Things That Matter

Places Of Worship In The US Are Sheltering Undocumented Immigrants And Here’s How They Can Do That

As the 2020 presidential campaign draws closer and immigration policies are increasingly relevant in key districts, the Trump administration is doubling down on its efforts to catch and deport undocumented migrants. At the same time, Catholic churches and other places of worship are doubling efforts to house and protect migrants. This is why and how religious centers can protect migrants: they are traditionally considered a “sanctuary” in which peace cannot be violated. This has to do with the right to worship, but also on the moral authority that religious organizations traditionally hold.

However, things are not that simple when thinking about the laws that actually govern the relationship between religious organizations and the State. We explain it here:

The traditional status of “sanctuary” is what allows religious authorities to harbor immigrants.

Credit: Sanctuary feature. Digital image. U.S. Catholic

As U.S. Catholic explains, churches have special status: a sanctuary. Because of the separation of the church and the State, places of worship are considered a no-go zone for ICE and other agencies. However, having a “sanctuary” status is more custom and tradition, a sort of unspoken rule, rather than a law. As U.S. Catholic explains: “ICE has operated with a policy of avoiding Safe Zones, which are locations where it has traditionally not raided or arrested people. Those include schools, hospitals, and churches—places where people who are in need go, where the most vulnerable are found.” Jesuit Father Bryan Pham says: “As a practice, ICE has not gone there,” says Pham. “But it’s not a law, so it can change or be interpreted at a local level.” The Trump administration is famous for breaking with traditions like this, so it has been more common now to see places that were considered safe to be raided by the authorities. 

ICE is sending churches letters and fines for harboring migrants: financial pressure is another ICE technique.

Credit: @LetEdithStay / Twitter

The Irish Times reports on the case of Edith Espinal, an undocumented migrant who has been harbored by a Mennonite church in Columbus, where she has been living for 21 months. The church received a letter from ICE advising them of a half a million dollar debt incurred by Espinal for refusing to leave the country. The newspaper reports that it has known of “several immigrants living in houses of worship who this week received similar notices, the latest measure taken by the Trump administration in its crackdown on illegal immigration. Citing the Immigration and Nationality Act, ICE officials said the agency has the right to impose civil fines, up to $799 a day, on immigrants who have been ordered removed or who have failed to leave the country. Officials said the agency began issuing such notices in December, although it was not clear on Thursday how many had been sent.”

There are some heartbreaking stories: imagine being pregnant and living con el alma en un hilo at a sanctuary site.

Credit: CBS Chicago / YouTube

In a story published by the Daily Herald on May 25, 2019, we knew of Adilene Marquina, who is an undocumented migrant who has found refuge inside the Faith, Life and Hope Mission in Chicago. She has received notices from ICE urging her to leave the country. This pregnant Mexican woman fled her country seeking political asylum, only to have it denied four years later. She has to leave the country in October.

Faith has no color: Churches and other centers of worship are mobilizing.

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As reported by The Washington Post just this past July 15, “Churches and other houses of worship have offered their buildings as sanctuaries, and activists have volunteered to stand watch”. This is in response to reports of possible massive raids by ICE to target migrants. It is not only churches that are working as safe places for migrants, but also Hindi temples, synagogues, and mosques. 

Jewish communities are also doing their part.

Credit: Truah_Logo_purple_transparent. Digital image. T’ruah

Jewish communities in the United States are a product of migration and sometimes forced migration. Just like Central American migrants today, they fled persecution and war in Europe to settle in the United States. As reported by Haaretz on July 14: “The New York Jewish community mobilized on Sunday to help undocumented immigrants who are at risk of being rounded up for deportation.” Further, they explain: “The organization T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, joined the New Sanctuary Coalition, a network of houses of worship around the New York area which are offering a haven to undocumented immigrants during the raids. T’ruah also organized and guided some 70 synagogues across the country in serving as places of refuge for those at risk as part of its Mikdash initiative.” The group includes more than 2,000 rabbis and cantors “who want to represent the moral voice of the Jewish community.” They called the raids cruel, immoral, and inhumane.

