By Palmira Figueroa
In May, the Trump administration introduced its “zero-tolerance” immigration policy, calling for the prosecution of all individuals who cross the border into the United States without documentation.
This policy had the immediate effect of separating thousands of parents from their children when they enter the country together, because parents are referred for prosecution and the children are placed in the custody of a sponsor, such as a relative or foster home, or held in a shelter.
To date, an estimated 2,300 children have been removed from their parents and shipped to 100 different detention centers in 17 states. Many of the adults who have been detained and prosecuted are women, fleeing gang and domestic violence in their homelands with their children in order to seek safety and security in the United States. In June, as many as 200 of them were transferred to the federal detention center in SeaTac, Wash. They are behind bars in our backyard.
The Executive Order (EO) signed by President Trump on June 20 did nothing to reunite these families or abate the cruel treatment of immigrants and asylum seekers. Instead, the EO allows for the indefinite detention of families while their deportation proceedings are pending, and is purposefully vague about the process of family separation, allowing Border Patrol to interpret the order as they choose.
The Trump Administration has also ordered existing facilities be converted into detention camps and new detention camps be built to hold all people crossing the border, regardless of whether they are seeking asylum or not. There are already thousands of people waiting in detention for a fair hearing; American immigration judges are overwhelmed, and the court system is backed up for years.
In Washington state, a coalition called Families Belong Together WA formed in response to the crisis. The coalition’s leadership includes Social Justice Fund NW grantees Colectiva Legal del Pueblo and WA Immigrant Solidarity Network (WAISN). Nearly three dozen organizations have joined the coalition.
In late June, the coalition organized a week’s worth of actions demanding freedom for immigrants and the protection of our communities.The week included a massive rally outside the federal detention center in SeaTac where 10,000 people opposed the ongoing abuse of immigrants by our Federal government. Other actions included vigils outside ICE and ICSIS offices, meetings with lawmakers and elected officials, and an Immigrant and Refugee Symposium at the Muslim Association of Puget Sound. Thousands of people responded to the coalition’s call, which was very encouraging and inspiring for those involved.
As part of the week of action, SJF and Philanthropy NW partnered to organize a Funders’ Briefing with grassroots leaders representing immigrant rights organizations from Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana. The speakers explained the context of current federal anti-immigrant laws and rhetoric as well as the mistreatment and abusive processes that immigrants are currently subjected to. They described the extensive actions being taken by grassroots groups in response, and called on funders to support base-building and grassroots movements in the NW.
The conversation also focused on the vision for moving forward, identifying opportunities to support the region’s immigrant-led organizations in their efforts to protect, defend and organize immigrant and refugee communities. Speakers identified specific ways that funders could step up and move more money to groups on the frontlines of the immigration fight:
Organizations are stronger if working together; building and strengthening coalitions, especially during this political moment is key. Groups can’t go at it alone, they need each other! Funders can support the work by funding convenings and gatherings that facilitate more local, state and regional collaboration.
Rapid Response Funds are key, focusing on organizing actions, legal defense, family preparedness, etc.
Groups are responding to a variety of urgent needs, meaning there’s a need for capacity building.
It is important for funders to understand the full ecosystem of work and needs, and in particular the crucial role of community organizing.
More about some of our grantees working on this issue who participated in the Funders’ Briefing on July 9:
Causa Oregon leads the Oregon Ready coalition which focuses on immigrant family protection and defense. They have also been supporting legal work at the Federal detention center in Sheridan, Ore., where at least 120 immigrants are being held.
Montana Human Rights Network has continued to make the connection between the rise of white supremacists groups and growing anti-immigrant actions. They work closely with SJF grantee Montana Immigrant Justice Alliance (MIJA). Learn more at: mhrn.org and mija.org
The WA Immigrant Solidarity Network helps lead the Families Belong Together WA coalition which is working to: 1) end zero tolerance policies, 2) encourage non cooperation with ICE, 3) target businesses to get them to stop working with ICE and Homeland Security. waimmigrantsolidaritynetwork.org
The ACLU of Idaho was part of an effort earlier this year to stop the creation of a new federal detention center in Idaho. They have also supported the formation of new grassroots group called PODER that is challenging the termination of DACA and attacks on Dreamers. acluidaho.org