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What Is A Sanctuary City & How Can We Defend Immigrant Families?

Posted in Act Out!, Austin, and Journalism

Kit O’Connell and Eleanor Goldfield co-wrote this segment of Act Out!

The reports from the first wave of Trump’s ICE Raids are full of disturbing stories of jackbooted thugs oppressing the oppressed — and literally tearing families apart in the name of a fascist, xenophobic and factually inaccurate agenda.

Trump’s long-promised mass deportations have begun, ramping up from the Obama administration’s already disgusting record of nearly 3 million deportations. As more and more people find themselves in the crosshairs of fascism, it is quite clear that those of us lower on that checklist — because we are all on it — have an obligation to stand up — to demand our communities and cities be safe havens for all — sanctuary cities, if you will. And to be ready to put our bodies on the front lines for freedom, justice and human rights.

The concept of a “sanctuary city” actually dates back to the Old Testament, and early Christian rulers who designated certain cities as places of sanctuary for those accused of accidentally committing manslaughter.

At the “Day Without Immigrants” national protest, a banner reads “They Will Not Build Borders In Our Community #SanctuaryDC.” February 16, 2017. (Flickr / Lorie Shaull, CC SA license)

Two thousand years later, and we’ve entered the bizarro world of 2017, where people who call themselves the followers of Christ have turned “sanctuary” into a dirty word and back a crackdown on the undocumented, literally among the most vulnerable people around.

Jesus to followers: Listen up, folks! If you want some fish and bread, you’re going to need to piss in a cup first! (Meme)

Of course, these are the same Republicans who call themselves pro-life while destroying the social safety net that ensures children, not to mention their parents on whom their lives depend, have access to health care and at least 3 square meals a day. But if I were to dive into the hypocrisy of establishment politicians, we’d be here all day.

So the actual effects of “sanctuary” programs vary from place to place, but a “sanctuary city” often means that police are instructed not to participate with immigrations officials’ deportation orders unless the immigrant is charged with a criminal offense. Other places, like Austin, Texas, have created legal defense funds for immigrants, or simply instituted policies that make it clear that everyone should benefit from social services like food stamps, regardless of their immigration status. And indeed, here in DC, activists last week called for the removal of all ICE agents from the district and demanded that DC city council ignore all ICE requests as well as take real steps to stop police violence and the discrimination against immigrants, muslims and people of color.

You know, because human rights belong to all humans, regardless of where you were born, who or if you pray to anyone, or what color your skin is. A human being can not actually be illegal — although the state has done its damndest to commodify us, we are not contraband. We are humans and no one is illegal.

Back to sanctuary cities. Trump and his old white murder of cronies are threatening to cut off state and government funding to any community that institutes Sanctuary policies. In the Texas legislature, which we covered in episode 92, there’s a bill being considered which could actually remove elected officials from office if they protect the undocumented.

Yes, you heard that right: voters be damned, if you’re too nice to refugees and immigrants, we’ll find someone else to do your job – of representing people – white people. The rich ones. Not the female ones.

On February 12, Trump tweeted, “The crackdown on illegal criminals is merely the keeping of my campaign promise. Gang members, drug dealers & others are being removed!”

Activists protest ICE in Milwaukee under President Obama. Signs read “Have You Seen My Dad? Stop The Raids!” May 29, 2014. (Flickr / Joe Brusky, CC NC license)

However, the reality of Trump keeping his promise looks a lot different on the ground. While it’s true that former Pres. Obama, once known as the “deporter in chief” for his record breaking number of deportations, helped create the conditions under which Trump’s crackdown could thrive, there’s no denying that things have escalated. Around the country, immigrants are being unexpectedly deported when they report for routine check-ins with immigration officials. Agents are going door to door, ambushing parents after school, entering Latinx nightclubs and even demanding proof of citizenship on public transit. In Alexandria, Virginia, ICE officials ambushed immigrants as they exited a church-based homeless shelter where they’d taken refuge from freezing temperatures. And In El Paso, Texas, ICE detained a transgender Mexican woman last week inside of a courthouse while she sought a restraining order against her abusive boyfriend. The agents even acted based on a tip from the abusive boyfriend himself!

