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N.H. Dems Call ICE Employees “Gestapo,” Claim They’re Running “Children’s Concentration Camps”

One candidate calls them the “modern-day Gestapo.” Another says they’re running “concentration camps” for children.

Progressive Democrats running to replace Rep. Carol Shea-Porter in New Hampshire’s First Congressional District don’t like the Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and they aren’t hiding their disdain. In addition to wanting the abolish the entire department, several of the Democrats in the race compared these American workers and their actions to the worst of Nazi Germany.

“The actions by the Trump administration on immigration and detention are nothing more than racism played out in policy,” congressional candidate and state representative Mindi Messmer told NHJournal.  “It harkens to dark periods in our history like the Japanese internment Camps and the Holocaust. ICE is a gestapo-like arm of the racist policy and should be abolished.”

“There are many ways in which ICE resembles Germany in the 1930s,” former Strafford County Attorney Lincoln Soldati told NHJournal.  When asked if he was calling the agents of ICE “jackboots,” Soldati replied: “I’m not saying that necessarily about the [US Customs and] Border Patrol. ICE is a special unit. They need to look at themselves and what they’re actually doing and how they’re carrying out their duties. The fact is they, they are not operating within the same constitutional constraints that law enforcement in the country typically is required to.”

“So, I never used the word ‘jackboot,’” Soldati said.  “Maybe the modern day Gestapo, how about that?”

Soldati is one of a growing number of Democratic candidates across the country who’s joined the “Abolish ICE” movement. He believes the entire department should be shut down:

“You have to remember ICE was created as part of… an overreaction to the events of 9/11. I mean, a lot of it is psychologically understandable, going off and invading Afghanistan, etc. All because of the emotional baggage left after 9/11,” Soldati said.

Not all the candidates in the First Congressional District agree that ICE should be eliminated.  Maura Sullivan a former Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs and senior Pentagon official in the Obama Administration told NHJournal via email:

“There are legitimate purposes for ICE but President Trump has misdirected ICE to tear families apart, which is inconsistent with our nation’s values. I believe Congress needs more oversight of ICE to prevent future misuse of its resources.” Sullivan has also called on Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to resign.

“Our moral compass is being tested by the President’s inhumane, immoral policies,” Chris Pappas tweeted. “Silence is complicity as our govt tears children from parents who seek asylum and a better future.” However, his campaign declined to comment on the Abolish ICE issue.

“We need some mechanism to remove people who are here illegally,” Deaglan McEachern told NHJournal. “If we abolish ICE, it would be INS. Someone would have to do it.”  McEachern stressed that he opposes the Trump administration’s prioritization of enforcing immigration law, and he wanted to see the US make it far easier for more immigrants to come to the US “and get a path to citizenship.”

“They’re doing the jobs Americans won’t do, or Americans can’t do,” McEachern told NHJournal.

But clearly the passion is with the Abolish ICE activists who are gaining support across the country.  Actress-turned-politician Cynthia Nixon has been vocal in her demand that ICE be shut down, calling it a “terrorist organization,” while in Massachusetts progressive candidate Ayanna Pressley has embraced the movement in her race to unseat longtime Democratic incumbent Michael Capuano.   “ICE’s role in supporting the existing system – including separating families seeking refuge in the United States and conducting indiscriminate deportation raids in our communities – is creating an atmosphere of toxic fear and mistrust in immigrant communities,” Pressley said.

Is attacking ICE employees as Gestapo agents overseeing concentration camps a winning political strategy in a purple state like New Hampshire?  In the primary, perhaps. But with a new CBS/YouGov poll showing Americans overwhelmingly support deporting illegal immigrant families stopped at the border (48 percent) as opposed to releasing them into the US to await a hearing (21 percent).  In other words, as much as Americans may hate how the Trump administration is executing the policy, it’s the policy they support.­

UPDATE: Naomi Andrews, former Shea-Porter Chief of Staff, had declined to join the #AbolishICE movement. In a statement to NHJournal she says:

“While there needs to be big changes at ICE, it should not be abolished, because it is responsible for combatting child pornography; money laundering; terrorism; sex trafficking; and other important investigative functions. However, ICE is in desperate need of intense oversight. Republican leadership in Congress has abdicated their constitutional duty of oversight, but there needs to be accountability when rules and laws are broken. Also, Secretary Nielson should resign if she cannot successfully reunite children and their families quickly and safely.”

New Hampshire Sanctuary Churches, Cities, Colleges Seek to Resist Trump’s Immigration Policies

The St. Anne-St. Augustin Parish, a Manchester Catholic church, is defying the wishes of the state’s Roman Catholic bishop by declaring itself a sanctuary church for undocumented immigrants, following the lead of hundreds of other congregations in the United States that are looking to protect people from President Donald Trump’s beefed up immigration policies.

