Tammy Alexander speaks at a congressional briefing after the detention of Mennonite pastor Max Villatoro.
Tammy Alexander speaks at a congressional briefing after the detention of Mennonite pastor Max

Executive actions: Due to congressional inaction on immigration reform legislation, President Obama took executive action at the end of 2014 to allow some undocumented immigrants to stay temporarily in the U.S. This action would have expanded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and added a new Deferred Action for Parents of Americans program for undocumented parents of U.S. citizens or permanent residents. These programs were to go into effect in May 2015 but were blocked by a federal judge in February after Texas and 25 other states sued. The case is now headed to the Supreme Court where a ruling is likely in June.

Central American migration: In 2014, as a result of increasing numbers of migrants coming to the U.S. from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, the Obama administration opened two new family detention centers. A series of court cases have curtailed the practice somewhat and families are now reportedly being held for weeks rather than months. One facility, in Berks, Pa., is scheduled to close in February when its license expires (the state is refusing to renew it). The private prison companies which run the other two facilities, both in Texas, are trying to obtain a state license to hold children (in order to get around one of the court rulings). We have strongly advocated against the use of family detention.

Pastor Max: On March 3, Mennonite pastor Max Villatoro was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents as part of a nationwide sweep that picked up more than 2,000 immigrants. Villatoro came to the United States in 1995 and has a wife and four children in Iowa City. After an unprecedented campaign calling for his release, he was deported to Honduras on March 20. Though the campaign did not succeed, supporters are hopeful that the advocacy on behalf of Villatoro may have prevented similar nationwide sweeps. Washington Office staff continue to work with partners in D.C. and Iowa to bring Max home to his family and to raise awareness about how such deportations violate stated ICE policies and needlessly separate families.

Office activities and new resources: Washington Office staff met with White House officials to discuss family unity and Central American migration. As part of the advocacy for Pastor Max, we also met with various Department of Homeland Security and ICE officials, including ICE director Sarah Saldaña. Staff also spoke at a congressional briefing, were interviewed by MundoFox, participated in a fast outside of ICE headquarters, and created petitions, action alerts, and articles to raise awareness and encourage advocacy.
Our staff continues to co-chair the Interfaith Immigration Coalition and collaborate with partner organizations on letters, campaigns and webinars. We also published a piece in The Mennonite detailing the November 2014 executive action. New resources include the “Worst of the Worst” report describing how the detention of pastor Max Villatoro and others was in direct violation of ICE guidelines.

Looking ahead: Unfortunately, it is extremely unlikely the U.S. Congress will pass an immigration reform bill this year or any time soon. In 2016 we expect to see more bills proposed to increase immigration enforcement, including border militarization. The Obama administration will likely continue to respond to the influx of Central American refugees by detaining families and assisting Mexico in strengthening their border security and interior enforcement. —Tammy Alexander

Immigration resources

MCC U.S. Washington Office immigration resources

Wall to Wall, Part 2: The U.S.-Mexico Border Wall

Petition for pastor Max Villatoro

People on the move immigration exhibit

Mennonite Church USA Radical Hospitality Sunday school series

“Worst of the Worst” report

Start a documentation program in your church