Written by Sara Korol
On Sunday, June 18th – Father’s Day – FCC hosted “Iowa Dads in Detention,” an event organized by Erica Johnson, the immigration program director at the American Friends Service Committee. The goal was to put a human face on the issue of immigrant detention and deportation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents (known better by their acronym “ICE”). At least eighty people turned out to listen to a panel of speakers who presented a range of experience with this issue.
Rev. Ryan Arnold opened the panel by speaking about the recent decision by the FCC congregation to officially offer sanctuary to immigrants at risk of imminent deportation.
\Then, there was a representative from Des Moines Public Schools who spoke about the stress experienced by students who have an undocumented parent at home or may be undocumented themselves. We learned of the commendable stance taken by the superintendent of the Des Moines Public Schools system that ICE agents will not be allowed to detain any students on school grounds, thereby making school a “safe place”.
Next, there was a local high school student from the Latino community who performed a powerful spoken word poem which took advantage of the double entendre of the word “ice”. He contrasted its meaning for white Americans as a playful and fun aspect of winter with what “ice” means in the Hispanic community, where the very word strikes fear.
The audience heard from a representative from La Resistencia, a telephone hotline primarily for the Spanish-speaking community to call to report ICE activity. It was surprising, and heart-wrenching, to learn that the hotline is not only used by family members once a parent or spouse has been detained by ICE, but that the hotline gets calls from the detained immigrants themselves, worried about what will happen to the family he or she is leaving behind in Iowa – a family that is losing a breadwinner, a parent and/or a partner.
We heard directly from a 30-year-old father of Mexican descent who has been in the U.S. since he was five. He has made a life for himself here, and has a wife and children. He was a recipient of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). DACA does not offer a path to legal immigration status per se, but DACA is at least a recognized status that both is supposed to prevent deportation and give the recipient the ability to get work authorization. DACA status as it is currently administered, requires renewals. The speaker was pulled over while driving in a window of time after his DACA status had expired, but before he had sent in his renewal application. The police officer saw he had outstanding traffic tickets, arrested him, and while he was in jail, he learned that ICE had placed a detainer on him, meaning he was being transferred into ICE custody. This individual did not have a criminal record and he was very alarmed at how quickly he found himself threatened with deportation. Luckily, he is represented by an immigration attorney, and he is out of detention with a date set for his appearance in immigration court. He hopes to get a form of immigration relief called cancellation of removal.
The audience also heard from a Guatemalan immigrant mother, who has been working in Iowa for four years and is applying for political asylum. Her son-in-law was arrested by ICE during a check-in appointment with an immigration official. She became very emotional at the thought of her family being broken up further, and there was a plea to the audience to show up in support of her at her next immigration check-in appointment on July 11th. Her story illustrates the shift in ICE actions that is upsetting to many: even as the Trump administration continues to characterize undocumented immigrants as criminals and bad people, ICE enforcement has notably started targeting individuals with little to no criminal backgrounds in places and situations that were hitherto considered safe or off-limits.
The panel discussion was followed by public affirmations by Rev. Arnold on behalf of First Christian Church and by Rev. Erin Gingrich of First Unitarian Church of Des Moines that their respective churches are open to providing physical sanctuary to immigrants facing deportation. Martha Gelhaus from the Des Moines Intentional Eucharistic Community made a public statement of support of the Sanctuary movement even though their congregation is not in a position to offer physical sanctuary. A video of the statements can be found on FCC’s Facebook page. To learn more about the sanctuary movement in Iowa visit www.iowasanctuary.org.