As Donald Trump’s presidency moves forward, immigration continues to take center stage. Just this week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions reiterated that sanctuary cities – that is, those vowing to stand in solidarity with the undocumented community by refusing to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) – stand to lose federal funding. In his first week in office, Trump gave immigration officials permission to go after a larger number of undocumented immigrants – even those without criminal records. Still, some lingering questions remain – i.e. will he undo the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that protects immigrants brought to the United States at a young age? In light of all this, the team over at Latino USA broke down what happens next as families adapt to the new administration.
Nadia Reiman, who filled in for María Hinijosa, hosted the episode titled “The New Normal,” which began by looking at the hard choices that a young mother – a DACA recipient – had to make for the sake of her daughter. Cynthia Chavez, 26, decided that if she’s deported, her sister will become her daughter’s legal guardian. Deciding who to entrust their children with is something undocumented parents across the United States have to wrestle with.
As some immigrants plan for the unexpected, others seek refuge in sanctuary churches. But to truly give us a sense of sanctuary church’s importance, LUSA went back to the beginning.
In the 1980s, the US feared that Central American countries would fall under communist rule, so it intervened and provided military aid and training to the authoritarian governments. This began a wave of migration from Guatemala, El, Salvador, and Honduras. And even though Central Americans fled during these years of civil war, the US didn’t initially allow them into the country as refugees because it would be admitting its own wrongdoing.
On July 4 – the most quintessential US holiday – in 1980, the sanctuary church movement kicked off. Rev. John Fife recalls that 13 Salvadoran immigrants died as they tried to make their way to the US in blazing 100-degree weather. The survivors spoke to religious leaders. “And for the first time, I heard the extraordinary stories about the repression and the killings,” Fife said.
Clergy members linked these refugees with lawyers so that they had proper representation in immigration court to no avail. So they began offering them shelter – first in their homes, then at the Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Arizona. But when the prosecutor for the government told these clergy members that the government would indict them for hiding refugees, the coalition decided to go public. The government turned a blind eye, and instead the work of this group of religious leaders became front-page news. Soon, other churches and synagogues joined the movement. This went until 1984. That year, the government charged 17 of the clergy members with felonies, including Fife.
Given the severe restrictions placed on them, they couldn’t defend themselves adequately in court. A judge convicted them of conspiracy and harboring undocumented immigrants, but because they had an outpouring of support, they didn’t wind up in prison. Fife sued the attorney general, but the matter never made it to court. Instead, in 1989, the government stopped deporting Central Americans. And the sanctuary movement came to an end in 1992 when the peace accords in El Salvador were signed. But the need for them didn’t end then. While clergy members aren’t smuggling immigrants across the border anymore, they’re still providing shelter to the undocumented community, and ramping up their efforts as deportations are expected to increase.
With more than 2.5 million people deported under his presidency, Barack Obama – known as the deporter-in-chief – did a lot of damage to the undocumented community as well. But with our current administration’s outwardly hostile attitude toward immigrants, the effects may be more wide reaching. Check out the rest of the Latino USA episode, which also includes interviews with a man facing deporting after being falsely accused of a crime, Downtown Boys, and Dalea Runblad, an intersex woman fighting for visibility.