Action Alert

Anxiety, Fear, and Family Separation: Immigrants Respond to Executive Orders

Anxiety, Fear, and Family Separation: Immigrants Respond to Executive Orders
A participant of the Not 1 More Deportation prayer service at the White House, in 2014.

According to Census Bureau data from 2015, immigrants comprise about 13 percent of the U.S. population — which is 43 million out of about 321 million people. According to an article on The Rundown, immigrants and their U.S.-born children make up about 27 percent of U.S. inhabitants.  Immigration has been part of the U.S. political debate for decades. Congress has been unable to reach an agreement on comprehensive immigration reform for years, effectively moving some major policy decisions into the executive and judicial branches of government, and fueling debate in the halls of state and municipal governments.

Learn how United Methodist Women-supported National Mission Institutions are helping immigrants

On February 28, 2017, President Donald Trump made his first presidential address to Congress. In his remarks he stated, "By finally enforcing our immigration laws, we will raise wages, help the unemployed, save billions of dollars, and make our communities safer for everyone." President Trump made immigration and national security signature issues of his presidential campaign, and shortly after taking office he signed executive orders on border security, interior enforcement and refugees, which attempt to follow through on some of his controversial campaign pledges.

During President Trump’s first few weeks in office, he signed executive orders that focused on border security, interior enforcement and terrorism prevention. President Trump instructed federal agencies to construct a physical wall “to obtain complete operational control” of the U.S. border with Mexico. He also ordered increases in enforcement personnel and removal facilities, and moved to restrict federal funds from sanctuary jurisdictions. Lastly, he banned nationals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from entering the United States for at least ninety days. Not only did he block nationals from Syria indefinitely, but he also suspended the U.S. refugee program for 120 days.

Safe Haven for Immigrants

With the Trump Administration strongly urging authorities to “crack down” on immigration, sanctuary cities are still active. Sanctuary cities are cities in the United States that follow certain procedures that shelter undocumented immigrants. These procedures can be by law (de jure) or they can be by action (de facto), and normally do not permit police or municipal employees to inquire about one's immigration status. Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf stated shortly after the election, “We’ll proudly stand as a sanctuary city — protecting our residents from what we deem unjust federal immigration laws — fight all forms of bigotry and advance our commitment to equity even more passionately.”

Other sanctuary locations are Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Denver, Chicago, Detroit, Dallas, Houston, Austin, Miami, San Diego, Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Portland, Seattle, Minneapolis and New York.  Los Angeles was the first Sanctuary City, with the passing of the "City of Refuge” resolution in 1985 and "City of Refuge” ordinance in 1989, requiring that all city employees stop immigration policing and provide city services to all residents regardless of immigration status. According to, the benefits of sanctuary cities include the encouragement of good relationships between law enforcement and undocumented immigrants, and the protection of undocumented immigrants against federal immigration laws. Sanctuary policies are legal and protected by the Tenth Amendment. Even though sanctuary cities can protect the identities of undocumented immigrants, there are also challenges. Sanctuary cities could possibly harbor criminals, creating a dangerous environment for U.S. citizens. “Sanctuary cities, by not asking about, recording, and submitting to the federal government the immigration statuses of residents, are violating federal law and the rules for getting federal grant money… And lastly sanctuary policies prevent police from investigating, questioning, and arresting people who have broken federal immigration law.” This month, the state Senate passed the California Values Act, a measure that would give the entire state sanctuary status by prohibiting its agencies from sharing certain information with U.S. counterparts or detaining individuals on orders from Washington.

The Trump administration has threatened to cut off U.S. Justice Department grants to sanctuary cities that fail to assist federal immigration authorities. San Francisco and Santa Clara County are suing the administration, arguing that the order is unconstitutional and makes it impossible to plan local budgets. Police have also argued that targeting undocumented immigrants is an improper use of law enforcement resources. Jeff Sessions, Attorney General of the United States, said that this act would keep communities safe from, “aliens convicted of criminal offenses.” President Trump’s Sanctuary Cities Executive Order to defund all sanctuary cities has been blocked by Federal Judge William Orrick, which bars Trump from withholding funds from jurisdictions that refuse to cooperate with federal agencies to deport undocumented immigrants.

