“The announcement just reminds us that there is a clock,” said Andy Kang, executive director of the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition.
At one point while Andy Kang was welcoming the bus full of migrants that arrived in Philadelphia from Texas last week, he looked around and felt hope.
The executive director of the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition (PICC) was one of many Philadelphians who showed up for the city’s newest residents. He rode the SEPTA bus with the migrants to the Welcoming Center. He handed out fresh clothes and meals to the weary travelers, and set up legal consultations for them.
Seeing so many other community leaders and city officials pour love and care into the new arrivals was heartwarming for Kang. And it ever so slightly took the sting out of the news from the night prior: that former President Donald Trump announced he would be running again in the 2024 election.
Still, Kang knew what was coming.
“When it hits, it still hits you pretty hard,” he said of Trump’s announcement. “It reminded us of the urgency to get as much done before that potential nightmare scenario in 2025.”
For many immigrant communities in the United States, another Trump presidency is exactly what Kang characterized. From racist rhetoric — such as calling undocumented immigrants rapists, dubbing coronavirus as the “Chinese virus,” and suggesting building a registry to track Muslims in the U.S. — to impactful policies like the travel ban targeting majority Muslim countries, separating children from their parents at the southern border, and ending Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Trump has been a symbol of hostility to many of America’s immigrants.
For over four years, these communities scrambled to build their lives in the U.S. amid the chaos of constantly changing immigration policies and rising xenophobic bigotry. And while it’s uncertain whether Trump would win in 2024, for these communities, a campaign in which he would likely continue to espouse his views would be a nightmare in and of itself.
When Ahmet Tekelioglu, executive director of the Philadelphia chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), heard the news that Trump would be running again, he immediately thought of the people he knew who were directly impacted by policies during the Trump presidency: the students who had overstayed their visas because their home countries weren’t safe to return to, the Yemeni who had recently gotten married but couldn’t fly their spouse to the U.S. because of the travel ban, the Palestinians who were crushed by Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the AAPI community that faced rising bigotry and violence in the aftermath of Trump’s rhetoric about the pandemic.
“The communities that we serve are internally diverse: people who lean Democrat, people who lean Republican, and people who even tried to justify Trump’s presidency,” Tekelioglu said. “But at the same time, it is difficult to disentangle and think of Trump independent of January 6 and independent of an overall approach to criminalizing anyone who is other than what’s perceived to be the majority.”
Josephys Dafils, founder and executive director of Haitian American United for Change, always knew that Haiti would be next on Trump’s list. From the travel ban to racist comments about Mexicans, Dafils understood the importance of intersectional support — and that his community would not be spared.
Sure enough, Trump ended temporary protection status for Haitians in late 2017, terminating the humanitarian program that had allowed nearly 60,000 Haitians to live and work in the U.S. since 2010, and referred to Haiti (as well as African countries) as “s—hole” countries in a 2018 meeting.
“It’s a very, very scary time.”
But for Dafils, what is particularly scary is all the people who voted for Trump. What’s scary is when he drives outside Philadelphia and sees Confederate flags. What’s scary is when he and his community members are told to go back to their countries because they have accents.
“People feel empowered because the president of the U.S. is saying stuff like this,” Dafils said. “It’s a very, very scary time.”
The one good thing that came out of the Trump presidency, some community members said, was the organizing and mobilization to protect the communities that were most vulnerable during his tenure. Now, the clock is ticking as they try to get as much done throughout the rest of President Joe Biden’s term and prepare for the potential upheaval to come afterward.
“If there’s a chance we can get anything done, whether it’s a DACA fix, or getting a federal registry bill … if we can do something, anything, we want to see it done. But ultimately, that’s going to take leadership from President Biden in the White House,” said Kang.
“It’s within the White House’s power, and the president’s power, to help us start to undo the built-in racism in our immigration system and for a different direction,” he continued. “The announcement just reminds us that there is a clock.”
The work produced by the Communities & Engagement desk at The Inquirer is supported by The Lenfest Institute for Journalism. Editorial content is created independently of the project's donors.