Immigration 2017: A Beginner's Guide to Action

If you are an immigrant in the U.S. or you love people who are immigrants, this week has been devastating. I have peeked between my fingers to read the news each day as President Trump signed several Executive Orders (hereto referred to as EOs) with immigrant issues at their heart. And my heart is broken, trampled, bruised.

To my husband, I heard myself say, “I’m so thankful you're not undocumented anymore. I'm glad you already got your citizenship.” It feels wrong to even acknowledge. We are safe. It can be tempting to count our blessings and ignore what's happening to others around us.

But I can't work like that. Not to mention, I keep opening emails from readers or strangers who’ve Googled “mixed status families” or “dating undocumented” and then reach out to me, one openly saying, “Please offer me some encouragement.” It took me so many days to respond to her. And when I did, I told her she should consider leaving the country. She wrote back to me and thanked me for not saying it’s all going to be okay.

It’s not all going to be okay. Especially for some people, it will not be okay.

We cannot ignore what's going on. So I’m going to share a quick breakdown of the EOs from this week, thanks to my hard-working and compassionate friend Michelle Warren with CCDA. She has been rallying passionate immigration advocates and keeping us up-to-date on what the news means for people we love. I am sharing some of her words here with permission. Then, I will share the action steps we can all take to stand with immigrants in this difficult time.

#1. Border Security - signed Jan 25 (full text here)

Border Wall: Oh man, the wall. This EO sets in motion the plans to build a large physical barrier across the U.S.-Mexico border.

Border Entries: Provides Department of Homeland Security (DHS - this is the agency tasked with immigration and border security) with the “tools to stop illegal immigrants from entering the U.S.”

More details: This EO makes it easier and cheaper to detain illegal immigrants entering the U.S. The administration will now require border agents to immediately deport or detain all immigrants crossing the border. You may think that’s what happens already. However, especially due to overcrowding and the large numbers of children and families seeking asylum, agents are allowed discretion to release some immigrants they believe will show up for their court date, which many asylum seekers will because they are looking to work with the government to stay. They may use ankle monitors as a cheaper, more humane option as well. Also, there are rules in place about how long children can be held in detention, and it’s a violation of international law to return a person to a place where they are knowingly in danger. So catch-and-release has been an option for agents. That will no longer be the case. 

Prioritization: This EO also prioritizes criminal immigrants. 

More details: “Criminal” has not been defined, which is a huge concern for immigration advocates. It’s possible illegal entry itself could be considered a crime worthy of prioritization, as well as things that go along with being undocumented, including driving without a license. Additionally, the EO gives agents leeway to prioritize anyone they feel is a “risk to public safety or national security” even if they have not committed a known crime. Can of worms? Open. 

#2. Interior Enforcement - signed Jan 25 (full text here)

This EO expresses provisions to “return power to...ICE to enforce…federal agencies who are going to unapologetically enforce the law.”

Restore Secure Communities Program: This program was replaced in 2014 with the Priority Enforcement Program (PEP), but this EO will reactivate it.  
More details: Secure Communities Program focused on collaboration between federal, state, and local law officials to identify and prioritize criminal aliens. It faced challenges because there was conflict about who was being apprehended, and some local law officials felt it undermined their community’s social fabric and disrupted their operations. 

Compel countries to receive deportees: Some countries refuse to accept their nationals who are deported from the US, so this EO will withhold visas and use other tools to ensure countries take individuals back.

Defund Sanctuary Cities: The goal is to strip federal grant money from state and cities that “harbor illegal Immigrants.” 

More details: This one is trickier because it’s unconstitutional for the federal government to coerce or force states to enforce federal laws. So this part of the EO begins a look at funding streams going to cities that are not cooperative to figure out how to defund those streams. 

#3 Refugee Resettlement - signed Jan 27 (full text not yet available)

An immediate ban on all refugees being resettled in the U.S. for 120 days.

An indefinite ban on all refugees from Syria.

A reduction in the number of refugees allowed to be resettled in the U.S. by more than half.

Whew! It makes me weary even writing all that. I need some cake. And tacos. It’s hard to know what to say because these are dire directives that will have far-reaching and destructive impact on so many families, many of whom have already suffered greatly. 

However, despair does not render us paralyzed. Here are some practical ways to stand up and resist this assault on some of the word’s most vulnerable people:

#1 Stand up against funding the wall and interior enforcement.

The President may have signed the EO, but Congress must approve funding for border and interior enforcement, so do not underestimate the influence you have on Congressional leaders. Do not stop reaching out to them! Thanks to Glen Peterson from World Relief, I'm including numbers to call and possible scripts. 

Call (202) 224-3121 three times, one each for your two Senators and your Representative. Click here to search for their names. If you prefer a script, feel free to say: I’m your constituent from [City, State], and I support comprehensive immigration reform. I am strongly opposed to the Executive Order from President Trump regarding building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and I urge you to deny funding for this project. This wall, along with increased interior enforcement, denies our friendly relationship with Mexico and our American values. It also does not address the real need for comprehensive immigration reform and will be a waste of taxpayer dollars. Please urge President Trump to abandon this plan and do everything in your power to stop it.

You can also make your voice heard on Twitter. Tweet @realDonaldTrump @WhiteHouse, @POTUS and @ your Senators/Representatives. You gotta keep it short and sweet with all those mentions.

