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An underground network is readying homes to hide immigrants


LOS ANGELES — A hammer pounds away in the living room of a middle class home. A sanding machine smoothes the grain of the wood floor in the dining room. But the home Pastor Ada Valiente showed off in Los Angeles, with its refurbished floors, is no ordinary home.

“It would be three families we host here,” Valiente says.

By “host,” she means provide refuge to people who may be sought by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE. The families staying here would be undocumented immigrants, fearing an ICE raid and possible deportation.

The purchase of this home is part of a network formed by Los Angeles religious leaders across faiths in the wake of President Donald Trump’s election. The intent is to shelter hundreds, possibly thousands of undocumented people in safe houses across Southern California.

The goal is to offer another sanctuary beyond religious buildings or schools, ones that require federal authorities to obtain warrants before entering the homes.

“That’s what we need to do as a community to keep families together,” Valiente says.

At another Los Angeles neighborhood miles away, a Jewish man shows off a sparsely decorated spare bedroom in his home. White sheets on the bed and the clean, adjacent full bathroom bear all the markers of an impending visit. The man, who asked not to be identified, pictures an undocumented woman and her children who may find refuge in his home someday.

The man says he’s never been in trouble before and has difficulty picturing that moment. But he’s well educated and understands the Fourth Amendment, which gives people the right to be secure in their homes, against unreasonable searches and seizures. He’s pictured the moment if ICE were to knock on his door.

“I definitely won’t let them in. That’s our legal right,” he says. “If they have a warrant, then they can come in. I can imagine that could be scary, but I feel the consequences of being passive in this moment is a little scary.”

The secret network

The religious leaders have a name for their network: the Rapid Response Team. The idea is not necessarily a new one, according to Reverend Zach Hoover, executive director of the interfaith community organization LA Voice.

Hoover, 37, wasn’t an active member during the Sanctuary Movement of the 1980s when US congregations across faiths resisted federal law and provided shelter for Central Americans fleeing violence in their home countries. Many congregations offered direct sanctuary, housing the undocumented immigrants, while others offered food and legal assistance.

The Rapid Response Team mirrors that structure, but goes one step further by also incorporating private homes, which offer a higher level of constitutional protection than houses of worship and an ability to make it harder for federal agents to find undocumented immigrants.

Under federal law, locations like churches and synagogues are technically public spaces that authorities could enter to conduct law enforcement actions. In 2011, the Department of Homeland Security instituted a policy limiting ICE action at religious locations. The policy ordered ICE to not enter “sensitive locations” like schools and institutions of worship.

Religious leaders in Los Angeles that spoke to CNN are skeptical whether that policy will stand under a President Trump presidency.

“There’s a difference between someone knocking on your door at the church who’s a federal agent and someone knocking on the door of your home, where, if they don’t have a warrant, they shouldn’t be entering,” Hoover says.

In the hours after President Trump’s initial executive order on immigration, calls between religious organizers picked up, and the network rapidly grew. Hoover estimates the underground network could hide 100 undocumented people today. Soon, he believes, they could hide thousands.

Hoover points out that’s a tiny fraction of the estimated one million undocumented immigrants in Los Angeles county. The network’s focus would be on families fearing separation and working to keep them together by “moving into a place so that ICE can’t find them,” Hoover says.

“So they can stay with their families. So they can be with their husbands,” Hoover says. “So they can avoid being detained and deported. Everybody talks about how families are the bedrock of our country. We believe that. Our congregations believe that.”

God’s law versus President Trump’s law

The strong current carrying the Rapid Response Team is the divergence of federal laws and the moral teachings of their religions. Hoover points to the Bible’s Matthew 25, which teaches the faithful should feed the hungry and fight for those in prison.

“The God that I worship sent a person to earth in the name of Jesus who did not always get along with the authorities,” Hoover explains. “I feel really convicted that I answer to God at the end of the day. That’s who I’m going to see when I die.”

Pastor Valiente echoes that sentiment, saying US immigration laws are broken and her church’s foundation are the families.

