Activists protest deportations holdings signs saying, "You want my vote, say no to deportations!"

This California Church Community is Protecting Undocumented Immigrants

I’m jumping back into writing after a month of needed vacation—and looking back at what has happened in just the past four weeks, all I can echo is: what a fucking impossible year. 

Philando Castile was shot by a police officer at the beginning of this month; his partner who filmed his killing joined a long tradition of black women who have stood up against state violence—as did her little girl, seen on film comforting her mom saying,”It’s OK … I’m right here with you.” Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old father of five, had become the 135th black person killed by police this year the day before. Just that week there were five reported cases of Latinxs being murdered by the police. And starting last night at the 2016 Republican Hungry-for-Power Games, all the major mainstream media networks have donated their air-time to the GOP-bashing of Muslims, immigrants, and undocumented people.

In the midst of this non-stop coverage of racist violence (with or without accompanying critique), I’m realizing that even if a lot of folks are talking about anti-(insert marginalized group here) hatred—and they are talking about it more than usual no doubt—not many folks are doing something about it. And if they are, we’re not seeing enough coverage.

So what does moving beyond hashtags look like? Or actively trying to dismantle white supremacy? Esther Yu-Hsi Lee over at ThinkProgress has an example:

Last week, faith leaders at the Universal Lutheran Chapel in Berkeley announced that the church had created an apartment to provide sanctuary for local residents who may be deported soon. The apartment, a converted office, is on church premises.

“We await the call from someone in the final steps of deportation and who needs relief,” Pastor Jeff Johnson said, according to the independent news site Berkeley Side.

“We live in perilous times — when national leaders advocate openly about building walls and barring whole populations from entry into the U.S.,” Johnson added in a separate statement. “It is a time of increased xenophobia, where refugees are derided, scapegoated, and blamed. For communities of faith, action in the present moment is imperative.”

As Lee adds, the church’s actions come a month after Berkeley City Council adopted a resolution to provide sanctuary to refugees and to support organizations that are providing assistance to these individuals. It also comes during a year in which the Obama administration has authorized a series of immigration raids targeting refugees from Central America.

Considering that the Department of Homeland Security has a memo out not to enforce actions against immigrants in “sensitive locations,” I imagine the Universal Lutheran Chapel recognizes its clout and knows that DHS would have a trickier time invading church property. And while ongoing raids at public schools suggests that the memo is often ignored, this Church is joining a number of other faith communities that are providing sanctuary to immigrants with final orders of deportation.  These beautiful folks are neighbors and community members practicing their commitments, leveraging their privilege, and are literally positioning themselves between vulnerable communities and the U.S. government. I’m in awe and so grateful for this reminder and example of what “regular” community members can do to intervene in state violence.

Header image via Politico

Mahroh is a community organizer and law student who believes in building a world where black and brown women and our communities are able to live free of violence. Prior to law school, Mahroh was the Executive Director of Know Your IX, a national survivor- and youth-led organization empowering students to end gender violence and a junior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Her research addresses the ways militarization, racism, and sexual violence impact communities of color transnationally.

Mahroh is currently at Harvard Law School, organizing against state and gender-based violence.

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