Standing with undocumented immigrants

Three weeks ago, 51-year old Marta Rodriguez arrived in front of the Federal Court Building in downtown Baltimore surrounded by over 100 family, friends and supporters. While her pastor and other clergy offered prayers, she stood solemnly — unsure of whether she would be deported and torn away from her children.

Six weeks earlier, Marta checked in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), something she has done regularly for the past nine years. Originally from Honduras, she has lived in New Carrollton, Md., for more than a decade. She owns her house, pays taxes and holds a work authorization permit. Among her children, one is a U.S. citizen, and two are DACA recipients. On this particular check in, however, agents told Marta to return to court on May 10 with a plane ticket to Honduras — to be exiled from her family and community.

Tears streamed down the faces of loved ones as they hugged Marta one at a time on that May day before she ascended the steps of the courthouse, leaning on her faith. But flanked by family, friends and clergy, she was given a two-month stay of deportation.

People who had never met her before that day and had come to stand with her in solidarity rejoiced in the decision. Her attorney made clear that the support of the community, hundreds of petition signatures, and multiple elected officials weighing in with ICE to ask them to reconsider Marta’s case all played an important role.

Contrast this experience to that of Prince Gbohoutou, who came to the U.S. as a child and sought asylum due to violence and instability in the Central African Republic. Last month, two members of our network accompanied the 26-year old artist and husband, who has been living in the U.S. for 12 years and was in the process of obtaining a green card, to his ICE check-in at the same Baltimore office. Prince was detained in front of our members and his wife, a U.S. citizen.

Then, last week, without notifying his wife or his lawyer, ICE agents drove Prince up to JFK Airport in New York in an attempt to forcibly deport him. Prince courageously — and successfully — refused to board the flight back to C.A.R., where he said he would be killed if he returned. ICE agents reportedly beat him with batons before eventually returning him to Maryland. Now, Prince’s dramatic story has garnered national attention, with Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen joining calls for Prince’s immediate release.

Under the Trump administration, ICE has increasingly become a rogue agency determined to separate families, betraying the country’s promise of a better future for those who seek its shores. Last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions vowed that families crossing into the U.S. without documentation would be separated, including children from their mothers. This includes people seeking asylum. Now the Trump administration is preparing to hold children detained at the border at military bases.

Neither Marta nor Prince’s ordeal is over. We continue to stand with them, as well as for everyone’s right to live without fear of being taken away from their home or family. A committed movement of everyday people is required to protect the fabric of our communities. If people like Marta and Prince are simply allowed to disappear, our society as a whole loses.

What seems to be lost on the enablers of the immigration enforcement machine is that ICE's cruel actions punish entire communities, not just the individual slated for deportation. If Marta or Prince are deported, their children, spouses and neighbors suffer too. We know that families are stronger when they’re together, and we know that our community and places of faith are better off when we stand up for each other.

Gaurav Madan (masalajustice@gmail.com) is an organizer with Sanctuary DMV, a secular, solidarity group dedicated to standing with immigrants and targeted communities in Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia. Julia Jarvis is a reverend and a member of the DMV Sanctuary Congregations Network, which provides support and solidarity to neighbors, friends and family of those who fear being detained, deported or profiled.

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