“We’re trusting in God, that he will help us and guide us to make the right decision, to have something better come out of this,” Valiente says.

Valiente says she’s praying President Trump’s heart will grow more compassionate to the plight of undocumented immigrants.

“He needs to make immigration laws that work for our families,” Valiente says.

The Jewish man offering his home as a safe house says he draws upon his religion’s history during WWII. As the Nazis rounded up Jews for detention and eventual extermination, Germans resisted their government, hiding their Jewish friends and neighbors in attics and basements.

“It’s hard as a Jew,” he says, “not to think about both all the people who did open their doors and their homes and take risks to safeguard Jews in [a] moment when they were really vulnerable, as well as those who didn’t. We’d like to be the people who did.”

He’s not the only one in his community feeling this way. Volunteers are flooding in to offer to help with the network at Temple Israel of Hollywood, according to Heidi Segal, the temple’s vice president of social action.

Three weeks ago, Temple Israel of Hollywood began a phone bank to call lawmakers. On the day CNN visited the temple, the room was filled with volunteers.

“Our immigration resistance effort,” Segal says as she shows off the room.

While the temple is not offering direct refuge at their temple for the undocumented, volunteers will escort immigrants for deportation interviews. They’re also offering free legal advice and support, as well as stocking sanctuary houses with food and clothing.

“We had a really strong response immediately and as people learn, the response is just growing,” Segal says.

An uneasy choice

The growing energy of the network doesn’t mean the members aren’t also apprehensive or fearful about the consequences. The people forming the network are not a crowd with criminal records. While there’s clarity in the sanctity of family and religious calling, there’s also concern about how the new Department of Justice will operate under Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

The Jewish man offering his home as a safe house says it’s “certainly scary.” While he’s not clear on the consequences of what he’s doing, or where he draws his limits, he is clear on one point.

“I think I know what the moral consequences are for me if we don’t act. This isn’t a moment to be standing idly by,” he says. “This is a moment to be engaged and involved and I think we’re seeing that across America where people are saying this isn’t okay. We’re not going to tolerate this and we’ll have our voices heard.”

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the conservative Center for Immigration Studies, says the law is clear about what these groups are intending to do.

“They’re committing a felony. Harboring is a felony,” Krikorian says. “Regular folks hiding people in a basement face jail time because it is ultimately a smuggling conspiracy.”

Hoover, a self-professed good Midwestern-raised boy, says he’s prepared for the federal consequences.

Valiente says religious leaders opposing immigration crackdowns believe one simple thing: “We’re doing what we think is right.”

Valiente says the last of the construction on her safe house is nearly complete. She’ll house someone, she fears, as soon as next month.

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Comment by Ivan Butcher II on February 26, 2017 at 7:02am

My concerns: Divide and Conquer!


I came to America with nothing, I toke advantage of all the opportunities afforded me, and I worked for everything that I have." This is the standard mantra you hear from the industrious migrant.

The reality, Black immigrants legal or illegal, you are viewed by Corporate America as "Good Negroes."

I use the term Negro, because Corporate America does not see Negroes as a threat, especially those on bond, work visas or waiting for their residence status, and those illegal immigrants working for them in the shadows.

When it came to the menial jobs: nannies, cooks, house cleaners, chauffeurs, mechanics, gardeners, etc, who would be the first to accept below minimum wages, or compromise their values for a job? When the fair labor laws were changed to benefit minorities, quotas for loans, grants, scholarships, etc., who do you think jumped the line? An Immigrant!

Those who worked for these corporate individuals would be offered opportunities, and the references needed when applying to anything in Corporate America.

My Reality: The System is trumped up against Us as a People, this is not an excuse. 

I went to Catholic school with the Irish and the Italians, in NYC. The Irish were the police, capitalizing on the Italian crime syndicate of extortion, and the Jewish controlled the courts profiting on the Blacks and Hispanics incarceration for most times trumped up cases. 

The Jewish were also the slum landlords and merchants, exploiting and taking full advantage of the plight of the Black communities to enrich their own.

After saying all of this, the issue is very little has changed since then and now.

