Introduction: Im/migration in the Trump Era

From the Series: Im/migration in the Trump Era

Photo by Jonathan McIntosh, licensed under CC BY.

In the midst of the Trump presidency, when our core values of multiculturalism, cross-cultural understanding, international diversity, and racial inclusion are under threat, many anthropologists are reflecting deeply upon our roles as teachers, researchers, and scholars. For those of us working with immigrants and refugees, we have been called to support students, research participants, interlocutors, colleagues, friends, and family members who face fears of prohibited entry and forced removal. As U.S.-based anthropologists, we likewise are pressed to reaffirm our professional values and to re-engage in sometimes microlocal activities in our communities, campuses, and classrooms. The current political climate in the United States, which includes actual and pending legislation and administrative policies barring Muslims, banning refugees, building walls, terminating family-based immigration policy, ending Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) programs, and recruiting local law enforcement to carry out federal immigration policy, heightens the stakes of our work.

Soon after the presidential election, a small group of anthropologists working with immigrant and refugee communities in the United States and with migrants and deportees in Mexico and Central America began to organize. In addition to forming a Facebook group called “Protecting Undocumented Students” to facilitate communication on initiatives across campuses, we also organized a late-breaking session at the American Anthropological Association’s (AAA) 2016 annual meeting, published an article in Anthropology News (Yarris, Heidbrink, and Duncan 2016), established a network called the Anthropologist Action Network for Immigrants and Refugees (AANIR), and organized a virtual townhall with national experts on immigration and sanctuary policies. In order to leverage our expertise to inform national policy, we also organized an executive session at the AAA’s 2017 annual meeting, issued a policy statement on DACA’s rescission, lobbied in Washington, DC, and are planning a virtual seminar to accompany this Hot Spots series. Across these activities, we have discussed what concrete actions we are taking to support the diverse immigrant and refugee communities with whom we work.

This series of short essays continues the conversation, engaging with challenges and successes we’ve faced in organizing across various U.S. university and college campuses and in working with students, advocates, allies, and differently-documented communities. The series brings together the voices of AANIR members—anthropologists, activists, and students—to reflect on how our research, teaching, community engagement, and personal experiences have shifted in response to this historical moment in the United States. Collectively, we ask: How has our work changed in order to protect vulnerable students, colleagues, and research participants, and how can we create proactive policies and practices to counter bias, discrimination, and hostility toward immigrants and refugees on our campuses and in our communities? What progress have we made and what challenges do we confront in this work, especially as we engage in different political climates and types of institutions? Finally, how have changing U.S. policies impacted our international research agendas and stimulated (re-)engagements with local communities who find themselves under threat? Our goal is to use these contributions, which are scholarly and creative, personal and political, reflective and theoretical, to learn from one another about the potentials and challenges of practicing engaged anthropology with immigrants and refugees in the current climate.

While we recognize that the political trends associated with nationalism and xenophobia, intolerance, and exclusion are global, in these essays we draw on our work in various settings across the Americas. The pieces highlight how policies, discourses, and organizing efforts at local levels—state, city, and campus—shape everyday risks and possibilities for immigrants and allies. Several essays invite us to reflect on the varied and ever-shifting nature of local immigrant reception contexts and how advocacy must adapt to particular sociopolitical circumstances and changes. Other contributions illustrate the power of campus organizing and strategies for creating spaces of inclusion, education, and advocacy within institutions of higher education, even when university administrations are unwilling to protect undocumented students or fund programs to support their success. Several contributors exemplify intersectional and coalitional efforts to work with communities that are also adversely impacted by the current political moment, including African Americans, Muslims, LGBTQI communities, women, and international students. A number of the pieces also raise the issue of privilege, whether associated with our race, citizenship, and/or professional status; these contributors explore their struggles in addressing power and inequality while working in solidarity with, or accompanying, (im)migrant and refugee communities. Finally, a number of contributors openly acknowledge that these commitments are challenging to forge and sustain, especially as attacks to physical, psychic, and familial integrity are imminent and incessant.

The series looks beyond national borders to the experiences of precariousness and displacement among deported persons, illuminating the transnational impacts of U.S. immigration policy. Authors discuss creative forms of community organizing and support for those in deportation proceedings in the United States and for deported immigrants. They likewise experiment with alternative forms of ethnographic practice and form via poetry, personal reflection, and digital storytelling in an effort to reach broader publics. Their research and advocacy underscore that, in contrast to popular discourse, these threats are not new; rather, they are a continuation of historical anti-immigrant policies in the United States and of the contemporary deportation regime expanded under “deporter-in-chief” Barack Obama.

Across the series, we draw on ethnography and activism to advance alternative narratives to those commonly presented in the media and to demonstrate the power of anthropological engagement as a source of insight and understanding. We further hope that this series nurtures intellectually and politically productive dialogue about how our profession conventionally divides teaching, research, and service. We contend that anthropologists must seek both global and local engagements that not only sustain our core professional values but also substantiate anthropology’s social and political relevance during these complex political times.


The Anthropologist Action Network for Immigrants and Refugees (AANIR) seeks to harness the knowledge, skills, and political platforms of engaged anthropologists to support and advocate on behalf of immigrants and refugees on our campuses and in our communities. Join our Google Group and email [email protected] to request access to the Facebook group “Protecting Undocumented Students.”


Yarris, Kristin Elizabeth, Lauren Heidbrink, and Whitney L. Duncan. 2016. “Protecting Undocumented Students Post-Election.” Anthropology News 57, no. 12: e29–33.