An immigration judge once told me the story about an Albanian family: On their way to their final asylum hearing, they were broadsided by a drunk driver and ended up in the hospital. Because they missed their court date, they automatically received a deportation order. “Almost 10 years and almost a million dollars to remove the order,” said the judge. “It’s like pulling a wisdom tooth continuously for years.”
Earlier this month in Los Angeles County, 150 people were picked up from their homes and deported — most of them for old deportation orders, some because they were in the same building as people with deportation orders. Local immigrant rights groups reported that the immigrants detained were not allowed to talk to an attorney or given a hearing. The grounds? Through one of his recent executive orders, President Donald Trump has prioritized for deportation not only convicted criminals, but those who:
- Have been charged with any criminal offense, where such charge has not been resolved;
- Have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense;
- In the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security.
Before this order, the Obama administration prioritized the detention and deportation of immigrants who had committed serious crimes. Now, Trump’s order redefines “criminal” as anyone whom the immigration officer determines has a committed a “chargeable offense” even if they have neither been accused or convicted. While some of the people deported in this recent series of raids had been convicted of a crime at some point, others had never been convicted of a misdemeanor, let alone a dangerous felony.
It gets even worse. Under a Jan. 31 memorandum from the Department of Justice, unaccompanied children and youth fleeing the violence in Central America who lack sponsors are a priority for “processing.” Our government does not guarantee free legal representation for asylum-seekers. When these children have legal representation, the vast majority receive political asylum; when they lack a lawyer, about 91 percent are deported. It takes time to find a pro-bono lawyer; fast processing means deportation.
We have an immigration system that is badly broken. Most of us know it is ineffective. If you get a step closer, you know it is profoundly illogical. Go another step closer, and you know it is heartbreakingly inhumane.
We have had several bipartisan legislative initiatives that would have greatly improved the system, but we have never had the political will to pass any of them – even though surveys have shown over overwhelming support. Immigration is not on top of anyone’s list except immigrants and their families.
If we don’t care with passion about people who are not “us,” we are not followers of the one who gave his life for his enemies. When immigrant and non-immigrant churches live Ephesians 2 and John 17:21 by working together in peer partnership, we experience the exchange of hope and passion. Immigrant churches gain the hope they need to participate in sustained advocacy as they discover they are not alone, and non-immigrant churches discover the passion that comes from knowing the pain of a trusted brother or sister.
What can the church do, working together, in the face of this kind of unjust suffering? Resistance in this context means effective response — protect and defend the vulnerable. Some opportunities:
Raise your voice nationally.
2. Work with local allies on creating a local safety net.
Local allies may include immigrant rights groups, other congregations, sanctuary congregation networks, and local political leaders. You may have to do some work to discover or create a coalition. It’s worth it. Local safety nets can include non-compliance policies with ICE (sanctuary cities or campuses) and local enforcement priorities negotiated with your regional ICE office. Bring the unique gifts of the church to the advocacy process – fervent prayer and encouragement of public decision-makers to follow their souls, converting their minds and hearts wherever possible.
3. Work with local allies on rapid response.
Set up a network geographically close enough to respond to someone who has ICE at their door; go pray and film.
4. Consider sanctuary.
Physical sanctuary is a time-limited strategy for protecting a family facing imminent deportation by allowing them to reside in your church. You need several supporting congregations for every host church and an exit strategy for the family. If you are interested in the details, visit sanctuarynotdeportation.org.
Whatever you do, remember that welcoming the stranger is welcoming Jesus. It’s not an option; it is at the core of our faith.
Those on the front lines of this mission need your prayers as well as your actions. Bless you for any way you can help.
Faith in Action is a monthly compilation of articles that empower people of faith to draw from a deep well and boldly advocate for a more just world. Subscribers receive monthly resources for prophetic preaching, practical insights for organizing, and reflections on spiritual leadership delivered to their e-mail. Subscribe here.