On May 12, 2008, more than 1000 ICE (Immigration & Customs Enforcement) agents in full SWAT gear, helicopters and SUVs swooped into the town of Postville. It was the largest single raid of a workplace in history to that date. It devastated the town and showed us that immigration is not just an issue for large cities and locations closer to the Mexican border.
Iowans learned the precarious circumstances of many of their neighbors.
While there have not been more any dramatic raids of that scale, law-abiding undocumented workers who have been in this country for years are still in danger of deportation. In the past few weeks, the Department of Homeland Security has stepped up raids and deportations. Although the Trump Administration has said they are only focusing on undocumented people convicted and/or charged with a crime, reports are that many other people are being swept up in these raids and deported.
Many of us in the Northeastern Iowa Synod have friends and neighbors and others in our community who are undocumented and live in fear of having their families torn apart and being sent away from communities where they have lived and worked for many years. You may wonder what we can do to help.
First of all, be prepared.
Your congregation should have a disaster plan in case of many kinds of natural disasters. What we learned from Postville is that was a disaster of another kind.
The Synod has an Appendix to its Disaster Plan in the case of a Community Immigration Raid.
Devise a proactive community preparedness plan with area congregations and educational/social service agencies (schools, daycares, departments of human service, food pantry, etc.) to become familiar with one another and to determine which services each entity might offer.
See Pre-Raid Community Safety Plan: Building Capacity for the Safety of the Immigrant Community for ideas to consider.
Additionally, consider organizing or attending community trainings/workshops with experts in the area of immigration rights and laws to better understand and prepare for the issues that will be at hand should a raid occur—e.g., how to assist and/or inform detainees, types of information and documentation to collect, what to offer as a church body, how to disseminate information on church-body service offerings to those in need, etc.
Church response should focus on the meeting of human needs (food, housing, shelter, daycare, etc.), connecting individuals to outside legal and human support systems, and working toward immigration advocacy and reform along with the wider church.
Clergy are typically allowed access to detained immigrants and can garner information on their personal/family needs (where legal documents are located, names and locations of children, area relatives who may provide guardianship, etc.) and/or offer information as to the rights of a detainee (IF s/he has been properly trained/informed to do so—NEVER advise unknowingly).
Assess potential economic ramifications on staff, area congregants, as these raids can decimate a community economically.
The 2017 Churchwide Assembly approved AMMPARO, Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation, and Opportunities, to ensure that vulnerable children are protected. This strategy says in part:
In a holistic, whole church response that connects international and U.S. outcomes, the ELCA has developed this strategy based on the following commitments:
- Uphold and guarantee basic human rights and safety of migrant children and their families
- Address the root causes of migration in countries from Central America’s Northern Triangle and Mexico and the treatment of migrants in transit
- Work toward just and humane policies affecting migrants in and outside the U.S. Engage as a church body with all of its companions, affiliates and partners to respond to the migration situation as a whole context and to advocate for migrant children and their families.
You can find resources and learn more ways to get involved at the AMMPARO Resources page
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service LIRS also has resources and information on how you can help LIRS Migrant Services
Find out how you can help Lutheran Services in Iowa help with Refugees in Iowa
The time to prepare is now before there is an emergency. Assistant to the Bishop, Pastor Steve Brackett, was the pastor at St. Paul, in Postville during the raids. He notes:
“The best thing church and community leaders can do to prepare for immigration actions, or any other natural or human-made catastrophe for that matter, is to form and nurture strong ecumenical and organizational partnerships in the community ahead of time. We were able to respond quickly and effectively to the Postville Immigration Raid because religious and secular organizations in the area were already working closely together to meet the needs of the poor, hungry, sick, powerless, and other at-risk members of the community.”