Why We Must Give Immigrants Shelter From the Storms

Be they natural or political.

Last week, news broke that President Trump is considering ending Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an Obama-era program that grants temporary amnesty to unauthorized immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. There are almost 800,000 registered DACA participants in the country.

This is just the latest step in Trump’s effort to make good on his hard-line, destructive immigration policy. Earlier this summer, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced plans to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in Department of Justice grant funding to cities that limit cooperation between local police and federal immigration agents. Specifically, Sessions wants federal immigration police to be able to access local jails, and stipulates that local authorities must provide 48 hours of notice to the feds before releasing unauthorized immigrants. The Trump administration has been threatening such cuts since before the election, and now seems to be making good on it.

And if you have any doubts that Trump’s moves are serious business, consider this: Since he took office, deportations of unauthorized immigrants who lack criminal records have more than doubled.

And if there is any remaining doubt of Trump’s animus toward undocumented immigrants, on Friday he pardoned former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who made his career exacting illegal, extrajudicial punishment on Latinos in the Phoenix area. Trump said Monday that he timed the pardon for when Hurricane Harvey was to make landfall, explaining that people would already be glued to their television. “Actually, in the middle of a hurricane, even though it was a Friday evening, I assumed the ratings would be far higher than they were normally,” the president said during a press conference.

There is a connection between Trump’s immigration policy and Harvey, but it has nothing to do with ratings. It has to do with the debilitating effects fear of authority has in a peaceful society.

As Harvey made landfall, authorities and anyone with a boat scrambled to rescue Houstonians from the swollen floodwaters. Yet those efforts were hampered by a widespread (and wholly rational) fear among undocumented immigrants that calling for help would get them deported. This fear was widespread enough that federal immigration police put out a statement saying they won’t hunt for non-criminal undocumented immigrants at evacuation sites or emergency shelters.

That message was of little comfort to many. A man named Oscar Hernandez told The Washington Post that undocumented immigrants were afraid to “seek help from shelters and were bunking with neighbors instead.” “All of us are scared,” Hernandez told the paper.

Houston’s tragedy illustrates the hidden costs of our country’s draconian immigration laws. Members of a large subpopulation of the city live in hiding, divided from their neighbors, afraid of their local government. According to Democracy Now!, Houston has about 85,000 DACA participants. And during a natural disaster, distrust from these residents, leading to a lack of coordination, can be fatal obstacles to rescue efforts.

In Seattle, we don’t expect any hurricanes to hit anytime soon. Yet with the seismic time bomb that is the Cascadian Subduction Zone ticking just off the coast, it’s not hard to imagine a catastrophic disaster hitting our city. Which brings into focus the importance of recent resistance efforts to federal immigration policies.

First, as the Department of Justice’s budget-cut threats have become more real, city and county leaders have stood their ground and affirmed that we are an unabashed sanctuary city and county. This includes provisions that public employees, including police, are generally prohibited from asking about someone’s immigration status. Then, on Monday, city and county leaders announced the recipients of $2.25 million to help immigration groups advocate and fight for immigrants in the area. Nearly 40 nonprofits will benefit from the funds. Recipients include not only lawyers fighting over deportation cases—though that is an important service that is funded—but also groups like Eat With Muslims, which, according to the county, organizes “performances and intimate dinners” designed to combat Islamophobia.

In sum, local officials are doing a commendable job of finding creative ways to make the immigrants among us—documented or not—feel welcome and safe. In this moment of both natural and political destruction, the importance of that can’t be overstated.

editorial@seattleweekly.com

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