Smile Politely

Let’s make all of Champaign County a sanctuary

With less than two months in office, the Trump administration has managed to greatly increase human suffering in the United States. The list is already long, but the tragedies being perpetrated by Trump’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Homeland Security agents are some of the most disturbing.

Most of us have watched in horror as the Trump administration criminalizes immigrants and visitors from other countries. Immigrants guilty of no crime, other than not having the correct documents, are being ripped from their homes, jobs, and family members. Many are being deported with just the clothes they are wearing to a country where they haven’t lived for decades. And then there are the people being detained at airports, some of whom are even American citizens treated like criminals for having ‘Arabic-sounding’ names, like Muhammad Ali, Jr. Travellers from other countries, like the Australian children’s author detained and grilled by Homeland Security at a Los Angeles airport, are being treated with such “disdain” that they reach their hotels in tears. Yes, I said children’s author.

Trump is obsessed with the notion that immigrants are criminals, despite the fact that statistics demonstrate that immigrants are far less likely to commit crimes than people born in the United States. But we are living in the bizarre situation of having a President who chooses to construct his version of reality from sources like the National Enquirer rather than from scientific fact. Trump is so determined to bolster his notion that immigrants are criminals that his “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States” executive order demands quarterly reports of crimes committed by “criminal aliens” and establishes a whole new office for “Victims of Crimes Committed by Removable Aliens.” (Note that Trump’s executive order is heavily laden with the term “alien” — because aliens aren’t human, right?).

Trump’s warped worldview has emboldened ICE agents, who are storming into homes and even hospitals to forcibly remove undocumented immigrants in gut-wrenching fashions. Sarah Beltran Hernandez, a mother of two with a brain tumor, was snatched out of a hospital bed in Texas by ICE, before she got treatment. Her panicked family members feared she would die without surgery, and a lawyer was threatened with arrest when he tried to visit her at the ICE detention camp. ‘“I consider this a direct threat to democracy,” lawyer Chris Hamilton told The News. “The basic constitutional rights of access to counsel and due process are what prevent people from being disappeared.”’ This week Daniela Vargas, a 22 year-old immigrant in Mississippi who was brave enough to speak to the news about her fears for her father and brother who had been detained by ICE, was then followed and detained by ICE when she left the news conference. Vargas, who came to the US when she was seven, is being flown to Argentina (a country that she barely remembers) without any judicial hearing. And this is all despite the fact that Vargas has a legal immigration status through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Champaign-Urbana immigrant rights groups, like similar organizations all over the country, are overwhelmed with calls from terrified immigrants who are worried about what will happen to their children and homes if ICE suddenly deports them. The Champaign-Urbana Immigration Forum has been leading “Know Your Rights” trainings for immigrants in central Illinois. They have also been publicizing the stories of local undocumented immigrants to counteract the Trump regime’s dehumanization. Let’s just pause for a moment to reflect on the heart-breaking reality that people need help understanding that immigrants are indeed human beings that do mundane human things, like play with their children and have hobbies, just like everyone else.

The terrorization of immigrants and travellers must stop. In addition to making our voices heard by federal representatives, we can do more to protect people in Champaign County. It may be difficult to stop Trump’s ICE agents from abducting our neighbors, since they don’t have to notify us before they take people in our community, but we have a responsibility to do all that we can.

We have a head start in our county because the Champaign County sheriff does not detain people beyond the time it takes to resolve the issue for which they were arrested. If ICE sends a detention request to the jail, Sheriff Walsh will not hold people if the only reason they are being jailed is the ICE request. But this refusal is not because Champaign County is a sanctuary county, but because other municipalities have lost lawsuits for violating Fourth Amendment rights by detaining immigrants. The only sanctuary area in Champaign County is Urbana.

Urbana should be commended for recently reaffirming its sanctuary status. Beyond affirming that the city defends human rights, the resolution states that Urbana police, or any other city official or staff person, will not inquire about immigration status or condition city services or opportunities based upon immigration status. The other municipalities in Champaign County should follow suit.

Champaign mayor Deb Feinen did recently issue a statement affirming the city’s commitment to immigrants and to an inclusive community, which is a good first step. It is critically important for elected leaders to model compassion and respect for the human dignity of all people in our communities, to counteract Trump’s demonization of people from other countries. But Champaign and other municipalities must do more. All of our local governments should make it official policy not to interact with immigrants differently than any other community member. And all Champaign County governments should make it clear that they do not condone the actions of ICE.

Sanctuary cities are important, not only to protect human rights, but also for their vision. The sanctuary message is that harassment of immigrants is not ok. Sanctuary demonstrates that immigrants are welcome and valued, and that we care about their families and lives just as much as everyone else who lives in our communities. And sanctuary cities help to reduce the fear that undocumented immigrants face when interacting with government.

Let’s work together to protect people in our communities from harm. Let’s do all we can to stop the Trump regime from ruining any more lives. Contact your local elected officials and ask them to support sanctuary resolutions. If you are an elected official, work to pass a sanctuary resolution. If you want my help, I will be there, as will a lot of other good people in Champaign County.

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