Interfaith community prepares underground railroad for immigrants

Despite a good intent, the network of may face consequences for their actions

News Desk February 26, 2017
People take part in an anti-Donald Trump, pro-immigration protest outside. PHOTO: REUTERS

Religious leaders in Los Angeles have joined forces to ensure President Trump’s executive orders do not tear families apart.

Inspired by Sanctuary Movement of the 1980s, the Rapid Response Team intends to house immigrants sought by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in private properties as they are more constitutionally protected than religious sanctuaries or schools.

While the federal law protects churched and synagogues under Homeland Security’s 2011 policy to limit ICE action at religious locations, the LA community wants to be prepared if Trump decided to undo the law.

"There's a difference between someone knocking on your door at the church who's a federal agent and someone knocking on the door of your home, where, if they don't have a warrant, they shouldn't be entering," says the director of the interfaith community organisation LA Voice, Reverend Zach Hoover.

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After the Trump administration issued their stance on illegal immigrants, the LA organisers picked up the pace to protect families in their community by moving them somewhere ICE would find it hard to locate and deport them from.

"So they can stay with their families. So they can be with their husbands," Hoover says. "So they can avoid being detained and deported. Everybody talks about how families are the bedrock of our country. We believe that. Our congregations believe that."

Showing off a refurbished home that can house at least three families, Paster Ada Valiente said: "We're trusting in God, that he will help us and guide us to make the right decision, to have something better come out of this.”  She is praying for Trump’s heart to be compassionate towards undocumented immigrants.

Hoover voiced the same opinion. "The God that I worship sent a person to earth in the name of Jesus who did not always get along with the authorities," He explained. "I feel really convicted that I answer to God at the end of the day. That's who I'm going to see when I die."

"It's hard as a Jew," a Jewish man who volunteered to offer his home, said while reminiscing the days of World War II. "Not to think about both all the people who did open their doors and their homes and take risks to safeguard Jews in [a] moment when they were really vulnerable, as well as those who didn't. We'd like to be the people who did." While admitting that the situation is “certainly scary”, he insists he knows what he is getting himself into. "I think I know what the moral consequences are for me if we don't act. This isn't a moment to be standing idly by," he says. "This is a moment to be engaged and involved and I think we're seeing that across America where people are saying this isn't okay. We're not going to tolerate this and we'll have our voices heard."

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He is not alone. Another man who has his guest room set up to host at least one family promises to protect his guests if need be. "I definitely won't let them [ICE] in. That's our legal right," he says. "If they have a warrant, then they can come in. I can imagine that could be scary, but I feel the consequences of being passive in this moment is a little scary."

Heidi Segal, vice-president of social action at the Temple of Israel of Hollywood, says the temple will team offering direct refuge and volunteers who will accompany immigrants for deportation interviews. "We had a really strong response immediately and as people learn, the response is just growing," Segal says.

Despite good intent, the network of may face consequences for their actions. The executive director of the conservative Centre for Immigration Studies, Mark Krikorian said: "They're committing a felony. Harbouring is a felony."

"Regular folks hiding people in a basement face jail time because it is ultimately a smuggling conspiracy," he adds.

But the organisers are ready what may come with Hoover ready to face federal consequences and Valiente insists that "We're doing what we think is right,” and hopes to host an undocumented immigrant as soon as next month.


This article originally appeared on the CNN.