Bishop Peter Libasci of the Diocese of Manchester sent a letter to clergy earlier this month stating that congregations should not allow undocumented immigrants to be housed within their churches to avoid being deported. The letter came in response to a meeting with several priests who expressed concerns about increased immigration enforcement.

“We have not designated our churches as ‘sanctuary’ churches in this sense of the word because it creates a false hope to tell individuals living in fear that we can protect them from law enforcement actions,” Libasci wrote.

Parents fearing possible deportation have provided notarized instructions to St. Anne-St. Augustin staff, spelling out family finances and who would care for their children in case they are picked up by U.S. Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers.

Eva Castillo, executive director of the New Hampshire Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees, said she was not surprised by the Bishop’s letter, but was “disappointed” the Bishop was “quick to dismiss” the idea of sanctuary churches.

“I find it frustrating because I went to the same Catholic school from kindergarten to high school and I always noticed that they were quick throw money, but their equal treatment and welcoming part was not there,” she told NH Journal. “I felt that from way back then. I always say we need to put faith into action and bring it out of the pew.”

Castillo noted that besides St. Anne-St. Augustin, she’s had difficulty working with other Catholic churches in New Hampshire, but there has been interest from other Quaker and Unitarian Universalist congregations about how they could help the cause. On the Seacoast, she’s spoken with members of the United Church of Christ and other Indonesian churches.

“It’s not only giving residence to somebody, she said. “You can just give support to places where people are staying. You could have a rapid response team if ICE is in ‘X, Y’ place and have a group of people there to witness the activity. Not to stop it, but to bear witness of what’s going on.”

The balance between helping those in need and breaking the law has some churches unsure about which action to take. Yet, for Bishop Libasci, he said there are two definitions to the term “sanctuary churches” and parishes should not be letting undocumented immigrants live in their church.

“Some use this term and mean what I have described above — a welcoming community ready to offer immediate aid to anyone in need. In these works, of course, we will always be involved,” he wrote in the letter. “But others use this term ‘sanctuary’ to refer to churches that will allow individuals in fear of deportation to live in the church. ‘Sanctuary’ is not a designation recognized by law and provides no such legal protection.”

By law, places of worship are not allowed to harbor undocumented immigrants, yet more than 800 churches and faith groups nationwide have protested recent actions taken by Trump to curtail illegal immigration to the United States and declared themselves sanctuary churches.

Soon after his inauguration Trump, signed two executive orders temporarily suspending immigration from multiple predominately Muslim countries, but both orders are being held up by federal judges as unconstitutional.

In Denver, Jeanette Vizguerra resides in a makeshift bedroom at the First Unitarian Church because she’s concerned that immigration enforcement agents would arrest her elsewhere. Churches in Chicago and Phoenix have also offered shelter to other undocumented immigrants who are fearful of being deported.

ICE officials with a warrant can arrest undocumented immigrants regardless of whether they’re at a church, synagogue, mosque, or other house of worship. The Immigration and Nationality Act prohibits anyone from knowingly harboring an undocumented immigrant “in any place, including any building,” and those convicted could spend years in prison.

However, ICE generally avoids arrests at “sensitive locations,” like churches, because prosecuting pastors could create unfavorable headlines and result in long legal battles.

While several cities and towns in the United States, including many in New Hampshire, are debating whether or not to become “sanctuary cities” — or places where local law enforcement limit their cooperation with federal officials on immigration enforcement — Castillo said the best chance to help undocumented immigrants is at the church level. She isn’t expecting too many cities or towns to publicly declare themselves as sanctuary cities, due to New Hampshire’s small Latino population.

According to the Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends, the Latino community comprised 3 percent of the state’s population in 2014, although that number is growing in size.

Three small Granite State towns — Harrisville, Dublin, and Lyme — voted at town meetings last month to declare themselves as “sanctuary towns.” However, bigger areas like Durham, home to the University of New Hampshire, and Portsmouth failed to pass similar measures. Students at Dartmouth College in Hanover passed around a petition after the November election seeking for the university to declare itself a “sanctuary school.”

Castillo remains hopeful that the Bishop changes his mind and allows Catholic churches to become safe havens for undocumented immigrants. She said she is in the process of scheduling a meeting with him soon.

“We realize that this is a big commitment on the immigrants and the people to house them,” she said. “It is really civil disobedience. That’s what we tell them. We aren’t disguising the whole notion. We aren’t advocating for one thing over another. They can all do their own part in what they are most comfortable doing.”

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