by Carolyn Bick
Whenever he has a spare moment, Gerardo Guzman travels to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement field office in Tukwila, Washington, to fight for his community.
Guzman is the pastor at El Dios Viviente United Methodist Church in Highland Park, a predominantly Hispanic congregation that worships just a breath away from the government agency’s field office. Some of Guzman’s congregation are undocumented. Too many times, he said, he has seen families in his community torn apart by deportation.
“Sometimes, the mother has to go back, the father has to stay here, and the children, they ask, ‘Where is my mom? Where is my father? When are they going to come back?’” Guzman said.
But that afternoon, Guzman wasn’t alone. He was one of about 65 people, including parents and children, who turned out to protest deportation at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) field office on March 26. The day was deemed Turning Tables Monday, in reference to a Biblical story about Jesus physically turning over the tables of moneylenders and merchants who had set up shop in a temple to profit off worshippers visiting the temple.
The event was locally organized by the Valley & Mountain Church in Hillman City, and was one of several protests happening throughout the country between Palm Sunday and Good Friday, during the Christian Holy Week.
DeAnza Spaulding of Valley & Mountain Church took charge of organizing the protest this year, though it wasn’t her first Turning Tables protest. She said that though the protest took place at the office, it was “as much a callout to ICE, the organization as a whole, across the nation, and to [the Trump Administration] for the policies and practices of separating families, of targeting people in their communities, of unjustly detaining people and then … sending them to the detention center in Tacoma.”
Spaulding and her fellow protesters aren’t just reacting to the current debates surrounding immigration, either. According to data released by the federal government in December 2017, since President Donald Trump took office and signed an executive order stating the country’s deportation priorities, deportation arrests have sharply increased. Because the order eliminates exemptions for certain immigrants, ICE agents have more latitude and may act with less discretion when making arrests.
But it isn’t just undocumented immigrants who have become targets. Immigrants in the United States under temporary protected status (TPS) are also at risk. Protest attendee Lucia Flugencio, an airport worker who works with hospitality industry union Unite Here Local 8, spoke of Martha, a local woman from El Salvador who has been here under TPS since 1998.
Though she has worked for the last 18 years as a cleaning woman in an upscale hotel, Flugencio said Martha is facing deportation at the end of 2019, thanks to the administration’s decision to let that status lapse for all TPS immigrants. And because she is barred from citizenship, thanks to the limitations of TPS, Martha may have to return to El Salvador, where she faces the real threat of death: she originally fled El Salvador, because she and her family were the targets of extortive gang violence.
“Now, she owns a home. All her children are grown up, and they are working, and she has grandchildren now, and she babysits them on a regular basis,” Flugencio said. “But … in November 2019, she loses her legal right to be here, and has to decide whether to be undocumented to keep what she has worked so hard for, or to give it all up, and return to a country where she will be the target of violence again, as a punishment for leaving.”