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Advocacy through the Pandemic

Annual Report to Strengthening Sanctuary Alliance, 2021

 

A group of advocates coalesced into an organization for action in January 2017, in response to dire situations for immigrants living in or entering the U.S. under conditions which targeted their vulnerability and lack of agency. This all volunteer organization became Strengthening Sanctuary Alliance (SSA). More on our history and structure can be found on this website.

 

Our evolution has seen five years of SSA’s meaningful work flowing slowly but surely, like water in-between the cracks of systemic gaps!  2021 particularly deserves reflection because our work continued despite the COVID pandemic, during which nearly 100% of our interventions and assistance have occurred remotely.  Zoom meetings. Letters. Action alerts.  Socially distanced protests.  Testimony.  Tangible support in the form of COVID masks, food, and sometimes, when we could, money.  We looked to see where we could place ourselves so that immigrant voices could be heard:  the voices of workers without safety nets whose income could barely sustain their families; the invisible immigrant and farmworker families who routinely experience elevated risks in their homes and workplaces and whose vulnerability has been especially intense during the pandemic.

 

As we measure ourselves against our initial goals, we believe that we are true to that shared commitment to work for the safety and welfare of immigrant members of our communities, especially those who are undocumented.  Our strength comes from collaborations and partnerships so that we can funnel communication into and out of the policy stream.  We take advantage of our presence in the state's policy capitol, the connections we have, and the privilege we hold. We know full well the importance of timely communication as policy decisions can happen quickly. We are honored to play a role in advancing the voices of immigrant communities.  

Our Work Groups

 

Our organizational structure is subject-matter-focused, with work groups delving more deeply into specific areas of advocacy.  Work Group highlights from 2021 follow:

*The Legislative/Policy Work Group focuses on supporting and augmenting the authentic voices of immigrants in state, national and local policy development. Shared information is power; and communication to others who might not otherwise have the information is critical. We connect with an ever-expanding network of immigrant-supporting organizations to learn of their work and priorities and help to give them vital visibility. We maintain good connections with local legislators for a mutual exchange of policy feedback as it relates to immigrant and undocumented community needs.  One of our members created a popular digital mobilization tool, a weekly alert, called “At a Glance.”  Knowing stakeholder input could make a difference, we developed and used this tool to direct advocacy energy to support bills being considered by the Legislature.  What drives us is our commitment to multiplying the impact of our allies’ work. Find our 2021 report here.

*The Agricultural Workers Solidarity Work Group was particularly engaged in advancing protections for immigrant packinghouse workers in the Yakima valley who were hugely affected by COVID. There was a lack of access to needed health care services in testing, vaccinating, and protecting the immigrant community from unsafe work conditions where harvest pressures frequently overrode employers’ concerns for worker safety. Community outrage about the lack of on-the-job protections led to a strike at 6 different packinghouses and the formation of a union, Trabajadores Unidos por la Justicia (TUJ, or Workers United for Justice). The work group hosted educational events for SSA  and our allies to deepen understanding of workers' conditions and activities.  In 2021 we became involved in policy discussions about threats to worker safety from wildfire smoke and excessive heat conditions. Advocates point to the deteriorating effect of climate change on on working conditions.  Workers throughout the agricultural regions of the Western states have common safety needs and interests and standardization across regions is required. Finally, we're starting to focus on the lack of quality affordable housing and the struggles of immigrants in our own region to organize to improve living conditions for their families and communities. Find more information about our work here.  

*The Law Enforcement-ICE Work Group:  Since early 2017, the Law Enforcement-ICE Work Group has engaged in dialogue with law enforcement agencies (LEAs) in Thurston County about the importance of leaving immigration policing to federal agencies. In 2021 the work group concentrated its efforts on 1) monitoring the headway, if any, that LEAs have made in implementing the Keep Washington Working Act (KWW); and 2) encouraging these agencies to close gaps between departmental policies and procedures and specific benchmarks. Those are:  the law itself, the Attorney general’s KWW model policy recommendations, and the Washington State Patrol’s immigration policies, which closely follow the AG’s guidance.  There was particular emphasis on the polices of the local LEAs.  The uneven adoption of KWW-compliant policies impressed upon us the need to learn more about Lexipol. This is a frequently used private company, providing policy advice and language which SSA has found to be problematic as relates to immigration. Find more information about our work here.