The finger pointing, the fact that the majority of White Americans rarely live in or near Black communities, the criminals they face are their own, and the White Collar criminals which are also themselves, the Politicians and the Corporate Lobbyist, etc., yet the Black Americans are the blight on the State of the Union.

Since there is no limitation on murder cases and other civil liberties crimes, now with documented photos and business records that can identify the victims and their murderers / violators, this is where the historians and researchers, who love to correct and lecture, could be devoting their efforts in researching out and identifying those criminals. Their benefactors and heirs should have to pay retribution and restitution for their crimes.

Every other ethnic group, who migrated to the USA, after slavery were given opportunities and privileges over Blacks in America. For one, they didn't hold past resentment for enslavement, so they were considered to less of a threat, and these groups were willing to accept whatever they were offered.

This is much like the immigration issue with Mexican workers. In union terms, those other ethnic groups would be considered "Scabs". 

This is not to ignore how other African descendant groups, from the Motherland and the Caribbean, take full advantage of this condition, I can speak to that fact having deep roots in the Caribbean. 

On accepting helpless refugees, into the country, is much different from that of an immigration issue.

Point,  each of these groups, in a lot of cases were and are being supported by their governments with subsidies aiding in their sustainability, then each one brings one or the whole family, and then their village.  Not only are most of these other ethnic groups, many family members, most of them are of the  same Religious beliefs, which further ties them together, eventually impacting our traditions to fit their values. Instead of assimilating, they then use our own laws to suit themselves. 

Look at what happens after an international disaster, these refugees are brought to the USA, and tax payers restore their lives. We have tax and insurance paying citizens, still after Katrina, Sandy, etc., are still waiting for Government intervention in their recovery.

If you consider how the Black race is portrayed in Corporate Media around the World, it is no wonder why we as a people, especially those of us speaking different languages, do not identify with each other, The Curse of Babel.

Our so called Black Elitist need to stop trying to Fitting-In, "What they don't realize is that, They are serious, when They say that no matter which ethnic group referring, we all look alike  to THEM?" ( The Horrid Elitist Minority)

We African / Americans are a family and it is time that we begin working toward our own family's interests. The idea that, "Charity begins at home" is not separatism nor selfishness. The neglecting of ourselves and relying on others to provide for us nurtures that negative perception other families have of our community.

I believe it is time for White America to realize we are a Western Hemisphere Tribe, made up of many families, separated by oceans, cultures, customs and religions. 

To a lot of the rest of The World, We All are the Ugly Americans!

Comment by mr1stroke on February 24, 2017 at 11:34pm
El-Bull negros are as retarded as they come.many understand the real definition of a negro it's a substitute for the word n***** the downfall people the destroyer of the race and black culture they make all excuses what they can't fight their own fight but the are out there every day they like to fit in they need a hug those negros don't even get involve with their own kids I am so glad I git away from.the negro environment I do like rich white people do I'm either doing business with them or I drive by them I have no time to hang with negros I stick with the few black folks I know outside my family
Comment by El-Bull on February 24, 2017 at 9:01pm

mr1stroke You're so right. It's not our fight but many foolish Black people will fight for those people who hate us with a passion as well as bring with them their own brand of racism directed at us. And they'll be reaching out to us for help while at the same time never supporting us in any of our causes.Not my battle as we are still fighting our own unfinished battles and I dare any of them to call this a civil right issue in order to usurp us

Comment by mr1stroke on February 24, 2017 at 12:50pm

thats the new underground rail road, all those years those people are here illegally was bashing this country sometimes they talk so bad about America you would think they come from heaven, those same people have no respect they think they are better and can disrespect those of us who are from here. well more than a year a go before Trump was in the running we use to have discussion on here i told you people that day would come, sometimes you have to be forced to appreciate what is good to you, do you actually think every one is going to hand over this beautiful country to those who dont care, i may have a lot of problems in this American soil but immigrant issues are not my issues i dont know any immigrants in my family, until every one stand up and fight for the black community, i will not feel sorry for any one, i cant protest for no one for it is not my fight.

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