Ten years ago, Jesus Peraza re-crossed the United States border without documents after he was deported to Honduras as a teenager. Once he returned, he found work, got married, had kids and settled in Baltimore.
In early March, just after dropping off his ten-year-old son at Hampstead Hill Academy in Southeast Baltimore, Peraza was stopped and arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers in an unmarked car. Despite having no criminal record, he was deported last Friday after a local official ruled there was no compelling reason to grant his request to stay. His expecting wife is due to give birth any day.
Arrests of non-criminal immigrants have more than doubled under the Donald Trump administration, with more than 5,000 arrests since Trump took office in January. As a result, undocumented immigrants across the country fear the heightened threat of their own deportation—and members of the Jewish community are taking this seriously.
“This hits close to home—and should—for most if not all Jews,” says Stuart Katzenberg, a career union organizer and congregant of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, a Reform synagogue with a history of activism dating back to the civil rights movement. On June 7, Katzenberg helped coordinate a bystander training session designed to teach community members ways in which they can support those taken into custody by ICE. Representatives from CASA de Maryland, a Latino and immigrant advocacy group, led the event. There were more than 50 attendees.
“I think going into the training, a lot of folks think that there will be an easy way to resist ICE enforcement or to respond to ICE enforcement in a way that prevents the unjust detention of their neighbors,” says Katie Miller, who’s been working with CASA since Trump took office in January. “Unfortunately, the way ICE operates is really complicated and unpredictable.”
That unpredictability is why CASA’s bystander training sessions emphasize the importance of understanding what the rights of undocumented immigrants are and how bystanders can help organizations like CASA identify those detained in an ICE arrest.
Katzenberg says it’s important for bystanders to notice what law enforcement is involved in the raids, because not all enforcement agencies are actually authorized to engage in immigration activity. In Maryland, only two jurisdictions (Frederick and Harford counties) have what is called a 287(g) agreement, which is a partnership with the federal government that allow local officers to participate in federal immigration activity. Because Baltimore and Baltimore County do not have 287(g) agreements, CASA representatives encouraged community members to take note of whether or not officers involved in a raid are local. If they are, the operation could potentially violate the law.
In addition, the location, time and details of an arrest are important for organizations like CASA to identify who was picked up. Bystanders should take photos with a cell phone, according to CASA representatives.
After an arrest, CASA encourages community members to support those picked up by ICE. This can involve anything from connecting immigrants to lawyers to attending their court hearings and providing support to their families while they’re in custody. At Baltimore Hebrew, members started a collection to gather baby supplies for Peraza. Now, CASA is also calling for allies to attend Karen Fiallos’s check-in with ICE in Baltimore on Tuesday, June 27. Fiallos—who has a 14-year-old daughter who is an American citizen—was told by ICE officers who surrounded her home in 2010 to report to an ICE office. Because she complied, she has been permitted to stay in the country as long as she attends her regularly scheduled check-ins with ICE.
Miller said that under the Obama administration, Fiallos could assume she was safe at these ICE check-ins. But Trump’s administration presents a different story. “What happens is really unknown and unpredictable, and that’s a really scary thing when you think about having a family,” Miller says of the past few months. “You just kind of show up to this office, almost like a doctor’s appointment, but you don’t know if at the end of the appointment you’re going to be able to go back to your family or if you’re going to go to prison.”
For Martha Weiman, a congregant of Baltimore Hebrew who also helped coordinate CASA’s bystander training session, the rights of America’s immigrants are crucial. Weiman is a Holocaust survivor who escaped from Bocholt, Germany to the U.S. as a young girl. Her father was arrested during Krystallnacht in November of 1938 and imprisoned at Buchenwald concentration camp. He was released two months later because Weiman’s mother secured documents for her family to flee the country. Weiman’s parents were eligible to apply for citizenship after a five-year wait period, and Weiman automatically gained citizenship following her parents’ formal naturalization.
Baltimore Hebrew Congregation’s bystander training session is just one example of the Jewish community’s commitment to supporting immigrants. Earlier this week, Weiman was the keynote speaker at a naturalization ceremony held at the Jewish Museum of Maryland. The ceremony—held on World Refugee Day—honored and formally granted citizenship to 28 immigrants from countries including China, the Dominican Republic, Belarus and Nigeria.
Ultimately, Weiman hopes the Baltimore community will view their undocumented immigrant neighbors with respect rather than suspicion. “These are hardworking people, and they are trying to make a life in this country where they can have jobs and be free of the crime and the drugs where they’re coming from,” she says. “It’s not easy for people to pick up—either themselves or with a family—and do what they did…they’re not aliens. Aliens come from outer space. They’re people.”