People protesting

Calling on Sherrod Brown

There was an organized commotion outside Senator Sherrod Brown’s office on High Street on January 29 to call attention to National Sanctuary Action Day. A few dozen people from the support group of Miriam Vargas, who is currently in Sanctuary in a Columbus church, joined together to amplify the voices of people living in Sanctuary around the country and to urge the Senator to meet with them.

The protestors held a banner that said “Keep All Families Together,” and gave speeches calling for the local legislators to take action in support of undocumented people. Miriam has questions she wants answered by Senator Brown: What is the senator doing in Congress to push for immigration reform? How can they build a path forward toward legal residence for all people currently in Sanctuary?

As the situation stands today, undocumented people like Miriam have no legal way to avoid deportation to their home countries, where they have a well-founded fear of persecution and death. This reality was recently documented in a report by Human Rights Watch, detailing how 138 deportees were raped or murdered upon being returned to Central America.

Given the recent lawsuits against Sanctuary sites, even this form of resistance is being threatened. Although the majority of people who have taken Sanctuary in the United States are living in churches, this is overwhelmingly a political issue and not a religious one.

Many Judeo-Christian denominations derive their respect for Sanctuary from their faith, but this practice is an act of civil disobedience more than anything. The individuals and organizations who uphold the practice of Sanctuary are defending rights they believe the government is infringing upon, and this act of defying the government is inherently political.

Although Senator Brown has not given a clear answer about his stance on Sanctuary, the Trump administration has been clear on its point of view. On Monday, February 10, Attorney General William Barr announced that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is suing the states of New Jersey and California, and King County in Washington state over their Sanctuary policies.

Barr claimed the lawsuits are part of “a significant escalation in the federal government’s efforts to confront the resistance of ‘Sanctuary cities.’” In his speech to the National Sheriffs’ Association, Barr also said, “When we are talking about Sanctuary cities, we are talking about policies that are designed to allow criminal aliens to escape...These policies are not about people who came to our country illegally but have otherwise been peaceful and productive members of society. Their express purpose is to shelter aliens whom local law enforcement has already arrested for other crimes. This is neither lawful nor sensible.”

The reality is Miriam Vargas has been a peaceful and productive member of society since she arrived in Columbus over a decade ago. Under the Obama era DACA policy, she was given a work permit, a social security number, and a driver’s license. After the Trump Administration’s “Zero Tolerance” policy took effect she was stripped of her documents and given a deportation order. That was over 600 days ago.

Now we are seeing another escalation by the Trump administration of its violent policies that harm immigrants. The New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal said of the recent DOJ lawsuit: “Once again, the Trump administration is sacrificing public safety for political expedience. It’s no surprise that the President, facing re-election, has suddenly decided to challenge a policy we first announced in 2018.”

As the presidential primaries take place, voters are looking to candidates to take a stand on the issue and define a path forward for individuals protected in Sanctuary sites.

Calling on the Democratic candidates

Of the democratic candidates, notably, Senator Bernie Sanders is the only one who has proposed a halt to all deportations. Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Amy Klobuchar and former Vice President Joe Biden believe that deportations should continue for convicted criminals and threats to U.S. security, and Mayor Pete Buttigieg wants to add recent border crossers to that list.

All of the candidates mentioned support a path to citizenship for Dreamers and DACA recipients, and out of these candidates only Biden believes that the U.S. should continue to give criminal penalties for crossing the border, whereas, all other candidates believe it should be a civil offense.

As the election draws near, Miriam and her support group are calling for comprehensive and compassionate immigration policy reform. This is an issue that not only primary voters should keep in mind at the ballot box, but especially voters across different parties during the general election.

At the polls, one critical question voters will be asking themselves is: Does my candidate support keeping all families together?

About the author: Katy McFarland is Miriam Vargas’s sanctuary advocate, a Spanish medical interpreter, and will be entering medical school in the fall of 2020.

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