What Can We Do about Family-Separation and Detention?

As Legislative Liaison to the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio, I have been asked by members of the parish and the Diocese what we can do. I offer you a list from Carter Heyward and an article from The Slate which might be helpful.

“Dear friends, sisters, brothers, and sibling Americans, we are living increasingly in a nation in which an authoritarian is ruling via fear, hatred, and lies. This can only get worse before it finally breaks apart. So what do we do at this time?

(1) SPEAK THE TRUTH BOLDLY about what you see happening. Speak, write, preach, draw, paint, sing, dramatize, or otherwise communicate the Truth in whatever contexts and ways you can. Communicate with your legislators — relentlessly. Make a nuisance of yourself if you’re met with unresponsive legislators. Use newspapers, social media, and other media to communicate whatever is true and important. Do this as often as you can. Don’t let a day go by without your truth-speaking-voice being heard by someone!

(2) CONNECT WITH OTHERS. Don’t let yourself get isolated or depressed. Join together with others who want to do something constructive. There are countless organizations from which you can choose ones that appeal to you.

(3) VOTE — and not only you personally. Make sure your friends, family, and neighbors are registered to vote. Use whatever power, skills, and clout you have to help folks register and make sure they vote. Consider joining the Get Out the Vote campaigns of your local Democratic Party or of organizations like the NAACP, Black Lives Matter, AAUW, ACLU, Indivisible, and other groups committed to getting folks to vote.

(4) GIVE $$, however much or little, to organizations and people who are working for justice — for immigrants and refugees, communities of color, women and LGBTQ persons, environmental sustainability, universal health care, quality public education, etc. Even sending $5 or $10 to several groups from time to time is GREAT — and with lots of us doing it, it builds up.

(5) DEFEND DEMOCRACY! Remember that our democracy is under attack both from without (Russia) and within (Trump). Don’t let yourself be distracted from this concern or lulled into thinking that the Russian connection has been overblown — or is in the past. No question the Russians will be/are trying to confound the USA in our upcoming elections.

(6) PROTEST! Join others in taking to the streets whenever the times are right, and to the offices of your legislators, locally and at state and national levels. Be inspired by the kids from FL who are 100% committed to gun sanity and safety. Be inspired by the outpouring of rage and resistance to Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy at the borders, in which babies and children are being taken from parents. Be inspired by the courage of all who are speaking out, marching, refusing to be silenced. Be bold and outspoken in speaking truth to power.

(7) MUTE TRUMP’S LIES. Don’t give Trump’s tweets, rantings, and self-indulgence center stage. Marginalize his voice. Call his lies what they are: LIES. If you have to quote him to make a point, make clear to your readers/listeners that whatever it was Trump said is a LIE being used by him malevolently to sow confusion.

(8) BRIDGE DIFFERENCES. Do your best to speak truthfully and candidly to people who don’t agree with you about what is happening, whether they like Trump or not. Speak truthfully, and invite them to do the same. Don’t argue, much less fight, with those who disagree. But hold your own perspective — and never, ever, make peace with your own oppression — or that of others.

(9) TAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF. Don’t disregard your own needs for fun and fellowship, or for spiritual renewal, in order to keep on keeping on. Take some time everyday simply to relax. You don’t need to apologize for taking some time away. Get restored whenever you need to. Don’t run yourself into the ground. You’re too important! We need you — and you need yourself.

(10) TAKE HEART. Consider the truth and wisdom in the poetry of Renny Golden, who wrote that “struggle is a name for hope” and take heart! We are in this struggle together. You are not alone.” – Carter Heyward
In addition, here are some resources that are working to help those in detention, who can always use some help:

Here’s How You Can Help Fight Family Separation at the Border

Lawyers, translators, donations, protest.

Members of a caravan of migrants from Central America wait to enter the United States border and customs facility, where they are expected to apply for asylum, in Tijuana, Mexico April 29, 2018.Members of a caravan of migrants from Central America wait to enter the United States border and customs facility, where they are expected to apply for asylum, in Tijuana, Mexico, on April 29.

This list is being updated with new information. Last updated Tuesday, June 19, 2018, 12:58 p.m.

If you’re horrified by news of families being separated at the borders, here’s a bit of news you can use.

First, the policy: It helps to be incredibly clear on what the law is, and what has and has not changed. When Donald Trump and Sarah Huckabee Sanders say that the policy of separating children from their parents upon entry is a law passed by Democrats that Democrats will not fix, they are lying.

