From Brunswick Times Record, January 31, 2018
Last year, my heart broke when I read about the thousands of Central American children making the dangerous trip from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras through Mexico and crossing the border into our country in a desperate attempt to flee the violence in their countries. I knew that U.S. policies had played a major role in creating the violent conditions in those countries, and I felt that the least our community could do was to help the victims of this violence by offering them sanctuary.
A few of us formed the Sanctuary Brunswick group, and produced a brochure explaining that sanctuary can be broadly defined as refuge, haven, harbor, port in a storm, oasis, shelter, or retreat. We said that every day’s news brings reports of attacks on Muslims and deportations of Latinos. One way that all of us can resist the rising tide of hostility and anger in the United States is by declaring our town a place of sanctuary for people fleeing war and crime and poverty in their own countries. Furthermore we said, we do not accept migrants simply out of sympathy or a sense of goodwill, but because we acknowledge their contribution to our economy and our culture.
We concluded with these words: “Sanctuary says: We will not allow their lives to be filled with fear. It is our duty to protect our brothers and sisters. If history has taught us anything, it is that we must never be silent when members of our communities are threatened. A government that threatens any of us is a danger to all of us.”
At a very well attended community conversation that we organized in September, it was clear that many people in this area are ready and willing to welcome newcomers to Brunswick.
It seems to me that there is even more reason to declare Brunswick a sanctuary town today, not only for the sake of our neighbors in Central America and around the world, but for our own sakes as moral, caring people. Although we would very much like to ask the town council to declare Brunswick a sanctuary town, we recognize the difficulties of doing so in this political climate. Instead, we are asking the council to accept a welcoming resolution, which states that Brunswick welcomes immigrants and supports their paths toward citizenship.
President Trump recently announced that the temporary protective status granted 200,000 Salvadorans after hurricanes devastated their country in 2001 is being revoked. This was a terrible blow to people who’ve lived here most of their lives, who’ve found work here, married and had children here, bought houses, and built communities here. It was also a terrible blow to us, their neighbors, who think of America as a land that welcomes the “tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
We know what the consequences of deportation are for the Salvadorans. They will lose their jobs and their homes. Their families in El Salvador will lose the remittance payments that keep them afloat. Their children, who were born here, will face two awful choices: lose their parents if they remain in the U.S., or accompany their parents to El Salvador where gangs will target them for membership — dangerous if they agree; equally dangerous if they refuse. The entrance of 200,000 people into the poverty-stricken country will add to the poverty, violence and crime in a country that already sees 14 killings a day. The violent crime associated with the drug trade deters investment, and suffocates economic growth and job creation so that more people will be forced to flee to the United States.
No immigrant can feel safe given President Trump’s immigration policy. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve lived here, whether you have families or ties to the community; whether you face repression and violence in your country of origin. It’s a policy of cruelty and terror: increased ICE raids; a crackdown by border control forces; increased use of detention facilities where brutal conditions prevail; more severe legal penalties. New detention facilities are being planned for Chicago, Detroit, St. Paul and Salt Lake City.
And what about the consequences for us Americans? What is it doing to us as human beings to stand by and watch our fellow human beings treated so cruelly, so heartlessly? Have we persuaded ourselves that the 200,000 Salvadorans or the 59,000 Haitians or the 5,000 Nicaraguans or the 1,000 Sudanese, all of whom are slated to lose their protective status, are less than us?
When you hear of the date for the Council appearance, we hope you will join us in support of kindness and humaneness by speaking up or simply by being there. You can reach us through sanctuarybrunswick.com.
Selma Sternlieb lives in Brunswick. She is a member of PeaceWorks.