CLUE Statement on Attempted Coup

What we saw unfold in the U.S. Capitol yesterday was an attack on our country, our people, and our democratic process, incited by a president who refuses to accept the results of one of the most secure elections in our country’s history. 

Make no mistake: this was an act of terrorism. An angry mob threatened our government, stated that they wanted to kill elected officials, and stormed the Capitol building. Many stood back, acting with complicity. 

CLUE condemns violence and threats in all their forms, and calls on local, state, and federal officials to do the same. 

While the scenes coming from Washington yesterday were scary and unnerving, we believe that there are reasons to be hopeful and to trust that our democratic structures can continue to withstand these assaults on our democracy. The democratic process cannot be stopped by violent terrorists.

The next 14 days are crucial, and they may be fraught with more violence and terrorist attacks. CLUE will continue to monitor the situation on the ground, both here in Southern California and across the country. We will be reaching out soon to invite you to an online event where we can be in community with one another.

In the meantime, stay safe and stay hopeful. And know that we are not alone. Together we will prevail. Our collective is strong, with good hearts that will allow us to do the healing work that is ahead. 

Churches shut down by coronavirus offer refuge to immigrants released from detention

Before Tsegai fled Eritrea and made the months-long journey to the United States to seek asylum, his image of this country was colored by what he’d seen on TV.

America, he thought, was the kind of place where people could be welcomed in with nothing and manage to turn their lives around.

But when the 30-year-old arrived last year on Christmas Day, officials cuffed his wrists and ankles and led him to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility, where he spent eight months detained. Tsegai asked The Times to identify him only by his first name out of fear of persecution.

“I didn’t expect it, so it was a very terrifying experience,” he said through an interpreter.

A nonprofit paid Tsegai’s $25,000 bond and on Sept. 8, he was released from the Adelanto ICE Processing Facility and moved into an Episcopal church two hours east of Los Angeles.

“Now that I am out of the ICE facility, I can see the true America that I had envisioned,” he said. “There’s so much kindness, there’s so much good outside of the ICE facility.”

Tsegai is one of a growing number of immigrants across the country finding temporary refuge in houses of worship rendered empty by the coronavirus pandemic, after being released from detention facilities.

It’s the latest iteration of the sanctuary movement, which began in the 1980s as U.S. church leaders responded to the plight of Central Americans seeking political asylum during the civil wars that wracked the region.

With President Trump’s election and subsequent hardline enforcement of illegal immigration, congregations again have mobilized to shield those they felt deserved to stay. ICE has a long-standing policy of generally avoiding enforcement activities at “sensitive locations” including churches.

The Trump administration has said that, if reelected, he would double down on immigration restrictions, limiting asylum grants, punishing sanctuary cities and expanding the so-called travel ban. Alternatively, former Vice President Joe Biden has vowed to dismantle Trump’s sweeping changes.

The most recent twist varies from traditional political sanctuary, in which some people remain on church property for months or years to avoid arrest by ICE. The COVID-19 pandemic has added urgency to offering shelter to immigrants.

More than 7,000 detainees have tested positive for the coronavirus across the country, according to ICE, and eight have died of COVID-19. With outbreaks infecting hundreds at some facilities, including 242 at Adelanto, immigrant advocates have mobilized to seek the release of as many as possible.

In response to federal lawsuits in California, judges have compelled the release of hundreds of immigrants at the state’s five ICE facilities to permit space for social distancing, quarantine and isolation. In one scathing order last month, U.S. District Judge Terry Hatter accused federal officials of “straight up dishonesty” while directing ICE to reduce the population at Adelanto by more than one-third.

Other detainees have been released on bond pending the outcome of their cases in immigration court.

California isn’t the only place where churches have stepped up. Congregations in states such as Texas, and the region including Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., are sheltering immigrants released from detention, said Myrna Orozco at Church World Service, which works with and tracks the sanctuary movement.

