Local religious leaders and activists said Tuesday they will offer sanctuary to Central American families in the country illegally if President Barack Obama’s administration moves forward with plans to deport them.
During a news conference at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles headquarters, activists vowed to form a “circle of protection” around immigrants, who say their lives would be in danger if they are returned to their native countries.
Noel Andersen, a reverend with Church World Service, said he and other clergy officials have been building a “sanctuary movement” to assist Central Americans seeking refuge in the United States.
A network of congregations are “preparing themselves as we speak to open their doors for sanctuary if the administration moves forward with their plan,” Andersen said.
Raids targeting Central Americans who received deportation orders are set to begin in January, the Washington Post reported.
Members of CHIRLA called on President Obama to drop the deportation plans, which have not yet gotten final approval from the Department of Homeland Security.
Xiomara Corteno, director of community education for CHIRLA, said the group and others formed a “large and wide coalition … to say no to this heinous plan by the Obama Administration.”
Activists said that El Salvador is likely to have the world’s highest homicide rates this year, due in part to gang violence. Honduras had the highest murder rate, with 90 homicides for every 100,000 residents.
David Farley, the director of Justice and Compassion Ministries in Pasadena, said the group will “join that circle of protection and we, along with just about every denomination, every faith community in this nation, are outraged, and we will not stand by to allow this to happen.”
Meredith Brown, an immigration attorney, said that volunteer lawyers are ready to help those at risk of being deported.
Tuesday was a bittersweet day for East Los Angeles resident Isabel Medina. It was the day she was supposed to become eligible to apply for a program protecting her temporarily from deportation.
At a roundtable discussion Tuesday at the county’s Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration, Medina instead spoke of the disappointment she feels that her dream has been put on hold by a federal judge’s injunction halting President Obama’s executive order on immigration announced last fall, but pledged to continue preparing for the day when she might be able to apply.
A coalition of community, faith-based, unions, legal services, civil rights and nonprofit groups participated in the discussion and the press conference following to announce the launch of Ready California, a statewide campaign to help undocumented immigrants like Medina prepare to apply for temporary relief from deportation under programs outlined in the president’s executive order they believe will eventually be implemented.
The programs would allow about 5 million of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. to temporarily avoid deportation and receive a work permit good for three years if they meet certain criteria. Texas and 25 other states, however, filed a federal lawsuit to stop the programs, prompting the judge’s injunction halting implementation as the case winds its way through the courts.
Lea este artículo en Español: Campaña Anima Indocumentados a Prepararse para la Acción Ejecutiva
The application process was originally scheduled to begin Tuesday, May 19.
The Ready California initiative will help make sure as many undocumented immigrants living in California as possible are ready to apply when the time comes, said members of the coalition.
“We have to facilitate individuals’ ability to prove that they qualify for these programs,” said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights in Los Angeles (CHIRLA) during the roundtable discussion hosted by New American Media before the rally.
According to Salas, many of the individuals who qualify for the original DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program or its expansion, which allows people who were brought to the country illegally as children to temporarily avoid deportation, or the new Deferred Action for Parental Accountability, DAPA — which would allow some parents of U.S. born children and permanent residents the same temporary reprieve — also qualify for other existing immigration pathways.
Individuals can have their cases reviewed through Ready California and may find they have other options to legalize their immigration status, Salas said.
Sally Kinoshita, deputy director for the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, said undocumented immigrants should start working now to gather the documents they will need to apply, such as a Mexican passport, Consular Matriculas and copies of any criminal or misdemeanor court records.
According to CHIRLA, Los Angeles County has the highest number of undocumented immigrants: 500,000 with more than 50% from Mexico.
Ready California is also working to sign up lenders willing to provide low-interest loans to people who need help paying the $465 application fee.
“Our goal is to help change the future of ten thousand families in California,” Diana Cervantes, director of Community Trust Prospera, a division of Self-Help FCU in the San Gabriel Valley told EGP. “Currently, we have $5 million put aside for the loans, but if we can get more through donations we will help more people,” she said.
Alvaro Huerta, a staff attorney with the National Immigrant Legal Resource Center, said the courts move slowly and it could still be weeks, months or longer before the injunction is lifted. He said the worst-case scenario is it will not be “decided until the next term of the Supreme Court, which can go as late as June of next year.”
In the meantime, Ready California is working to bring more allies to the table. According to Salas, they need more nonprofit groups and legal service providers to get involved. She estimated in L.A. County alone, at the current participation rate, each legal partner would have to process 5,000 cases a year to meet the demand.
At a press conference following the roundtable discussion, Secretary of State Alex Padilla said it’s “not a matter of if, but a matter of when” the president’s programs will take effect.
“And for any of the doubters that are out there…for anyone who claims to be for family values — we hear that term all the time in politics — then you have no choice but to be for DACA and DAPA because it’s not just justice to immigrant families but a pivotal point to keep families together,” Padilla said.
In California alone, more than 1.35 million undocumented individuals are eligible for the administrative relief programs outlined by the president, according to Ready California.
For more information, visit: www.ready-california.org.