Not Just Cities: We Can Become A Sanctuary Nation

There is a great deal we can all do, together, to protect our friends, our co-workers and our country.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

For millions of undocumented individuals living, working, and raising families in the U.S., January 20th 2017 is a rigid moment in time. On that day, Donald Trump took office as President of the United States, immediately putting those families at risk of being torn apart. As Americans – especially those of us who might be “safe” because of our privilege of citizenship—it is our duty to be allies to immigrants living within our borders. We must help them find sanctuary in our communities. This film tells you how. Watch it. Use it. Spread it around. Show it to your friends.

Today, the police-state tactics we are seeing, the mothers ripped away from their children, innocent people cowering from a knock on the door, are making the news. Immigrants are avoiding going to the doctor when they get sick, or pulling their kids out of school, in fear. In four years, we may not see them anywhere, they may have moved so deeply into the shadows that even those who mean them no harm will not know that they are here and need help. We can’t let this become the new normal.

None of this is inevitable – as long as we act. Our hands are not tied. There is a great deal we can all do, together, to protect our friends, our co-workers and our country. Let’s start by thinking more broadly about what sanctuary means and how we can become not just sanctuary cities but a sanctuary nation.

Many local governments are resisting the federal government’s mass deportation program by passing laws or enacting policies limiting the extent to which local police will help federal immigration authorities. If yours hasn’t, it’s time to get moving. Trump’s threats to take federal funding away from sanctuary cities has been blocked by a federal judge, so now is the moment.

A sanctuary community is one in which local law enforcement will not conduct joint operations with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), period. The community will not put a person behind bars solely at the request of ICE or let ICE know who is being held and released at local jails.

Together, these sanctuary tactics are the backbone of a civil resistance strategy, a refusal to voluntarily cooperate with immigration officers. Civil resistance is powerful. It has overthrown entire governments, empowered those who once thought themselves powerless and done it all without resorting to violence. Do not underestimate resistance, or yourselves.

You can get these laws passed. Your power is immense. We have seen it at the federal level, when you protected Obamacare. We have seen it at town hall meetings when you got angry and they got scared. Now we need to see it locally, at city hall and county council, and wherever laws and policies are made.

Just as important as laws is witnessing. Witnessing is an active strategy, not a passive one. It does not mean sitting around, watching and shrugging. Witnessing in this context could mean accompanying an immigrant to a scheduled ICE check-in. Wait for them outside if they don’t let you go in. Take notes, or pictures.

Stand with your immigrant brothers and sisters if there is a raid. Spread the word locally in your community if you get wind of an ICE raid. If you’re stopped by ICE, even if you’re a citizen, resist by remaining silent until an attorney is present.

Finally, connect. The Fair Immigration Reform Movement or FIRM is a coalition of grassroots immigrant rights organizations. Find them and you can find local groups, and local events to participate in. Or visit United We Dream online and learn how to connect with the largest immigrant youth-led organization in the country.

Whatever you do, don’t be passive. Don’t wait and hope and think it will probably be okay. As a human being and a witness to world history, you know that is not always the case. But you also know how different it could have been, in some of our worst moments as a species, and as a nation, if someone had stood up and said no. Be that person. History demands it.