5 Ways NYC Churches Are Protecting Undocumented Immigrants From Deportation

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For the last nine years, several congregations – known collectively as the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City – have worked to keep the undocumented immigrant community from deportation and detention. And now that a Donald Trump presidency threatens to disrupt the lives they have built in the United States, the coalition is redoubling its efforts and further delving into the sanctuary movement that has roots in the 1970s and 1980s – a period of time when Central Americans fleeing civil wars in their native countries sought refuge.

While the last eight years haven’t been kind to undocumented immigrants – after all, at more than 2.5 million deportations, President Barack Obama has repatriated more individuals than any other president – Trump has stated his intent to deport anywhere between two to three million criminal undocumented immigrants as soon as he assumes office. As The Nation points out, Trump could easily change the ICE’s focus through a single executive action. Currently, ICE has 14,000 officials, but only a part of them track down undocumented immigrants. This could change with Trump.

As a response, several mayors around the country have already vowed to remain sanctuary cities, even as Trump promises to cut federal funding for those who refuse to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Shortly after Trump’s presidential victory, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio proclaimed that the city would rather destroy any records it has on undocumented people than handing over that information to ICE.

“We’re not going to take anything lying down,” he said. “We are not going to sacrifice a half million people who live among us. We’re not going to tear families apart. We will do everything we know how to do to resist that.”

With an increased interest in the strategy of sanctuary, the New Sanctuary Coalition held a meeting with its members a week after the election. There, a group of congregations, activists, and organizations gathered to discuss how they could further protect undocumented immigrants. After a prayer, Ravi Ragbir – the coalition director, who’s Trinidadian immigrant – said they’d need new solutions. “We are here to discuss the future of physical sanctuary,” he said. “It’s time for us to start thinking more radically.”

As we brace ourselves for a Trump presidency, here’s what churches around NYC will do to fight for and protect its undocumented community:


The coalition is offering physical sanctuary.

Currently, about 11 churches in New York City offer physical sanctuary – that is, secretly giving immigrants a place to stay. This can be either as they await a court ruling or during a deportation sweep.  A 2011 ICE memo states that enforcement actions – arrests, interviews, searches, and surveillance – should not occur at sensitive locations, which includes hospitals, churches, and schools.

New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City is working on getting more churches to offer physical sanctuary. “We need to reach out to every group in this city, to every representative,” Ragbir said. “We need faith leaders to step up and show their support for physical sanctuary, because the present situation is only going to get worse.”


The coalition is hosting very necessary forums.

A week after the group met with churches across the city, it met with the people who have most to lose: undocumented immigrants. The coalition gave about 40 undocumented immigrants the chance to learn more and a place to build a community. “We are here today to talk about rights,” Ragbir told them. “And to answer your questions of what comes next.”

The group discussed whether ICE could access the data that they’d given to IDNYC, how a Trump presidency could affect an immigration court hearing, and the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) meant to protect young immigrants who have lived in the United States most of their lives.


It's holding immigration clinics.

Every week, theNew Sanctuary Coalition of New York City holds immigration clinics. “As immigrants, we all face deportation in some way,” the site reads. “There is a huge community that understands this problem. However, we should not hide our faces in fear from a system that is unjust and unfair. Instead, we should lift our heads and bring our communities together so that we can fight for justice together.”

The organization aims to break down immigration proceedings down so much that people can understand their own cases. To do this, it’s created a four-step plan, which includes having a member of its team access your situation, setting up a timeline of important dates, gathering documents that are necessary, and creating a case plan.


It started an Immigration Accompaniment Program.

For those going through the immigration process, the immigration accompaniment program offer help in three ways. It provides a support system, it keeps the person’s family aware of the process every step of the way, and it makes sure that legal offices provide the right information and don’t infringe on immigrants’ due process.

“The NYC New Sanctuary Coalition’s Accompaniment Project has trained hundreds of volunteers to accompany people facing deportation on their required periodic ‘check-ins’ with the local Immigration and Customs Enforcement office,” Donna Schaper said. “ICE doesn’t like to have citizens paying attention to what they are doing. Showing ICE that immigrants have citizens watching and supporting them helps ICE to realize that these people are not the ones that they need to deport right now. Accompaniment is as good a supportive strategy as physical sanctuary, helps more immigrants, and can be a gateway to providing physical sanctuary if it becomes necessary.”


It protests on a monthly basis.

According to The Nation, the group also advocates for undocumented immigrants each month by heading to the Federal Plaza and calling for the end of deportations.