Flyers, allegedly placed by ICE, began showing up around Washington D.C. on Thursday, warning residents that it was a “violation of law” to protect or harbor “aliens.” Failing to report “aliens,” the flyer warned, could result in up to 10 years imprisonment. Photos of the flyer were posted to Twitter by user @BalkansBohemia, and quickly picked up by several news outlets, like NBC News.
Though they looked official, the flyers were not placed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
This year has seen so much of what we would have never even imagined just a little over four years ago. Thanks to the strict and cruel policies under our current presidential administration, we’ve seen families separated from their underaged children at border stops, kids held in cages and women sexually assaulted and harassed by officers of the United States government. Xenophobia and racism are on the extreme uptick and just when you think we couldn’t stoop any lower as a country, a new report sets a new bar.
Sadly, the latest low involves a child that is just 3-years-old.
Parents from Honduras have recently accused an agent at a Border Patrol holding facility of asking their 3-year-old daughter to decide which one would be deported.
In a recent interview with NPR, a woman by the name of Tania said that she and her husband, who share three children together, experienced the bizarre abuse of their child in a holding facility in El Paso Texas. While detained, an agent told the family, which is from Honduras, that one of the parents would be sent to Mexico while the other would be kept in the United States with their three children. The two parents also have a 9-year-old daughter and a 6-year-old son.
“The agent asked her who she wanted to go with, mom or dad,” Tania told NPR through an interpreter. “And the girl, because she is more attached to me, she said mom. But when they started to take [my husband] away, the girl started to cry. The officer said, ‘You said [you want to go] with mom.'”
Tania says that she and her husband spent last week attempting to make deals with Border Patrol so that their family would not be separated.
Tania and her husband, Joseph, were working with a doctor who examined the 3-year-old, named Sofi, who had been given the burden of the harsh decision. The parents say that they pleaded with agents to not separate the family.
According to NPR Tania and her family came to the U.S. after they witnessed the murder of her mother. The news outlet reported last week that the family was sent back to Juárez, Mexico after crossing into El Paso in April and became part of the Trump administration program called Migrant Protection Protocols, which is also known as “remain in Mexico” and requires Central American migrants to wait in northern Mexico cities while their immigration cases are sorted out by the courts. More often than not, these cities are among the most dangerous in the country.
On top of everything, Sofi has an extreme heart condition.
According to NPR, Linda Rivas, the family’s lawyer and an employee of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center presented evidence from a Mexican health clinic that Sofi had suffered a heart attack. Stunned by the revelation Immigration Judge Nathan Herbert said that he didn’t have the authority to remove the family from MPP. However, he did ask the Department of Homeland Security lawyer to consider of Rivas’ evidence.
According to NPR, Sofi was examined by a doctor last week. The doctor told Border Patrol agents that she had had a serious heart condition and needed to stay in the country.
Tania told NPR that the agents “spoke to me at around 3 or 3:30 p.m., and they told me: ‘Sign here, because we are giving you and your children permission.’ And I said, ‘I came with the children’s father,’ and he said, ‘Not him. Only you and your children.’ And the doctor said it’s important for the family to stay [together], and even the doctor said ‘They entered as a family and they have to leave as a family.'”
According to the report, the agent had already made up their mind about the separation and it was then that Sofi was asked which parent she wanted to go with. According to Tania, the doctor who examined Sofi told her not to allow the agent to ask the little girl to make the decision, “because they don’t have the right to ask a minor.”
Eventually, the doctor was able to make a case for the family to be kept together to another agent. Fortunately, the family was released last Friday, together, to an El Paso migrant shelter.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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