Is It Possible to Resist Deportation in Trump’s America?

Is It Possible to Resist Deportation in Trump’s America?



Originally published by NY Times

On Monday, Feb. 6, two days before Guadalupe García Aguilar made headlines as the first person deported under President Donald Trump’s new executive orders on immigration, she and her family drove to the modest stucco offices of Puente, an organization that represents undocumented immigrants. It was a postcard day: warm and dry, hovering around 70 degrees, the kind of winter afternoon that had long ago turned Phoenix into a magnet for American retirees and the younger, mostly Latin American immigrants who mulch their gardens and build their homes.

García Aguilar and her family — her husband and two children — squeezed together with four Puente staff members into the cramped little office that the group uses for private consultations. Carlos Garcia, Puente’s executive director, had bought a fresh pack of cigarettes right before the talk; he needed nicotine to carry him through the discomfort of telling García Aguilar that she would almost certainly be deported on Wednesday. Until that moment, she and her family had not wanted to believe that the executive orders Trump signed on Jan. 25 had made her expulsion a priority. She had been living in the United States for 22 years, since she was 14 years old; she was the mother of two American citizens; she had missed being eligible for DACA by just a few months. Suddenly, none of that counted anymore.

García Aguilar’s troubles with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) began in 2008, after police raided Golfland Sunsplash, the amusement park in Mesa, Ariz., where she worked. She spent three months in jail and three months in detention. (ICE booked her under the last name “García de Rayos.”) In 2013, an immigration court ordered her removal. Yet under pressure from Puente, which ultimately filed a class-action lawsuit contending that Maricopa County’s work-site raids were unconstitutional, ICE allowed García Aguilar (and dozens of others) to remain in Arizona under what is known as an order of supervision. ICE could stay her removal because the Obama administration’s guidelines for the agency specified terrorists and violent criminals as priorities for deportation. But Trump’s January orders effectively vacated those guidelines; one order specifically instructed that “aliens ordered removed from the United States are promptly removed.” García Aguilar, who had a felony for using a fabricated Social Security number, was unlikely to be spared.

Orders of supervision are similar to parole; undocumented immigrants who have them must appear before ICE officers periodically for “check-ins.” García Aguilar’s next check-in was scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 8. She had three options, Garcia explained. She could appear as usual and hope for the best. She could try to hide. Or she could put up a fight, either from a place of sanctuary or by appearing for her check-in amid media coverage that Puente would organize on her behalf. Whatever she decided, he said, she would be wise to spend Tuesday preparing for separation from her children.

The family was devastated. García Aguilar left the meeting red-faced with tears.

The next day a dozen activists gathered at Puente to strategize for García Aguilar’s case. After reviewing the logistics for the usual public maneuvers — Facebook post, news release, online petition, sidewalk rally, Twitter hashtag, phone campaign — they debated the pros and cons of using civil disobedience. In the final years of the Obama administration, activists in Arizona had come to rely on “C.D.,” as they called it, to make their dissatisfaction known. Puente members had blocked roads and chained themselves in front of the entrance to Phoenix’s Fourth Avenue Jail. Yet Francisca Porchas, one of Puente’s organizers, worried about setting an unrealistic precedent with its membership. “For Lupita we go cray-cray and then everyone expects that,” she said. What would they do if Puente members wanted them to risk arrest every time one of them had a check-in?

Ernesto Lopez argued that they needed to take advantage of this rare opportunity. A week earlier, thousands of people had swarmed airports around the country to protest the executive order barring citizens from seven Muslim-majority nations. “There’s been a lot of conversation about the ban, but for everything else it’s dead,” Lopez said. “Nobody is talking about people getting deported. In a couple of months, it won’t be possible to get that media attention.”

Garcia wasn’t sure a rally for García Aguilar would work. “We’re literally in survival mode,” Garcia told me that week. It was too early to tell how ICE would behave under Trump, but they were braced for the worst. Nobody had a long-term plan yet. Even as he and his staff moved to organize the news conference, his mind kept running through the possibilities: Would it help García Aguilar stay with her family? Would it snowball into an airport-style protest? Would it cause ICE to double down on her deportation? He decided it was worth trying.

