Yet, despite the High Court’s ruling, the Trump administration continued its racist and xenophobic crusade. At the order of the White House, USCIS, the immigration agency that processes DACA and other applications, still refused to accept and process new DACA applications, creating uncertainty and confusion around the status of DACA. We continued to educate our community about the situation, holding an online video conversation over Facebook Live with our lead attorney to explain the recent developments and answer questions.
UNITED IN CRISIS
Say Their Names
United in Crisis
Say Their Names
While the COVID-19 pandemic has been a new and devastating crisis that has impacted people across the country, the other crisis that defined this year was one that has been ongoing for generations - the constant and violent crisis of systemic racism in the United States.
The nationwide string of righteous uprisings in the wake of multiple, highly visible police killings of our Black brothers and sisters not only brought the ongoing oppression and abuse this community faces to the front of the public consciousness, but also inspired organizations like CASA to reiterate, reexamine, and revolutionize our commitment to racial justice and the cross-racial solidarity our multi-racial movement for justice demands.
In 2020, we not only continued our struggle for racial justice in the form of fighting back against the racist and horrific US immigration system, but also in the form of standing in solidarity with the Black community.
Black Lives Matter and Racial Justice at CASA
CASA believes that racial equity must be an internalized value before it can be a campaign goal. As a core organizational value, we continue to review internal practices and policies to advance racial equity and have implemented a racial equity and inclusion training for staff and community leaders. We recognize that colorism is real in Latino communities, and that anti-Blackness has deep roots in the immigrant community, the United States, and beyond. We actively work to identify, name, and address colorism and anti-Blackness within our communities as well as in coalition and campaign spaces. We are also working to assess all of our programs, campaigns, and services with a racial equity lens, and ensure that antiracist values are integrated into all of our work. Under our 2018-2023 strategic plan we are also focusing internally on how systemic racism affects our work and what we can do to combat the negative influence that racism has on us as individuals and social justice workers.
Furthermore, during this period of crisis, CASA staff have created a BLACK@CASA committee to serve as a space for all Black staff to share experiences of racism and prejudice, to uplift and support one another, and to provide guidance to ensure policies and practices are equitable for all CASA employees. The committee will provide recommendations and feedback to our executive director, initially focusing on combating anti-Blackness and racial bias internally, and eventually moving toward our external involvement in predominantly Black policy priorities and racial equity initiatives. The committee will also serve as a network to support Black employees in a variety of different ways inside and outside of the workplace. So far the group has shared experiences and brainstormed ideas that could be implemented for internal policies/initiatives that members would like to see at CASA – for example, anti-racism trainings among all staff, a language guide to ensure consistency in how we talk about our mission and members, and disciplinary actions and clear policies on anti-Blackness in the workplace, among others.
Black Lives Matter is not just a slogan; it is a statement of the inherent value, humanity, and dignity of the lives of our Black brothers and sisters, made painfully necessary by a long history of racist oppression and a recent history of accelerating police and state violence against this community. We at CASA are proud to stand in total solidarity with the movement for Black lives and we are committed – both within our staff and membership and in the broader community – to fighting alongside the Black community for our shared liberation.
Fighting Back Against our Racist Immigration System
CASA members and the broader immigrant community have been in an ongoing struggle against the racist attacks of the Trump administration over the last four years, and in 2020 was no different. In this final year of the Trump administration, CASA members celebrated jubilant victories, held strong together through devastating setbacks, and marched together all the while with faith in one another that our movement could win. And win we did….
DACA Supreme Court VictoryIn June, our planned protest rally in front of the US Supreme Court became a day long celebration of a historic moment. The Supreme Court’s decision upheld the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, allowing more than 700,000 DACA beneficiaries to continue working in the United States and maintain their protection from deportation. In a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration’s attempt to terminate DACA violated the law and was “arbitrary and capricious.” After learning about today’s decision, Gustavo Torres, CASA Executive Director, issued the following statement: “This is an important victory for our immigrant youth, just days after DACA’s 8th anniversary, after years of fierce advocacy on behalf of all DACA holders. The Supreme Court showed a commendable capacity to rise above partisan lines to give relief to DACA recipients. We welcome the decision with joy, but also with caution. “Unfortunately we can not lower our guard, as it means a major setback for the Trump administration – which no doubt will try to find technicalities to leverage an excuse to again end DACA. When it comes to the immigration issue, we anticipate despicable actions against undocumented immigrants, especially against those with DACA. Our win today is much celebrated, but also forces us to continue with caution in making sure DACA recipients get every protection possible to remain in this country, which they call home.”
