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Aug 5, 2017

No country for sanctuary seekers

Co-produced with PRX Logo

President Donald Trump has promised to withdraw federal money from jurisdictions that do not help immigration agents find and deport people living illegally in this country. This week, we look into places that offer sanctuary to those immigrants – and what the conflict between federal and local policies means for them.

It’s become an acute problem in Wisconsin, where the dairy industry depends heavily on workers living in the U.S. illegally. That state helped push Trump to victory. Reveal’s Andy Becker takes us to farms grappling with the departure of immigrant workers, and a county in which the sanctuary debate is heating up.

From Wisconsin Public Radio, Alexandra Hall meets with a dairy worker who, after 16 years at the same farm, must choose whether he and his family should stay put or get out while they can.

The idea of sanctuary also includes way stations for people in transit. A loose network of religious and other volunteers offer that haven – not for immigrants looking to stay in the U.S., but for those seeking a safe passage north. Reveal’s Ike Sriskandarajah traces the route of asylum seekers heading to Canada.

Dig Deeper

  • Read: No sanctuary, fewer farmhands: How Dairyland suffers under Trump agenda
  • Explore: Interactive Graphic: Sanctuaries under fire
  • Leer en español: Sin santuarios hay menos trabajadores agrícolas: cómo la agenda migratoria de Trump perjudica incluso a quienes le votaron

Credits

Support for Reveal is provided by The Reva and David Logan Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and Mary and Steven Swig.