There are two different policies in play, and both are new.

First is the new policy that any migrant family entering the U.S. without a border inspection will be prosecuted for this minor misdemeanor. The parents get incarcerated and that leaves children to be warehoused. The parents then typically plead guilty to the misdemeanor and are given a sentence of the few days they served waiting for trial. But then when the parents try to reunite with their children, they are given the runaround—and possibly even deported, alone. The children are left in HHS custody, often without family.

Second is a new and apparently unwritten policy that even when the family presents themselves at a border-entry location, seeking asylum—that is, even when the family is complying in all respects with immigration law—the government is snatching the children away from their parents. Here, the government’s excuse seems to be that they want to keep the parents in jail-like immigration detention for a long time, while their asylum cases are adjudicated. The long-standing civil rights case known as Flores dictates that they aren’t allowed to keep kids in that kind of detention, so the Trump administration says they have to break up the families. They do not have to break up families — it is the government’s new choice to jail people with credible asylum claims who haven’t violated any laws that is leading to the heartbreaking separations you’ve been reading about.

So that is what is happening. Whether or not that is what the Bible demands is the subject of a different column. Good explainers on what is and is not legal detention of immigrants and asylum-seekers can also be found here and here and here.

Next: Which groups to support.

• The ACLU is litigating this policy in California.

• If you’re an immigration lawyer, the American Immigration Lawyers Association will be sending around a volunteer list for you to help represent the women and men with their asylum screening, bond hearings, ongoing asylum representation, etc. Please sign up.

Al Otro Lado is a binational organization that works to offer legal services to deportees and migrants in Tijuana, Mexico, including deportee parents whose children remain in the U.S.

CARA—a consortium of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, the American Immigration Council, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, and the American Immigration Lawyers Association—provides legal services at family detention centers.

The Florence Project is an Arizona project offering free legal services to men, women, and unaccompanied children in immigration custody.

Human Rights First is a national organization with roots in Houston that needs help from lawyers too.

Kids in Need of Defense works to ensure that kids do not appear in immigration court without representation, and to lobby for policies that advocate for children’s legal interests. Donate here.

The Legal Aid Justice Center is a Virginia-based center providing unaccompanied minors legal services and representation.

Pueblo Sin Fronteras is an organization that provides humanitarian aid and shelter to migrants on their way to the U.S.

RAICES is the largest immigration nonprofit in Texas offering free and low-cost legal services to immigrant children and families. Donate here and sign up as a volunteer here.

• The Texas Civil Rights Project is seeking “volunteers who speak Spanish, Mam, Q’eqchi’ or K’iche’ and have paralegal or legal assistant experience.”

Together Rising is another Virginia-based organization that’s helping provide legal assistance for 60 migrant children who were separated from their parents and are currently detained in Arizona.

• The Urban Justice Center’s Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project is working to keep families together.

Women’s Refugee Commission advocates for the rights and protection of women, children, and youth fleeing violence and persecution.

• Finally, ActBlue has aggregated many of these groups under a single button.

This list isn’t comprehensive, so let us know what else is happening. And please call your elected officials, stay tuned for demonstrations, hug your children, and be grateful if you are not currently dependent on the basic humanity of U.S. policy.

Update, June 17, 2018: Thanks to readers who updated us with more organizations fighting this policy. Other good work is being done by the following:

CLINIC’s Defending Vulnerable Populations project offers case assistance to hundreds of smaller organizations all over the country that do direct services for migrant families and children.

American Immigrant Representation Project (AIRP), which works to secure legal representation for immigrants.

CASA in Maryland, D.C., Virginia, and Pennsylvania. They litigate, advocate, and help with representation of minors needing legal services.

Freedom for Immigrants (Formerly CIVIC), which has been a leading voice opposing immigrant detention.

• The Michigan Immigrant Rights Center represents all of the immigrant kids placed by the government in foster care in Michigan (one of the biggest foster care placement states). About two-thirds are their current clients are separation cases, and they work to find parents and figure out next steps.

• The Northwest Immigrant Rights Project is doing work defending and advancing the rights of immigrants through direct legal services, systemic advocacy, and community education.

• The Women’s Refugee Commission has aggregated five actions everyone can take that go beyond donating funds.

