By Colin Knechtl
In the central sanctuary of the church, dimly lit in the hours before the congregation arrives for Sunday’s service, Tom Pelletier and Jason Straub tune their guitar and banjo. They’re preparing to perform songs in a service dedicated to the plights of the worker, past and present. When the bowl is passed for an invitation for offering, the donation will go not to the church but Jobs With Justice, a charity dedicated to helping the local immigrant community.
With reports of mass deportations, ICE raids, and a statement by Jeff Sessions on March 28th that the Federal Government may seek to eliminate grants to sanctuary cities, immigrants across the country have turned to others for help. On long Island, Unitarian Universalists, or UUs, have been there to answer the call.
“We have really just started organizing, in collaboration with other groups and congregations in the area, for “rapid response” to stress and crises in local immigrant communities,” Reverend Margie Allen, minister of UUFSB, said. Members form committees based on the issues they are most interested in, such as the Racial Concern Committee. These groups then invite organizations, such as Long Island Wins and the New Sanctuary Coalition, who directly interact with the immigrant community and lobby on their behalf.
New Sanctuaries also trains individuals to accompany immigrants to their court hearings, which several members of UUFSB take part in. “We have maybe 25-40 people who are in conversation about this in the congregation, half of whom or so show up for the informational meetings we have been hosting and co-sponsoring for leaders and members of immigrant communities in our area,” Allen said.
“I’ve only done it twice, but both times it was very clear that the judge recognized that there were all these people here in support of the immigrant,” Debbie Little said. Little believes that by attending the hearings of immigrants it shows judges that these individuals are supported by the community. “You are just there to be a presence. To bear witness and ensure that whoever is in court receives due process,” Little said.
However, as the number of raids and tension over the status of undocumented immigrants grows across the nation, so too do the fears of crackdowns on innocent and non-violent immigrants. “We’re now looking into how to respond to ICE raids,” Peggie Cohee, another member of the Racial Concern and Social Justice Committee, said. Last month hundreds of undocumented immigrants, many of them convicted criminals, were arrested in a nationwide series of raids by ICE.
Whatever happens, members of UUFSB will continue make good on their promises to help others and take action on the issues they see. “We work where we see work needs to be done,” Barbara Coley, Co-Chair of the Racial Concern Committee, said.