Wednesday, Jan. 20, the last day of Donald Trump’s presidency, was the end of an era for the New York Immigration Coalition.
“Trump started his administration back four years ago by attacking the immigrant communities, and specifically launching the Muslim ban,” New York Immigration Coalition interim co-Executive Director Murad Awawdeh told City & State, referring to the January 2017 executive order suspending travel visas from seven majority-Muslim countries. And from there, it was four years of “nonstop attacks,” Awawdeh said. “We’ve been in kind of this very aggressive defense mode since Trump came into office. We fought back. We won some and we lost some against his administration.”
Trump’s presidency was defined in large part by his animosity toward certain immigrants. Incidents and policies can be recalled with a cruel shorthand. “Build the wall.” “Kids in cages.” “Public charge.” “Shithole countries.” The New York Immigration Coalition, the state’s umbrella organization representing more than 200 immigrants’ rights groups, responded to each crisis as it came. And as immigrants’ rights were thrust into the public eye, the organization grew. In the year before Trump took office, the nonprofit brought in $4.2 million. Four years later, its revenue had more than doubled, to $8.9 million.
Trump’s policies can be recalled with a cruel shorthand. “Build the wall.” “Kids in cages.” “Public charge.”
So what is the New York Immigration Coalition supposed to do now that President Joe Biden has taken office with the promise of a much more conciliatory tone toward immigrants’ rights advocates and their issues? Release some tension, first of all. “Today, America’s immigrants breathe a sigh of relief,” Awawdeh and interim co-Executive Director Rovika Rajkishun wrote in an Inauguration Day letter. But then, after four years of defense, it’s time to start playing offense. The organization can now advocate for structural and systemic changes to the immigration system and a path to citizenship for the state’s undocumented immigrants in front of a Democratic-controlled White House, Senate and House of Representatives. Maybe they will be able to craft a bill that advocates would actually like.
But like cigarette smoke that’s stained the walls, the memory of Trump is lasting. “We’re still facing the anxiety of a Trump administration,” Awawdeh said. And that will last until Biden and Congress pass laws regarding immigration, rather than relying on executive orders. “We can’t settle on temporary solutions,” he said. “We’ve fought like hell over the past four years and we’re going to fight harder in the next four to get our communities the protections that they need through legislation.”
“We’ve fought like hell over the past four years and we’re going to fight harder in the next four to get our communities the protections that they need through legislation.” – New York Immigration Coalition interim co-Executive Director Murad Awawdeh
Awawdeh was born and raised in Brooklyn, but his parents and older siblings are Palestinian immigrants. He had been with the organization for seven years before being named interim co-executive director in August. Awawdeh, who previously worked on advocacy and strategy, leads the organization with Rajkishun, an immigrant from Guyana, who had previously worked in fundraising and communications.
While national politics often grabs most of the headlines, the New York Immigration Coalition also has a local legislative agenda, including turning a state language access executive order into law and funding immigrant legal services. And now that Trump is out, the coalition may have some time to focus on pushing long-delayed priorities, like allowing noncitizen residents to vote in New York City elections, past the finish line. “This has been a long time coming,” Awawdeh said. “We do see it as the next big fight that we have in the city right now.”