you can read here – How immigration policy affects young people – was released in June 2013.
During the tumultuous 2016 Presidential campaign, we returned to a national dialogue that became foreboding – the need for a wall, the impulse to keep Muslims out, the call to deport those living without authorized status, and a Presidential election in which all the marbles were on the table, and then fell haphazardly onto the nation’s floor. The traditional flag waving of candidates who tout their family’s proud immigrant heritage was swallowed whole, with not even a gulp of self-awareness. We spent 10 weeks in six of Chicago’s vibrant immigrant communities to get a sense of some issues immigrants were dealing with on a day to day basis. We focused on issues that were specific to particular immigrant communities and that were also relevant to other immigrant communities. That series ran in June 2016, before the two national parties officially nominated their candidates. It is here – Six Immigrant Communities this Election Year
Over the eight years that we have been doing this work, we have returned regularly to the families and communities of refugees who have sought a home and safety in Chicago, America. Here are the series we’ve produced – Finding Triumph Finding triumph for Chicago’s refugees, A Chicago Welcome to World Refugee Day, and Safe haven from trauma and torture: World’s refugees resettle in Chicago.
This is the only journalist effort of its kind in the U.S. today to connect with immigrants, refugees and their families and communities as far as we know.