“Our priority is to end the lawlessness at the border, stop the additional flow of illegals into the country, then to prioritize those who have gotten in trouble with the law, recent arrivals, people who have been deported previously, drug dealers and other criminal activists. They need to be deported first,” stated Sessions. Arrests of immigrants with no criminal records more than doubled to 5,441, and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested 21,362 immigrants, mostly convicted criminals, from January through mid-March. Anabel Barron, an immigrant activist in Ohio, said she is facing deportation even though she is a victim of domestic violence and has applied for a visa. She said, “I’m scared to go back to Mexico, I’m losing hope.”

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was a policy created by President Barack Obama on June 15, 2012. This new policy called for deferred action for certain undocumented young people who came to the U.S. as children. Under DACA, participants have temporary relief from deportation and a two-year work permit to qualifying young adults ages 15 to 30. During President Trump’s campaign, he mentioned that he would eliminate DACA. With President Trump’s forceful immigration policies, some fear that DACA will be affected. "The president made clear that they don't yet have a plan on DACA, and the guidance issued today doesn't add anything to that," said Kamal Essaheb, director of policy and advocacy at National Immigration Law Center. President Trump told the AP that his administration is ‘‘not after the ‘dreamers,’ we are after the criminals.” “Here is what they can hear: The ‘dreamers’ should rest easy,’ OK? I'll give you that. The ‘dreamers’ should rest easy.” A ‘dreamer’ responds by saying, "Obviously actions speak louder than words," said Saba Nafees, a 24-year-old 'dreamer' who is a graduate student at Texas Tech University. "His actions are pretty terrifying. What I've seen across the country, it's unbearable for all of these families."

Travel Ban Disconnects Families

On January 27, 2017, President Trump’s travel ban Executive Order and immigration policies came into effect. Travelers who with nationalities from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen are not permitted to enter the U.S. for 90 days, or be issued an immigrant or non-immigrant visa. Since the signing of the ban, it has been difficult for families to get back into the United States after traveling. In some cases, there are families trying to reunite with each other in the U.S. because they fear for their lives in their native countries and are awaiting sanctuary in the U.S. with their loved ones.  

One woman told CNN, "My dream was to go to America because it's the strongest country in the world. We feel that it's safe. It's the safest country. It has the strongest human rights." While this woman was making her way to come into the U.S., she was immediately stopped before entering the plane and was told that she could not board. Her hope to reunite with her husband was put on hold because of the travel ban. An elderly man who had boarded a plan prior to the signing of the Executive Order was immediately forced to go back to Baghdad when he landed on American soil. President Trump’s Executive Order is making citizens from those banned countries view the U.S. in a negative way. "This is not about religion — this is about terror and keeping our country safe. There are over 40 different countries worldwide that are majority Muslim that are not affected by this order,” stated President Trump. Mohamed Zandian is a student here, and he was awaiting the arrival of his wife, but she never came. Like many others, she was turned away. Zandian told CNN, "I don't think that I will stay in the U.S. anymore because of this kind of treatment.”

In El Cajon, 104,000 residents call home in one of the largest Arabic- and Chaldean-speaking populations in the country. Since the 1980s, the city has welcomed Chaldeans, members of Iraq’s Christian minority. Naema Hendawi came to the United States six months ago to give her children the opportunity that she believes they would not have gotten in Syria. Hendawi is worried by the actions of President Trump toward the Muslim community. She believes that he “hates Muslims,” Hendawi says. “He wants to send all the Muslims back.”

American Civil Liberties Union Travel Ban Lawsuit

Announced Monday, April 10, 2017, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is said to conduct an ‘en banc’ hearing May 8 in Richmond, Virginia, on the federal government’s appeal of a Maryland-based judge’s ruling blocking President Trump’s ban on issuance of visas to citizens of six majority-Muslim countries. In 1965, the U.S. Congress passed the Immigration and Nationality Act, which stated that no person could be "discriminated against in the issuance of an immigrant visa because of the person's race, sex, nationality, and place of birth or place of residence". Given that the ban was placed on Muslim countries could lead to the argument that the order is "anti-Muslim".

National Mission Institutions Are Meeting Needs and Fighting Back.

The purpose of National Mission Institutions is to serve the needs of poor and marginalized sectors of the population with a primary focus on the needs of women, children and youth. Below are some United Methodist Women National Mission Institutions that work on behalf of immigrants.

