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The Immigration Crisis, Whiteness and the Power of Direct Action and Movement Building

June 25, 2019

“Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them.”                Assata Shakur

Since President Trump announced that his administration would begin to round up and deport thousands of immigrants, communities all across the US have been taking action in preparation for the newest wave of ICE repression.

There are groups providing lots of Know Your Rights documents to distribute in the community, there are reports of some places announcing that they will offer sanctuary to individuals and families in the immigrant community, and there are numerous groups doing Rapid Response to ICE work letting people know that if they see ICE in their neighborhoods or at their workplace to call designated numbers to mobilize people in response. These are all useful and important tactics for people to engage in.

There has also been a great deal of social media responses that make you want to scratch your head and at times force us to painfully acknowledge that there are lots of white folks who either don’t get it or who are stuck in the same knee-jerk responses that have done very little for the immigrant and undocumented communities in the past.

When I say “social media responses that make you want to scratch your head,” I mean things like people pointing out that the Right to Lifers don’t seem to care about the plight of immigrant children in US detention camps. It is true that most Right to Lifers don’t care about immigrant children, but such a statement does nothing to move us to act in solidarity with immigrant children and families. What such a statement about Right to Life ends up doing, is usually just making us feel superior or staying in the Liberals are good, Conservatives are evil camp.

Another knee-jerk response to the current immigration crisis is to want to find a quick fix solution. These kinds of responses are common place because they are predicated upon the idea that there must be an easy solution that allows me (White people) to not have to risk anything or continue to allow me to engage in White Savior Politics. Is there a petition to sign or is there a group I can send money to so they can make the problem go away and I can feel special because I did something? So, what do these kind responses mean and how can we potentially bring those people into the immigrant justice movement?

First, we have to stop engaging in White Savior Politics and do some serious self-examination around White Privilege and White Supremacy. Second, sending petitions and calling members of Congress will NOT put an end to ICE/border patrol violence against the immigrant and undocumented communities. Those in power do not care, regardless of regardless of party affiliation, plus they are too politically compromised to take action that would have the results that are needed. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is part of the Department of Homeland Security, which was created just after 9/11 with near unanimous Congressional support. There is a great deal of money to be made from how the Department of Homeland Security functions and very few politicians who want to take that on.

Third, there is no easy solution and no quick fix to the immigration crisis, which is really a crisis created by the systems of power in the US, both electoral and private. Therefore, we need to build powerful social movements to challenge and dismantle the existing systems of oppression that are being utilized to criminalize immigrants. In fact, there are groups and movements all over the country right now that are focused on immigrant justice. Groups like Mijente and Movimiento Cosecha are both immigrant led movements and those are the kinds of movements that those of us who are not part of the immigrant/undocumented community should look to for leadership. Also, it is important to note that building a powerful movement for immigrant justice will not be created overnight and will need to develop over time if it is to be effective. There may be revolutionary moments or openings that allow us to make major changes in a short period of time, but those moments are rare and the changes that come are often not lasting.

In order to build powerful movements there are numerous things that need to happen and since people like lists, I will provide yet another list of things that people can do in the Grand Rapids area to Abolish ICE and to be part of the immigrant justice movement.

  • The immigrant justice movement must be led by those who are most impacted by ICE violence, thus this movement should be immigrant led.
  • Educate yourself on the history of US immigration policy. A good place to start is by reading American Intolerance: Our Dark History of Demonizing Immigrants, by Robert Bartholomew and Anja Reumschuessel.
  • We need to recognize that quite often US foreign policy is the root cause of so many people fleeing to the US. US military and trade policy has caused tremendous harm around the world and that harm has displaced people. Therefore, if we want to get to the root of the problem, we need radically alter US foreign policy.
  • Familiarize yourself with the recent Immigrant Rights Movement in Grand Rapids, which we have been documenting in Part I and Part II.
  • Support and get involved in the work of Movimiento Cosecha GR – donate money, attend general meetings, attend a Cosecha Ally Training and follow them on Facebook at
  • Get involved in the work of GR Rapid Response to ICE. Attend one of their regular trainings. Donate to the mutual aid fund, which directs money to individuals and families affected by ICE. Join their Abolish ICE campaign. Follow them on Facebook at
  • Share the GR Rapid Response to ICE, “If you see ICE in your community or if ICE comes to your home” information. See graphic below.
  • Learn about and participate in the Direct Actions in Grand Rapids, actions that are often organized by Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE. Direct Actions means that we take collective action to change our circumstances, without handing our power to a middle person, like politicians, bosses or cops.
  • Bring friends, co-workers, members of your faith community or neighbors to an action organized by Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE.
  • Ask your faith community to be a sanctuary for members of the undocumented immigrant community. Providing sanctuary is a great way to practice solidarity and it is a form of direct action that says that we will not allow ICE to do harm to our fellow community members. Right now we only have 1 declared sanctuary in the greater Grand Rapids area.
  • Get trained in crowd safety, so that you can actively support the immigrant community when they engage in public actions. Contact Movimiento Cosecha GR for the dates of the next crowd safety training.
  • Get your friends together or ask them online to donate money to Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE.
  • Offer your skills/abilities to the immigrant justice movement – art work, transportation, media skills, translation skills, time, money, food and child care.

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