#2 Support your immigrant neighbors.

Continue to encourage immigrant neighbors that they are not alone. Make sure they are familiar with their rights. Here is information on rights from the National Immigration Law Center. 

#3 Speak out against a DACA repeal.

Currently, no EO has addressed DACA (Deferred Action for Immigrant Child Arrivals). This legislation provided temporary deportation relief for undocumented immigrants who were brought into the country as children. It also allowed them legal work permits. During his campaign, President Trump promised to repeal this legislation. 

While we’re thankful nothing has happened yet, there’s still reason to anticipate a reversal in the days to come. However, in press briefings from Press Secretary Spicer, he has consistently directed questions about DACA to a re-framed message which emphasizes the President's intentions around criminal behavior. He is quoted saying, “The orders today do not deal with DACA. The President may discuss in an interview tonight that his first priority is to find criminals. The President is a family man, understands the problem, and will work with his team to find a humane solution. His priority is to make sure people who committed crimes are at the forefront."

Again, you can call and tweet your legislators. If you identify as an Evangelical, please consider sighing this letter as we seek to take a stand together. 

#4 Voice your support for refugees.

With 65 million people forcibly displaced in the world, it is the worst refugee crisis in our global history. The EO retracting our support and care for refugees is unAmerican and cruel. Again, call and tweet your representatives.

Here’s a script you can use: I’m your constituent from [City, State], and I support refugee resettlement in the US. I am strongly opposed to the announcement from President Trump that slashes refugee admissions, grinds all resettlement to a halt, and stops resettling refugees from certain countries like Syria. This discriminatory announcement flies in the face of core American values and this country’s founding principles. It does not reflect the welcome for refugees I see in my community every day. Please urge President Trump to abandon this plan and do everything in your power to stop it.

#5 Pray

If I’m honest, it feels trivial to say. Especially tacked here on the end, it almost seems like an afterthought. But I believe in a God that is bigger than governments and earthly leaders and injustice. The God I love has always stood with the marginalized, the foreigners, the widows, the orphans, and the hurting. If you also believe in God, let’s pray together.

Here’s a prayer I wrote years ago, if you’d like to adopt from it. You could also pray through this 40 Days of Scripture resource as a guide. For more resources, you might appreciate this post: 9 Ways to Seek Shalom with Immigrants and this Vox article that dives deeper into the EOs. 

It’s been a rough week. I encourage you to add your support in the comments. If nothing else, I’d love to hear I’m not alone in mourning and seeking God and finding ways to act in this moment in history. I’m thankful for all of you!

Young Love and Immigration? Yes, Please!

A little over a year ago, a friend shoved a Young Adult novel into my hands. “You have to read this,” she told me. It didn’t take much explanation to figure out why. Dream Things True was a story of a U.S. citizen falling in love with an undocumented immigrant.

It was my story. 

Well, the girl was from Mexico and the boy was the nephew of a senator. And they were in high school. And the white boy knew very little about the challenges faced by immigrants. And there was a lot of making out in the pool house. So it wasn’t my story exactly. 

But that didn’t stop me from tweeting the author, Marie Marquardt, to tell her, “You wrote my story, and I loved it.” 

And since she also lives in Atlanta, I asked if she’d be willing to meet with me. And she was. She also graciously agreed to let me interview her about the book. Marie is amazing, and we have become friends and kindred spirits in our desire to offer welcome and hospitality to immigrants. 

So when Marie told me she was releasing her second book, Radius of Us, in January 2017, I was over the moon. I RSVP’d to the book launch, where I bought my copy and immediately devoured it. It took me just over a day to finish the story. 

I want to say the book was good, which it was, but it was also hard. Radius of Us is another romance with immigration laced throughout the storyline. However, this book focuses on Phoenix, a 19-year old from El Salvador who brought his younger brother up through Mexico into the States as an "unaccompanied minor." They are asylum seekers, and their lives are threatened by gangs in their home country. 

Both Phoenix and Gretchen, the girl he meets in a park, have experienced trauma. And as the story proceeds, layers of their difficult experiences are pulled back and exposed. Additionally, Phoenix’s little brother Ari, who is being held in a detention facility, has stopped speaking due to the trauma he experienced crossing through Mexico and into the States. 

So while I want to say it was a fun and easy read because it has some of my favorite things of YA fiction - fast-pace, relatable characters, and young love - it is also painful to read. Because it’s based on real stories. Thankfully, the YA genre spares the graphic details that make some immigration tales too much for me to read, but it doesn’t shy away from the harsh experiences of many young migrants.

I wanted to share this book with y’all because I know many readers at A Life with Subtitles care deeply about immigrants and immigrant issues. Radius of Us is an enjoyable YA fiction novel, but it also allows an inside glimpse at the realities many are living through in our midst. It’s a great discussion starter for YA groups, though I will tell you that the book contains language and sexuality.

So I encourage you to get a copy of Radius of Us! I believe that stories and relationships change hearts. As anti-immigrant rhetoric gains traction in our country, it's important that we hear and share the stories of those who come here seeking refuge and freedom. Radius of Us is a great one! 

Note: This post includes my Amazon link to the book. If you order through this link, a small kickback goes to A Life with Subtitles, so thank you very much!

A Life with Subtitles. All rights reserved. © Maira Gall.