Mosques Consider Sanctuary For Immigrants

Mar 4, 2018
Originally published on March 4, 2018 2:45 pm

Under President Trump, Latino immigrants in the U.S. illegally are under enormous pressure. ICE has dramatically intensified its efforts to detain and deport undocumented persons.

That was a cornerstone of Trump's campaign platform, and after his election, officials at a mosque in Cincinnati announced they intended to become a sanctuary congregation, ready to shelter asylum seekers or migrants in need — whether Muslim or not.

But just three weeks after the election they backed off that offer of providing shelter within the mosque.

"So I think that announcing yourself as a sanctuary has its implications, whether you're a mosque, a church, a synagogue, or anything," Imam Omar Suleiman told NPR's Renee Montagne.

Suleiman is the founder and president of the Yaqueen Institute for Islamic Research near Dallas, Texas. He says ICE has been particularly aggressive in Dallas, where the area leads the country in the number of deportations since the election of Donald Trump.

Last year, Suleiman was one of the people calling for mosques to join the sanctuary movement in response to increased deportation. The adversity that the Muslim and Latino communities face is similar, he said.

"I think the tools that have been employed against immigrants are the same tools that have been employed against refugees, which are the same tools that have been employed against the Muslim community as a whole, which is the dehumanization — the 'otherizing' — that allows people to subconsciously accept this idea that we somehow do not deserve the same level of dignity and respect and liberty that everybody else does," Suleiman says.

But there is already a deep anti-Muslim sentiment, he adds, pointing at mosque burnings that have taken place since President Trump was elected. He says Muslims are already under a lot of scrutiny and an additional layer to that could exacerbate something that is already an issue and endanger both the Muslim and the Latino communities.

"The idea here is that the goal of sanctuary is to provide safety, and if we cannot provide emotional, physical safety, then it would sort of be defeating the purpose," Suleiman says.

"You know, there are other ways to express solidarity and support but announcing your particular mosque as a sanctuary could potentially endanger that particular Muslim community and then obviously the immigrants themselves that would seek shelter would be under that intensified scrutiny."

NPR's Digital News intern Asia Simone Burns produced this story for digital.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Under President Trump, immigrants in the U.S. illegally are under enormous pressure. ICE has ramped up dramatically its efforts to detain and deport those without documents - many of whom are Latinos. This was a cornerstone of Trump's campaign platform. And after his election, a mosque in Cincinnati announced it intended to become a sanctuary congregation. It was ready to shelter asylum seekers or migrants in need, whether they were Muslim or not. Just three weeks later, it backed off the offer of providing shelter within the mosque. A year later, we wanted to get a sense of what has changed and where that Muslim outreach stands. Imam Omar Suleiman is co-chair of the multifaith coalition Faith Forward Dallas. And he joined us to talk about this. Good morning.

OMAR SULEIMAN: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Let me ask you first, why did that mosque in Cincinnati so quickly rethink the idea of actually bringing under its roof those targeted by ICE?

SULEIMAN: So I think that announcing yourself as a sanctuary has its implications, whether you're a mosque, a church or synagogue or anything. But to add onto that the deep anti-Muslim sentiment and the fact that we've had, you know, several mosque burnings in the first two months of Trump being elected - here in Texas, we have white supremacist groups that protest with long rifles in front of our mosques routinely. We're already under a lot of scrutiny, and there's already a lot of violence being directed towards our mosques.

MONTAGNE: Also, I gather the Latino community - the leaders were very grateful for the offer, but they also were concerned that they would - their folks would be getting caught up in...

SULEIMAN: Correct.

MONTAGNE: ...The anti-Muslim sentiment or violence.

SULEIMAN: Correct. And I mean, so the idea here is that the goal of sanctuary is to provide safety. And if we cannot provide emotional, physical safety, then it would sort of be defeating the purpose. You know, there are other ways to express solidarity and support. But announcing your particular mosque as a sanctuary - you know, it could potentially endanger that particular Muslim community. And then obviously, the immigrants themselves that would seek shelter there would be under that intensified scrutiny.

MONTAGNE: But are there mosques that are quietly or even secretly providing physical sanctuary to undocumented workers?

SULEIMAN: At this present moment, there are mosques that are showing great solidarity, as is the Muslim community as a whole. And this has just been one of the blessings of the Trump era - is that it's forced people out of their complacency. And I know you don't typically hear a Muslim say blessing of the Trump era.

MONTAGNE: Give me a particular example that a solidarity congregation could do for an immigrant who is in this country illegally and needs help.

SULEIMAN: I'm going to speak particularly from the Dallas context for a moment. Dallas leads the country in deportations since the election of Donald Trump. So ICE has been particularly aggressive here. A lot of times, immigrants don't know the process properly. So when they get picked up, you know, they answer certain questions in a way thinking that it's an honest and open discussion. They don't realize that what's really happening is that their deportation is being expedited.

MONTAGNE: Most of these folks who are here illegally are - would be, especially there in Texas, Latinos, not necessarily Muslims. What do these two communities have in common?

SULEIMAN: You know, I think that the tools that have been employed against immigrants are the same tools that have been employed against refugees - are the same tools that have been employed against the Muslim community as a whole, which is the dehumanization and the otherizing (ph) that allows for people to subconsciously accept this idea that we somehow do not deserve the same level of dignity and respect and liberty that everybody else does or that the threshold for our liberties is much greater. So we are entitled to the same rights that everybody else is in this country.

MONTAGNE: Imam Omar Suleiman is the founder and president of the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research outside Dallas.

Thank you very much for talking with us.

SULEIMAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.