From 9/11/01 until Valentines Day, 2013, the Reformed Church of Highland Park (RCHP) experienced first hand the broken immigration system and the brutality of Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE). After 4 years of trying to help Indonesian Christian Asylum Seekers gain a safe place here, and watching them all fail their cases because of a newly established time bar for filing, we then experienced ICE’s complete and total devastation of a community.
In May of 2006 35 Indonesian men, none of whom had criminal convictions, were ripped from their homes in a pre-dawn raid. We learned later that the raid was part of President Bush’s Operation Return to Sender. That happened in Avenel, NJ. President Bush was trying to show force, while simultaneously presenting a ‘softer’ immigration proposal, and the wrath of that approach fell on “low-hanging fruit.” Low-hanging fruit are people who ICE can easily pick up because they have final deportation orders, their whereabouts are known and their place of employment clear. These 35 men all lived in the same apartment building in central New Jersey. 35 men detained, thrown in Middlesex County Jail for 1 month (despite claims by the warden that ‘we only take criminals’) and then deported. 60 U.S. children made fatherless in 1 night.
After that raid, we started to fight back. Through a series of actions that 1) drew media attention to shame the government, 2) created legislation that created the possibility of change, 3) gave accompaniment to immigrants going to ‘report’ 4) got us into detention centers to see the reality of what we do to immigrant detainees, we became resident experts on the immigration system. Eventually, unresolved issues with ICE-led us to offer SANCTUARY, for 11 months, to 9 Indonesians, all of whom were eventually given Stays of Removal and have been left alone now since Valentines Day, 2013. Our church’s actions stemmed the tide of deportation of Indonesians in our community and in some other communities around the state and country.
Brutal detention and deportation policies are not a Republican thing only. The first four years of President Obama were, frankly, worse than the Bush years, in terms of deportation of people with final orders. President Obama, too, wanted to show a strong enforcement perspective while pushing for Immigration Reform. Thankfully his second term was much more humane (not perfect, but better).
What I have described as RCHP’s experience with the brutality of ICE toward Indonesians has played out all around our state, and throughout our country, with people from many nations, under past presidents. It is about to play out that way again—but this time it’s almost guaranteed to be worse.
We are on the verge of seeing a new form of Operation Return to Sender—but this time the system is amped up on HATRED/FEAR STEROIDS. It’s amped up because of the hate-filled rhetoric of the campaign and the President's apparent commitment to following up that rhetoric with actions. Terrible things are underway in communities throughout our nation. It has nothing to do with security—in fact, this is going to create incredible insecurity.
The President has been saying publicly, in recent days, that “I’m only going after criminals” but he signed an Executive Order on January 25th, on the Security of the Interior, that says something very different. The Exec. Order calls for the deport of non-criminals with final orders, and other dubiously defined populations, as definite targets for deport.
He has announced a goal of deporting 2-3 million people, and, to be frank, unless he’s including people with final orders among his list of ‘criminals,’ then he doesn’t have enough criminals to meet his announced quota. Not even close. President Trump is going after law-abiding fathers and mothers who work and pay taxes and who have lived here for 30 years. He is going after, potentially, millions of people who would be DAPA eligible, if that program had been put in place. They are the low-hanging fruit—people he can peg as ‘fugitives.’ Why waste your time tracking down real criminals when you can meet your quota with low-hanging fruit?
We must stop this administration from ruining the families and communities that we’ve built. For that reason we have just formed D.I.R.E. An organizational meeting was held on Friday, February 3rd, to begin to give us a framework.
D.I.R.E is a rapid response team that is local to Middlesex County but part of a network of Rapid Response Teams being planned in partnership with Faith In New Jersey.
The goal of D.I.R.E is to protect families from ICE and its Enforcement & Removal Operations in our communities.
form text/app systems for communicating emergencies while they are occurring.
create an ‘army’ of concerned citizens who will rush to places of crisis to bear witness, take video and offer support to victims and families.
Inform the news media immediately if ICE is hurting members of our community.
push for towns to use their NIXEL systems to inform communities of ICE/ERO action in their neighborhoods.
encourage school boards, municipalities etc…to adopt Sanctuary City resolutions that disconnect them from the work of ICE/ERO.
create a media, social media nightmare for the President in the aftermath of any raid or detention of a resident in our community.
speak truth to power.
push our legislators to introduce real immigration reform based on the Senate bi-partisan plan from 2012.
work with attorneys to seek legal responses to the Executive Order.
accompany immigrants to scheduled appointments with ICE.
Anyone who says that “let’s give the President a chance, he says he’s only going after criminals” needs to know the risk you're creating for real immigrant families.
Already we are seeing 1) immigrants afraid to go to work, 2) immigrant parents afraid to take their kids to school 3) families making plans for ‘what do I do if Mom and Dad are deported by the time I get home, 4) tremendous fear that is resulting in life-changing trauma for children.
President Trump, by the Executive Order on the Security of the Interior, has already undone the Security of the Interior of our nation and undone the security of the interior of our children’s souls. As people of faith and goodwill we know this is not the kind of world brought about by our Creator. We must stand strong.
The site page is http://www.direteam.org
Please visit the website, sign up, and send it everyone you know and love.
Peace, Pastor Seth
Pastor, Reformed Church of Highland Park