I have a million feelings right now, a million thoughts and many of them are pulled in a million directions. I honestly do see all sides of the immigration debate. I know there are criminal aliens in our country or wanting to get into our country who can and will cause much damage. I’m not doubting that. I’m not arguing that. And I do think that our president has a duty– an obligation– to protect our citizens. I also think that illegal aliens with a criminal or terrorist background should be deported. We have to protect our kids. Our families. Our American soil.
BUT– yes, here comes the but…
I also believe that we have a duty to care for the widow, the orphan, the poor, the oppressed. And I also believe that a huge percentage of the immigrants in our country are just that: People who need a better life, a better future, a hope, more security, more stability. I am fortunate to know many such people. I used to work as an ESL teacher and over the course of 6 years, met hundreds of immigrant families who were… AMAZING. Families from places like Mexico and Guatemala and Colombia and Iran and Venezuela and Pakistan. Not criminals, not terrorists, not people who want to suck our society dry… but people. People who I grew to love. People who worked hard. People who desperately want a better life.
A few weeks ago, I ran into one of my ex-students (from Pakistan) at HEB. He was with his family. He had a beautiful daughter who was about five years old who walked right up to my son and smiled. My student introduced me to his new wife (form Mexico) and told me how he had applied for a green card. He had been working on his degree through an online university (paid out of his pocket) while his wife sold tamales and cleaned houses to support their family.
Another one of my ex-students makes jewelry that she sells in flea markets to support her four-year-old son.
Yet another, from Guatemala, immigrated here when she was twelve with her parents. She had no choice to come here, but after graduating high school, she got a job cleaning houses and supports her two children, her husband and her aging parents. They all live in a two bedroom apartment.
These are not criminals.
They are people.
None of them made the choice to come to this country illegally– their parents did. They had no choice. What’s more, each one has children born here. Citizen children. Children who have never been to their own countries of origin but have lives and families and friends here.
I do want to say one thing: I know that the Trump administration has said that only criminal aliens will be deported and I hope that’s true. I will give the benefit of the doubt to the president that he is simply trying to round up criminal aliens and send them home. And I will give the benefit of the doubt to the police and immigration authorities that they are doing the same.
BUT, in a situation like this– where our sanctuary cities have been changed into non-sanctuary cities, where criminal aliens are actively being arrested– there are bound to be some people caught in the middle. There is bound to be racial profiling. There is bound to be law-abiding citizens caught in the net.
I know this because two days ago, TWO of my friends (who, by the way, lived in different parts of town and come from different cultures), were followed by ICE outside of their apartment complexes. To be fair, Neither of my friends was detained. Neither was pulled over. Neither was engaged in any way by ICE. These could have been coincidental situations where ICE happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and my friends were as well. They also could have been cases of racial profiling, where ICE sat outside of apartment complexes where they knew there were high immigrant populations. I don’t know what happened.
What I do know, though, is this: My friends were scared. They drove with their hearts racing, not knowing where to go, what to do. They imagined being deported, having to leave their kids or having to tear their kids from the only home they have ever known. They had nowhere to turn, nowhere to go, no one to turn to.
THIS is what keeps me up at night.
THIS is what the blue ribbon project is addressing.
Not harboring illegal aliens (as I have been accused of multiple times in the last day), not breaking the law (sigh) and not encouraging “illegal rapists to come into my home with my children” (UGH). Instead, just being there for those who don’t know where to turn.
SO, here are the details:
What do do: Tie a blue ribbon on your front door or mailbox or in front of your business. This means you are a “sanctuary” house.
(Note: Many have asked me why “blue” and the answer is not very sophisticated. I googled “sanctuary paint colors” and an awful dusty mauve came up. And since I couldn’t stand the thought of having dusty mauve ribbons waving in the wind… I chose blue.)
What it means:
- We will spread the word in the immigrant community that if someone feels threatened or afraid of ICE, they can knock on a blue ribbon door or go into a blue ribbon business.
- The blue ribbon signifies that the person in that home will be ready with information about immigrant rights, a hotline for an attorney, etc. (Resources below.)