Bishops have asked priests not to let ICE agents into churches without a warrant.

Credit: Blase Cupich / Facebook

As reported in the Daily Herald, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, Illinois, one of the cities with a higher concentration of undocumented migrants, wrote a letter to priests saying: “Threats of broad enforcement actions by ICE are meant to terrorize communities.” Cupich urged priests in the Chicago Archdiocese — which serves more than 2 million Catholics, many of which are of Latino heritage, “not to let any immigration officials into churches without identification or a warrant”.

New legislation is being put together: The Protective Sensitive Locations Act.

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Legislators and policymakers are mobilizing to extend the special status to other organizations and places that are sensitive in nature and could be affected in greater measure by ICE roundups. Oregon’s United States Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley introduced legislation to block ICE actions at sensitive locations without prior approval and exigent circumstances. Foreign Affairs New Zealand reports that: “The Protecting Sensitive Locations Act requires that, except in special circumstances, ICE agents receive prior approval from a supervisor when there are exigent circumstances before engaging in enforcement actions at sensitive locations, such as schools, hospitals, and health clinics, places of worship, organizations assisting crime victims, and organizations that provide services to children, pregnant women, victims of crime or abuse or individuals with mental or physical disabilities.” This makes total sense in light of traumatic experiences suffered by undocumented migrants and their loved ones, such as mothers being taken away while picking up their kids from school. 

Latino Senators are joining the fight to expand the status of Safe Zone to other locations.

Credit: cortez-masto1600x900. Digital image. Human Rights Campaign

United States Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) joined Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and a group of fifteen Senators in this initiative. She told Foreign Affairs New Zealand: “It’s disgraceful that ICE is targeting schools, churches, and hospitals, preventing immigrant families from going about their daily lives and accessing essential services. There are reports across the country of parents and children who are missing doctor’s appointments, dreading going to school and avoiding reporting domestic violence due to fear of arrest or deportation. This legislation will ensure ICE agents respect existing policies that prohibit indiscriminate immigration enforcement at sensitive locations, keeping families safe and respecting the basic rights of our immigrant communities.”

Sonia Sotomayor Calls The Case On DACA’s Fate One Of The Justices Deciding Whether To Destroy Lives

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Sonia Sotomayor Calls The Case On DACA’s Fate One Of The Justices Deciding Whether To Destroy Lives

Gage Skidmore / Flickr

While the US Supreme Court’s conservative-majority justices are seemingly ready to allow Trump to rescind Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, Justice Sonia Sotomayor clearly stated her opinion that the court’s decision, “is not about the law; this is about our choice to destroy lives.” The 2012 policy shields immigrants, who were brought to the United States as children without documentation, from deportation and allows them to work for up to two years at a time. Research shows that DACA has reduced the number of undocumented immigrants living in poverty, and has improved mental health status for DACA participants and their children. The Trump administration rescinded DACA protections for nearly 700,000 recipients in 2017. 

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments to end DACA and is expected to deliver a decision by Spring 2020.

Two memos lie at the heart of the decision.

Credit: @Princeton / Twitter

The first memo was begrudgingly given by then Acting Secretary of Homeland Security, Elaine C. Duke. Duke’s volunteer history included offering legal aid to immigrants. During a White House meeting with Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, she was pressured to issue a memo that would end DACA. Attorney General Jeff Sessions told Duke that DACA was illegal, on the grounds of it exceeding presidential power. Duke issued a bare-bones memo that offered no policy reason for the end of DACA, except that it was unlawful. She later resigned.

Her replacement, Kirstjen Nielsen, retroactively justified the decision with a second memo, which included a new reason to end DACA: to project a message of consistency of enforcement of all immigration laws.

Now, US solicitor general Noel Francisco is arguing that Obama’s decision to introduce DACA exceeded presidential power.