“The sanctuary movement definitely paved the way for congregations to be creative in how they offer welcome to folks,” Orozco said. With detention centers still flaring up as COVID-19 hotspots, she said, “hopefully this will continue to increase as people are released.”

Before they can be released from detention, immigrants must provide the address of a legal sponsor to federal officials. For many, it’s the address of a relative or friend. But some, like Tsegai, arrive knowing no one.

In an organized resistance to Trump’s policies, hundreds of people had once pledged to open their homes to immigrants being released from detention centers. But the pandemic has forced many families to tighten their social circles, cutting off a key source of transitional housing.

That leaves congregations such as Heritage United Methodist Church in South Los Angeles to fill the gap. Lead pastor the Rev. Ivan Sevillano said he understands intimately the plight of immigrants: He lived for 10 years without legal status after overstaying his visa from Peru.

Heritage, a historically Black church dating to the 1880s, has long served the surrounding homeless community, offering people Sunday breakfast, showers and the ability to park in the church lot. Its 15-member leadership board voted last summer to begin taking in immigrants released from detention centers.

“Though we don’t open for services, always throughout the week we are doing something for someone,” Sevillano said. “Many of us Christians preach but don’t act. The important thing is also to act because there are people out there that need help.”

Celia Ortiz, left, and her granddaughter Jael Serrano-Altamirano help clean a kitchen at Heritage United Methodist Church.
Volunteers Celia Ortiz, left, and her granddaughter Jael Serrano-Altamirano help clean a kitchen at Heritage United Methodist Church in South Los Angeles in preparation for arriving migrants. 
(Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

On a sunny Thursday afternoon in the Heritage parking lot, Guillermo Torres, immigration program director at the nonprofit Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, led three women to his Subaru Outback. From the trunk, they pulled brooms, a mop and buckets with Pine Sol, bleach and Windex.

They set to work converting the church’s dusty basement into a home for released detainees. The space, which includes a large community room with a piano and foosball table, an industrial kitchen and a classroom, hadn’t been utilized in years.

A leak in the kitchen sink would need fixing and some of the countertop tiles were cracked and loose, but the microwave and blender worked and the cupboards were stocked with cookware, dishes and utensils. The classroom, which was piled with old chair desks, couches and sheet music, would soon be transformed into a bedroom with five beds and soft yellow walls.

Members of Nikkei Progressives, a Japanese American community organization, dropped off boxes of shirts, shoes and backpacks stuffed with toiletries.

Torres led them on a tour of the church and unfinished living space. CLUE has coordinated with six churches in the greater L.A. area willing to take in immigrants, he said. Others have offered help with donations, food and logistics.

Torres said the effort shows there are more humane alternatives to detention. It also paints faith communities in a positive light, he said, particularly during a time when some have been shown to dehumanize immigrants and other vulnerable populations.

“This shows the true meaning of religion,” he said. “This gives a lifeline to people that otherwise would not have a lifeline.”

With no foreseeable end to COVID-19, Torres expects more detainees to need housing as they are released from detention.

George Iheanacho, an asylum seeker from Nigeria, at a Methodist church two hours east of Los Angeles.
George Iheanacho, an asylum seeker from Nigeria, prepares to mop the kitchen floor at the Methodist church where he has been been staying two hours east of Los Angeles. Shuttered by the coronavirus pandemic, some churches are taking in immigrants released from detention. Iheanacho was arrested by ICE in 2019 after overstaying his tourist visa. 
(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

Back at the Episcopal church in San Bernardino County, Tsegai starts his mornings with a prayer. A Christian and an ethnic minority in Eritrea, he said he was falsely accused of criticizing the government. After surviving four years in prison labor camp, he escaped, leaving his mother and six children behind.

A different type of danger befell him in ICE custody. At the Adelanto facility, Tsegai and the other detaintsees stayed glued to the TV, watching updates about the spread of COVID-19.

“I didn’t think I’d get out of there alive,” he said.

Tsegai’s days are significantly quieter than before. He goes on long walks around the neighborhood. He cooks meals for himself — cubed beef with berbere seasoning or in a spicy tomato sauce. He spends time talking to his children, who call frequently to ask when he’s coming back.