• And finally, the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP)—which organizes law students and lawyers to develop and enforce a set of legal and human rights for refugees and displaced persons—just filed suit challenging the cancellation of the Central American Minors program.

Update, June 18, 2018, 8:19 p.m.: Listed below are more organizations that are helping separated families at the border. Thanks again to readers who sent in information:

Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative has a guide to organizations throughout Texas that provide direct legal services to separated children. Also listed within the guide are resources for local advocates, lawyers, and volunteers.

Immigrant Justice Corps is the nation’s only fellowship program dedicated to expanding access to immigration representation. Some IJC fellows work at the border, and others work in New York, providing direct representation in immigration court to parents and children resettled in New York City and surrounding counties.

• The Kino Border Initiative provides humanitarian aid to refugees and migrants on both sides of the border. They have a wish-list of supplies they can use to help migrants and families staying in the communities they serve.

The Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network supports undocumented immigrants detained in Aurora, Colorado.

Several companies also match donations—if your company does this, you need to provide the tax ID of the charity you have given to, which is usually listed on these organizations’ websites.

Update, June 19, 2018, 12:58 p.m.: The National Immigrant Justice Center represents and advocates for detained adults and children facing removal, supports efforts at the border, and represents parents in the interior who have been separated from their families as a result of aggressive enforcement.

Dahlia Lithwick, Margo Schlanger, The Slate, June 19, 2018 
How you can fight family-separation at the border

Even so, I am not giving up on you

I am sharing this blog because there is nothing more I can add except to say that we have NO IDEA how these refugees are suffering. Would even one of us leave the ‘comforts’ of our homes and families?

Thank you, Jim Love, for saying it so eloquently!

I saw your post on Facebook. The one where you were trying to get people to sign the petition to “stop the immigration”.

Wow. How do I respond to this?

Well, I guess I can say that I’m kind of glad it was you who sent it. If it had been some stranger, I would have just dismissed it as the ravings of some redneck asshole. Yup. That’s how unkind I would have been.

Which doesn’t say good things about me.

But because it was you I had to really think about how to respond. How can someone that I like, respect even, someone who I know would never wish harm to another – how can this person want to stand by and let innocent people, mothers and their children – starve in refugee camps or die at the hands of human smugglers?

Make no mistake, these people do die terrible deaths. Why? They are running from the same people who murdered the innocent civilians in Paris. They are bombed. They are terrorized. Some are rounded up and shot quickly. Those are the lucky ones.

Even in the areas supposedly under control of the “democratic governments” we in the west helped establish there is no safety.

Here’s a true story I heard from a former Toronto cop who trained police for the Iraqi forces.

Being an Iraqi police officer is often a short career. It’s a dangerous thing to do. But it pays a salary. Enough to keep your family from starving.

There are some alternative occupations. Suicide bomber is one. The guys who visited the man that the cop told me about promised to take care of his family for life. For life. All he had to do was to strap on a bomb and blow himself up. He said no – he’d rather take his chances as an Iraqi cop. And went off to the training camp.

Apparently, you aren’t allowed to say no when they ask you to be a suicide bomber. While he was in training to be a cop his wife and children were horribly murdered.

This is in the areas where there is some semblance of control. In the areas controlled by ISIS it gets worse. So they flee.

I don’t know who you think these people are, because outside of the fact that they speak a different language, many of them are pretty much like you and me. Or they were before the war. They ran small businesses. They worked in offices. They taught children. But there’s not a lot of teachers jobs in war zones. Go figure.

And the camps? Well I guess some of them make it to refugee camps. Why don’t they stay there? Some do. They “live” in these camps – the lucky ones – for years. In many of the camps there isn’t enough food or shelter. In some they have resources for about 500 calories a day for each person. You starve slowly on that amount of food. You watch your kids starve slowly as well. (By the way, as Canadians we throw out tons of food every day. But I digress.)

When they stay in these camps for year and year, with no hope do you wonder why some get recruited by the nice men who offer a career as soldiers or suicide bombers. When you abandon people to lives of no hope in squalid refugee camps, what are they supposed to do?

Surprisingly, the number that do become terrorists is very, very small. For these heroic people, many choose another option. Rather than starve slowly, live in a war zone or spend their remaining days hungry and lost in these camps, they run. Well, they walk mostly, taking what pitiful few possessions they can carry. Or they get on those boats.

