By Christina Mansfield and Christina Fialho
President Trump’s executive order threatens our nonprofit’s existence and places anyone who supports undocumented immigrants at risk of a penalty.
The executive order, Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States, signed by Trump last week includes a clause making it unlawful to help an undocumented immigrant. Section 6 of the order states that the Secretary shall make regulations for the collection of civil fines and penalties from “those who facilitate the presence” of an undocumented immigrant.
This provision may cover activities such as providing legal and other humanitarian assistance to undocumented residents. Our organization, Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), and our affiliated visitation programs provide people in immigration detention across the country with a connection to the outside world through weekly visits.
Through these visits, CIVIC has eyes and ears inside Trump’s immigration detention system. Our network of 1,500 volunteers includes those directly impacted by detention, students and people from all faith communities and sectors of society. We work each day to ensure that people in immigration detention are able to remain in the United States. And we will not stop now. We will continue to visit people in immigration detention and hold President Trump and the federal government accountable.
Section 6 of Trump’s executive order also penalizes family members who live in mixed-immigration status families. As Univision explained last week, Section 6 is similar to a clause included in an early draft of Arizona’s controversial “Show Me Your Papers” law. The clause, which Arizona’s governor removed before signing the law in 2010, would have made it a misdemeanor punishable by a fine or imprisonment to “conceal, harbor or shield” an undocumented immigrant.
Arguably, Section 6 of Trump’s executive order is much broader than Arizona’s scrapped provision because this section only requires one to “facilitate” a person’s presence in the United States.
When the President talks about “making America great again,” what America is he referring to? Which era of our history must we revisit in order to become great again? This new executive order that criminalizes mixed-immigration status families and other advocates is not only reminiscent of recent anti-immigrant laws that were introduced in states like Arizona, but it also stems from the history of racism and slavery that this nation is built upon.
In 1850, as the United States expanded from the wealth generated by the institution of slavery and the seizure of Native American lands, the North and South were divided over slavery. The Southern states wanted a better policy to facilitate the return of fugitive slaves - a right guaranteed in the Constitution - but one that was disputed on moral grounds by many Northern states and by groups that assisted fugitive slaves in their escapes north.
The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 allowed slaveowners to pursue escaped slaves into free states and bring them before a federal commissioner who was paid $5 if he ruled against the slaveholder’s claim and $10 if he ruled in favor.
The Fugitive Slave Law also outlined that any person who aided, abetted, or concealed an alleged fugitive slave was subject to a fine or imprisonment. Despite this punishment, many people risked their liberty for what they believed was right.
CIVIC and our affiliated visitation programs will continue to assist people in immigration detention no matter how our actions are made unlawful or criminalized. We will continue to resist Trump’s hateful and racist laws that threaten to return us to the most shameful era in our nation’s history.
Christina Mansfield and Christina Fialho are the co-founders and executive directors of CIVIC.