Gum Moon Women's Residence and the Asian Women's Resource Center

Gloria Tan, the executive director of Gum Moon Women's Residence and the Asian Women's Resource Center, a United Methodist Women’s National Mission Institution, spoke with United Methodist Washington Office of Public Policy staff about the experiences she has witnessed with President Trump’s Immigration Executive Order. Gum Moon provides a safe sanctuary to live in and programs that develop life skills. Gum Moon empowers its residents, fostering stability, self-reliance, self-determination, and full access to opportunity. Tan noted the struggles of what families are growing through in terms of becoming legal U.S. citizens. There are families living in fear of what could happen with their children. The necessary resources needed to provide for each other and safety are all key factors that immigrant families are facing in San Francisco.

Tan believes the best way to combat this battle is to provide agency training when it comes to this issue. “We feel the great need to train our staff when things like this happen again. As an independent agency we are working to develop policies on what should be happening moving forward,” stated Gloria Tan. Gum Moon has worked with the nonprofit Know Your Rights on immigrant training for affirmative action to educate the community. Tan also noted the importance of having a family plan in order to be prepared for the arrival of ICE or other personnel. She highlighted Gum Moon’s work with community residents to prepare Family Emergency Response Plans.

Families are coming to the United States for better opportunities for their children, and the fear of being deported and possibly being separated from their children is an unimaginable thought. Gloria Tan also supplies valuable information in regards to green cards and citizenship, stating if someone is a non-U.S. citizen, one qualification for obtaining a green card is marrying a legal U.S. citizen. Spouses of U.S. citizens can apply to naturalize after three years rather than the usual five. Obtaining a green card gives you the legal right to work in the United States. In instances where residents are not married, depending on how they became legal residents, they must stay in the U.S. for at least 5-6 years to apply for legal citizenship.

Gloria Tan shared a story with us about a husband and wife and their fight over custody. The wife was from China and she came into the United States to visit family, but her visit became violent when her husband tried to kidnap their daughter because he wanted sole custody of their child. The mother fled back to China because of her fear of her husband and what he would do to their daughter. Her husband had already obtained a green card, but within this past year, she was able to receive her green card as well. Gum Moon helped get her daughter enrolled in school and housing outside of Gum Moon. Every time the wife returns back to San Francisco she hides from her husband. Unfortunately, the husband found her and her daughter and she again became fearful and fled back to China with her daughter. She reconnected back with Gum Moon and they were able to provide her with the resources she needed to move forward and no longer live in fear. Tan suggested that families should develop a family plan for instances that endangers the lives of family members.

Learn More: Know Your Rights: Discrimination Against Immigrants and Muslims

Tacoma Community House  

Liz Begert Dunbar, the executive director of Tacoma Community House, told us the city of Tacoma, Washington was the first city on the West coast to become a Welcoming City. A Welcoming City is a place where immigrants, refugees, and those who look different from the mainstream, feel safe and supported. The Tacoma Community House (TCH) is a community-based service center that serves immigrants, refugees, and low-income South Sound residents. For 107 years, they have helped countless individuals gain the skills they need to transition out of poverty, navigate a new culture, and find personal and professional success.

Ms. Dunbar pointed out that, “There are lots of concerns in our community. We have had students and clients call us, asking if it is safe to come to Tacoma Community House or to go to the grocery store. There is much fear of deportation, of family separation and of verbal and physical assaults. We conduct ‘Know Your Rights’ sessions to help people prepare in case they are picked up by immigration authorities.”

Tacoma Community House has been writing about this ever since the election and the Executive Orders. Here are some of their statements, articles and interviews on the subject:

Good Neighbor Settlement House

Interim Executive Director Jack White says, “There is much concern that Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) will come to the facility and begin to arrest people for deportation, or that local police under pressure from the Federal government will do the same.”

Posted or updated: 5/16/2017 12:00:00 AM
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Suggested Pages:

*Action Alerts

*Immigration Justice

Take Action:

Contact your local congressional representative at the Capital Switchboard (202-224-3121) or in their district office to voice your support for:
  • H. R. 1236 would discontinue the federal program that authorizes state and local law enforcement officers to investigate, apprehend and detain aliens in accordance with a written agreement with the Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and to clarify that immigration enforcement is solely a function of the Federal Government.
  • S.608 would nullify the effect of the March 6, 2017, Executive Order that temporarily restricts most nationals from six countries from entering the United States.
Connect with United Methodist Women National Mission Institutions that are fighting for immigrant rights:

Learn More:

Learn more about Deferred Action: Read more on undocumented immigrants:

Know Your Rights!  Go to: United We Dream - Know Your Rights! Protect Yourself Against Immigration Raids.

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