Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

No One Is Safer. No One Is Served.

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David Eggers writes in the New Yorker:

The legendary Chicago oral historian and moral force Studs Terkel once said, “There is a decency in the American people and a native intelligence—providing they have the facts, providing they have the information.” During a lifetime of listening to Americans, Terkel came to believe that, when Americans have the information, they do the right thing.

So here is the information:

For a hundred and fifty-eight days, Malik Naveed bin Rehman, Zahida Altaf, and their five-year-old daughter, Roniya, have been living in the basement of the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme, Connecticut. There is an electronic bracelet attached to Malik’s ankle, which provides his real-time location to ice authorities. On a recent Saturday morning, Malik showed me the plastic bracelet, which looks like a snug black shackle. Though iceauthorities can send pre-recorded messages to him through the bracelet, he said that they prefer to call him on his cell phone, usually between 2 and 5 a.m.“Malik? Are you there?” they ask. He is convinced they do this to prevent the family from sleeping through the night.

Malik and Zahida are a middle-aged couple, originally from Pakistan, who have been in the United States for almost twenty years. They arrived as asylum seekers in 2000, and the first two attorneys they hired both absconded with their money—more than sixteen thousand dollars in total—and were later prosecuted for fraud. Over subsequent years, Malik and Zahida consulted eight more attorneys. In 2008, immigration officials denied their asylum application. They filed an appeal, which was rejected in 2010. Immigration officials then began court proceedings to remove them from the United States.

In 2012, Roniya was born; she is an American citizen. In 2014, Malik and Zahida gained protection under an executive action concerning enforcement priorities signed by President Obama. Immigrants who had committed no crimes and who had played by the rules—working and paying taxes, for example—were not prioritized for deportation. Then, in 2017, the Trump Administration reversed the executive action, and deportation proceedings were started against Malik and Zahida.

The family’s living quarters consist of a small bedroom and, across the hall, two rooms customarily used for Sunday school. They have the run of the church, but six days a week these three rooms are set aside for their use only. A shower has been fashioned in a bathroom by connecting a garden hose to the sink. A large picture of a beach scene brightens the windowless bedroom. A guitar leans against a wall. A pair of bongos rests on a bookshelf. Members of the congregation have been teaching Zahida how to play both instruments. “I always wanted to learn the drums,” she said. Because she and Malik can’t leave the church, they try to stave off boredom and depression by taking classes in yoga, needlepoint, and ceramics. There is a pottery studio in the basement, and the couple has made more bowls and plates than they can use.

There are at least forty-two families or individuals facing deportation who are now living in churches across the United States. It is only a form of courtesy that prevents ice from entering sensitive areas such as schools and places of worship; if they choose to, they can go anywhere they please. The forty-two cases are those that have been publicized in some way, but because more than a thousand churches have signed on to participate in the sanctuary movement, and because many more churches are providing sanctuary in secret, the total number of humans hiding in American houses of faith is not known.

Old Lyme, Connecticut, is a preppy town of old-growth trees, wide lawns, and twenty-seven miles of coastline, on the Long Island Sound. The First Congregational Church was established the same year the town was incorporated, in 1665. The church, with fluted white columns and a towering spire, was immortalized by the Impressionist Childe Hassam, in 1903. It stands on a manicured pea-green lawn in a neighborhood of similarly situated white Colonial and Victorian homes. American flags bow from wide porches; everywhere, the greens are very green and the whites are very white.

The church, not previously known as a bastion of progressive activism, began forging partnerships in 1985 with churches and social-justice organizations in South Africa, Haiti, and the Cheyenne River Lakota Sioux Indian Reservation, in South Dakota. According to the church’s brochure about its missions, the congregation sought “a deeper level of friendship with those of other races and cultures, recognizing, honoring, and celebrating both the diversity and the integrity and interconnectedness of all of God’s Creation.” When I arrived that Saturday, women and men were pushing shopping carts along the sidewalk, heading for the church. Outside, a large, handwritten sign resting on the steps read:


People of Color
Immigrants and Refugees
The LGBTQ Community
The Disabled
Women and Children
The Environment

Taught by our faith, we stand firm
You are our family

Lina Tuck, a longtime congregant and a steward of the church’s sanctuary program, greeted me outside. She is an energetic woman in her early fifties who, after the election of Donald Trump, helped create and now runs the church’s immigration committee. Inside, the church was bustling. A dozen or so people carried groceries through the narrow back hallways. “The Saturday food pantry,” Reverend Steve Jungkeit explained to us. The First Congregational serves as a distribution center for the Shoreline Soup Kitchen, so every week about a hundred and fifty families come to the church to collect free groceries.

Jungkeit, the church’s senior minister, just turned forty-four, though he looks no more than twenty-five. He wore immaculate canvas sneakers, ankle-pegged pants, and black-framed glasses. A newsboy hat was set back on his head. A graduate of Yale’s Ph.D. program in religious studies who still lectures at Harvard Divinity School, he came to the church five years ago. “It was really the emphasis on social justice” that attracted him, he said. “Drawing North Americans out of their comfort zones to get, for instance, a community in Connecticut to care about what’s happening in Palestine.” He added that the “WE AFFIRM” sign had gone up a week after the 2016 election. “We thought we had to clarify where we stood.”

“So it wasn’t a stretch,” Tuck said, about the church’s experiment with sanctuary. In April of 2017, she and Jungkeit proposed the idea of sheltering a family to its board of deacons, and they approved it.

Shortly after that, Jungkeit and Tuck delivered a joint sermon from the pulpit. Tuck shared her own immigration story. “We came from Portugal in 1970,” she told me. “My dad came in 1969 with a visitor’s visa, which expired. So he was here illegally. My mom was a seamstress, so she was able to get a contract to come to the United States with me and my brother. And, since immigration laws were different in 1970, my dad was able to be grandfathered in and stay.” They were given permanent-resident status, and when Tuck was twenty, she and her mother became citizens. Her brother joined the Marines and fought in the Gulf War with a green card and a Portuguese passport. “He just got his American citizenship, like, two or three years ago,” Tuck said.

After receiving approval to shelter a family, Tuck and Jungkeit attended an informational gathering of New Sanctuary Connecticut, a Hartford-based organization that helps place immigrant families in churches. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

27 August 2018 at 2:39 pm

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