If you think the ongoing immigration and refugee crisis impacts only those living near the U.S./Mexico border, think again: Immigration advocates say Ohio is one of the worst states in the country in which to be an immigrant or refugee. An estimated 107,000 undocumented immigrants live in Ohio, and statistics show that our state has the third highest rate of immigration arrests in the country – behind only Pennsylvania and Michigan.
In mid-July, President Trump ordered ICE raids to detain and ultimately deport undocumented immigrants, targeting new immigrants as well as those who have been in the country for years. In Ohio, more than 90 percent of those deported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are of Hispanic descent – and that includes individuals whose spouses and children are U.S. citizens, who work and live in our communities, and who have long called Ohio home.
Though July’s announced raids didn’t take place on as large a scale as initially anticipated, they are expected to continue and even escalate in the foreseeable future. Here’s how you can support local immigrants and families impacted by the current political climate.
1. Stay informed on a national level.
The best way to get involved is first to become – and stay – educated. Sign up for emails or social media alerts from organizations like United We Dream and the American Civil Liberties Union, which are leading the way in the national fight for immigration justice. The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), which has an active Cleveland chapter, also shares information to help educate you on immigration-related topics and legislation.
2. Lobby your elected officials.
Writing to your members of Congress is surprisingly simple – and yes, your messages will be read by Congressional staff! Say that you’re a constituent who is concerned about how immigrants are being treated in our country and in our state and that you hope they will support efforts to bring about a more just and humane immigration system.
Not sure who to write to? Ohio’s senators are Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat (contact him online) and Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican (contact him online). To identify your Congressman or Congresswoman, do a quick search at house.gov, the official website of the House of Representatives; you can then click through to his or her website, where you can easily send an email or make a phone call.
3. Volunteer with a local organization.
Get involved with an Ohio organization that supports immigrants here at home. Hola Ohio is a Painesville-based nonprofit organization with a special focus on the state’s farm workers and agricultural communities; they’ve helped reunite detained workers with their families and guided dozens of immigrants seeking legal status. Avanza Together, based in Columbus, exists solely to “assist and empower immigrants who are at risk of deportation.”
4. Lend your legal skills.
The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland assists immigrants, refugees, asylees, and U.S. citizens with immigrant family members deal with issues such as visa processing, deportation, naturalization, and citizenship – and they’re looking for help. If you’re an attorney or law student who wants to lend your legal services to their work, check out their list of upcoming informational clinics and apply for more information about volunteering.
5. Join a faith-based effort.
Many faith communities are actively involved in immigrant justice work on both the congregational (local) and denominational (national) levels. Check with your church, synagogue, mosque, or temple, or seek out a house of worship near you that’s participating in this vital work from a faith-based perspective. The InterReligious Task Force on Central America also provides information about interfaith vigils and community events on issues of immigration and beyond.
6. Know what to do during a raid.
Do you know what to do if you find yourself witnessing an ICE raid? While you may not be at risk of detention or deportation yourself, knowing what to do during a raid can help support your immigrant neighbors in times of need.
The ACLU shares a “Know Your Rights” list for immigrants, and United We Dream shares a list of five tips for immigrants approached by ICE, all of which are helpful for allies to know, as well. See, too, tips for those who witness ICE raids and want to provide support by recording the interactions from a safe distance. While you should never physically interfere with a raid, it is legal, advisable, and helpful to take photos, videos, and notes from a distance, as well as to write down ICE officers’ badge numbers.
7. Welcome local immigrants.
Even documented immigrants may feel particularly stressed during this time of increased xenophobia and political upheaval – and immigrating to a new country is stressful enough. We may not be able to stop the ICE raids, but we can show our immigrant neighbors that we welcome, care for, and support them. Volunteer with USCRI-Cleveland to serve on a welcoming committee, mentor a new family, provide administrative support, set up new homes, and more.
8. Give generously.
Immigration rights organizations depend on financial contributions to stay afloat and to continue their vital work. Any of the organizations listed here– as well as many others engaged in the vital work of immigration and refugee justice, such as the Immigration Defense Budget of Jobs with Justice Cleveland–would be happy to accept your donation in support of their work, especially during this critical time.
A recent statement from the InterReligious Task Force on Central America says it best: “We call for a
humane and welcoming immigration policy: one that recognizes migrants as human beings—not as criminals but as refugees and asylum seekers escaping their homelands that are torn by violence, poverty, and exploitation.”
How will you act to make this compassionate vision a reality?