Transcript

Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal's radio stories is the audio.
  Section 1 of 5          [00:00:00 - 00:10:04]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)
Michael M.: From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Michael Montgomery, in for Al Letson. It's 3:30 in the morning in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, a small city on the western shore of Lake Michigan. Manuel Estrada is driving to work at a local dairy farm. The streets are almost empty, just a few other dairy workers and a police patrol. Manuel is wary of the cops. That's because he came here illegally from Mexico as a teen.
Manuel Estrada: [foreign language 00:00:31]
Michael M.: He says it was the first time he was ever away from his family. He's avoided trouble with the police and built a life here. He married a local woman and started his own family. He takes home $11.50 an hour.
Manuel Estrada: [foreign language 00:00:47]
Michael M.: Manuel says, "The work here is better than in other places," but now he and his friends worry that all of this is about to change.
Manuel Estrada: [foreign language 00:01:00]
Michael M.: He says everyone he works with is undocumented, and a lot of people are afraid. The farm sits on rolling green hills, just a few miles from the lake.
Manuel Estrada: [foreign language 00:01:16]
Michael M.: In a large barn, Manuel coaxes a line of cows into milking stalls and connects black hoses to their utters. Then a powerful compressor pumps the milk into a huge cooler. This morning Manuel and another worker will milk 400 cows. The works is exhausting, especially now. Manuel says he's been working nonstop for a month, sometimes 16 hours at a time, because the farm has been down a man. Other farms are short on workers too. That worries Abby Driscoll. Her family has owned this farm for 150 years.
Abby Driscoll: Usually within a day I would have someone here on the farm that was ready and willing to work starting pretty much that day. Then it got to be a couple days, and then a couple weeks. Now this last time it was a month and a half before we found someone.
Michael M.: Over the years the Driscolls and other dairy owners came to rely on workers like Manuel.
Abby Driscoll: We have put out ads for, you know, legal citizens, and we don't have anyone else that comes here to do the job that they do.
Michael M.: Jobs like early morning milkings. Keep in mind, dairy is one of Wisconsin's biggest industries. At the same time, this is the state that pushed Donald Trump to victory last November, bringing his immigration agenda into the White House.
Donald Trump: Thank you very much. It's great to be here today to ...
Michael M.: Just this past week President Trump endorsed a new bill that he says would cut legal immigration by half.
Donald Trump: This legislation demonstrates our compassion for struggling American families who deserve an immigration system that puts their needs first and puts America first.
Michael M.: The bill targets unskilled immigrants and favors those who speak English and have an education. Even short of new laws, President Trump is having an impact. Some workers here illegally have fled the state or the country. Others simply stopped looking for work. That's left farmers like Abby in a lurch.
Abby Driscoll: I can only imagine in the next few years it's just going to continue to get worse.
Michael M.: She knows Manuel is in the country illegally. So do the local police. They've pulled him over before and they know he doesn't have a driver's license. They've left him alone for now, but if President Trump and other Republicans succeed in cracking down on illegal immigration, things could get a lot riskier for folks like Manuel, and for the people and places offering them sanctuary.
Reveal's Andrew Becker picks up Manuel Estrada's story during a protest at the Wisconsin State Capitol.
Speaker 5: No ban, no wall, sanctuary for all.
Crowd: No ban, no wall, sanctuary for all. No ban, no wall, sanctuary for all.
Manuel Estrada: [foreign language 00:04:07]
Andrew Becker: Manuel Estrada is talking before a crowd of about 200 people on the rain-slicken steps of the tree lined state house. Manuel is surrounded by a few dozen people carrying banners and signs. He's wearing a white t-shirt that plays off a popular marketing meme. It reads, "Got milk? Not without immigrants." He's here with his wife Jenny, who's translating for him.
Jenny Estrada: My name is Manuel Estrada, and I have 13 years here in this country, and of those 13 years working on a farm. The work is dirty, it's long, but it's necessary. Necessary for me to take care of my family, and necessary for the state. They call us the dairy state ... But it's thanks to the strength of the immigrants ...
Andrew Becker: The Estradas rode a bus for two and a half hours from Manitowoc to Madison with a group of other activists. They've come to fight a bill that would prevent local officials from offering sanctuary to immigrants here illegally. They're worried that the law would drive dairy workers like Manuel out of the country.
Manuel Estrada: [foreign language 00:05:17]
Andrew Becker: Manuel is 30, has a slight build, and wears his hair closely cropped on the sides, longer on top, with a wispy goatee. Jenny's 37, and you can hear her native Wisconsin accent come through when she talks. They've been married for a little more than a year and have a three year old son. They're also raising four children from Jenny's previous marriage. That ended after authorities deported her then-husband to Mexico. At the rally, Jenny comes across as the more outgoing of the two. Manuel wastes few words, but his message is forceful.
Manuel Estrada: [foreign language 00:05:56]
Andrew Becker: Manitowoc is one of the top dairy producing counties in the country. Manuel mentions recent studies that found 90% of the dairy workers in the county are undocumented. He urges the crowd to stand strong and fight President Trump's immigration policies and anti-sanctuary laws.
Manuel Estrada: [foreign language 00:06:19]
Crowd: [foreign language 00:06:20]
Andrew Becker: [foreign language 00:06:24], yes we can.
Speaker 9: [foreign language 00:06:27]
Andrew Becker: Inside the capitol building state lawmaker Bob Gannon seems unmoved by the protest.
Bob Gannon: I have nothing against immigrants, I just want them to be legal immigrants.
Andrew Becker: Gannon co-sponsored the bill that Manuel and his group are fighting. It would outlaw sanctuary policies throughout the state. The fight is over something called detainer requests. That's when Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, asks local jailers to detain immigrants already behind bars on other charges past their scheduled release date. That gives federal agents time to decide whether they want to deport the person. Gannon says locals need to work with feds on this.
Bob Gannon: We're having some municipalities that are in effect condoning criminal behavior not enforcing the laws as written. You do not have the lawful right to just arbitrate locally that you're going to ignore certain laws.
Andrew Becker: Many counties and cities disagree, and have pushed back against the federal government's request to make them honor detainer requests. Several federal courts have ruled in their favor. Just last month, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that police in that state can't hold people only on ICE detainers. Gannon isn't alone in trying to do away with sanctuary policies. Here's Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Jeff Sessions: I strongly urge our nation's states and cities and counties to consider carefully the harm they are doing to their citizens by refusing to enforce our immigration laws and to rethink these policies. Such policies make their cities and states less safe.
Andrew Becker: When Sessions made this speech in March, the White House was already threatening to cut federal funding to places that won't work with ICE. After San Francisco sued, a federal judge blocked the Trump administration. Then in April, the Justice Department escalated the threats and demanded that nine places, including Milwaukee County, provide proof that they're cooperating with ICE agents. Gannon says the entire country needs to work together.
Bob Gannon: I am in agreement with President Trump that if you break the law in the United States, you should expect to get a one way ticket out of here.
Andrew Becker: Gannon says, "If an immigration crackdown disrupts the rural economy and dairy industry, so be it."
Bob Gannon: If it takes illegal immigrants to make their business model operate, I think their model is broken.
Andrew Becker: At the rally that day, some of the people protesting work for dairy farmers who voted for Trump. Jenny says her husband raised concerns right after the election.
Jenny Estrada: He did actually, the day after Trump won he came home and he said that his boss said to him right away, "Haha, Trump won, yeah, Trump won." She was really excited, and the farm. He says, "We'll see if you say that a couple months down the road when you are milking all these cows by yourself."
Andrew Becker: That's right, Manuel's boss Abby voted for Donald Trump.
Speaker 12: I think we're going to go inside soon.
Jenny Estrada: All right.
Andrew Becker: In Madison, as a sprinkle turns to rain, the protestors push into the capitol building to press their point with lawmakers. They're satisfied that they've been heard, though maybe not listened to. Manuel and Jenny join the others as they board a school bus back toward Manitowoc.

 

For a window into how Wisconsin became so divided, let's go to an event held last February near wash ...

 

  Section 1 of 5          [00:00:00 - 00:10:04]
  Section 2 of 5          [00:10:00 - 00:20:04]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)
 
Michael M.: Became so divided. Let's go to an event held last February near Washington, DC.

 

Speaker 2: Hi, CPAC.

 

Michael M.: It's the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC. It's an annual gathering that brings together top conservative voices and marquee names of the right wing.

 

Speaker 2: Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke is a rock star.

 

Michael M.: Sheriff David Clarke is a cowboy hat wearing, tough talking staple of Fox News. He got a hero's welcome from hundreds of conservatives who had shown up to hear people like Kellyanne Conway, Betsy DeVos, Mike Pence.

 

Speaker 2: And besides our president, I have to say, I think he's the most authentic and influential voice in our culture and in our politics.

 

Michael M.: And he hates sanctuary cities. Clarke has led a chorus of praise for anti sanctuary bills, like the ones in Wisconsin, Texas, and in Congress.

