Op-Ed | If only they’d come the right way …

Editor’s Note: Immigrants and refugee seekers have different rights. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, everyone has a right to seek asylum from persecution and violence. The UN states that “some mass displacements may be preventable, none are voluntary.”

No one wants to be a refugee. Everyone wants to “come the right way,” but many are fleeing for their lives. An estimated 80 percent of refugees worldwide are women and children fleeing ecological disasters, poverty and violence.

According to the International Association for Refugees, there are now 68.5 million forcibly displaced people worldwide. That’s the highest number ever.

Currently, more than 500 jurisdictions in the United States have adopted sanctuary status. That has resulted in no overall increase in crime and may lower crime because people do not fear calling police. Sanctuary cities have stronger economies than non-sanctuary cities.

In the February 2017 edition, Community Word published an open letter to the mayor and city council: “Peoria should become a sanctuary city


A common refrain among the anti-immigrant crowd is “Well, if only they’d come the right way, they wouldn’t have these problems,” referring to the threat of deportation/removal by Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE). As if this absolves the Federal government of kidnapping children from their parents.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has stated immigrants, documented or not, will be detained for deportation on the mere suspicion of a crime. Not convicted–not innocent until proven guilty; merely suspected of a crime. Nor has ICE wasted any time enforcing such a policy.

In Los Angeles, Jose Luis Garcia, a law-abiding legal permanent resident who’s lived for 50 years in America legally was detained by ICE for deportation. The reasoning: 20 years ago he was involved in a domestic incident. Apparently, it was irrelevant that he had served his sentence and had not committed any crimes since.

In Cincinnati, a 22-year old mother of two who has legal status, was detained when she went to an ICE facility to bail out an inmate. In February, seven people were detained when they went to federal buildings for the express purpose of fixing their status; they were there trying to “come the right way.”

One of the most common objections to a welcoming ordinance is that it promotes undocumented immigration–it’s unfair to legal immigrants. This was an objection of Councilwoman Beth Akeson. She knows several immigrants who “came the right way,” they work for her, and over time she’s built a good working relationship with them, and she said she pays them very well.

They believe it’s unfair to help the undocumented when they had to do it “right,” and for this reason the councilwoman opposes an ordinance. But with the recent actions by this administration, what would happen if these friends of Councilwoman Akeson were working at her house and ICE bursts through her gates with the intention of arresting someone who had recently been arrested for a petty offense – disorderly conduct – not convicted, just arrested. Would the councilwoman run out of her house, imploring ICE to halt their activities because her friend has legal status, he has due process rights that should not be infringed upon? And if they detained this friend of hers anyway, would the councilwoman rush to their aid procuring them an attorney to help them get bail while they await their court date in order to continue working? Certainly, even the councilwoman would view this as an injustice perpetrated by an overbearing government?

But if they’d only come the right way.

On flag day, our resident servant-leader, Councilman Zach Oyler (who also opposes a Welcoming Ordinance), displayed a Gadsden Flag at City Council – the “Don’t Tread On Me” flag popular among Tea Party conservatives. This classic image of Americana dates back to the War for Independence and symbolizes the people’s struggle against tyrannical government that doesn’t respect civil rights like due process of law, right to an attorney, freedom of expression and freedom of religion. Since 2012, nearly 2,000 American citizens – not undocumented, not legal-permanent residents – were detained by ICE, some for up to three years. Three years … that’s a lot of years. If that is not the definition of a government “treading,” I don’t know what is. Why would anyone–citizen or immigrant–trust going to the police if a simple mistake involving their name being recorded in a database could lead to being unjustly detained in blatant violations of their rights to due process? Aren’t relationships between the community and police strained enough already? Why would any elected official who believes in loving thy neighbor and inalienable god-given civil rights want their police affiliated with a big government agency committing such unlawful acts?

But if only they’d come the right way.

I’m sorry to tell you, but the current administration doesn’t care about the right way. The Trump administration is completely ignorant of the multiple rights afforded internationally to all human beings: right to migration, right to non-refoulment (the returning of a person to a country where they face persecution), right to humane treatment, right to due process.

The president of the ACLU of Peoria, Jimena Lopez, recently stated, “We have trapped … migrants between a foreign policy that drives them from home and a domestic policy that drives them back.”

After nearly three weeks shackled in a prison jumpsuit, Jose Luis Garcia was returned to his family. Garcia’s immigration attorney, Mackenzie Mackins, noted that his client was only released because of an outpouring of community support. “I will say that this is rare to happen, as far as completing the case on the first court date at the initial hearing. It’s extraordinary, it does not happen.”

In an interview, Garcia himself stated, “If I had been deported, I would have wanted to die.”

And, it is in response to these stories that a Welcoming Ordinance for Peoria is so imperative. Peoria has an opportunity to be a site of resistance against the worst refugee crisis in the world’s history and against the xenophobic atrocities being committed by the U.S. federal government.

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