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What will we do in Grand Rapids to fight against government repression that targets immigrants?

September 20, 2017

(Editor’s note: In the interest of being transparent, I am part of the Rapid Response to ICE effort.)

In the past two weeks we have been aware of the fact that at least a dozen families have been directly impacted because of ICE raids in the greater Grand Rapids area.

Last Friday, we received calls that ICE had been seen in the area of Alpine and Leonard and on Sunday, there were 5 or 6 people who had been picked up by Immigration, Customs and Enforcement officials.

In the past few days we have been contacted by several other members in the immigrant community who have either had a family member picked up by ICE or are facing deportation themselves.

This is the reality that thousands of people face every day in the West Michigan community. People live in fear and people are having their families torn apart. Children in these families don’t know if their parents will be home after school because of ICE and parents are afraid to go to the grocery store for fear of encountering ICE.

So what do people who are not facing these oppressive realities do? There are no easy answers and no simple blue prints to follow. However, there are concrete things that we can and should be doing.

The Rapid Response to ICE group has been hosting monthly trainings to involve people to; 1) prevent ICE from taking people who are undocumented, and 2) provide mutual aid/support to families impacted by having ice arrest, detain and possibly deport people. The next training is this Thursday, September 21 from 6 – 8pm, with details you can find at this link.

The mutual aid that people can provide often involves raising money for people to cover legal costs, but it also means donating money so that people can pay their rent, provide food for their children or cover medial expenses. Mutual aid is also about providing transportation to detention facilities or to court dates and then sitting with family members in the courtroom. 

Another important group to become involved in is the Cosecha Movement in Grand Rapids, which is a movement led by immigrants and the undocumented community. This movement believes in respect, dignity and permanent protection for immigrants, especially for those that are being targeted by ICE and anti-immigration policies. They meet on a weekly basis have been doing important organizing work.

But this still begs the question of what do people who are not faced with this kind of repression do? What do those of us with white privilege do knowing that the immigrant community is facing this kind of oppression on a daily basis?

Back in January, I participated in an all day gathering at Eastern Avenue church to talk about these dynamics and to see what those of us who carry a great deal of privilege could do. One of the main areas of focus on that day in January was to talk about faith communities offering sanctuary for those who are confronted with anti-immigration policies. The breakout session talked a bit about the history of sanctuary work in Grand Rapids and the more recent Sanctuary Movement that is growing across the country.

There were several faith-based communities that day that were considering offering sanctuary, whether that was in a very public manner by declaring themselves a sanctuary or a more underground manner, where sanctuary was being offered, but in a less-public way. The unfortunate reality is, that not one church or faith-based group has stepped up to offer sanctuary (at least not that we are aware of).

This fact is unacceptable. Grand Rapids and West Michigan as a whole, prides itself on being a very religious community, yet not one religious community has chosen to take a stand with the immigrant community that is being targeted with government repression. Sure, there are churches and faith-based non-profits that offer important resources – financial, legal and translation services – but offering individuals and families sanctuary would send a whole different message to the immigrant community. It would send the message that those of us who carry a great deal of privilege are willing to stand with the immigrant community and potentially suffer the same kind of government repression.

It is in these moments of history where people are confronted with what to do and have to face the question – what did we do while whole communities were experiencing repression? What did we do to make a difference? What did we do to make it clear to impacted communities that we stand in solidarity with them? What will we do?

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