You've come to an old part of SW Online. We're still moving this and other older stories into our new format. In the meanwhile, click here to go to the current home page.
News and reports

July 6, 2007 | Pages 14 and 15

The New Sanctuary Movement
Protest at immigrant prison
Immigrant rights in New Haven
Seattle protest of the Minutemen

The New Sanctuary Movement
By David Thurston

CHICAGO--Representatives of the New Sanctuary Movement met in Chicago last month to discuss the challenges our movement faces and to map out a strategy for approaching the coming months.

The gathering was part of a larger conference held by Interfaith Worker Justice, which is playing a key role in organizing the national movement. Their conference, held June 16-19, featured representatives from a number of important labor organizing battles, prominent leaders from various communities of faith, as well as Linda Chavez-Thompson, executive vice president of the AFL-CIO.

The New Sanctuary Movement emerged in response to the wave of repression facing immigrant communities and has rallied communities of faith to stand in solidarity with immigrant workers and families.

Currently, there are sanctuary congregations in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, San Diego, and Seattle. By mid-July, congregations in Phoenix, Kansas City, and Miami are likely to join this list.

Predictably, Lou Dobbs has called on the federal government to revoke the tax-exempt status of the congregations and organizations involved, while pundits on Fox have urged law enforcement to break into churches and carry out arrests.

The most contentious debates of the weekend were over legislation, which was still pending in the Senate during the conference. The movement hasn't taken a position on legislation. But those in attendance agreed on the goal of establishing a set of principles that would serve as a lens through which future legislation would be viewed.

The conference was a forum for sharing a wide range of experiences. In Portland, activists from various faith communities set up a 24-hour vigil at ICE headquarters and trailed ICE cars while making calls to cell phones from around the area. After protesting at the site of the raid, activists set up emergency housing for family members affected and communicated with activists in Seattle, where many of the detained immigrants were taken.

What's more, religious leaders in San Diego have forced ICE officials to meet with them regularly. They have won some important concessions, including the fact that in recent raids, ICE has not carried out any collateral arrests.

Now is the time for activists across the country to see what role they can play in this new movement. Grassroots immigrant rights organizers may be able to find families who could be taken into sanctuary and might be willing to take a public stand.

Back to the top

Protest at immigrant prison
By Cindy Beringer

TAYLOR, Texas--"My mother is in there," said 5-year-old Hamed Weber, who joined about 400 people in the 10th protest outside the notorious T. Don Hutto "Residential Center" for immigrant families here on June 23.

At least half of the 400 inmates of this private prison are children. They come from countries other than Mexico and are awaiting extradition hearings. Many are seeking asylum after fleeing unimaginable horrors in their own country.

The plight of Hamad and his brothers, 9-year-old Nebil and 10-year-old Rustum, point to yet another way in which current immigration policies torture children and terrorize families.

Their mother, Aziza Mohamed, a Somali refugee, has been detained in Hutto for six months. Children who are citizens, like Hamad and his brothers, are parceled out to other relatives, and immigrant fathers are often sent to separate prisons. Yet Corrections Corporation of America, which runs the prison, boasts of "keeping families together."

The jailing of infants and children--who are at the mercy of abusive guards and subjected to inadequate food, education and medical care--has caught the attention of human rights groups around the globe, including UN agencies and Amnesty International.

Other sponsors of the march included the ACLU, which has filed suit on behalf of several of the incarcerated children, the Children and Families for Humane Treatment Alliance, the League of Latin American Citizens, Texans United for Families and several others. Jay Johnson-Castro of Del Rio, who has made shutting down Hutto and other immigrant prisons his personal crusade, kept spirits up and energy high.

Elsa, a young woman from Central America who had been in Hutto with her two children for six months, spoke of watching her children and others suffer. "Why are we locked up," her 3-year-old would ask. "I thought only people who rob and steal go to jail."

At one point, the crowd spontaneously began to march down the paved road into the prison, stopping just before a prison van and a police car facing the protestors. A member of the Brown Berets and a member of the Council of American Islamic Relations took the lead.

It must have been a day of hope for the innocent prisoners inside, who have told of gaining strength from other gatherings at the site. Organizers and protesters plan to keep up the pressure until--as the T-shirts from one group said--there is "No Child Left Behind Bars!"

Back to the top

Immigrant rights in New Haven
By Rebecca Lewis

NEW HAVEN, Conn.--On the morning of June 6, just 36 hours after the board of aldermen voted 25-1 in favor of a municipal ID that would be available to all New Haven residents regardless of their immigration status, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents swept through the city's neighborhoods, detaining 34 people.

But New Haven activists who came together in support of the municipal ID didn't back down. Within a few hours, teams of people with fliers for the New Haven Emergency Response Network, and "know your rights" materials hit the streets in the Fair Haven neighborhood where most of the raids took place.

Activists organized a week of action in response to the raids and in defense of the City ID, highlighting the groundbreaking municipal ID program that extends the basic right of a photo ID to all New Haven's residents.

Activists and community members expressed both the fear in their community and the spirit of resistance that the raids ignited. "They think they're going to make an example of us," said one activist, "but we're going to make an example of them!"

Activists held meetings in homes and kitchens, on street corners and in public places, conducting "know your rights" workshops and planning actions that included press conferences, rallies and a march of a thousand people through the streets of Fair Haven and into City Hall.

This pressure led ICE to announce on June 12--the very day they had threatened to return for more raids--that they were suspending operations throughout Connecticut.

The fight continues in New Haven to free many of the detainees and to defend the City ID program, which is under attack not just by ICE agents, but the racist Minutemen. Activists are collecting donations to pay bonds for many detainees and are organizing a rally in celebration of the day that the City ID card will become available later in July.

For more information, to get involved, or to make a donation, please contact [email protected].

Back to the top

Seattle protest of the Minutemen
By Jorge Torres

SEATTLE--Anti-immigrant racists held a rally and march June 23 as part of their "National March for America," but were met by a nearly equal number of counterprotesters.

About 60 bigots turned out for Seattle's march--which coincided with two similar events in Ohio and others in Iowa and Wisconsin. The Seattle event was organized by Washingtonians for Immigration Reform, Oregonians for Immigration Reform, and the Washington State chapter of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps.

Their march started at the Seattle Space Needle--site of this year's May Day rally where thousands of people had marched for immigrant rights. They paraded through Seattle's downtown sidewalks with bigoted slogans such as "English=Our National Language."

They weren't alone, though. Members of the International Socialist Organization sent e-mails and made phone calls to organize a counter-protest. More counterprotesters would have turned out, but the Seattle Gay Pride march limited the response. Nevertheless, counterprotesters numbered more than 40 by the end of the march, and chanted at the racists from the Space Needle to the Federal Building until their rally had ended.

These anti-immigrant racists need to be confronted and their ideas challenged every time they show their faces in public.

Home page | Back to the top