“What if we come home and Mom and Dad aren’t there?”
This is the types of question some families are facing in the wake of a 2016 election that saw President Trump raise the temperature on rhetoric against immigrants. Not just undocumented immigrants. Not just criminal, drug selling, gun wielding rapists from Mexico. Families. People going to work, people going to school.
People wondering if when they get home from school their parents will still be there. Or will there have been an I.C.E raid?
Faith communities across Dane County have been confronted with these questions. Members of their congregations. Friends at work. Neighbors of theirs. It isn’t just the policies of the United States Government or the Trump Administration that is causing the fear or leading the discussions over these questions at places of worship. It’s the tone.
It has been the dehumanizing, demeaning, violent tone of the anti-immigration proceedings of President Trump that have galvanized people of faith from every walk of religious life to search for answers for the people around them.
In response, a collection of Dane County faith communities announced on Thursday that they will form the Dane County Sanctuary Coalition to help combat the fears and injustices facing people who are being deported or have citizenship concerns.
“After the election in November we had a couple of meetings with some of our clergy and activists and talked about how we as a faith community wanted to respond to some of the policies of the Trump Administration,” says Rabbi Bonnie Margulis, President of Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice. “There has just been a lot of rhetoric in the media that is not in keeping with our faith. We are all the image of God. We all need to be treated with kindness and compassion. Some of the policies are threatening to tear families apart, to deport parents and separate them from children. Or to take people who have been working or been pillars of the community away.”
The Dane County Sanctuary Coalition will provide shelter for people facing an order of deportation and for others with undocumented status. Sanctuary will be provided to people while also giving them a chance to receive legal advice about their deportation proceedings as well as a safe place to be.
Rabbi Margulis says that many people are literally just picked up and summarily deported. She says that others are detained at centers where they are moved around a lot in order to make it impossible for them to receive proper legal representation.
But beyond that, Margulis and others in the coalition feel that it is their duty as servants of God to be helpful to people in the sort of distress that has been caused by the storm of hatred unleashed mostly by the President of the United States, but also some entities in the media.
“It’s easy to attack people who are different from you,” Margulis says. “It’s easy to blame other people for what’s wrong in your country. The truth is the immigrant community in our country are law abiding, tax paying, contributing members of our community. They are our neighbors, our friends, business owners, workers, family members. And we need to stand in solidarity with them. We need to make the statement of solidarity and support. There is huge fear in these communities. They’re living in a time of great fear. We need to say we see you, we hear you, we stand by you. We hope that’s a message of comfort and of hope.”
As a Jewish person, Margulis understands how easy it is to be the scapegoat or be blamed for what’s wrong with the country. Certainly, elements of what caused the Holocaust are alive and well in the current climate of the United States.
Advent Lutheran Church, Community of Hope United Church of Christ, First Unitarian Society, Congregation Shaarei Shamayim and Orchard Ridge United Church of Christ have volunteered to be places of physical shelter for people seeking sanctuary during the process of deportation.
James Reeb Unitarian Universalist Congregation, First Baptist Church, First Congregational Church of Christ and Plymouth Congregational Church of Christ have all volunteered to help provide resources to the five congregations housing people who need sanctuary. Things like meals and other needs will be provided by those four “buddy” churches in conjunction with the sanctuary congregations.
Many other faith communities are considering joining the fight against the tone and rhetoric many see as being bullish and scapegoating.
Miranda Hassett of St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church says that her congregation is beginning the process of discussing whether or not to join.
“What drives me personally is that I have friends whose families and lives are threatened by the uncertainty of the new administration’s deportations policies,” Hassett says. “They had to set up contingency plans for if the kids come home from school and the parents have been detained for deportation. I’ve had to have conversations with people about that.”
Hassett says that there is a tone being set not just by President Trump but by his supporters as well, casting immigrants of color as threats and dangers to our communities. She says members of her congregation who are people of color, particularly of Hispanic descent, are getting more and more dirty and suspicious looks.
More than ever, people of color, especially immigrants, are being made to feel like strangers in a strange land. Hassett says that’s a motivating factor in her decision to discuss with her congregation the need to join this fight.
“There’s a very clear mandate in our Judeo Christian scriptures on how to treat strangers in your country,” Hassett says. “ You have to be kind to the stranger and the foreigner because we once were strangers and foreigners. It is stated really clearly in Hebrew scripture and it so much more true for us being Americans. We’re all from somewhere else. Our stories all began someplace else.”
Rabbi Margulis says the plans for exactly how the sanctuaries will work and when they will be operational is still being discussed. Around Dane County there are about 20 places they are in communications with about how they could fit into the coalition and whether or not they will join.
Persons with concerns about their status or who are facing deportation in the meantime are encouraged to contact Centro Hispano on Badger Road in Madison.