Credit: @realdonaldtrump / Twitter

“Basic administrative law is you look at what’s first given to you,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor told Francisco, not “what you add later.” Still, she said that even if “you ignore that and even look at the Nielsen memo, I think my colleagues have rightly pointed there’s a whole lot of reliance interests that weren’t looked at.” What’s crucial to this decision, according to Sotomayor, is that President Trump had told “DACA-eligible people that they were safe under him and that he would find a way to keep them here. And so he hasn’t and, instead, he’s done this.” 

In 2017, Trump tweeted, in reference to DACA recipients, “Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military?”

Trump tweeted Tuesday that DACA recipients are “far from angels.”

Credit: @realdonaldtrump / Twitter

“Many of the people in DACA, no longer very young, are far from ‘angels,'” Trump tweeted Tuesday. “Some are very tough, hardened criminals. President Obama said he had no legal right to sign order, but would anyway. If Supreme Court remedies with overturn, a deal will be made with Dems for them to stay!”

A major requirement for DACA recipients is that they have no criminal record. “Trump is fear-mongering and falsely accusing people of color,” Dr. Eugene Gu tweeted. “Many DACA recipients are doctors, lawyers, professors, scientists, teachers, and integral members of society. Many have never set foot in their original countries for their whole lives and speak mainly English. Threatening to deport them through racist fear-mongering is evil.”

The events leading up to the memo led Sotomayor to believe “that this is not about the law; this is about our choice to destroy lives.”

Credit: @Grindr / Twitter

Trump’s promise to protect DACA recipients during his campaign and his about-face is “something to be considered before you rescind a policy. Not just say I’ll give you six months to do it – to destroy your lives.” At the end of the day, Sotomayor is pointing out that Francisco’s argument is not evident in the memos. “Where is all of this in the memo? Where is all of this really considered and weighed? And where is the political decision made clearly,” she asked. Sotomayor concluded, “that this is not about the law; this is about our choice to destroy lives.”

Sotomayor also argued that DACA simply allows law enforcement agencies to prioritize its use of its limited resources.

Credit: @Grindr / Twitter

“I have always had some difficulty in understanding the illegality of DACA,” Sotomayor offered her opinion. “We all know [ICE] has limited resources. It can’t, even when it wants to remove the vast majority of aliens we have here. And so I’ve always had some difficulty in understanding what’s wrong with an agency saying, we’re going to prioritize our removals, and for those people, like the DACA people who haven’t committed crimes, who are lawfully employed, who are paying taxes, who pose no threat to our security, and there’s a whole list of prerequisites, we’re not going to exercise our limited resources to try to get rid of those people. I — I still have an impossible time.”

Oh, and Sotomayor was interrupted numerous times by Francisco and her male peers.

Credit: US Supreme Court

A 2017 Northwestern Pritzker School of Law study found that male justices interrupt female justices three times as often as each other during oral arguments. The study also found that conservative justices were twice as likely to interrupt liberal justices than liberal justices were to interrupt their conservative peers. According to Supreme Court transcripts, Justice Sotomayor was interrupted by Justice Neil Gorsuch. The two both awkwardly apologized to each other when Sotomayor graciously told Gorsuch, “No, no, continue.”

When Justice Sotomayor was in the middle of her arguments, General Francisco interrupted her, saying, “So I guess I have three responses, Your Honor.” Sotomayor bluntly said, “All right. But let me just finish my question.” Francisco casually said, “Oh, sure,” to which Sotomayor incredulously asked, “Okay?” “Yeah,” Francisco responded to the Justice.

A decision is expected to be made public by Spring 2020.

READ: Justice Sonia Sotomayor Breaks New Two-Minute Rule By Interrupting Lawyer During Immigration Case

Twenty Years Ago The US Sided With Fidel Castro To Send Back Elián Gonzales, Here’s Why His Story Still Matters Today

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Twenty Years Ago The US Sided With Fidel Castro To Send Back Elián Gonzales, Here’s Why His Story Still Matters Today

Associated Press

About 20 years ago, 5-year-old Elián Gonazalez arrived three miles off the coast of Fort Lauderdale from Cuba, on a makeshift raft, in search of his relatives in the states and a better life. Gonzalez’s survival through the arduous waters that would drown his mother and a dozen others along the way, might have been the media’s narrative in a different circumstance. 