- The blue ribbon signifies that the person inside is a safe hand to hold. They may not be able to help with deportation or with the process, but at the very least, they will make sure that a person’s rights are known and understood. My friend told me yesterday when she came to my door that she just wanted someone to stand next to her, to be her support if ICE did detain her (they didn’t) so this is what you would be.
- Offer a glass of water or lemonade or tea or coffee on your porch. (Offer to the police officers or immigration agents, too! They are likely nice people just doing their jobs.)
- Be kind and compassionate to both immigrants and the police. Imagine yourself as a bridge builder– someone who supports all sides– but who is willing to see the human side of things.
I would love to come up with some good resources, but for now, here are a few things you should know:
- The immigrant hotline in Austin is 1-844-263-1423. Attorneys stand by to help people know their rights.
- A PDF of Immigrant rights: https://www.texascivilrightsproject.org/en/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Immigrants-Know-Your-Rights-English.pdf
- Go to unitedwedream.org/ICEcollaboration to get printable infographics in multiple languages.
- Have the following infographic handy to help people:
What the blue ribbon project does NOT mean:
- Do NOT invite anyone into your house that you don’t know. That is dangerous. The entire blue ribbon project should be performed on your front porch, on the street, or in your yard. If someone tries to come in or break the rules, call the police.
- Do NOT help anyone escape, hide anyone in your house or provide the means for someone to do something illegal.
- Do NOT encourage anyone not to cooperate with ICE or the police.
- Do NOT be complicit in any illegal activity.
- Note: There are many churches that are working to become actual sanctuaries (legal hiding places) so if you know of one, refer the person to that church.
A few final notes and FAQ’s:
These are some of the things I’ve heard in the last day since I posted this on Facebook so I wanted to address them:
- “ICE only follows criminal aliens so you are basically inviting rapists and criminals into your house.”
I sure hope not. Of course, I have no idea what can happen. BUT, I do know of TWO scenarios in the last week where ICE followed non-criminals. Like I said, these people weren’t arrested or detained so it could have been a coincidence, but I still want to be a sanctuary to someone who is scared even if it is an unrealistic fear. And, like I said, do NOT let anyone into your house if you don’t know them.
- “NO one is actually going to come to your door. They don’t trust anyone who isn’t from their own communities.”
Before I posted this, I ran it by my two friends, plus a number of other immigrants that I know and all said it would be comforting to them. They said they would feel reassured seeing blue ribbons that there were people willing to be be there for them. And while many said they likely wouldn’t stop, they all said just seeing the ribbons would feel reassuring. One of my friends said that if he was being followed, he would stop because he isn’t confident in his English skills and he would feel more comfortable if someone who spoke English well was standing next to him. Another woman said just having a place to go that wasn’t her apartment– where she feels that she is being racially profiled– would be reassuring.
- “Criminals won’t take no for an answer. They will take advantage.”
This may be true. Although, if ICE agents are right outside and you aren’t allowing anyone into your house, I can’t imagine there is much they could do. Of course, if you do feel unsafe, don’t answer your door. Call the police. Another note that my friend (a non-criminal immigrant) brought up: A true criminal isn’t going to stop at a blue ribbon house. They are likely going to drive and hide and run as fast as they can. They are actively trying to escape. The people likely to stop at a blue ribbon house are those like my friends who are scared and need a hand to hold. They need to know that there are people out there who will stand next to them.
- “They’ll still get deported, how does this help anyway?”
Imagine if you were about to get deported and you were about to lose the home you’ve had for years, be separated from friends, have to leave your kids or take them away from home. These are big, big things. And while a hand to hold and a cool glass of water is a tiny thing, it’s a thing. I wish I could do more, but every little thing can add up. So you’re right, this probably won’t help. An illegal detained by ICE will likely be deported. You likely won’t be able to stop it. BUT, you can be that tiny glimmer of kindness. That’s all it takes.
- “This sure sounds illegal.”
I really really really really want to urge anyone who has a blue ribbon not to do anything illegal. Do not allow someone to hide in your house or yard. Do not help someone escape. Do not be disrespectful to the police. You are there as a bridge, not as an illegal instigator.
Okay… so there you go! Go get a blue ribbon–any shade of blue– and tie it up. See what happens. Take this tiny step to be a tiny part of the change.