Shortly before noon on Wednesday, García Aguilar and her lawyer, Ray Ybarra Maldonado, entered ICE’s field office as supporters chanted “No está sola!” (You are not alone!) behind her. Telemundo, Univision and ABC shot footage. Supporters posted their own videos on Twitter and Facebook. ICE security warily eyed the scene. An hour later, Ybarra Maldonado exited ICE alone. García Aguilar had been taken into custody. All around the tree-shaded patio adjacent to ICE’s building, Puente members teared up, imagining the same dark future for themselves. Ybarra Maldonado filed a stay of deportation, and Porchas told everyone to come back later for a candlelight vigil.

That night a handful of protesters tried to block several vans as they sped from the building’s side exit. More protesters came running from an ICE decoy bus that had initially distracted those attending the vigil out front. Manuel Saldaña, an Army veteran who did two tours in Afghanistan, planted himself on the ground next to one van’s front tire, wrapping his arms and legs around the wheel. The driver looked incredulous; if he moved the van forward now, he would break one of Saldaña’s legs. Peering through the van windows with cellphone flashlights, protesters found García Aguilar sitting in handcuffs. The crowd doubled in size. “Those shifty [expletive],” Ybarra Maldonado said as he stared at the van. ICE, he said, had never notified him that her stay of deportation had been denied.

Four hours later, García Aguilar was gone. After the Phoenix Police arrested seven people and dispersed the crowd, ICE took her to Nogales, Mexico. By then images of García Aguilar and the protest were already all over television and social media. She and her children became celebrities within the immigrant rights movement. Carlos Garcia, who was with her in Nogales, told me that Mexican officials stalked her hotel, hoping to snag a photo. “Everyone wanted to be the one to help her,” he said. “Everyone wanted a piece.” Later that month, her children — Jacqueline, 14, and Angel, 16 — sat in the audience of Trump’s first address to Congress, guests of two Democratic representatives from Arizona, Raúl Grijalva and Ruben Gallego.

During the Obama years, most immigrant rights organizations focused on big, idealistic legislation: the Dream Act and comprehensive immigration reform, neither of which ever made it through Congress. But Puente kept its focus on front-line battles against police-ICE collaboration. For Garcia, who was undocumented until a stepfather adopted him at 16, the most important thing is simply to contest all deportations, without exception. He estimates that Puente has had a hand in stopping about 300 deportations in Arizona since 2012.

Ever since Arizona passed Senate Bill 1070, one of the toughest anti-undocumented bills ever signed into law, the state has been known for pioneering the kind of draconian tactics that the Trump administration is now turning into federal policy. But if Arizona has been a testing ground for the nativist agenda, it has also been an incubator for resistance to it. Among the state’s many immigrant rights groups, Puente stands out as the most seasoned and most confrontational. In the weeks and months following Election Day 2016 — as progressive groups suddenly found themselves on defense, struggling to figure out how to handle America’s new political landscape — Garcia was inundated with calls for advice. He flew around the country for training sessions with field organizers, strategy meetings with lawyers and policy experts and an off-the-record round table with Senators Dick Durbin and Bernie Sanders in Washington. A soft-spoken man with a stoic demeanor and a long, black ponytail, Garcia was also stunned by Trump’s victory. But organizers in Phoenix had one clear advantage. “All the scary things that folks are talking about,” he told me, “we’ve seen before.” On Nov. 9, he likes to say, the country woke up in Arizona.

During the 1990s, after President Bill Clinton’s administration cracked down on illegal entries at the border near San Diego, migrants crossed the desert into Arizona instead, and the state’s undocumented population swelled. In response, the State Legislature passed laws intended to make the daily lives of the undocumented untenable, a legal strategy known as “attrition through enforcement.” Arizona cut off access to driver’s licenses, to social services, to in-state college tuition; it reclassified the use of a fake Social Security number to gain employment as a felony. In 2007 Maricopa County — an area that includes nearly four million people and the cities of Phoenix, Scottsdale and Mesa — went further, signing what’s known as a 287(g) agreement with ICE. At the time, fewer than 70 police organizations in the country had 287(g)s, more than half of them in the Southeast. These agreements give local law-enforcement agencies the power to place immigration detainers inside jails and to assemble task forces to arrest people suspected of being undocumented while out on patrol.

That year Arizona’s undocumented population reached roughly half a million people. In Maricopa County, Sheriff Joseph Arpaio aimed to make that number plummet. He directed police to conduct “crime suppression” sweeps in predominantly Latino neighborhoods and to raid businesses. During sweeps, police would often detain Latinos for minor offenses like honking a car horn, then demand proof of legal residence.