 

David Clarke: Sanctuary cities provide cover for criminal illegal aliens to continue to prey on not only law abiding people, but also illegal immigrants in this country. If you are a criminal ...

 

Michael M.: Clarke is a polarizing figure and a bit of a paradox. He rails against liberals, but he's a registered Democrat. He's an African American who slams the Black Lives Matter movement. He cheers for the Dallas Cowboys. His uncle once played for the team, but he lives in Packer land where rooting for Green Bay is a kind of religion. Clarke wants the federal government to cut funding from sanctuary cities and counties, including Milwaukee.

 

David Clarke: I don't know how any law enforcement official or public official or mayor or governor can sit back with a straight face and say our communities are stronger because of illegal immigration.

 

Michael M.: Sheriff Clarke is at odds with his own county board of supervisors. Five years ago, the board passed a measure limiting how county officials respond to detainer requests from ICE agents. They wanted to shield people involved in minor violations, like traffic stops, from possible deportation. Instead, Clarke says he'll keep anyone locked up for ICE. It's something he brags about on national TV.

 

David Clarke: When ICE has given me a detainer for the last eight years under Obama, I have honored that detainer.

 

Michael M.: This is how a local feud became a national story. It turns out that all of the places being targeted by the Justice Department, including Milwaukee, do hold immigrants for ICE if they've committed serious crimes, but that kind of policy isn't good enough for the feds. They say locals should hold everyone ICE wants. Milwaukee County attorney Margaret Dawn says they're stumped by the attention they're getting, since their sheriff is defying their orders and doing whatever ICE wants.

 

Margaret Dawn: In my near 15 years of practice, I would say this is definitely in the top three of unusual-ness, again both in the stakes at issue, the lack of guidance, and sort of the changeability of the legal landscape on a near daily basis.

 

Michael M.: And there's another thing. One of the reasons the county supervisors passed the measure was financial. Peggy Roma West is the first Latina to be elected to the Milwaukee County board of supervisors. She says holding immigrants for ICE is expensive.

 

Peggy Roma West: In 2012 when we passed that specific ICE detainer resolution, it actually had cost the county $70,000 to detain people for immigration because they weren't paying us per day what it was that we were spending. Why should the citizens of Milwaukee County eat that cost?

 

Michael M.: Over the years, the dollar figure has grown. County officials say it now costs the sheriff's office nearly one million dollars to hold roughly 3,000 inmates a year for ICE, with no reimbursement.

 

Sheriff Clarke declined multiple interview requests. In an email, his spokeswoman wrote that if we want to talk about how issues like immigration divide this country, we should speak with former President Barack Obama. Instead, we turned to someone who's known Clarke for years.

 

Charlie Sykes: Joining me now onstage, he needs no introduction, Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, Jr.

 

Michael M.: Conservative talk radio host Charlie Sykes helped Clarke boost his national profile by making him a regular guest on his statewide show.

 

Charlie Sykes: I've got to ask you about this because you actually have brought a stun gun here. This was not intended for me, I am assuming.

 

David Clarke: You never know.

 

Charlie Sykes: Okay.

 

David Clarke: You never know.

 

Michael M.: Charlie's show aired for nearly 25 years before he stepped down in December. He says that illegal immigration was never a big issue for him, and it wasn't for the sheriff either, until Clarke's profile started to rise and he arrived on the national stage as that political rock star. Now, Charlie regrets giving Clarke a platform.

 

Charlie Sykes: I'm willing to accept the responsibility. I refer to him as my Frankenstein monster. I can't claim that I was not warned. That here's a guy whose rhetoric did not match up with his performance, but Sheriff David Clarke, yeah, there's some significant regrets there.

 

Michael M.: Wisconsin helped Trump win the presidency, but people here didn't necessarily vote for him because of his immigration policies. Particularly in Dairy Land. That's something that didn't dawn on Charlie until another talk radio host told him about a recent show.

 

Charlie Sykes: He said, "You know, I heard this remarkable show the other day where somebody said, 'You know if we didn't have illegal immigrants we couldn't run our dairy farms.'" He said, "I didn't believe him, so I opened up my phones and I got an hour and a half of callers calling in saying, 'That's absolutely true.'" This is not an economy that is being damaged by illegal immigrants. We're really keeping kept afloat by it.

 

Michael M.: What do these changes in immigration policy mean for dairy farmers who voted for Trump? Recently we visited Abby Driscoll's farm, where Manuel Estrada works. We found Abby shoveling hay for the cows. They moo at her, hungry to be fed. Walking out in the barn, she talks proudly about her girls, the cows.

 

Abby Driscoll: See that one right there? That's Candy. She's going to be going to the county fair. She's pretty spoiled.

 

Michael M.: Abby doesn't blame Manuel for living illegally in the country. She says she'll do whatever she can to help and protect him. He's trying to get legal status through his wife. But with her other employees, Abby takes kind of a don't ask, don't tell approach when it comes to their immigration status.

 

Abby Driscoll: We definitely realize that, yeah we are maybe turning a blind eye to it. That some of these workers are in this country illegally.

