I spoke with Ingrid Latorre soon after she was granted a temporary stay of deportation after being taken in Sanctuary by the Mountain View Friends Meeting in Denver. Jenn Piper, AFSC’s Interfaith Immigrant Organizer joined us to translate and added her perspective as well. — Lucy Duncan
Lucy Duncan: Ingrid, thank you very much, it’s wonderful to meet you. It’s been very inspiring to watch your journey and your courage in the face of your struggles and in the last few weeks.
I know that you have told this story a number of times, but just for the purpose of this interview and considering the situation now, Ingrid, could you please tell the story briefly of what led you to enter Sanctuary at Mountain View Friends Meeting?
Ingrid Latorre: Really I took Sanctuary because all of the other options were being denied to me by Immigration. I took Sanctuary in order to continue fighting for justice in my case. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had what they call a voluntary departure, and then I asked for a stay in order to try and reopen my criminal case where I had received poor legal advice, and immigration denied that stay, twice, and the Quakers had been accompanying me during the two times they denied my stay and they offered me Sanctuary and that was a chance to keep fighting my legal case and to try and get justice. It was also the only way to keep my family together, to keep my two boys and my partner and I together in the United States while I fight my case.
And what was the impact on you and your family, of being in sanctuary? And how did the community care for you?
Latorre: It was an experience that was both beautiful and sad. It was sad because my partner and my oldest son stayed in our family home and myself and my youngest son came to live in Sanctuary and so we were somewhat separated by the experience. But it was also beautiful because I felt very protected and safe in Sanctuary. Every day, people came to visit us, and play with my younger son and talk with me, and stay the night in case immigration should come to the church. I felt very supported by the community.
Ingrid, you received a temporary stay of removal until August. I know Arturo was picked up, but then received a stay, and also Jeanette has received a stay. It seems as though … and why do you think that ICE is willing to grant that for each of you? What do you think were the circumstances that made it possible for that to happen?
Latorre: So the three cases are very different and very distinct. In my case, I’m really pursuing a legal strategy that would allow me to reopen my original case and change the plea, which would then allow me to reopen my immigration case. In the case of Jeanette and Arturo, because Arturo doesn’t have any convictions, and Jeanette’s are misdemeanors, Senator Bennett introduced a private bill for each of them, they were part of the last group of people who can access a stay through a private bill. I was hoping to be included and to have a private bill as well in my case, but that didn’t happen, and I can’t be upset or jealous about that. I feel very grateful to have the two months that I do have, to be able to attend my court on July 7th, and I hope that I’ll win my case that day. If I win my case that day, if I’m able to reopen my criminal case, then I can continue with more time here to reopen my immigration case. But each case is very distinct and I don’t know if every person who enters sanctuary will end up with a stay of deportation or not.
Are there elements of the way that’s it’s very public that are supportive, do you think the media prominence has an influence on what happens?
Latorre: It can go either way, the press attention in your case, it can help you or hurt you. And each case is very different. In the case of Jeanette, she’s a long — term activist who’s very comfortable with the media and being very assertive in her case. In my case, both because of who I am, my own personality, and the sensitivity of my case, with me having to go to court, and my lack of experience before Sanctuary with the media, it was kind of a quieter approach. We did some media work, but it was much more sporadic and had a softer tone to it. The press is helpful with organizing the immigrant and the faith communities, they become engaged because of what they see on the news or they become more involved in supporting our cases and supporting changes.
So last week, Haris was deported. I know a little about the story, and the arrest and detention of undocumented people has risen 38% since Trump became President. What do you think is needed to interrupt these deportations? Piper was talking earlier about the regression from all of the policy wins in the Obama administration. What do you think it’s going to take to shift things now?
Latorre: What we really need is the Congress people and the Senators to do their job and do the hard work of figuring out an amnesty and immigration reform program that would allow all people who are undocumented in the United States, all 11 million, to get on a path to citizenship, but for that to happen, we really need better unity and more people within the country pushing for that, and being united between all the immigrant communities and all the communities that were born here in the U.S. to work together and to push for that, because otherwise it’s not happening. It’s not looking very hopeful at this moment with the Congress that we have and the amount of pressure that we have from communities is not enough yet to get there.
Jennifer Piper: I think it’s also going to require the immigrant community to get organized at the neighborhood level in defense communities and be super ready to push hard and to interrupt what’s happening in their neighborhoods, supported by really strong groups of allies who are ready to do that work and to call for reform for all 11 million and not be dividing and labeling the immigrant community into deserving and undeserving, but to really push for a more just system. And I think the other thing is going to require support for general labor strikes by immigrants and their allies, to cause the sort of moral and economic crisis that’s needed for change, if we’re going to get there in the short term and not in another 20 years, it’s going to require resistance across all facets of our society.