Maricopa County voters appeared delighted with his tactics; for a time, “Sheriff Joe” was the most popular elected official in the state. Support for him may have been abetted by Arizona’s dismal economy. Phoenix had been one of the centers of the building boom; in 2006, business owners in the state said they needed a Mexican guest-worker program to meet the demand for cheap manual labor. But in the spring of 2007, Arizona’s housing market began to crater. In 2008, the state had 117,000 foreclosures, the third-​highest number in the country.

For readers of Mexican-American history, this sudden hardening of attitudes toward the undocumented was unsurprising: America has long maintained a love-hate relationship with Spanish-speaking labor. During the Great Depression, at least one million Mexican nationals and Mexican-Americans were forcibly repatriated. The following decade, the United States began importing 4.6 million Mexicans to satisfy labor shortages in agricultural fields. But even as that program continued in the 1950s, President Eisenhower’s administration sent another one million back to Mexico by truck, train and ship in a roundup known as “Operation Wetback.”

Near Miami, Ariz., a young Alfredo Gutierrez and his family escaped capture by camping in the mountains. “One of the reasons they got away with repatriation and they got away with Wetback was because there was no resistance,” Gutierrez, who later became an Arizona state senator, told me. “Everyone of that era will tell you how they hid.” But when Arpaio came for the undocumented, many of them argued for their right to stay. This transformation was due, in great part, to Puente.

During its early years, Puente planned protest marches, organized boycotts against local businesses that supported Arpaio and ran know-your-rights classes in Spanish. When Arizona Republicans passed S.B.1070 in 2010, Puente and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network began a national boycott that was estimated to cost Arizona over $200 million in canceled business conferences; 100,000 people marched against the bill in Phoenix. T-shirts with the slogan “Legalize Arizona” popped up in places like Chicago and New York.

Yet these actions did little to stop actual deportations. So in the wake of S.B.1070, Puente adopted a new organizing strategy, setting up neighborhood defense committees, or comités del barrio, throughout Maricopa County. “We had to build a base,” Garcia explains; five or six leaders planning actions in a room was no longer enough. Through thecomités, Puente cultivated relationships with hundreds of undocumented people and their families with the goal of piecing together a detailed understanding of how ICE and Arpaio worked. By 2011, it could draw a map tracing the system from arrest to deportation — and mark each point along the way where a person had the possibility of release.

In comités, people learned several ways of avoiding deportation. If a police officer pulled them over while driving, they could exercise their constitutional right to remain silent when they were asked whether they were American citizens. If an officer didn’t explicitly detain them, they could walk away from their cars to avoid further questions. If officers appeared at their homes, they could demand to see a warrant before opening the door. The comités also taught people how to argue their own cases if they were handed over to ICE. (Undocumented immigrants have no right to a public defender but often may plead their cases before an immigration judge.) Puente encouraged its members to hash out legal strategies with a lawyer before they ever were detained — and to sign a copy of a Department of Homeland Security form authorizing media interviews in detention. Because their weekly meetings built genuine social ties, thecomités also helped mobilize rapid responses to deportation. Members were more likely to show up for one another at protest rallies.

But even as the comités were being assembled, there was lingering tension within the broader immigrant-activist community over whether “Dreamers,” who had been brought to the United States as minors, should represent themselves separately from the rest of the undocumented population. Undocumented students at Arizona State University had organized themselves into their own tightly knit group, the Arizona Dream Act Coalition (ADAC). Nurtured by other organizers and inspired by the national organization United We Dream, ADAC members came out of the shadows to push Congress to pass the Dream Act and to fight for other legislative exceptions, like in-state tuition. “Early on, a lot of Dreamers wouldn’t even talk about deportations,” Garcia says. “It was all about the Dream Act, figuring out tuition and those sorts of things, driver’s licenses.” He was irritated by the Dreamers’ tendency to portray themselves as innocent victims, a tactic that opened the door for conservatives to speak of Dreamers with empathy even as they cracked down on their parents as “criminals.” (Trump has expressed support for Dreamers.) “A lot us feel like we sort of shot ourselves in the foot,” Erika Andiola, ADAC’s first president, told me after Trump’s election. “Because we started that narrative like ‘I was brought here by my parents, not my fault, poor me, I was here as a child’ that kind of created blame on our parents.”

