As the Trump administration tightens its grip on the lives of immigrants and undocumented people, activists and faith communities are organizing to aid those threatened by ICE. Through the Massachusetts Communities Action Network, the Pioneer Valley Project, and the Pioneer Valley Workers Council, activists are being informed and trained.
Workshops have been held in Springfield and at First Churches Northampton. All spots for Training for Rapid Response Team Members March 26 in Northampton were full, but additional training will be offered soon. Many local faith communities are exploring what they can do to provide sanctuary and support. People are also contacting their state legislators to get support for the Massachusetts Safe Communities Act and the Safe Driving Act.
Rev. John Allen, a member of the United Church of Christ Immigration and Refugee Task Team
, spoke at First Church of Christ in Longmeadow March 23. He pointed out that unless we develop relationships with those who will need our help, they will not find sanctuary when they need it. The first step is to learn the issues and support the legislative objectives. Next, become a member of a Rapid Response Team. Teams will include lawyers and people who will observe. People are needed to accompany immigrants to ICE check-ins. In the past, these were routine, but now some people are seized at the check-ins. Having people stand as witnesses to what happens at the check-ins may protect the immigrant from arrest. People will accompany immigrants and refugees to meetings with their attorneys and to court dates. Teams will be on call to assist if ICE comes to an immigrant’s home. If a family member is seized, people will be needed to stay with other family members and assist them in any way they can.
Several congregations in our area–United Church of Christ, Unitarian Universalist, and Roman Catholic– are exploring what it means to offer sanctuary. Some may be able to house immigrants within their churches and others will support them with food, transportation, etc. This will be a last resort for any immigrants, and there is no guarantee that being within a church will protect people from seizure. Nor is there reason to believe that the laws against harboring illegal immigrants will not be enforced against churches, even though churches have not been charged in the past. Nevertheless, several congregations in Massachusetts have already committed to offering what aid they can. The ICE “sensitive location memo” discourages seizure at schools, hospitals, churches, and protests but it is not a law. Rev. Allen urged congregations to move quickly on these issues.
A statewide hotline is live now, from MCAN (Mass Communities Action Network
) which immigrants can call if ICE shows up. Rapid Response Teams including legal help will be available.
Mass state legislators are considering two bills which would make Massachusetts a safer place for immigrants. The Safe Communities Act
would prevent any legal entity–town, state police, etc.–from using its resources or employees to hold people who would otherwise be released when the government body has received an ICE detainer. It would prohibit a Muslim registry and ensure basic due process rights for immigrants. Police resources would be used to fight crime not separate families. It would prohibit agreements between law enforcement agencies and Dept of Homeland Security deputizing local officers as ICE officers. The Safe Driving Act would permit people to obtain a driver’s licenses without regard to immigration status. This would eliminate being charged with a crime just for driving, and make it easier for them to get jobs. Several communities, including Amherst and Northampton, have declared themselves Sanctuary Cities, meaning their officials will not cooperate with ICE in most circumstances. The Supreme Judicial Court is also considering a case which will impact the interaction of local authorities with ICE.