For immigration activists, the fight against President Trump kicked into high gear in December before he took office. That’s when Nashville was the host city for the annual National Immigrant Integration Conference, drawing groups from across the country to the Omni Hotel.
Speakers at the event made repeated calls to unite with other progressive causes in the name of social justice. The list of allies they highlighted included Planned Parenthood, LGBT activists and activists for racial and ethnic minorities. The conference was co-hosted by the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) and the National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA).
The conference featured a screening of Forbidden, a documentary about a young undocumented gay man growing up in the rural south. Moises Serrano, the Mexican-born subject of the film, is involved in the UndocuQueer movement and his mission is “to unite the immigration and LGBTQ movements, seeing them both as a struggle for human rights.”
That human rights continuum also includes a progressive version of racial justice. An activist with the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) said that African-Americans are still fighting for full citizenship in the U.S., making immigrants their natural allies. The group’s website says, “Everyday, people of color in the United States are being criminalized for their economic condition, their race, their migrant status, gender, and so much more. There is a pandemic of mass criminalization that is ravaging our neighborhoods and our society.”
At times, activists at the conference spoke of the quest for social justice with religious fervor. “We are in a cultural revolution battle and spiritual warfare,” cried Elandria Williams, a speaker during a plenary panel discussion. Williams led conference-goers in a spirited chant:
“It is our duty to fight for our freedom
It is our duty to win
We must love and support each other
We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
Activists did not make clear why immigrants and refugees would want to come to to the U.S. if it is a land of such bondage and oppression.
The progressive direction of the conference was not enough for angry leftist protestors who stormed the stage Dec. 13 as U.S. Rep Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) was beginning to speak during lunch. Fists in the air and shouting “liberation not integration,” they accused conference organizers of being too beholden to corporate interests. They unfurled a banner reading, “What About My Family? LGBTQ Folk? Sex Workers? Black Immigrants? Muslim Immigrants? Criminalized Immigrants? and Not 1 More Deportation.”
When allowed to speak, Gutierrez assured everyone present that he was on board with stopping deportations and supporting groups favored by progressives, naming specifically Planned Parenthood, the NAACP, the LGBT Task Force and the Human Rights Campaign. Referring to President Trump and his supporters, he said, “They’re coming for us sooner or later. And the more of us that there are, the more people who think of themselves as part of us, the harder it is for them to target any of us individually,” he shouted to thunderous applause.
Despite the intense interest in LGBT rights, there was little mention at the conference of abuses in Muslim countries where gay people are hurled off buildings to their deaths. Instead, speakers railed against Islamophobia. Nashville imam Ossama Bahloul portrayed Islam as a peaceful religion open to interfaith alliances. He said that “interfaith work, from a Muslim perspective, is a fundamental part of Islam.”
One breakout session featured a discussion of grants to be awarded to nonprofits from the George Soros group Open Society Foundations to fight hate. Don Barnett, a Brentwood resident and contributor for the Center for Immigration Studies who attended the conference, said someone in the audience asked, “Is someone being radicalized by online ISIS propaganda an example of hate we should report?” The presenter said no, that it was not something that would interest them.