As El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal told the Washington Post, ”’This is really unprecedented.” It was the first time in her 23 years at the courthouse, Bernal said, that she can remember ICE agents making their presence known during a protective order hearing.”

Kit in a yellow shirt sitting in a chair while James works on his arm with the tattoo machine.
James Hill, of Shaman Modifications, modifying Kit.

In another case, ICE detained Daniel Ramirez Medina, an undocumented immigrant twice authorized to stay in the United States under Obama’s DACA program. As reported by United We Dream, the immigrant-led youth organization “ICE is pressuring him to say that he’s in a gang. He’s not. He has a random tattoo on his arm.” But as we all know, arm tattoos, are only worn by gang members.

The catch of course is, that if they can say he’s in a gang, they can deport him much easier. So in his original statement, Ramirez Medina wrote, “I came in and the officers said I have gang affiliation with gangs so I wear an orange uniform. I do not have a criminal history and I’m not affiliated with any gangs.” But the paperwork ICE later filed had been altered to make first sentence read “I have gang affiliation with gangs so I wear an orange uniform.”

I guess these fucking evil idiots just hoped no one would notice that ridiculously sloppy job with the white out, or that the second half of his altered statement now TOTALLY contradicts the first. And the fucked up thing is that they probably didn’t even need to waste the white out.

At a Feb. 16 meeting on capitol hill between Congress and immigration officials, “ICE officials acknowledged that at least 186 of those apprehended in recent days had no criminal history.”

In the same meeting, officials also admitted that the raids reflected a dramatic escalation even from Obama’s policies of deportation, and that ICE would be asking for a dramatically increased budget.

Meanwhile, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus were actually turned away from the meeting. I guess we should all be thankful they weren’t just loaded onto buses and shipped away.

The docks of Rikers Island, New York City’s massive prison complex. (Flickr / Reivax, CC SA license)

But what about all the rest, the undocumented immigrants with criminal histories that were being swept up in the raids? Unfortunately, while it can take years and cost thousands of dollars to become a naturalized American citizen, becoming a victim of the police state and the prison industrial complex takes much less time. In places like New York, supposedly a “sanctuary city,” low-level offenses like unpaid parking tickets and crossing against a stop-light can easily land an immigrant in the notorious Rikers Island jail, and from there, into the hands of ICE.

And New York isn’t alone. In Phoenix, Arizona — the infamous Sheriff Arpaio routinely had his officers conduct broad sweeps of Latinx neighborhoods, arresting or detaining anyone that looked like they might be here illegally. Suspected illegals were then dumped into what Arpaio himself proudly called his concentration camps — and yes, that included forced labor. These huge detention centers spilled out into make shift tent cities — blistering human rights violations that baked in the Arizona sun — and STILL could never keep up with Arpaio’s ever-growing demand for bodies.

And one of those bodies was recently deported long time US resident and mother of two US born children, Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos, who in 2008 was arrested and charged during one of Arpaio’s routine and V for Vendetta-esque night raids. Her arrest, charge and 6 month incarceration are what landed her in the new crosshairs of Trump’s January 25th executive order that now seeks to deport anyone convicted of a criminal offense.

So what was her heinous crime? Criminal impersonation or, in layman’s terms, obtaining false identification in the form of a social security card so that she could work. She spent 6 months in jail, had to check-in with ICE every year for 8 years — which she did — because she wanted to be a part of the fucking economy. She dared to be a non-lazy immigrant.

She said she came here for a better life, because she wanted to build something … wait, I think I’ve heard of this, oh yeah, the fucking American Dream!

Not only that but she wanted to you know — eat. And survive. And who the fuck watching this would NOT impersonate anyone from Big Bird to Margaret Thatcher if that meant feeding your kids?