DACA - A Dream Renewed?
The story of the DACA program is in many ways emblematic of the current administration’s longstanding war on the immigrant community. Characterized by constantly shifting sands of legal challenges and always uncertain, CASA’s members with DACA, as well as DACA-holders and DACA-eligible folks around the country had a year of both setbacks and of massive victories.
Now thrice defeated in the courts, the Administration still refused to accept the law. In late July, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a memo stating that no new DACA applicants would be accepted. This time, CASA members and allies took to the streets, converging on USCIS headquarters in Washington, DC to demand justice for DACA!
“It doesn’t matter how long it takes. We will fight for DACA and our families. And we will win because justice is on our side,” said Arlette Morales, CASA member from York, Pennsylvania, shared outside of the United States Citizenship and Immigrantion Services (USCIS) Building in Washington, DC in late July.
Arlette is right. CASA will never stop fighting for DACA and DACA holders and their families. The 2017 order from the Trump administration to dismantle the DACA program for the over 700,000 DACA holders nationwide was stopped twice in the courts – first by an injunction in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2019. But the administration was determined to attack our community and pushed their case even higher. Then in June, we won our second enormous DACA victory when the Supreme Court issued a historic ruling with a 5-4 vote that struck down the termination of the program. That day, we all shared in the joy of victory and the hope of possibility for our community.
Arlette traveled from York, Penn. to share her story – one of the more than 700,000:
“I submitted my DACA application just days after the Supreme Court ruled that the administration had to restore the DACA program,” shares Arlette. “I was not yet 15 when Trump cancelled DACA the first time. Today’s memo is a direct attack on me, my family, and thousands of other families like mine. But we know that justice and the American people are on our side, and we will continue to fight back in the courts, in Congress, and [beyond].”
But CASA’s efforts on TPS were not limited to protest actions and court watching – as always, CASA has been working to build power for TPS holders throughout 2020 by a number of means:
Building Base, Building Power
Organizing is how we build the foundations of power for our community and our movement, and CASA took steps in 2020 to step up these efforts by hiring a TPS-focused community organizer entirely dedicated to bringing together TPS holders in the region. Additionally, knowing how powerful the voice of the business community can be in influencing legislation, CASA also began organizing a network of businesses in support of TPS program protection to build a stronger coalition.
Finding New Allies
Businesses have a particular role to play in helping to advocate for TPS. The DMV region is home to one of the largest densities of TPS holders in the country, and as such, many local businesses depend on the skilled labor of TPS holders to do their work. This makes them natural allies in our advocacy efforts, and at that, allies that may have access to different levers of influence than we currently have. CASA has been organizing regional business owners to bring them into this all important struggle.
Building a Bigger US
Key Struggles in Naturalization
During the Trump administration, USCIS has doubled the backlog of naturalization applications to process. Before COVID, USCIS was building a backlog on oath ceremonies, putting on hold thousands of people who already passed their naturalization interview and full vetting. Indeed, by the end of May there were over 100,000 waiting to take the oath as new Americans citizens and so gaining the right to vote, among other benefits.
USCIS eventually re-started oath ceremonies but did not relent on making the process as difficult and cumbersome as possible for immigrants. USCIS began sending letters with the appointment date by mail nine days in advance by USPS. However, the Administration also began a series of policy changes which caused a massive slow down at the USCIS – this itself another product of the ongoing dismantling of vital public services and institutions.The effect of this was that many CASA members received the letter with the appointment date for the oath ceremony after the actual appointment, adding the burden for them to send a letter to USCIS to reschedule the appointment and wait again, one more time, for the opportunity to become a US citizen and register to vote.
CASA has continued to fight the draconian policies of USCIS and at the same time has been advocating for the support of those institutions vital to our democracy such as the USPS – CASA and CASA in Action have both advocated for the passage of the HEROES act which passed the House in 2020 and contains provisions for restoring capacity at the USPS. Thousands of immigrants who have already proven to USCIS their eligibility to become US citizens are still waiting for the opportunity to take the Oath on time to vote in November. CASA will continue these battles into 2021.