But after S.B.1070’s “papers please” law overcame court battles and went into effect in September 2012 — three months after the Obama administration created Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) — collaborations between Puente and ADAC increased. In Arizona, the police were now obligated to question anyone that they had “reasonable suspicion” to believe was undocumented. As a result, a new wave of undocumented residents, including many Dreamers’ parents, found themselves snared in deportation proceedings.

Andiola’s own mother, Maria Guadalupe Arreola, was stopped while driving in Mesa in September 2012; the police passed her information along to ICE. Three months later, ICE agents appeared at the family’s home and took Arreola away in handcuffs. Andiola responded by flipping open her laptop and filming a video that she posted to social media. Within hours of her mother’s arrest, the hashtags #WeAreAndiola and #SomosAndiola were rousing people over Facebook and Twitter. ICE’s office in Phoenix was flooded with calls. Messages also poured into the Department of Homeland Security from Washington; hours before ICE had banged on her door, Andiola was hired by an Arizona congresswoman, Kyrsten Sinema.

The next morning, as Arreola sat on a bus headed for Nogales, protesters rallied outside of ICE’s Phoenix office, drawing television crews. The bus driver received a phone call. The bus turned around. A few hours later, Arreola was released with an order of supervision signed by ICE’s field-office director, Katrina Kane. Jose Luis Peñalosa, the lawyer who represented Arreola at the time, believes the directive to reverse the deportation must have come directly from Washington.

Under Obama, Andiola told me, the primary strategy had been to create a well-publicized “moral dilemma” between Obama’s pro-immigrant rhetoric and his aggressive immigration enforcement — exactly what she had done with her mother. Such dilemmas could provoke ICE to use prosecutorial discretion to stop a removal.

By 2014, however, such maneuvers rarely worked. After Obama won re-election and Democrats lost the midterms, Washington was less susceptible to public shaming. Phone campaigns and news conferences no longer resulted in release. “We got to a point where the legal strategy, the political strategy wasn’t working,” Andiola said, “so we had to begin using our bodies in civil disobedience.” In August 2013, ADAC stopped an ICE bus full of deportees in Phoenix, delaying their removal. In 2014 Andiola and Garcia were arrested together during a hunger strike outside ICE’s field office.

By then Andiola had left her leadership position at ADAC, whose board at that time disapproved of its members’ involvement in non-Dreamer cases. She also abandoned the job as a congressional staffer, frustrated by the lack of movement on comprehensive immigration reform. When people facing deportation petitioned her for help, as scores did through Facebook, she sent them to Puente, which her own mother joined. “Puente and us were trying to do the same thing with parents,” Andiola said. ADAC could no longer help them, but Puente would.

Late on the night of García Aguilar’s protest, after the chants stopped and the crowd dwindled to a handful of private conversations, an ADAC veteran asked Andiola how she thought she might handle her own mother’s check-in with ICE in May. “I don’t know,” Andiola snapped. “I don’t know. I don’t know.” A few weeks later at a Puente meeting, when Porchas asked how she was doing, Andiola simply began crying. Andiola walked over the desert into Arizona with her mother in 1998, when she was 11, primarily to escape her father. He was an abusive alcoholic, she said, with a taste for firing guns indoors. He was still alive in Durango; Arreola was terrified of seeing him again.

But after what happened with García Aguilar, Andiola knew that the tactics she used to stave off her mother’s deportation in 2013 would no longer work. “He’s not going to listen,” Andiola said of Trump. “He’s not going to care.” The week ICE deported García Aguilar, more than 600 undocumented immigrants were picked up in raids across the country. This in itself wasn’t unusual: ICE surges had occurred many times during Obama’s presidency, including, notoriously, over New Year’s weekend 2016. Yet because Trump’s presidential campaign had promised millions of deportations, the surge could now be spun as a change in federal policy. Trump himself basked in the news. “The crackdown on illegal criminals is merely the keeping of my campaign promise,” he tweeted that Sunday. “Gang members, drug dealers & others are being removed!”

“We’ve always had these really broad laws so what the history really is about is what the executive wants to enforce,” Hiroshi Motomura, a law professor at U.C.L.A., told me, recalling the Palmer Red Raids of 1919 and 1920 and the Japanese internment camps of the 1940s. “Right now, we see the swing of the pendulum back to the harshest possible interpretation.” The velocity of this swing is possible because most of the victories achieved by the undocumented during Obama’s administration depended upon the use of prosecutorial discretion.

