Inside The Secret Network Of "Sanctuary Homes" For Immigrants In Trump's America
Luz has cared for Amy's young children for two years.* But after Donald Trump's election, the relationship between the two women changed. Their conversations shifted from the kids' favorite toys and bedtimes, to discussions about immigration and the fears Luz had for her family.
"I lost all hope," Luz says of Nov. 8, 2016. Like many immigrants, Luz is part of a mixed-status family. She is undocumented. Her son is a DREAMer. Her two grandchildren are U.S. citizens.
When Luz started working with Amy, the two of them established expectations around working conditions, like paid time off and overtime; these labor protections are often denied to domestic workers, and are even rarer for undocumented immigrants. But in November, hearing the fear in Luz's voice, Amy knew she and her partner needed to do more.
"In the changing political climate, we needed to have new conversations and be supportive of the person we were employing in different ways," Amy tells Bustle.
"For immigrants in undocumented or mixed-status families, every new person that knows about their family's situation can feel like an additional liability, another person who can put their loved ones in danger."
And so, as Amy's toddlers ran around the living room of her Oakland home, the two women sat on the couch and had a quick, but pointed, conversation about Amy's desire to be helpful, including sharing legal immigration resources with Luz. She had to do something, even if Luz hadn't asked for help.
"I realized there are people in this country who are in solidarity with immigrants," Luz says of that moment.
Bringing The Immigration Fight Into Your Living Room
Under the Trump administration, arrests of undocumented immigrants inside the U.S. have increased by 40 percent. Temporary Protected Status for Nicaraguan, Haitian and Salvadoran immigrants has been revoked. The 800,000 young immigrants who are able to legally work and study in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA) are being used as political bargaining chips.
Given what is at stake, immigrant rights activists are out in full force — thousands have rallied in protest of the Trump administration's decision to roll back TPS and in support of a clean DREAM Act.
But there's a quieter resistance that's also happening, in living rooms and kitchens across the country. Hand in Hand, a national network of domestic employers, is encouraging individuals like Amy to bring their politics home — literally. They're trying to establish "sanctuary homes," a concept they describe as a way for allies and employers to provide support and demonstrate solidarity with immigrants.
Ilana Berger, Hand in Hand's interim executive director, says the organization is reaching out to people who hire nannies, housekeepers, and caretakers to transform their homes into safe spaces for those who do what Berger calls "the work that makes life possible."
It's hard to know precisely how common this work is, especially since so much of the industry operates without formal work agreements. Hand in Hand estimates that in California and New York alone, about 3.5 million families employ domestic workers. The majority of those workers are women, and of those women, a majority are women of color and immigrants.
"Does your family know how to find you if you are detained by ICE? While you are detained, who will take care of your child? And if you are deported? Who then?"
Sanctuary comes in many forms — from putting a sign in the window that reads "Everyone is welcome here" to organizing conversations about how to support vulnerable communities. For those who employ domestic workers in their homes, Hand in Hand is encouraging people to have "uncomfortable conversations." Those talks can begin with employers openly discussing their support of immigrant rights, and letting employees know that they care about them and their safety.
Then, there are more material steps: Offering resources like printers, helping with paperwork, and securing legal representation. Employers can pay for safe transportation home on late nights, recognizing the uptick in hate crimes among immigrant communities. There's also the very real fear that affects the children of immigrants — whether or not they are undocumented. Making sure workers have sufficient time off to spend with their families is one of the small, but impactful, adjustments that can make a huge difference.
The movement was informed by feedback from domestic workers, who insisted that the conversation between employers and employees was the critical starting point. The workers Hand in Hand spoke to wanted to know "there's a place, a person, there's a home where they can feel safe," Berger says, "to the extent that is possible in this moment."
And then, there is the most difficult conversation to have: Offering to work together on an emergency preparedness plan in the case of arrest, detention, or deportation. These gut-wrenching conversations are happening every day in immigrant homes; organizers hope that by bringing employers into the conversation, workers will be have an increased sense of safety, security and community.
A sample preparedness form from the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, a national nonprofit that advocates for immigrant rights, begs brutal, but necessary, questions: Does your family know how to find you if you are detained by ICE? While you are detained, who will take care of your child? And if you are deported? Who then?
How To Have Hard Conversations And Accept "The Awkward"
The conversation Amy initiated with Luz wasn't easy, she explains.
I felt nervous about assuming that she didn't know about resources, or talking with her about the details of her family situation. ... It got more comfortable the more we talked about it.
Nervousness on both sides is natural. For immigrants in undocumented or mixed-status families, every new person that knows about their family's situation can feel like an additional liability, another person who can put their loved ones in danger. Hand in Hand has advice for dealing with this, too: make it clear that it's okay if employees don't want to share details, ask open-ended questions, and accept "the awkward."
"If she gets into any trouble, or knows someone that does, she can call us, and we'll help pull in resources."
Nicole*, a communications specialist, initiated a conversation with Susita*, her housekeeper, by offering to connect her with free legal resources, followed by a conversation about emergency preparedness. Susita doesn't have children in the U.S., and so instead, Nicole offered to make herself available as a primary contact should something happen to Susita or someone in her extended community.
"If she gets into any trouble, or knows someone that does, she can call us, and we'll help pull in resources," Nicole says. "There's someone local who speaks English, who has legal status that can help."
The legal clinic that Amy connected Luz with delivered the disappointing confirmation: Luz, like many undocumented immigrants, currently has no way to normalize her immigration status. But the gesture still meant something to her.
"How could someone who doesn't really know me offer to help me?" Luz wondered.
Bringing The Fight Beyond Brooklyn and Berkeley
Most of the women Bustle spoke with about sanctuary homes live in California and New York, in liberal communities traditionally welcoming to immigrants. However, as Berger explains, "it's our goal to go beyond the large, progressive metropolitan centers."
Organizers have expanded their work to include a push for a clean DREAM Act, recruiting new members at The Women's March Convention. As part of that outreach effort, their network has activated sanctuary homes everywhere from Kentucky and Ohio to Texas and Tennessee.
And while organizers aren't currently advocating for sanctuary homes as places to harbor immigrants, that could change.
"There are people who are very much willing to explore what it looks like for homes to actually be sanctuaries," Berger tells Bustle. "But there are a lot of considerations. For folks who get in these dire situations — and their options are sanctuary or deportation — what is safest for them?"
*Names have been changed to protect their identities.