 

Michael M.: Under the law, Abby must get proof from her employees that they are authorized to work in the country. As long as she can show some documentation, she takes them at their word. Still, I asked Abby why she voted for Trump.

 

Abby Driscoll: I was expecting some things to happen when I voted for Trump, as far as all of his immigration policies, but I guess I wasn't expecting it to go as far as it did already.

 

Michael M.: Neither did other farmers who also depend on immigrant labor. Abby still thinks immigration reform is needed, but not the kind Donald Trump and Sheriff Clarke are talking about.

 

Abby Driscoll: I think that they should make the process easier for them to become legal, for people like Manuel, who want to do the right thing, and they want to be here. And they want to be a citizen, just like everyone else.

 

Michael M.: At their home in Manitowoc, the Estradas say they're fighting back against Trump and the proposed laws because they're afraid of their family being separated.

 

Translator : For me, it's scary. Separation of family is the one thing that I fight the hardest for. Watching people's family gets separated is just, it's heartbreaking. And I am fearful. I think I'm more fearful than him.

 

Michael M.: That story from Reveal's Andrew Becker. Others are fearful, too. So afraid that they're leaving the country.

 

Speaker 9: They better do something, though. They better so something. You see it right here. They're packing up.

 

Michael M.: Does that mean that Donald Trump's immigration policies are working? More on that when we come back. This is Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.

 

From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Michael Montgomery, sitting in for Al Lettson. The state of Wisconsin has become a flashpoint in the debate over immigration. On one side, you have people like Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke. He says immigrants in the country illegally should get out no matter what. On the other, you have farmers. They say a day without undocumented immigrants would slam the brakes on Wisconsin's 43 billion dollar dairy industry. Caught in the middle are the workers, the folks who tend, feed, and milk more than a million cows. Some of them aren't waiting around to see what happens.

 

Alexander Hall of Wisconsin Public Radio and the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism brings us their story.

 

Alexander Hall: In western Wisconsin, there's a farmhouse with a.

 

  Section 2 of 5          [00:10:00 - 00:20:04]
  Section 3 of 5          [00:20:00 - 00:30:04]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)
 
Alexandra Hall: In western Wisconsin there's a farmhouse with a pickup truck parked outside in the driveway. The mid afternoon light lingers and five men are using a drill, a hammer and nails to build what looks like a plywood fence around the sides of the truck bed.

 