In short, far from targeting gang members and drug dealers, the vast majority of people caught up in raids are just regular poor people, trying to make ends meet until payday.

At a march for refugees and immigrants in Minneapolis, protesters hold signs reading “Refugees Welcome” and “Love Thy Immigrant Neighbors.” February 11, 2017. (Flickr / Fibonacci Blue, CC license)

Ultimately, with the cops actively seeking to criminalize immigrants, even in sanctuary cities, we can’t depend on the name of sanctuary city to keep immigrants, the undocumented, and refugees safe. As usual, it’s going to depend on resistance from the likes of you and me. This time, however, holding up clever protest signs won’t be enough — a report by the Associated Press last Friday highlights section D of the January 25th memorandum titled “Implementing the President’s Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements Policies.” Section D of this memorandum is titled “Expansion of the 287(g) Program to Include State Guard Units in the Border Region.”

Written by Trump’s secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, it reads “I am directing the Commissioner of CBP and the Director of ICE to immediately engage with the Governors of the States adjacent to the land border with Mexico … for the purpose of entering into agreements … to authorize qualified members of the State National Guard … to perform the function of an immigration officer in relation to the investigation, apprehension and detention of aliens in the United States.”

Now since its release last Friday morning, several governors from those border states have commented on the report — Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson seemed to like the idea but didn’t feel that it was financially feasible. Utah Governor Gary Herbert echoed the financial concern and sprinkled in a line about the constitutionality of this practice. The DHS and everyone’s favorite press secretary Sean Spicer also deny the claims that the National Guard will in fact be mobilized for the purpose of anti-immigration raids, but the memo is still RIGHT there. And even if it isn’t implemented, the fact that a member of the president’s cabinet felt that this was a totally legit memo to send is enough of a window into the policies of this administration. If you were looking for a written invitation, this is it.

Activists with signs and banners take the streets in Washington, D.C. during the Day Without Immigrants strike. February 16, 2017. (Flickr / Ted Eytan, CC SA license)

In immigrant communities nationwide, activists are already mobilizing to defend their communities, as the massively successful Day Without Immigrants strike demonstrated. But they need our help, especially those of us privileged to have been born here, with citizenship. And again, even more so those that look like me — check your privilege and use it! Because it’s going to take all of us, and we’re going to have to be willing to do more than protest. We must be willing to record and report immigration raids when we see them, to block ICE officials with our bodies, and to hide immigrants and refugees in our homes, our places of worship, and at our jobs.

As James Baldwin beautifully and hauntingly wrote in a letter to Angela Davis in 1970:

“Some of us, white and black, know how great a price has already been paid to bring into existence a new consciousness, a new people, an unprecedented nation. If we know, and do nothing, we are worse than the murderers hired in our name. If we know, then we must fight for your life as though it were our own — which it is — and render impassable with our bodies the corridor to the gas chamber. For, if they take you in the morning, they will be coming for us that night.”

And although Baldwin was speaking specifically about the struggle for black power and equality in the states, this message holds true for all of the oppressed — and for all of us who must be those bodies in the corridor. We are all implicated.

So reach out to your local immigrants rights groups, and ask how you can help. And I do stress the word LOCAL here. Big organizations often do not have the necessary understanding or connection with people on the ground to facilitate rapid and real help. A good place to start would be to see who organized or helped to organize the day without immigrants from last Thursday. Or talk to local businesses that were closed in solidarity.

And again, if you look like me, if you’re a citizen of this empire, you have an OBLIGATION to stand up against these human rights abuses — you have an OBLIGATION to be in that corridor. You are either complicit in your silence, a passive pawn for violence or you are on the front lines against fascism, against hate, against bigotry, against apathy.

Which side are you on?


What Is A Sanctuary City & How Can We Defend Immigrant Families? by Kit O’Connell and Eleanor Goldfield is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at