*The Social Media Group broadens SSA's outreach. We maintain the website and Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/strengtheningsanctuaryalliance). During the legislative session, the website hosts updates about priority bills, hearings and key votes coming up. Our blog includes articles written by our membership, and letters addressing the key issues we support. We've also used it for fundraising and to showcase reports, films, and mobilizations relevant to our work. The Facebook page was launched in fall 2020 to further our connections with organizations involved in immigrant rights and social justice work. In spring 2020 when we advertised the Food Chains screening, we had over 800 visitors. In November 2021 we had 230 views. Even when the posts are read by just a few, we are expanding the network of immigrant advocacy. 

*The Emergent Action Work Group: As SSA’s legislative/political advocacy work has deepened and our networking has expanded, one of the organization’s critical roles is as a signatory to support letters and petitions created by agencies and organizations that share our goals.  This signing-on activity has raised our visibility in the community and leveraged our collective political impact, further promoting immigrant rights and reforms. Most of the requests require a quick turn-around. The Emergent Action Work Group provides for prompt determination as to whether the request is congruent with SSA mission and goals and if so, signs on behalf of the larger organization. In some cases, SSA has helped to make other immigrant rights advocates aware of the opportunity to sign on, getting them involved in the effort and connected to one another. This is coalition building. Find more information here.

*The Accompaniment Program:  In order to properly coordinate with the county court system and develop appropriate protocols, it took some time for the Accompaniment Program to be ready to offer its assistance to community members who were at risk of encountering ICE agents as they went about their business in the courthouse. After training and development, which included nearly 50 volunteers and Thurston county Court involvement, the programs efforts to launch in 2020 were thwarted by the pandemic. Systems are ready but on hold now due to changes made in in-person court attendance. Find more information here.

*Education Work Group: One of the workgroups which activated immediately within SSA was the Education Group.  When this group formed in 2017 it focused particularly on those families without documentation whose fearful parents were unaware of their basic constitutional rights, and that regardless of immigration status, their children have lawful rights to a public school education and many other services. Many school personnel were unaware of the profound reverberating effect these fears were having on the children’s overall well-being and success in school. “Know Your Rights” (KYR) presentations, as well as dozens of workshops for all levels of school personnel, provided helpful strategies and resources to increase positive immigrant child and family engagement.  The KYR activity was intense for a couple of years--to learn more or find KYR resources, click here.

 

Though COVID brought KYR presentations and in-person dialogue between SSA and the schools to a halt, the Education Group has continued with other advocacy, such as providing a model policy to increase immigrant student protection which was distributed by the Washington State School Directors Association. Find more information here.

Ultimately SSA’s advocacy is About Improving Lives

 

Support for Vilma and Sergio: Vilma and her 12 year-old son, Sergio immigrated from Guatemala in 2018. They were separated and detained by ICE. Thanks to SSA member, Steffani Powell's pro bono work and letters of support from SSA members, Vilma was released and reunited with her son. They live in Texas, where the Texas Civil Rights Project has taken on their case.  Vilma recently received permission to work, found part-time employment, and is hoping to take English classes. Her case for asylum and withholding of deportation will be heard in fall 2022

When housing support from a Texas organization ended, SSA members stepped up to keep the family from becoming homeless. SSA has continued to support Vilma and Sergio with contributions from our budget supplemented by individual members. We send $925 per month, and are researching organizations in their area that can offer support. Our goal is to support Vilma with resources, skills, and guidance to feel increasingly confident and empowered on a path to stability and self-sufficiency. You can find more information about this work here.

De parte de Vilma: Solo Dios pagará algún día el apoyo que me están brindando. De corazón les agradezco mucho a todos ustedes la organización de Olimpia. Son personas muy importantes para mi porque sin el apoyo de ustedes no sé cómo sería ahora pero gracias muchas gracias.

From Vilma: God will bless you [repay you] some day for the support you are offering me.  From my heart I thank all of you in the Olympia organization. You are very important to me because without your help I don’t know where I would be now but thanks, many thanks.

Participating with Faith Groups to Support Immigrant Sanctuary

Though not active in 2021, a major focus of SSA’s support for immigrants in crises was our participation in the Faith Community Work Group. The local Jewish community at Temple Beth Hatfiloh provided sanctuary to a Guatemalan family in 2019-2020. Many SSA members worked in solidarity to support these sanctuary efforts.  Sanctuary comes less from legal protections than from the stalwart support of the community.  

Still Here, Still Needed!

Still Grateful for Your Help!

 

 

As we move into 2022 we celebrate five years of focused, high-energy, skilled and impactful work advocating for immigrant rights—in our local communities and across the state!

 

Please click on this link to support our work.