While they work, a young woman, her name's Louisa De Pola hurries out of the house carrying something. A cardboard box of books, a suitcase full of clothes, her children's toys, and then she insists that her husband, Miguel Fernandez, take it. His job is to figure out how to fit all of this, every item his family owns, onto the back of this truck. That's hard when you've lived here as long as they have.
A man and woman in their late fifties wait and watch from about 100 feet away. Doug Canepki and his wife, Toni, own this farm.
Doug Canepki: We cannot milk the cows anymore by ourselves. It really does concern me as far as who's going to fill our shoes.
Toni: The Americans just don't want to put the hours in this.
Alexandra Hall: Miguel is from Mexico. He's thought about what Doug and Toni are saying, more than once.
Miguel F.: In the 16 years, I have working on the farm, I never see a American to stop and ask for job to milk cows.
Alexandra Hall: Miguel and the other workers have kept farms going here and in America's Dairyland. If you ask them, they'll tell you stories of how they walked through the desert for days to cross the border into the US. How they eventually got here, to Wisconsin, and they found jobs on farms eager for the help.
Miguel F.: We just come to work but some people think we are taking jobs from the people.
Alexandra Hall: Farmers who hire man like Miguel don't ask too many questions about whether their social security numbers or documents are real. They have an understanding. For decades, it's worked out for Mexican immigrants in Wisconsin to hold steady jobs. They've enjoyed a certain level of security. Some of them say that's not enough to keep them here. Not anymore.
Inside their spacious house Louisa cooks for Miguel and their two sons. She can see the door to the milking parlor through the kitchen window.
Louisa: Before you felt more comfortable, you know, to go out, to buy food, or to the kids' appointments, or whichever place but not anymore.
Alexandra Hall: Louisa was 16 when she traveled to the US from Texwakon, in central Mexico. A few years later, she met Miguel, who's ten years her senior. They started their family in this country and shared a house with other workers on the farm. She says it's been a while since she felt comfortable going into town.
Louisa: These days, it's like people feel more free to be offensive or to do things that aren't okay.
Alexandra Hall: Louisa remembers an uncomfortable encounter Miguel told her about right after the election, last November.
Louisa: He said he went to a gas station to put gas in his car and there were some Americans dressed in hunting gear.
Alexandra Hall: I went to the gas station she's talking about.
Speaker 6: $8.21.
Alexandra Hall: It's 20 minutes more or less from where they live. About a week after the election, Miguel stopped by here with a work buddy. The gas station convenience store is pretty compact. It sells beer and bags of ice, cigarettes and chewing tobacco. There's also tanks of water that hold live bait. Around the cash register, there's beef jerky, energy shots and lighters.
That day, Miguel and his friend had just finished paying when two men in camouflage came in. As they did, one said something to the other. He didn't look at Miguel but it was loud enough for him to hear. Nobody there recorded the exchange but Miguel says he remembers. The man used profanity and then he said, 'The Mexicans, they shouldn't be here.' Then he added something like, 'They aren't welcome. They should go back to Mexico.'
The only other person there who could hear was the cashier. Miguel says she looked serious but she didn't say anything. What the guy said really bothered Miguel but he stayed quiet at the store, and when he got home he told Louisa what had happened.
Louisa: What he said was ugly and not worth repeating. Obviously, he wasn't going to get into it with them because they will always win because they are American and were not.
Alexandra Hall: Miguel and Louisa had always planned to return to Mexico someday. They realized maybe that someday was today.
Miguel F.: Now I think with the new president and then new politics, I think ... It's many people trying to go back.
Alexandra Hall: They decided that after their oldest son finished preschool, Miguel would drive the family's truck and belongings to the boarder. A few days after that, Louisa would fly from Chicago with the kids.
Miguel F.: Our families in Mexico, when they watch the news and the TV they see there are riots on many estates and so they worry about that.
Alexandra Hall: The fear of those raids escalated when rumors spread about immigration officers visiting the town nearest the farm. Miguel says when he told his bosses he planned to go, they offered him more money and his own house if he would stay. He turned down their offer. Four other workers decided to head home too. One reason Miguel says was the new president.
Miguel F.: Because when he was campaigning, then he promised he was going to deport all the people who wasn't legal in the country and stuff. Our bosses always tell us, ' Don't worry because he's not going to do anything,' but in some states it's happening.
Alexandra Hall: There are other reasons to return to Mexico. Miguel says his parents are getting older and his father is sick. Because they entered this country illegally, Miguel and Louisa haven't been able to visit their parents and get back to Wisconsin without risking trouble at the border.
Speaker 6: So you've got phones or whatever that you can keep in contact in case you get separated?
Alexandra Hall: The truck bed enclosure is finished. It's taken all afternoon for the men to load it with furniture, boxes of clothes and kitchen appliances. They've tied down the piles to make sure nothing falls out on the 37 hour drive to their hometown. Miguel's brother, Damaso, he and the others watch the news in Spanish and it's no secret how Wisconsin voted. Until last November, the state hadn't gone for a Republican since Ronald Reagan in 1984.
Damaso: In deciding this state, right, and this is where they need us the most with the labor. It's weird. It's difficult. The truth is, all of the Hispanic people here knew the Americans here in Wisconsin were supporting Donald Trump. I think they made a mistake because a lot of people are fleeing precisely for that reason.
Alexandra Hall: Farm owner, Doug Coneki has 650 cows to milk every single day. He wonders, 'Who's going to do that now when these guys leave?'
Doug Canepki: I don't know where the industry would be right now without them, at all. We're relying on it.
Alexandra Hall: Doug had hoped law makers could have made it easier for his employees to stay on.
Doug Canepki: Like a working visa. They'll do it for a ball player. They'll do it for a migrant worker, which is seasonal. Dairy farming's not seasonal so that frustrates me. If I could have a working visa, I think it'd be a win win.
Alexandra Hall: More than anything he wants somebody, Congress, the President, anyone who has the power to fix this problem.
Doug Canepki: They better do something now. They better do something because they're leaving. You see it right here. They're packing up.
Alexandra Hall: After the truck is loaded, Doug walks ,smiling towards Miguel. The farmer is head and shoulders taller than the herdsman he calls his right hand. Doug slaps Miguel's back as he gives him one last hug goodbye.
Doug Canepki: There's time to change your mind.
Alexandra Hall: Around six thirty the next morning, Miguel, Louisa and the others get into their trucks. Miguel shuts his door, pulls out of the driveway and heads south, to leave Wisconsin and the life he led here in the rear view mirror.
Speaker 7: That story from Alexandra Hall of Wisconsin Public Radio and the Wisconsin Center for investigative Journalism. Miguel and other families made the difficult decision to return to Mexico on their own terms. For those who do remain in this part of Wisconsin, Jim Smith and his wife Jean Rowsh have a plan.
Jean Rowsh: It has it's own entrance.
Speaker 9: This is the entrance. You just go around and ...
 