Thank you, that’s very powerful. It’s interesting, because it seems like we’re at a very precarious moment with the shifts in the administration and the massive criminalization of immigrants. It’s also reminiscent of the other times in history, like when the Fugitive Slave Act was passed, there was a sense that free Blacks at the time felt a little bit more safe and a little bit more protected, but when the Fugitive Slave Act happened, there was mass criminalization and they weren’t safe anywhere, and so it radicalized the movement, it radicalized the white progressive supporters, and they stopped thinking of gradual change and they started fighting for immediate emancipation and the abolition of slavery. I wonder about Trump, there’s this other piece where he’s vastly exposing the system, which some people didn’t even notice, or ignored under Obama, even though he was deporting so many people. So the question is, what are your thoughts about the possibilities for deeper change? What you’re talking about in terms of much more massive resistance is one of them, but what is your sense of the possibilities for deeper change in the migrant rights movement at this time?
Latorre: I think it’s time for us to act, and to live without fear. We need to be really be in the streets doing strikes, hunger strikes and labor strikes and lifting up our voices. I don’t think that hiding will save us. We have to speak out and we have to get a change, not only in these policies, but also in this administration. We have to see this President go, he’s someone who’s just not ethical.
What are your hopes? I hear about expanding the kinds of activism that is happening with economic strikes and hunger strikes and massive resistance, but if there’s more a vision for an expanded Sanctuary movement, what would it look like? And not only for the migrant community, but beyond that, and what might it accomplish for us all?
Latorre: My hope would be that the movement would expand beyond Denver and beyond the places where it is already to as many places as possible. And not just to have allied churches, but to have many more immigrants involved in leading the movement. And sometimes that’s a difficult thing, but I’ve been trying to say to people that it’s never too late to get involved, to come to a meeting, to get involved with Not One More or another organization and make your voice heard and be a part of changing things. And I try to really refer people to the meetings I know are going on and to invite people to get involved.
Jenn Piper: I think we’re at a juncture where we have to decide what it is we’re going to do. A lot of that depends on what the immigrant community is going to ask from us, and I think they’re still figuring that out to a large degree, but are we going to invest the time and the energy into creating more networks and more support earlier on, in sort of this rapid response to immigration enforcement and really exposing what that looks like in our communities and our schools, or are we going to expand the church Sanctuary movement with the idea of really overwhelming the system and making it impossible for people to get away from the consequences, both economic and human, of the system that we have. I think that we have to make a choice and we need to be strategic about it.
If all 400 congregations who have signed up to say that they would definitely do Sanctuary did it, that would have an enormous impact, to have 400 immigrants around the country in resistance, and have their voices amplified by the congregations they’re working with, would be pretty inescapable for the larger populace, and I think people would have to start making a choice about where they stand. I think if we’re not going to do that, then what are we doing to support the other forms of resistance that Ingrid was just talking about?
What would you ask of allies in the fight for migrant justice? And not just to do, but how to be? I think it’s important that people hear this again and again, what’s the best role to play for an ally?
Latorre: That people get involved and work harder next to us, so we don’t feel so isolated, so alone.
Piper: What I would ask from allies is to be really conscious of the privilege of time. There are communities that are ideologically diverse and actually do need time to make a decision together and to hear one another, and then there are communities that aren’t, that are all on the same page, that are uncomfortable with acting without knowing everything or are uncomfortable acting in an area that is new to them, or to us. What I would ask of allies is to get used to, and to search out being uncomfortable every day. Where we’re really learning and transforming ourselves and our communities is in that place of uncomfortablility. We need to live into a place where we don’t know the answers, walking alongside people who are in a system where there are no answers. And I think in terms of transformed policies, like what Ingrid said, in terms of being able to honor, i think that citizenship is tricky, because it’s been denied to Native people and all kinds of people over the course of our history, but it’s one of the ways we confer human rights on people in the US, is by affording them citizenship and through that, access to human rights and dignity. I think that that’s one piece of it. I think there’s a much bigger piece that’s looking at how do we disarm capitalism? If we’re not going to do that, how we ensure that people have the same rights as goods and as money to cross borders and to move freely about the world, if we’re going to have this very competitive, Darwinian competition of the fittest, in the capitalist vision, then we should also allow the people who are involved the same amount of freedom to move and to compete and to follow the resources. So I think at a much larger systemic level, we have to look at: what is the economy we’ve created, and how do we enforce second class citizenship around the globe by denying some people the right to move and to follow the resources that sustain them or keep them relatively safe, or provide them opportunity.
What would the community where migrant justice was a lived reality look like? What would that vision include? Obviously not being threatened by ICE and by deportation, but what else might it include for a community that’s really based on justice for migrants and for everyone?
Latorre: It’s almost hard to imagine, that it seems so far away, that vision, but I think that a lot of it would be just feeling free to walk about and to move about wherever you are without always looking over your shoulder to see if there’s a police officer or immigration officer coming to your house or pulling you over in your car or when you’re walking down the street. To have that freedom, to go to the store and to the park and not be afraid.
Thank you. The last question that I have is, what gives you courage? What gives you hope?
Latorre: What gives me hope is my family. They’re really what inspires me to struggle and to fight, to stay together.
Piper: What gives me hope is seeing people willing to have hard conversations. And people both from the ally and immigrant communities’ willingness to speak out and to be vulnerable and to push.