Until the 1970s, immigration officials staunchly denied that they ever allowed any illegal immigrant to remain in the country with their approval. Prosecutorial discretion was exposed only after President Richard Nixon tried to throw John Lennon, the former Beatle, out of the country before the 1972 elections. (Nixon feared that Lennon, who opposed the war in Vietnam, might turn younger voters against him.) In the course of defending Lennon — as the Penn State law professor Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia details in her book, “Beyond Deportation” — his lawyer, Leon Wildes, unearthed a trove of documents proving the existence of a hidden “deferred action” program, which allowed immigration officials to use prosecutorial discretion to grant “nonpriority” status to individuals on humanitarian grounds. After Wildes spotlighted the program, he won deferred action for Lennon, allowing one of the world’s most famous musicians to stay in the United States long enough to gain lawful permanent residence.

Until Obama came into office, gaining “deferred action” or “nonpriority” status required the help of a savvy immigration lawyer. “I used to call it the invisible sword,” Wadhia told me, noting that, outside the DACA program, there has never been any official form to fill out or fee to pay in order to win deferred action. Obama did not invent prosecutorial discretion, but he did make it more transparent and accessible, standing in the Rose Garden to announce how his administration had used it to create a deferred-action program for Dreamers. Trump cannot destroy prosecutorial discretion — it’s what allows a district attorney to ignore shoplifting so she can focus on murders — but his administration can pressure ICE officials to resist appeals to exercise it favorably.

And that’s exactly what many believe has happened. In the past, when Washington-based officials pressured ICE supervisors to reverse decisions, as seems to have happened in Arreola’s case, ICE agents had little recourse. Even immigration judges could find their orders for deportation halted by prosecutorial discretion, as in the case of García Aguilar. But those roadblocks have been undone. “Some 60,000 agents, they have been chafing at prosecutorial-discretion memos,” Paromita Shah, the associate director of the National Immigration Project, told me in November.

In fact, García Aguilar’s deportation was just the first of many cases in which undocumented residents who were granted nonpriority status found themselves deported when they appeared for routine check-ins. ICE now commonly instructs people to appear for check-ins with passports, which makes their deportation easier. With prosecutorial discretion held out of reach, Garcia told me, “once ICE decides to deport someone, it’s nearly impossible to get them out of their grasp.”

This is exactly the situation that Andiola feared when we met for coffee on a cold, drizzly day last November. Many of the cases that activists won under Obama, she said, weren’t actually closed; they were merely suspended through prosecutorial discretion. “The judge says, ‘I’m not saying I’m not going to deport you, but I’m going to put your file away and you can just stay,’ ” she said. “Those cases are easy to just open up again.” In April, ICE officially reopened her own mother’s file, sending Arreola a letter ordering her to report for removal at its Phoenix field office on May 3. “Everything’s going to change for me, for my life,” Arreola told me, weeping, the day after the letter arrived. “Ay, I don’t want to cry, I don’t want to cry, I don’t want to cry.”

On a blazing afternoon this May, signs lay stacked in piles throughout Puente’s large meeting room. Blue hummingbirds on one sign flew through the words “Resist!” “¡Resiste!”; on another, Aztec gods pointed like Uncle Sam over the question “Who you calling illegal, Pilgrim?” Sitting at a plastic table amid the slogans, her hair braided in preparation for a long march through high heat, Maria Castro, an ADAC veteran who had become a Puente organizer, explained to me how Puente’s strategy had shifted in the months since the effort to save García Aguilar failed. With a black crayon, she drew six boxes in a row, each symbolizing a stage in the deportation process: police, city court, prison, ICE, immigration court, deportation. Before Trump, she said, Puente had focused its efforts on stopping deportations at ICE or after. But now that Trump had vacated Obama’s priorities and reduced the likelihood of prosecutorial discretion, “everything from city court forward no longer works.” She drew a red line through five of the boxes, leaving only one unscathed: the initial point of police contact.

After Arpaio fully lost his 287(g) status in 2011 amid allegations of abuse, he allowed ICE to install an agent inside central booking at the Fourth Avenue Jail in Phoenix. Because that agent could question anyone charged with any offense right after fingerprinting, Castro told me, most undocumented people who are arrested in Maricopa County have an ICE hold on them by the time they are arraigned. Last year, ICE requested the detention of 3,483 people in Maricopa County jails. The signs lying around the room were for Puente’s May Day march, the theme of which was “ICE out of Fourth Avenue.”