Ah yes, the boats. I’m sure you’ve heard of the rickety boats that they go to sea in, hoping to make it to Europe. I know that you’ve read that many of those boats don’t make it. They are so overloaded, many capsize and the people drown. The smugglers don’t care. What’s a few more dead refugees, right?

Now, I’m not sure if you know what it’s like to die by drowning. The good news is – it doesn’t take that long. You die choking on water coming into your lungs but you only have about five to fifteen minutes to struggle hopelessly in the water. The bad news is that those five to fifteen minutes are horrific. It’s quite a terrible death. That’s why they use waterboarding as a torture. Even hardened warriors can’t endure even a few minutes of what its like to drown.

Of course you don’t always drown alone. Some drown trying to save their babies and young children, knowing they will fail. Sheer terror, painful death and knowing that your kids are dying and you can do nothing. Take a second and picture this. Just before you sign that petition.

You’ve got kids. Could you imagine dying in horrible pain while you know that you children are also dying in horribly and you can do nothing? If that’s not the definition of hell, I don’t know what is.

Again there are the lucky ones. Those ones survive and only get robbed once or twice. Some don’t lose all their life savings and have enough to try to get someone to smuggle them into another country. Some are like the folks that paid the smugglers to take them across Europe in a truck. They suffocated in the back of that truck, dying slowly over hours of suffering, clutching their kids and knowing that there was nothing they could do. Nothing.

Some of these folks have it relatively easy. Their boats don’t capsize. They don’t get in a truck. They just walk for hundreds of kilometers. Sure, some are robbed. Many are starving. As it gets to be winter in Europe – yes – they get winter there too – they shiver as they starve and freeze. Again, these are the really fortunate ones.

So why on earth would they do this? Why would they risk horrible, unspeakable torturous deaths, many helplessly dying with their babies in their arms?

Why? They are running from the same terrorists that we fear. They are running from the same group of people who killed a hundred or more people in Paris.

Every one of the people in Paris who died is a tragedy. That almost 150 died is earth shaking. You are mad because that happened? Me too. I’m furious. I am struggling to contain the rage inside me. I want someone to pay.

My problem? And where we differ? I don’t want some poor bastard whose only crime is that he or she picked the wrong place to be born to pay. I don’t want the mother who saw her husband shot to pay. I don’t want that Iraqi cop whose family were tortured and killed to pay. They’ve suffered enough.

And they continue to pay. The number of Parisians dead is the equivalent of one capsized boat. It doesn’t make the Parisians lives any less valuable. But the lives of the people who died in that truck are also valuable. By the time they found them they were mostly liquid rotting flesh.

These are the stories that make the news. Do we even know what kind of suffering happened to the people in all these unmarked graves they keep finding?

But it’s not the numbers that count. Every death is a tragedy. The people in Paris. The folks in that truck. The people who drown. The folks in those mass graves. The kids in that café in Paris. They are all innocent. And all of them are paying with their lives.

The trouble is – I can’t do a damn thing about the people in Paris. Except get mad. I can rage about it. I can cry. But I can’t change a damn thing.

I can help one person get out of those camps. We as a country can help thousands.

We’ve done it before. In the 1970’s – remember the recession and economic problems then? We took in 50,000 refugees or more – lots of them the “boat people”. We had a housing crisis at the time too. But we did it. Some people at that time said “we should take care of our own” first. Some said their North Vietnamese spies hidden in the refugees. We still took them in.

We did it in the 1950s too. Before our time. We took in an enormous number of Hungarian refugees. Again – it was a crappy time for Canada economically, but we still did the right thing. I’m sure someone talked about the commie spies that were hiding in the refugees. It was the cold war.

But we did the right thing not when it was easy – but when it was difficult. We did it when it was tough. Today, we’re all proud of what we did as a country. And those people we took in have gone on to make this a better country. Many have worked hard at menial jobs and raised families. Some of their kids are now in our parliament.

We have not always been so noble. This “ban immigration” sentiment has surfaced before. We said “none is too many”. We let them sit in the boats. We let them be taken back to Germany and the camps. That’s right. Canada sent Jews back to die in camps in Germany. It’s a historical fact.

When I think back on that, I’m not so proud.

I’m not prepared to let my country’s legacy be “none is too many.” I’m not prepared to sit idly by and let those people suffer.

So the short answer is no. I won’t be signing your petition. I couldn’t live with myself if I did.

And it would be tempting to just let this go by, but I can’t do that either.