He can’t give them an answer. But for now, at least, he is savoring the new sense of freedom and safety, relishing the simplest pleasures. “I have a room of my own. I have plenty of food. I can move around.”

Interpreter Zion Yohannes contributed to this report.

‘Your fight is my fight’: Latino clergy and faith leaders rally behind Black Lives Matter


LOS ANGELES (RNS) — To pastor Rosa Cándida Ramírez, it’s evident the same institutional systems that dehumanize immigrants perpetuate the mistreatment of Black Americans.

“We cannot say that immigrant lives matter, if we can’t say that Black Lives Matter,” said Ramírez, 31, who helps lead the largely Latina and immigrant La Fuente Ministries in Pasadena, California.

At La Fuente Ministries, it’s not uncommon for church members to speak about their plight and rights as immigrants. Now, Ramírez said, they’re exploring what it means to be a congregation that also talks about microaggressions, colorism and the struggles of the Black community.

La Fuente bills itself as an intergenerational, intercultural and bilingual congregation, and to Ramírez, the church cannot embody all those things and not say anything right now in support of Black Lives Matter.

Days after nationwide protests erupted condemning the police killing of George Floyd, La Fuente issued a pastoral statement affirming that Black Lives Matter and denouncing what La Fuente referred to as the “public lynching” of Floyd and the “militarization of police forces in cities.” 

The statement referred to Jesus of Nazareth as a dark-skinned Palestinian Jew and announced that it’s time for the Latina church to join the African American struggle.

“We cannot remain silent because we are shaped by Jesus’ good news of liberation, dignity, compassion and justice!” the statement read. “Anything that opposes the gospel realities must be denounced as powers of death.”

Latinos, many from younger generations, have been among the different ethnic groups marching in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement in protests and demonstrations across the nation. They’ve held signs declaring “Black-Brown Unity” and “Brown People for Black Liberation. “Tu lucha es mi lucha” (your fight is my fight) has been a rallying cry.

And for a number of Latino clergy and people of faith, it’s imperative this message of unity be present in their churches.

Guillermo Torres, with the Los Angeles-based Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice network, said it’s problematic if pastors aren’t addressing the inequalities youth are confronting on a day-to-day basis.

“When they’re not hearing that in the sermons, they’re feeling that disconnection and that’s kind of turning them away from traditional religion,” he said, adding that it doesn’t matter whether it’s a Catholic, evangelical or Protestant church. 

While the United States is steadily becoming less Christian, Latinos are still more likely to describe themselves as Christians and to attend religious services than white Americans.

A recent Pew Research Center study found that among Latinos, 51% say they attend church more than once a month, compared with 42% of white Americans.

To read the whole story on Religion News Service, click here.

Immigrant Detainees Accuse Guards of Chemical Attacks

On the evening of Friday, June 12, immigrants at the Adelanto Detention Center, located in the high desert of California’s San Bernardino County, refused to go into their cells. Anger, frustration and fear had been building among detainees for weeks as they watched the coronavirus spread across the country and worried about an outbreak in a facility where social distancing was virtually impossible. Then came the wave of protests in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, which also brought activists to the entrance of Adelanto. On one occasion, protesters broke windows of the facility, damaged numerous vehicles and injured an employee with a rock.

In response to the protests, according to multiple detainees, their few privileges were curtailed. Access to phones were limited. Tablets were taken away, which had allowed them to listen to music and make video calls. Routine attendance counts by guards from the GEO Group, the for-profit company that runs Adelanto, turned into “emergency counts” that forced detainees to be locked in their cells for days at a time, with only a 30-minute opportunity to take a shower or make a quick call.

Mohammed Alsayed Ali Abdelsalam, a 32-year-old from Egypt, was hit in the head with a projectile and lost consciousness.

To read the full story on Capital and Main, including quotes from CLUE's Immigration Program Director, Guillermo Torres, click here.


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