  Section 3 of 5          [00:20:00 - 00:30:04]
  Section 4 of 5          [00:30:00 - 00:40:04]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)
Jim: You just go around and come in that way.
Jean: But there's lot of doors.
Jim: This is into our area.
Micheal M.: Jim and Jean are showing us around their home. It looks out over dairy's first homestead, more than 170 years ago. This is where they're quietly preparing a small sanctuary.
Jean: We are an apartment that is attached to our home. It's an efficiency apartment. Right now, no one is here, but we never know when they'll come.
Micheal M.: They're retired schoolteachers and life long activists. Jean joined the protest in Madison we heard about earlier in the show. Through their church, the couple became close to Latino immigrants.
Jean: Any people that we know from there are away that this is available because we've worked together on Driver Card and other immigrant issues over the years. They trust who we are and what we offer.
Micheal M.: Jim and jean belong to a network of about two dozen people who plan to take in dairy workers and other immigrants if federal agents try to round them up. They formed a rapid response team to help workers get away from the farms and reunite with their families.
Jim: If somebody comes here and they need a ride to whatever, I will take them there. IF I end up in jail for some reason, I will spend my time writing.
Micheal M.: Jean says people know to activate their safe haven plan if immigration agents show up. Jim has his story read.
Jim: If somebody come here, they're a guest. Our guest. I would definitely treat them that way. If somebody comes looking for me, they can find me. If they go in this apartment, then I would expect some kind of a legal document requiring that I open the door. Otherwise, I will not allow somebody in this apartment.
Micheal M.: For now, the apartment sits empty. For immigrants who intend to stay, their door remains open. Other people are providing sanctuary, not for immigrants who want to stay in the U.S., but those looking for a safe passage north.
Jim: It's not the Hilton but it certainly beats having somebody break down your door and detain you and your family.
Micheal M.: We take a look at the last stop on the 21st century version of the underground railroad when we come back. This is Reveal from the Center of Investigative Reporting and PRX.
Will Carless: Hi. I'm Will Carless a correspondent covering Extremism in America for Reveal. Every week, I choose a topic that has caught my attention and put together The Hate Report, a short bulletin we send out on Friday mornings. I might take an in depth look at a breaking news story, like a racist hate crime, such as the recent stabbings in Portland. Or, I'll put together an analysis of a topic of interest in the world of hate in today's America. You can sign up on our website to have The Hate Report sent to your inbox each week. Just go to revealnews.org/hate.
Micheal M.: From the Center of Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Michael Montgomery in for Al Letson.
Speaker 2: What are your names, [foreign 00:33:38]?
Micheal M.: I want to introduce you to a family in transition.
Imara: I'm [Imara Leon 00:33:43]
Jose: Jose [Forerro 00:33:44].
Micheal M.: Jose and Imara are a married couple from Valencia, the third largest city in Venezuela. He ran a chain of meat markets. She's a doctor. They have three young kids. Over the last few years, life got a lot harder for them.
Jose: Well, the problems that have spread across the country, which everyone knows about.
Micheal M.: Last year, the price of consumer goods spiked 800%. The food shortages were so intense, poor nutrition cause the average Venezuelan to lose 20 pounds. The murder rate shot up and riots broke out.
Imara: Without food, no medicine, no supplies for hospitals. All of these kinds of problems, which are all over the country. And more than anything, the political problem, political, economic, social.
Micheal M.: Jose says Venezuela's government ordered him to sell meat at a low cost. When he didn't, officials threatened to throw him in jail. Many business owners were in the same situation. The family needed a way out.
Jose: We didn't really have a definite plan. Anything for size, but we intended to see there was in the U.S.A.
Micheal M.: Jose came first to Miami on a tourist Visa. Imara and their kids arrived a few months later. They wanted to get asylum in the U.S. It was a long shot. Then, Donald Trump won the presidency.
Imara: Once he won the presidency, there was a march that was actually against immigrants. This made us think again because then, there wouldn't be opportunities for immigrants.
Micheal M.: The family met with immigration attorneys to see if they could say. The lawyers doubted they'd have much success under the new administration. Like a growing number of asylum seekers, they looked north for sanctuary.
Jose: We decide we wouldn't stay, that we had come to.
Micheal M.: A friend told him about a place that could help, a refugee shelter called Vive la Casa. This non-profit is a few miles from the Canadian border and it was Jose and Imara last hope. Reveal's Ike Sriskandarajah follows Jose and Imara along what some call, a new underground railroad to Canada. He starts a red brick school building in a low rent area of Buffalo, New York.
Ike S.: In the middle ages, you could bang on a church door and call out of sanctuary. In 2017, it goes more like this.
Receptionist: Hi. Are you new, trying to go to Canada?
Ike S.: That's the first thing the receptionists asks you when you walk in Vive. "Are you trying to go to Canada today?"
Receptionist: Yeah, pretty much. Yeah. It's pretty much no matter who walks through the legal office, that's kind of the question they get asked.
Ike S.: Vive's Maria Walker helps new arrivals prepare their asylum documents to enter Canada. There are always new arrivals.
Maria : We had a few people. I'm not sure exactly how many but, but we two people come in throughout the night.
Ike S.: How many people are here right now?
Maria : I think just shy of a hundred.
Ike S.: This shelter tries to deliver on the Statue of Liberty's promise. It accepts tired, poor, huddled masses of asylum seekers. They come from dozens of countries: Columbia, Pakistan, Iraq, Haiti. Vive feels like Ellis Island inside a Catholic school. The old, wooden floor boards creak under our feet. Next to every electrical outlet we past, someone from somewhere in the world, is charging a cell phone. It's a waiting room with amenities like lessons in English as a second language.
