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Defending immigrants
How to make sanctuary real
Yolanda Alaniz
volume:  
volume 38
issue 2
April 2017
imagestuff

Demonstrators in Los Angeles hold a vigil at City Hall to oppose the president’s executive orders on immigration and make it clear immigrants are welcome. Photo credit: Reuters

Hundreds of U.S. cities and counties have declared themselves sanctuaries in response to President Trump’s declaration of war on immigrants. The many already in place have reaffirmed and strengthened their commitment. Trump has given Immigration U.S. Customs Enforcement (ICE) carte blanche to hunt down and deport immigrants. States like California have introduced legislation such as Senate Bill 54 that blocks the use of state and local resources for federal immigration enforcement. These measures don’t go far enough.

Historically, popular pressure and defiant actions have saved lives and changed barbaric laws. In Germany, rescuers helped Jews escape from the Nazi Holocaust. In the 19th century, Black and white abolitionists organized the Underground Railroad, a system of safe houses that secretly helped runaway slaves. In the 1980s, the Sanctuary Movement in the United States, made up of hundreds of congregations, helped Central American refugees fleeing civil war by providing them with safe havens. All these brave souls risked their lives by refusing to obey unjust laws.

How it stands now. Sanctuary is a broad term meaning schools, hospitals and churches are safe havens, and refer to broad policies that dictate how state and local agencies relate to or limit federal immigration enforcement. Currently, at least five states, 39 cities, and 633 counties have some form of sanctuary policies.

It is estimated that Los Angeles has a population of one million undocumented workers. Some come for jobs at the urging of agribusiness, but when they arrive they are put in an untenable position, as they need a Social Security number to work. If they use someone else’s number, they are then branded as criminals and could be deported.

Today, millions without papers are under siege. Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez had just dropped his daughter at school when ICE agents in unmarked vehicles surrounded his car, wearing jackets that said “POLICE.” ICE has showed up at grocery stores in East L.A. asking people for their papers.

A few DACA students have been arrested. Latino men leaving a shelter housed in a church were arrested. School children fear their parents may disappear at any moment. A 17-year-old young man who fled Honduras to escape the pressure to join drug gangs said, “If I’d stayed, I or my parents would be dead.” He fears he may be deported before a court date to present his case for political asylum.

Pastors are worried that ICE may abandon their long-standing guidelines of not raiding houses of worship, hospitals and schools. If this happens, activists must be ready for immediate civil disobedience. And expose this blatant racism as connected with the bigotries of homophobia, anti-Semitism, sexism, and U.S. chauvinism — “America is always right.”

Making it real. Beefing up sanctuary policies has to mean absolutely no cooperation with bullying federal dictates. Bigotry does not trump the Constitution, which includes equal protection under the law and the right of state and local governments to provide for the health, safety, education and welfare of immigrants. Some ideas: Call on legislators, city and county officials to condemn Trump’s police-state deportation orders, and to refuse to implement them; insist on constitutional protections for every U.S. resident, regardless of legal status.

Call on unions to refuse to provide workers or materials to build the Wall and to pass resolutions to oppose ICE raids. Urge unions, cities, and counties to support the national May 1 general strike and join in the May Day marches.

In Los Angeles, the Freedom Socialist Party has a petition drive addressed to Mayor Garcetti and the City Council demanding that L.A. become an authentic Sanctuary City by designating city libraries, park and recreation facilities, and social service offices as safe harbors. These places would block Homeland Security and federal customs agents from entering these refuge locations to arrest or harass immigrants.

The homeless connection. Recognizing the parallel injustices of government terror against immigrants and police abuse against the homeless in Los Angeles, the petition also calls on Mayor Garcetti to declare a state of emergency to get federal aid for L.A.’s homeless crisis and for the city to provide safe spaces with survival services. To join the petition drive contact fspla@earthlink.net or Facebook: www.facebook.com/fspla.

How do we make these efforts a reality? We can’t afford separate meetings, marches or rallies. These segregated actions will not accomplish the end goal. The time is now to build alliances and join together with union workers of all colors, immigrants (with or without papers) and refugees, religious, human and civil rights activists.

The goal must be to build a multi-issue united front that is inclusive in order to defend all of those under attack. Ultimately, this is the only way we can keep fascists from knocking at our doors. Today, they come for brown and black immigrants, refugees and transgender people. Tomorrow they will come for the rest of us.

Demands for such a united front would include:

• Open U.S. borders. Don’t build the wall. Unconditional amnesty with full citizenship and labor rights for everyone.

• Immediately stop deportations, raids and travel bans. Release detainees and guarantee their due process, allowing families to reunite.

• Support SB 54 in California.

• Defend and extend Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which protects youth who came to the U.S. as children. Grant their release and permanent citizenship now.

• Mobilize with schools and colleges, churches and hospitals to publicize their spaces as sanctuaries for refugees and immigrants.

• Mobilize with community organizations, unions and churches to form a rapid response network to defend sanctuaries, refugees and immigrants, and plan organized civil disobedience.

Send feedback to the author at: Yoli.alaniz@yahoo.com.