Last fall many assumed that Trump would instigate huge roundups of the undocumented, á la Operation Wetback. Yet so far, the process for deportations in Arizona has mostly followed the pattern set by Arpaio; the undocumented are first caught by the police. (Nationally, however, ICE’s noncriminal arrests have increased 157 percent compared to the first four months of 2016.) “Trump doesn’t have to do much to deport anyone he wants to because Obama has already built this machinery for him,” Garcia told me. Under Obama, 287(g) agreements proliferated. In 2006, ICE was allocated $5 million to implement such agreements. A year into Obama’s first term, that number shot up to $68 million, though it was reduced to $24 million in 2014.

Obama also beefed up ICE’s power by expanding the Bush-era information-sharing network known as Secure Communities. In 2009, Secure Communities connected only 88 jurisdictions to ICE. By 2013, ICE was linked to every jurisdiction in the nation. What difference does such an expansion make? When Arreola was taken to a police station after her traffic stop in 2012, she refused to answer the questions. Are you a citizen of the United States? Do you have a Social Security number? Were you born in Mexico? But when her fingerprints were run through ICE’s database, they got a hit. “Be nice,” Arreola recalls one officer saying sarcastically in English, as he held up a piece of paper with her mug shot on it. The photo had been taken in 1998, after her first, failed attempted to enter the United States.

Obama deported nearly three million undocumented immigrants, more than any president in American history. For Puente, one of the stranger outcomes of Trump’s election is that, for the first time, they stand a chance of dismantling some police-ICE collaborations. Fighting individual deportation cases has become harder, but policy battles have gained traction in Phoenix, where Democrats still hold significant power. “Now it’s convenient for Democrats to shame a deportation,” Garcia told me.

Under Obama, he speculated, many Democrats were reluctant to oppose any of the president’s policies. Under Trump, they saw political advantage in talking about deportations, sanctuary cities and immigrant rights — especially now that the undocumented had found new allies. When Garcia helped assemble the coalition United Against Hate after Trump’s victory in November, 56 groups signed up. That same month, Paul Penzone defeated Joe Arpaio at the polls. For Garcia, who began his activism under President George W. Bush, one great lesson of the past eight years is that Democrats are unreliable allies, willing to place other policy goals, like the Affordable Care Act, above the needs of the undocumented. “Neither party is our friend,” he said. But the two-party system, he knew, could be played to Puente’s advantage as it pushed for Phoenix to do more cite-and-release actions instead of arrests and as it argued for school boards to reduce the number of police officers in schools.

None of these policy advances could save someone already facing deportation. That May Day, García Aguilar’s family joined hundreds of protesters for Puente’s march from Arizona’s Capitol to the Fourth Avenue Jail. García Aguilar’s daughter, Jacqueline, and Arreola spoke at the final rally. “With ICE there’s now no right or wrong,” García Aguilar’s husband told me, as the crowd marched around the jail three times, losing more people with each turn. His wife had decided not to hide from ICE, he said, because living on the lam “no es vida.” But as time goes by, he finds her absence more and more difficult. “Now,” he said, “maybe it’s better not to show up.”

I heard anecdotal accounts that more people were, in fact, choosing the option that his wife had declined. Some were moving to new addresses. Others were looking for sanctuary in churches or simply shutting themselves up in their homes, essentially becoming fugitives when their check-ins passed. The full extent of these changes won’t be clear until this summer, said Petra Falcon, the executive director of Promise Arizona (PAZ). During past crises in Arizona, she said, undocumented parents had often waited for classes to end before moving with their children. But a recent report from the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System showed that the percentage of Hispanics participating in Arizona’s state health care system had fallen by more than half between October 2016 and April 2017. Some Hispanics, it appeared, might be trying to retreat into the shadows again.

Trump’s Jan. 25 orders have made the concept of a single national strategy to stop deportations irrelevant. Under Obama, ICE’s prosecutorial priorities were consistent from state to state because they were clearly defined by the Department of Homeland Security and ICE in Washington. Trump’s orders, however, expanded prosecutorial priorities so broadly that, as a practical matter, there no longer exist any priorities at all. Steve Legomsky, the former chief counsel of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (U.S.C.I.S.), told me that, effectively, “the decision of what to prioritize is now left in the hands of each individual ICE agent and each individual C.B.P. border-patrol officer.” Much has been made of the fact that Trump has essentially ceded America’s military strategy to its generals. His handling of ICE, whose field directors now set the agency’s direction, appears similar.