All I can think about is that if some brave people before the second world war had stood up and said, no – we must let those people in – boatloads of Jews would have avoided the camps, torture and death.

I can’t change that. But I can oppose your idea – not you, but your idea. If I stand up and say no to this petition. If I oppose it with every fibre of my being maybe, just maybe – I might help one modern boat from being turned back.

And before you say it. Yes. Some terrorists might get in.

We’ll deal with that. These guys aren’t stupid. They’ll get in to our country anyway. Have you heard of the internet? They don’t have to come here to recruit white middle-class kids. Borders don’t matter anymore.
Thank god someone informs on the terrorists. How do you think our cops find and thwart the terrorists that are operating here now? They get information from the grateful people who don’t want to bring that hate, war and terrorism to this country. Loyal, grateful friends. They are our best defense.

So I can’t sign your petition. I have to oppose it with every fibre of my being. I have to do it for all these reasons and one more.

Here’s my last point. If I do sign and turn my back on these innocent people, knowingly let them suffer, then what have we become? Haven’t the terrorists already won? Haven’t we become just like they want us to be?

If I was going to make a recruiting poster for terrorism, the slogan would be – “they don’t give a damn about you. Why should you care about them?”

I won’t play their game. I won’t be consumed by fear and anger. I’ll be saddened because I’m human, but I won’t hate and I won’t fear. If we do, the terrorists win.

So, no thanks to your petition. I’d like to say I wish you success, but I don’t. All I will say is that if you change your mind, this door never shuts. I won’t hate you either. You will have to live with what you have and haven’t done.

I won’t give up to terror. I won’t give up trying to help the innocent victims of war. And through all of this – I won’t give up on you either.
Even so, I am not giving up on you

Welcome the Stranger. . .

As we watch television and see the thousands of men, women and children who are trying to flee from the war in Syria and other areas of the Middle East, the world is being called upon to take these refugees in.

But, if you have watched any of the political debates, you know that the current ‘cause celebré’ is not only closing the borders to additional immigrants, but also sending those who are here back from whence they came. Many of the potential political candidates have adopted the attitude that these migrating people (documented or undocumented) are a detriment to our society.

How is it, that we, who profess to be a Christian nation forget one of the primary teachings of Jesus:

    The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. (Leviticus 19:34)

I recently attended a ‘National Welcome Week’ and Citizenship Ceremony held by the City of Columbus Community Relations Commission where we witnessed 40 people from 32 countries become American citizens. This was one of the most moving ceremonies I have ever attended. These people struggled to get to the United States, fulfilled requirements of background checks by Homeland Security, learned English, studied for a citizenship test (which most of our high school graduates could not pass), and willing gave up their citizenship of their native land. These people are now citizens, a part of the integrated fabric of America and Columbus.

For those who consider these new American immigrants a toll on our city, let me provide you with some ‘real’ facts on their impact on Columbus and Central Ohio:

  1. Approximately 9,800 refugees have migrated to the Central Ohio area in the last ten years
  2. 48.4% of all the refugees settling in Ohio from 2012 to 2014 settled in Franklin County
  3. 41.86% of these immigrants are currently enrolled in college or graduated from college
  4. Somalians account for 52.5% of refugees settling in Franklin county since 2002
  5. Refugees’ median household income is $42,000 compared to $51,460 for other households
  6. Refugees/immigrants spend approximately $35.9 million in Columbus yearly
  7. Refugees/immigrants contribute income of approximately $1.6 billion in that same time period
  8. Immigrants constitute 13.6% of the entrepreneurs in Franklin County, employing more than 23,273 employees*

We are reminded by Jesus:

    I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. . . Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of my brethren you did it to me. (Matthew 25:35, 40)

    Whoever welcomes one such child in my name, welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me. (Matthew 18:5)

As the situation in Africa and the Middle East worsens, I call upon Saint John’s to consider welcoming strangers in collaboration with state agencies such as Community Refugee & Immigration Services (CRIS), to sponsor and support these individuals and families who are coming to Central Ohio to build new lives.

More information about assisting with resettlements can be found on CRIS (Community Refugee & Immigration Services)

* Statistics provided by Community Research Partners in conjunction with the Columbus Community Relations Commission, Community Refugee & Immigration Services, Homeland Security and state and federal government
Written for The Crossroads, Saint John’s Episcopal Church, 19 September 20015