Maria : We also teach an orientation class two days a week, which is basically preparing people for what's going to happen at the Canadian border.
Ike S.: Buffalo has a long history of helping people on their way to Canada. In the 19th century, Harriet Tubman helped escape slaves across a suspension bridge over the Niagara River, not far from here. During the 1980s, Franciscan nuns in the Buffalo area, took up that task in response to an influx of refugees from war ravaged El Salvador. At first, the nuns were just housing the Salvadorians in their convents. That eventually turned in Vive.
Maria : People find out about Vive through all different ways. They find out through family members. They find out through the internet, all completely word of mouth.
Ike S.: A local healthcare non-profit manages the shelter now, but nuns continue to run it along with volunteers and paid staff, like Maria. Their reputation among distressed, displaced people has only grown.
Maria : January was when we really started getting hit pretty hard. Our numbers almost doubled.
Ike S.: Maria says the staff fielded more than a thousand calls a day. The threat of a travel ban and increased immigration rates also spooked people, even those who'd lived in the U.S. without documents for years. Some supporters of the president may see this as a sign his immigration policies are working. People are self deporting, but there's a difference between the president's tough talk on sanctuaries and what federal agencies actually do. Housing and urban development money help buy this 100 year old brick school house. One of the nuns told me that Homeland Security has dropped people off here when agents didn't know what else to do with them. So far, immigrations and customs enforcement is not entered the building to round up immigrants for detention.
By the time Jose and Imara, the Venezuelan couple, arrived at Vive in March, the place was packed. Nearly 300 people, doubled its capacity, showed up that month. The shelter found overflow space in like-minded local churches. Jose's family headed to Pilgrim St. Luke's, 140 year old united church of Christ congregation, founded by German immigrants. 
  Section 4 of 5          [00:30:00 - 00:40:04]
  Section 5 of 5          [00:40:00 - 00:51:36]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)
Michael Montgom: ... old United Church of Christ congregation founded by German immigrants.
Hey.
Justo Gonzáles: How are you, man?
Michael Montgom: Justo González is the pastor here.
Justo Gonzáles: You know, it's not the Hilton, but it certainly beats having somebody break down your door and detain you and your family or living with that fear of that happening.
Michael Montgom: Justo's congregation recently declared itself a sanctuary church. It's one of 800 religious institutions in the U.S. to do so. That's twice as many as there were before the November election. So far, Pilgrim-St. Luke's has sheltered about 50 people without immigration status.
Justo Gonzáles: We've received people from Maryland, Georgia, Texas, California, New Jersey, North Carolina, New York City, who have fled.
Michael Montgom: All over the U.S., long-time residents without documents, and those passing through, decided to head north after the presidential election. Only a handful of other sanctuary churches have actually housed undocumented people, shielding them from removal. In a phone call with the head of another sanctuary church, Justo realized why his is different.
Justo Gonzáles: I was actually stunned when a pastor in California said, "Oh my God, you have an exit strategy. When they come to me, they are under house arrest in the church basement and can't leave." Well, we do have an exit strategy. This church is less than a mile away from the Peace Bridge.
Michael Montgom: That's the international highway arching over the charging Niagara River, just an eight-minute drive away.
Justo Gonzáles: Look left, you see that? Right there, that's Canada.
Michael Montgom: As a sanctuary activist, Justo has developed a pretty high profile. He scrolls through his phone and shows me all the recent calls and text messages he's gotten from people asking for his help. He's also attracted unwelcome attention.
Speaker 3: You're a scumbag. You're a (beep) piece of (beep) for housing (beep) undocumented illegal alien refugees, and you let them live there. You're a (beep) scummer. I hate you. I hate your church. You're not a church, you're [crosstalk 00:42:18]...
Michael Montgom: It's this kind of talk that convinced José and his family, along with thousands of others, that they might be better of in Canada. After waiting about three weeks in Buffalo, it was their turn. Early one morning, a cab picked up José and his family and drove them to the Peace Bridge, over the Niagara River, to the Canadian Border Services Agency.
With Buffalo on one side, Toronto on the other, this is the business land bridge between the nations. Its building looks out on many lanes of tollbooth-like checkpoints between the U.S. and Canada. Inside, where José and his family waited, it's technically no-man's land.
Martha Mason: We're not really in Canada, and we're not really in the United States. We're kind of on the space that is ... I don't know, it's all border.
Michael Montgom: Yeah.
Martha Mason: I don't know. I call it La La Land.
Michael Montgom: Yeah.
Martha Mason: I don't know if there's a proper name-
Michael Montgom: It's an in-between. It's a purgatory.
Martha Mason: Yeah.
Michael Montgom: It's where Martha Mason runs the Peace Bridge Newcomer Centre. It's a very Canadian waiting room. There's a red maple leaf on the flag and [crosstalk 00:43:29] a picture of Queen Elizabeth on the wall. There's a daytime movie on the TV and a small stack of Little Caesar's pizzas. This is where José and Emira dropped off their luggage and left their three kids under the supervision of the Centre's staff while they did their asylum interviews.
Martha Mason: And the other side of the building, where I can't take you, is Canada Border Services. So, when they- [crosstalk 00:43:50]
Michael Montgom: That's the side where the interviews happen. The first questions they ask Jose?
Speaker 6: [foreign language 00:43:55]