The 5-year-old would soon become embroiled in an international custody battle. Did Gonzalez belong back in Cuba with his father or in Miami’s Little Havana with his uncle which many believed was his mother’s dying wish? 

The communist leader of Cuba at the time Fidel Castro wanted him back — and although the U.S. government initially placed the boy with his Cuban-exile relatives, they would eventually side with the dictator

Elián Gonzalez arrived in Florida in 1999 over Thanksgiving weekend.

Up until 2017, the United States had a “wet feet, dry feet,” policy with regards to Cuban migrants — all were welcome. The policy from 1966 allowed anyone who entered the United States territorial waters from Cuba, legally or illegally, to reside. It was revised in 1995 by the Clinton administration so that any Cubans retrieved in the territorial waters would be sent back, but if they made it onto dry land they would be allowed to stay. 

Gonzalez was found by South Florida fisherman in 1999 over Thanksgiving weekend. The 5-year-old was welcomed by the anti-communist community of Cuban exiles. The United States Immigration and Naturalization Service placed Gonzalez with his paternal relatives who lived in Miami and wanted to raise him, however, his father in Cuba demanded his son be returned.

 Under the “wet feet, dry feet” policy, Gonzalez would have to petition for asylum because he was discovered before touching dry land. This small detail would cause a six-month, international legal battle and shift the way many Florida Cubans perceive American politics. 

Courts decide to send Gonzalez back to Cuba. 

While Cuban demonstrators and empathetic Americans supported the stay of Gonzalez — the governmental powers that be were building a case that suggested otherwise. A Florida family court granted custody to Gonzalez’s great uncle in Miami. However, INS had the superior authority to decide that his real legal guardian was his father in Cuba. Had the boy’s mother survived, things might have turned out differently. 

On March 21, District Court Judge Kevin Michael Moore of Southern Florida ruled that only a legal guardian can petition for asylum on behalf of a minor. But on April 19, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta ruled that Gonzalez could stay until his family could file an appeal. When government negotiations failed with the family, more extreme measures were taken to retrieve the boy.

On April 22, 2000, on orders from Attorney General Janet Reno, armed government officials raided Gonzalez’s home with guns and tear gas. A photo showing a crying 5-year-old Gonzalez with a large gun pointed to his face would later win the Pulitzer Prize. 

Gonzalez was safely repatriated back to Cuba.

The Gonzalez decision may have affected the outcome of the 2000 election.

Following the Clinton administration, the 2000 election was a turning point in American politics. Many Cubans felt alienated by the Gonzalez decision, and thus, walked away from the Democratic party altogether. 

“It was humiliating to Cuban-Americans, and the 2000 election was payback,” Miami pollster Sergio Bendixen told the Atlantic in 20001.

Republican George W. Bush won by 537 votes during a messy (and possibly corrupt) recount of the 6 million votes cast in Florida, beating out Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore. Known as “el voto castigo,” Gore received only 20 percent of the Cuban vote in Florida, compared to Bill Clinton’s 35 percent in 1996. Thus, 80 percent of Cuban American voters chose Bush over Gore — which should be a lesson to both parties trying to build Latinx coalition. 

Bush would go on to start the endless war in Iraq, utilize Islamophobic rhetoric in the wake of 9/11, trigger one of the worst recessions, and until recently, was considered the worst president in U.S. history. Gore would go on to warn us about climate change decades before the discourse entered the national conversation. 

What has become of Elián Gonzalez today? 

Gonzalez, in his 20s, is now a communist and staunch supporter of the Cuban Revolution. He was welcomed with a celebration upon his deportation. On his seventh birthday, Fidel Castro himself attended his birthday party. 

Whether Gonzalez is on the right side of history is beside the point because the 5-year-old boy could not have become who he is today without instigation by the United States. Communist-sympathizer or not — he was correct about one thing: 

“Just like her [his mother], many others have died attempting to go to the United States. But it’s the US government’s fault,” Gonzalez told CNN in 2013. “Their unjust embargo provokes an internal and critical economic situation in Cuba.”