Legomsky said that the sweep of Trump’s priorities has also given ICE cover for the use of targeted deportations against activists. The agency doesn’t need to explain why the deportation of a DACA activist or an undocumented organizer is consistent with their announced priorities, he said, “if the announced priorities cover almost everybody.” In February, the Department of Homeland Security seemed to give its blessing for such retaliations when it issued a memo that gave ICE officers the authority to prioritize the deportation of anyone they believed posed “a risk to public safety.” Andiola, who is now the political director of Our Revolution, the 501(c)(4) that sprang from Bernie Sanders’s presidential bid, didn’t know if her mother had been targeted or if the letter ordering her to report for removal was simply a consequence of Trump’s redefined priorities.

After Arreola received the letter, Andiola worked her extensive professional network, calling organizers, lawyers and activists to gather opinions about what she should do. “It’s great that there are so many perspectives,” she said, “but it’s difficult to sort through all the differing kinds of advice.” Eventually, she realized there was no single solution. With a diversity of tactics in her pocket, she would deploy one after another in hopes of reaching success. What she needed first, she decided, was a legal strategy.

Even though Arreola fled to the United States to escape domestic abuse, it never occurred to either woman that Arreola might be eligible for asylum. In Andiola’s mind, asylum seekers came from Central America or the Middle East, places with extreme political turmoil. After García Aguilar’s deportation, though, Andiola began to take the option seriously. She knew it was a long shot: It has never been easy for Mexicans to gain asylum in the United States. And though several lawyers told me that asylum applications are now rising, the process is likely to become even more difficult soon. The Jan. 25 order on border security includes an entire section declaring Trump’s intention “to end the abuse of parole and asylum provisions.” “It’s the same political agenda that is behind banning Muslims and refugees from coming to the U.S.,” says Marielena Hincapié, the executive director of the National Immigration Law Center.

A successful asylum application, Andiola learned, depended upon documentary evidence. Arreola recalled that a newspaper in Durango once published her ex-partner’s photograph, noting that he had been charged for the kidnapping and rape of a minor: her. In Durango, Arreola’s brother-in-law found a copy of a 1991 police report detailing one of her ex-partner’s rages. These two documents formed the backbone of the asylum application Arreola used to request an interview with U.S.C.I.S. in April. Within a week, she had an appointment for a “reasonable fear” interview to determine if her case merited serious consideration. Three days after the interview, Arreola received good news: ICE had canceled her scheduled removal on May 3. She had passed the interview, the first of many steps in gaining asylum. Her lawyer, Ray Ybarra Maldonado, who also represents García Aguilar, says there is still a fair chance that Arreola’s application for asylum may be denied, but she was now safe to report for her check-in on May 23.

On May 3, the day Arreola was to have been deported, Arreola and Andiola gathered with friends, family and supporters for a prayer breakfast at the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Phoenix, which had offered to house Arreola if she chose sanctuary. Pastor James Pennington had been active in the fight for gay rights. The patio of First Congregational was decorated with several flags, including a rainbow flag, an Arizona state flag and an American flag. Inside the church, members of Puente and former members of ADAC formed a circle with several non-Hispanics who had only recently allied themselves with the undocumented. Standing together they recited Psalm 30 in Spanish:

Te ensalzaré, oh Señor, porque me has elevado, y no has permitido que mis enemigos se rían de mi.

I’ll praise you, Lord, because you’ve lifted me up. You haven’t let my enemies laugh at me.

Yet their enemies remained hard at work. A week later, Marco Tulio Coss Ponce, who had been living in Arizona under an order of supervision since 2012, appeared at ICE’s field office in Phoenix with his lawyer, Ravindar Arora, for a check-in. ICE officers, Arora said, knew that Coss Ponce was about to file an application for asylum — several of his relatives had been recently killed or threatened by the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico — and they had assured Arora several times that Coss Ponce would not be removed. They said he simply needed to wear an ankle monitor to make sure he didn’t disappear. The fitting was delayed several times until finally Arora had to leave to argue a case in court. After he departed, ICE officers handcuffed Coss Ponce and put him in a van, alone. Three hours later, he was in Nogales.

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