In early January 2013, I toured the Northwest Detention Center, one of the largest in the US (capacity 1,575 detainees), with a group of people interested in visiting detainees who have no family or friends in the area. The NW Detention Center, a for-profit facility, is located in the industrial area of Tacoma, WA, without any public transportation or services. It is operated by GEO Group (NYSE symbol GEO) under contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), under the Department of Homeland Security.
A not-for-profit organization, Advocates for Immigrant in Detention Northwest (www.aidnw.org), located in Tacoma, trains volunteer visitors and assigns a detainee whom they visit frequently until the detainee is released or deported. Other not-for-profit organizations also have programs for visiting detainees at NW Detention Center.
A minor victory cheered the more than 30 supporters attending William Gonzalez’s hearing at the Portland Courthouse this January. Some feared that the president’s removal of Temporary Protected Status for Salvadorans who came to the US decades ago might already be impacting people in our community.
William, a permanent resident, came to the US 38 years ago as a 12-year-old, with his mother who was granted asylum because of threats against her life in El Salvador. He has been harassed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) since he applied for citizenship. In 2017, ICE required him to wear an ankle bracelet though he has not been a flight or security risk and has only had one DUI infraction since about 2001. William has worked 10-12 years as a cook at the famous Benson Hotel and has been involved in the union. He says the bracelet has to be recharged about every 8 hours, making it hard to get a full night’s sleep. Sometimes ICE can’t detect its signal from the basement kitchen where he works. When ICE can’t detect it, they can come to his house to question him.
William and his lawyers said the support of 40 letters and over 30 people at the hearing positively influenced the judge who ruled that the bracelet was to be removed and the harassing visits to William’s home to stop. William still had to pay a bond and further hearings will determine his immigration status.
People at the hearing were from The Immigrant Support Network, Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice (IMIrJ), ACLU, Havra Shalom Jewish congregation, Quakers, the Benson Hotel, and Unitarian and other churches. A representative from IMIrJ said it’s gratifying to see so many people at the hearing, but what is really needed is passage of compassionate Immigration Reform and the Real Dream Act.
Members of the North Bay Affiliate Chapter, Nancy and Bob McFarland, Leslee Coady, Rich Younkin, and Marie Wren planned this event at St. Isabella’s parish in San Rafael, CA, to impart information and to inspire involvement and action. Presenters included a Rwandan refugee priest, Carolyn Trumble—a Maryknoll mission promoter, staff members of Catholic Charities, an immigration lawyer, and Maryknoll Affiliates.
Fr. Samuel, a priest at St. Isabella’s and a son of a Rwandan refugee, was born in a Ugandan refugee camp. He inspired the audience with stories about ministering as a priest to refugees in Uganda and emphasized that the most important thing to give refugees is hope, over and above any material or financial help.
Two speakers from Catholic Charities told of the legal help they offer to immigrants and of social services for a local community of immigrant youth who need help with reading skills. They also addressed the current issue of the executive order revoking DACA. They invited the audience to visit the local community center where youth are tutored.
An immigration attorney and member of the local Organizing Committee, emphasized the need to listen to the stories of immigrants and to determine their immediate needs. She told of immigrants whose cars were impounded because they did not have driver licenses. The Committee helped them.
Affiliate Bob McFarland spoke about his and his wife Nancy’s involvement with a Rapid Response team that observes and documents raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. They also support families who may be left without a breadwinner because of the raids. Bob and Nancy are willing to take such a family into their home.
Some parishioners were interested in volunteering and will be invited to our next Affiliate meeting where we can explore their interests and where to use their skills. Although the evening addressed immigrants and refugees from other countries, we were keenly and sadly aware that there were many “refugees” from nearby Napa and Sonoma because of the devastating fires. Any of us could be refugees.
The Maryknoll Affiliate Book Group has been discussing the experiences of immigrants in the US, guided by Miguel De La Torre’s Trails of Hope and Terror. That book emphasizes that Jesus was an undocumented refugee in Egypt and offers Christian responses to the alien.
Now we see people of color detained and arrested as they leave the county court house or go to work. Citizen protesters have been arrested as they block the path of Immigration Control and Enforcement (ICE) vans. Immigrant attendance at church services and classes is down, perhaps due to fear of being in public. Executive orders have rescinded the DACA program that helps young immigrants, Dreamers, legally remain in the US to study or work.
But hopeful signs abound. In October, California, with over 2 million undocumented, enacted a law barring police from asking people about their immigration status or participating in federal immigration enforcement activities. Jail officials will only transfer inmates to federal authorities if they have been convicted of certain crimes. Oregon’s law prevents using state resources to enforce federal laws.
Kathy Gribble, from Fox Cities Chapter, WI, reports that the ESTHER community visited a legislative hearing concerning pending legislation. One bill proposes that all government officials would be permitted (not mandated) to inquire on the immigration status of persons they might encounter in any dealing. This bill would allow targeting and profiling people of color, adding another level of fear as they move in the shadows of the community. The good news is that only one speaker favored the measure and about 25, including the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, eloquently spoke against it.
Nationwide, an estimated 800 churches have declared themselves Sanctuary Churches, although only few are house threatened immigrants. Some groups help Dreamers pay the $465 fee for DACA renewals. Communities have participated in Welcoming Week (welcomingamerica.org) to help newcomers of all backgrounds feel valued and fully participate in the community. Welcoming Week coincides with the Campaign Nonviolence week of actions and with International Day of Peace each September.
Most of our readers are familiar with Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement, but perhaps not everyone is familiar with Mark and Louise Zwick in Houston, Texas.
They were volunteer missioners in El Salvador in the late 1970s but were forced to leave following death threats related to the civil war at the time. Upon their return to the US, they saw the need to help the refugees from Central America and commented that, “If we had any guts, we’d start a Catholic Worker House.” They founded a house of hospitality under the name of Casa Juan Diego in 1980, and ever since they have dedicated their lives, on a fulltime volunteer basis, to helping the needy.
How is your chapter, your community, responding to immigrants?
Since many immigrants in the US are threatened with deportation, various organizations are offering sanctuary and solidarity:
What can we do? What will we do?
What would Jesus do?