Speaker 7: What was your life like in your home country? [crosstalk 00:44:00] What kind of person were you? Where did you live? How long have you been married to your wife? Honestly, it's a difficult moment.
Michael Montgom: This high-stakes process can take a couple of hours or a full day. You have to prove you are who you say you are and that you have a close family member on the other side. Those are the terms of a treaty between Canada and the U.S. called the Safe Third Country Agreement.
Asylum seekers who can't prove they have what authorities call an "anchor relative" can get sent back to the U.S. and potentially returned to their home countries.
Martha Mason: So, for persons who are out of status in the United States or undocumented, being returned to the United States is pretty high-risk for them.
Michael Montgom: Because, she says, if the U.S. does send them to their home countries, they could end up a political prisoner or dead. 200 Canadian law professors have called for a moratorium on the U.S.-Canada agreement, and there's a lawsuit trying to stop it.
Martha says that's why people who don't meet the criteria sometimes take desperate measures.
Martha Mason: And I have heard stories, if they know that they don't ... if they're not going to be able to meet the agreement, that they're going to go find another place to enter Canada, where they don't have to meet the Safe Third Country agreement.
Michael Montgom: The Royal Canadian Mounted Police has noted an increase in what it calls "irregular crossings." Earlier this year, some crossers braved winter in northern Minnesota to sneak into Manitoba. One Guinean woman died of frostbite. Two of her countrymen lost nearly all their fingers.
Nearly 1000 asylum seekers were refused entry into Canada because of the treaty, including a small group here at the Peace Bridge. Once denied, asylum seekers are then sent back across the bridge, where U.S. Border Patrol agents decide their fate. Some agents send asylum seekers to detention, while others decide to give them a second chance back in the United States.
Martha says the border agents don't tell her who gets in and who gets sent back, but she has her own way of learning what happens.
Martha Mason: So this room is used for luggage, but- [crosstalk 00:46:31]
Michael Montgom: It's a room in the back of the Centre with fluorescent lights, linoleum floors, and shelves for suitcases. Some of the luggage is made of sturdy plastic. Other bags resemble itchy sofa cushions with leather straps.
Martha Mason: And it's really our only indicator to help us know whether a person is found eligible or not.
Michael Montgom: At the end of each asylum seekers interview, if the border agent carries out the luggage, it means the person didn't make it. If an applicant walks out with a suitcase, he or she is free to move on.
Martha Mason: So, when the refugee claimant, at the end of the day, is finished and they go out this door, they're in Canada.
Michael Montgom: And what about José and his family?
Speaker 8: Ben, Juliana, Mari!
Michael Montgom: They made it through that door.
Speaker 8: [foreign language 00:47:22]
Michael Montgom: I met them outside a Salvation Army temporary shelter in a Toronto suburb. José introduces me to his three kids.
Mari: [foreign language 00:47:30]
Michael Montgom: [foreign language 00:47:33]
Mari: [foreign language 00:47:34]
Juliana: [foreign language 00:47:36]
Speaker 11: [foreign language 00:47:41]
Michael Montgom: They're with other children in the yard outside the shelter. The sun is setting, but it's still warm out. Their mom, Emira, asks what they think of the new country.
Mari: [foreign language 00:47:53]
Michael Montgom: They say, "It's beautiful and clean." [crosstalk 00:47:59]
Jose and Emira ask some parents from the shelter to watch the kids as we talk at a nearby Tim Horton's, the Canadian Dunkin Donuts. They're assimilating already.
I ask, "What's been hardest?" And they actually start laughing.
José: Wow. [foreign language 00:48:18]
Speaker 13: Wow. Everything. Really everything. For me the hardest thing, separating from my children. I was off for the five months without them. And, of course, my wife.
José: [foreign language 00:48:34]
Speaker 13: To see everything we left behind in Minnesota. As you can see, we're, well ... Everything we can have to leave behind there. It's been really difficult.
José: [foreign language 00:48:46]
Michael Montgom: What's clear, though, is why they left and what they want for their kids.
Emira: [foreign language 00:48:53]
Speaker 15: So that they can go to high school, because education is the foundation for everything. Somewhere that's located in a place where they can study.
Michael Montgom: Their hearing date with the refugee tribunal, the independent Canadian council that determines asylum cases is scheduled for later this month.
Emira: [foreign language 00:49:13]
Speaker 15: A day we've been waiting for. We knew this would happen, that it would come. And, well, I really hope that that's God's will. Whatever the judge decides, I will accept it.
Michael Montgom: Until that decision, she and her husband maintain their faith and continue to learn about this new, northern home.
Emira: [foreign language 00:49:34]
José: God bless you.
Michael Montgom: God bless you.
José: Bless you. Okay.
Emira: Okay.
Michael Montgom: José and Emira have a pretty good shot at staying in Canada. Last year, authorities there gave asylum to nearly two out of every three people who asked for it. If you're wondering, Canada's rate of granting asylum is about 50% higher than the U.S.
Today's show was produced by Ike Sriskandarajah, Andrew Becker, and Alexandra Hall. Our show was edited by Cheryl Devall. Thanks to Reveal's Ziva Branstetter and Patrick Michels, and to Wisconsin Public Radio and the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.
Jim Crickey provided production help. Special thanks to Sylvia Torres, Fernando Alvarez, Mabel Jimenez, David Rodriguez, and Emmanuel Martinez.
Our sound design team is Jim Briggs and Claire Mullen, with help from Catherine Raymondo. Our Head of Studio is Christa Scharfenberg. Amy Pyle is our Editor-in-Chief. Susanne Reber is our Executive Editor, and our Executive Producer is Kevin Sullivan.
Our theme music is by Camerado-Lightning. Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.
Reveal is a co-production of the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.
I'm Michael Montgomery. Al Letson will be back next week.
  Section 5 of 5          [00:40:00 - 00:51:36]