We Fell in Love in a Hopeless Place:
A Grassroots History from #Not1More to Abolish ICE

By Tania Unzueta, Maru Mora Villalpando, and Angélica Cházaro

Histories of social movements show time and again that powerful organizing makes the impossible possible.

As the demand to Abolish ICE begins to catch fire, we must not forget that it was profoundly criminalized working class and poor undocumented people who first had the courage to challenge assimilationist demands in favor of aspirational ones. It was them and their

accomplices who dared to dream up a campaign that could fight to win the end of their own incarcerations and deportations.

A motley crew of undocumented people, women of color, queers, and grassroots organizers first pushed forward the demand for “not one more deportation,” prefiguring the current moment. As the words of Assata Shakur remind us, it’s those who “have nothing to lose but our chains” who have made the most daring demands in times of conformity. When we forget this we lose lessons about how movements are born, pivot, grow, and win.

To be clear, the organizations who were part of the #Not1More campaign are not the only ones or the first ones who have named the need to Abolish ICE, but their tremendous work — the risks and sacrifices they made to bring us to this moment — is what has made this both a national demand and a real possibility.

As late as 2016, many mainstream immigration organizations remained insistent that the only way forward for the immigrant rights movement was holding out for Congress to introduce and pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform.

Meanwhile, grassroots immigrant-led groups facing the worst versions of the deportation violence of the Obama years were fighting on multiple fronts: combating racist state and local agencies who were doing everything possible to hand our people over to ICE, confronting ICE raids, detentions, and record deportations. They were fighting in local sites all over the country, but many were based in border states, where the crimmigration police state is in plain view for all to see.

When the #Not1More deportation campaign emerged in 2014, it was a direct challenge to the strategy, even then, to continue to focus on lobbying Congress and not anger the President with our demands. #Not1More was, at its heart, an abolitionist call to action.

We Fell in Love in a Hopeless Place: A Grassroots History from #Not1More to Abolish ICE

What do we mean by abolitionist? It was a call to shrink mass incarceration systems. Building alongside Black Lives Matter, it was a call to expose the prison industrial complex and directly confront police violence. It was a call to dismantle government agencies that exist solely to bring terror, harm, and violence to communities of color. The movement was designed not around advocating for those in our movements who were most sympathetic to the US mainstream, but around those who were criminalized and easily discarded by a messaging machine focused on “hardworking” immigrants who were “not criminals.”

An important part of this story is how the #Not1More demand grew: with the original organizations freely sharing the hashtag and the vision with grassroots local groups all over the US, and grassroots LGBTQ groups who saw their own hope in the call as well. No one owns this demand, just as no one owns the call to #AbolishICE. It came from the ground up.

We picked the title of this piece when reflecting on the development of the #Not1More network. We started as a disparate set of local groups, working with different constituencies inside immigrant communities, discouraged by a national landscape devoid of demands that had meaning or real aspiration for our bases. We became a team of the willing: building relationships, hope, and possibility out of few monetary resources, but a wealth of shared risk and aligned principles.

Some of the groups and individuals who formed the heart of the #Not1More movement came from local fights against Sheriffs and police who were using their power to target immigrant communities, some were following the leadership of immigrants detained who had begun going on protest hunger strikes, while others were undocumented youth disenchanted by the accepted narratives that they “deserved” to stay while their parents “deserved” deportation.

They included Puente in Phoenix, Arizona, the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights in Georgia, Juntos in Philadelphia, Organized Community Against Deportation in Chicago, the New Orleans Congress of Day Laborers, Northwest Detention Center Resistance in Washington State and National Day Laborers Organizing Network and some of its members. They were used to doing a lot with very little.

They had also learned from undocumented youth who in 2009 began to break off from the hegemony of the DC-based grasstops to take on the cases immigration attorneys wouldn’t touch, turning these cases into the bread and butter of the #Not1More demand. When they said #Not1More, it was a recognition that they would put their work, their time, their resources, and their bodies on the line to stand in the way of the deportation machine.

We Fell in Love in a Hopeless Place: A Grassroots History from #Not1More to Abolish ICE

#Not1More was a call for a moratorium on deportations — an idea at the heart of the notion that ICE should be abolished. It was the radical idea — at the time — that no one should be subject to the harm of immigration enforcement. The core groups of #Not1More eventually created Mijente.

Under the Trump administration, the violence that communities in border states have faced for years has spread to the rest of the country, with ICE and CBP officers fully unleashed on all of our communities. Many other groups are now organizing around abolishing ICE. We need all of this pressure now joining the 15-year struggle against ICE, and the even longer struggle against previous forms of immigration enforcement.

While we have currently lost the possibility of shaming a shameless administration (which worked to our advantage in the Obama era), what we have gained in the Trump era is an emerging consensus about ICE as a toxic, out-of-control, unaccountable, violent actor. With Trump and current ICE heads fully embracing and encouraging the worst instincts for violence of on-the- ground ICE officers, the time is ripe for a push for ICE to be eliminated altogether, rather than reformed and made more humane. This is in line with a broader #Not1More stance on deportation, which calls for ending the use of deportation as a response to the social crisis of migration. The opportunity right now is to keep changing the conversation from one about fighting individual unjust deportations to delegitimizing deportation as a tactic used to deal with immigrants.

The most recent spectacle of harm at the border, with parents and children ripped apart, has elevated the Abolish ICE demand in a new and urgent way. Many have asked how it is possible to Abolish ICE, forgetting that ICE is only 15 years old, and that it was created (and heavily resourced) in a moment of Islamophobic right-wing political opportunism post 9/11.

As terrifying and exhausting as this moment is for our communities, it’s also one of possibility. More people are experimenting with thinking about radical alternatives because the current reality is so terrible. We remain grounded in our history of struggle, and deeply heartened and encouraged by all the leadership, from many different organizations, who stand ready to imagine a world without ICE.

The poet Martin Espada wrote: “If the abolition of slave-manacles began as a vision of hands without manacles, then this is the year; if the shutdown of extermination camps began as imagination of a land without barbed wire or the crematorium, then this is the year…”

Comrades and accomplices, let’s make this the year. The year that we escalated our resistance in a way worthy of our actual children, our actual families, our actual future.

#FreeOurFuture #AbolishICE #ShutDownSessions

Organizer. Expert on immigration enforcement, criminalization, and deportation defense. Policy Director at Mijente, a national Latinx political organization.