In Immigration Court, a Ministry Team Accompanies Detainees

NEW YORK — The interfaith ministry begins its April 13 meeting at the Dunkin’ Donuts on Broadway, across from the massive Federal Plaza in lower Manhattan. It is a place to rendezvous, as five women get ready for a trip to immigration court.

They are all well-established American citizens, with no obvious business amidst the labyrinth of the immigration law machinery administered across the street. And that’s the reason why they should be there, said Carol Silverman, one of the five, representing an Upper West Side synagogue.

“Every citizen of the U.S. should be forced to come down here,” she said. “Most of the public doesn’t understand the depths of it.” Her own grandparents came from Poland and Russia. She said they didn’t encounter the obstacles today’s immigrants do. If they were physically healthy, they were whisked through the front door. More often than not, today that door is blocked.

Representing the New Sanctuary Coalition, an immigration rights’ organization, the five come here to witness what is happening. They have been to other hearings. Sometimes they watch as an immigrant, brought into court in orange jumpsuit and shackles, offers a greeting to his children, even when the guards discourage it.

Federal Plaza is ground zero where Trump immigration policy meets up with New York’s image as a sanctuary city, a historic haven for immigrants, host for the Statue of Liberty. Much of the time, if the cases get this far, federal policy trumps any nostalgic notion of this city as a sanctuary.

That doesn’t mean the five women will quit.

“There’s a toll on us and we can’t do anything about it,” said Silverman. Their purpose in going to court is a simple one: to be a witness. They are there to buck up immigrants who, in some cases, are completely alone in a foreign country that wants them out.

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