As if Hurricane Harvey didn’t terrorize Texas enough, President Donald Trump has just unleashed a flood of fear in immigrant communities there and everywhere.
On Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that Trump is rescinding the DACA program (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), which gives nearly 800,000 young immigrants permission to live and work in the United States. President Barack Obama implemented DACA in 2012 after nearly a decade of protests by undocumented youth who urged Congress to pass the DREAM Act, which would grant permanent legal status to many young immigrants who were brought to the country as children. President Obama called Trump’s attack on DACA “self-defeating” and “cruel.”
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh declared to the White House, “We don’t want any part of you in Boston.” Houston is home to 85,000 DACA recipients, or DREAMers. Nationwide, 95 percent of DREAMers are working or in school. Trump’s order means that DACA recipients — who Trump claims to “love” — can be deported starting in March. This has sent a shock wave through the entire Latino community. With Latinos comprising nearly half the population of Houston, who will have the jobs, skills and money to rebuild America’s fourth-largest city? DREAMer Cesar Espinosa is a Harvey hero. He is executive director of FIEL, a Houston-based nonprofit that went door to door during the storm urging Latinos, who were fearful of both the storm and of immigration police, to come out of their flooded homes and get help. He told the “Democracy Now!” news hour, “We just went through one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history, and [Trump] decides to make this point now. Why?”
Espinosa, whose parents brought him to the U.S. 25 years ago at the age of 6, answered his own question: “Every time that President Trump has a failure, he goes back to the immigration issue to rattle his base and to garner more support for himself. So we ask that he stops playing games, specifically with the DREAMer community, but also with the immigrant community. … We are human beings that have human rights and deserve to be here and to continue to stay with our families.”
Last weekend, we traveled to Houston to see Harvey’s impact up close. It quickly became clear that we were witnessing the fallout from twin disasters: climate change and racism. Across the street from the Exxon Mobil refinery in Baytown, the second-largest oil refinery in the U.S., we met Carlos Caban, pastor of Templo Emanuel. “This is a real low-income community,” he explained, motioning to flood survivors inside his church who were receiving and distributing water and clothing. He showed us photos of chemicals from the refinery leaching into the floodwaters. Thanks to waivers granted by the Environmental Protection Agency, flares emanating from refinery smokestacks burned off chemicals in the temporarily shuttered plant. All around Texas, one of the most deregulated states, poor communities live in the toxic shadow of the petrochemical industry.
Pastor Caban said many Latino residents remained in their homes despite flooding and mold: “They’re afraid of coming and getting help. Some people think that immigration is going to take them.” These fears are justified: Texas was slated to officially outlaw sanctuary cities on Sept. 1, threatening police chiefs and city officials with criminal sanctions and penalties if they did not cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In the midst of Hurricane Harvey, just two days before the new law was to take effect, a federal judge temporarily blocked it.
Pastor Caban told “Democracy Now!” that his community had not been visited by the Federal Emergency Management Agency or the Red Cross. Did he feel forgotten? Yes, he replied.
We headed back to Houston to visit Dr. Robert Bullard, who had just returned to his home after being forced to evacuate. A distinguished professor at the historically black Texas Southern University, he is known as the founder of the environmental justice movement. He explained: “When we look at the color of vulnerability and we look at which communities are actually at greatest risk from disasters and floods like this, historically, it’s been low-income communities and communities of color. … What Harvey has done is to expose those inequalities that existed before the storm.”
Noting that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott doesn’t believe in climate science, Bullard observed wryly, “We’re in a state of denial called Texas.” Faced with nationwide opposition to rescinding DACA, Trump said he may “revisit this issue” in six months. Many fear he will attempt to force Congress to link payment for a border wall to the future of the 800,000 DREAMers.
Trump will only back down if faced with massive grass-roots pressure. “The wall that we have to build,” legendary civil-rights activist Dolores Huerta told us, “is the wall of resistance.”