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Volunteers In NYC Show Support For Immigrants At Court Appearances, Appointments


A new type of volunteer opportunity has taken off in New York City. Hundreds of people are going with immigrants to court appearances and appointments with immigration officials. With President Trump's crackdown on illegal immigration, the volunteers want to show solidarity. WNYC's Beth Fertig brings us this story.

MARISSA LOHSE: Perfect. OK, tell me your name.


BETH FERTIG, BYLINE: On a recent weekday morning, Marissa Lohse is gathering her troops in a coffeeshop in lower Manhattan.

LOHSE: Perfect, perfect. That would be great.

FERTIG: Lohse is with the New Sanctuary Coalition. It's a network of congregations and individuals who accompany immigrants facing deportation to the Federal Building, which is just down the street. Jean Hale is a first-time volunteer. She doesn't know what to expect.

HALE: I think it may be just emotional support and perhaps a big hug.

FERTIG: Hale says she's horrified by the Trump administration's aggressive enforcement of immigration laws. She's 73, a retired English as a Second Language teacher.

The volunteer program took off in 2010 during a previous crackdown under former President Obama. But Lohse - herself an immigrant from Argentina - says it's now bigger than ever. Several hundred volunteers came forward after Trump took office. A lot are retirees like her. They call the immigrants, friends.

LOHSE: Before, I was just going by myself with a friend. Now it's just, thank God we have so many volunteers. So I do it, and I cry when I think about it.

FERTIG: There's a lot on the line. These volunteers are joining people at immigration court hearings to determine whether they can stay in the country. Others are bringing them to check-ins with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Many undocumented immigrants were allowed to stay as long as they regularly met with ICE. These check-ins used to be routine.

Now, some immigrants are detained without any warning. Lohse has seen that firsthand.

LOHSE: I've been one time when I was with a wife of a guy. Then, the ICE agent came out with a pair of glasses and a wallet. Your husband wants you to have this. They didn't give a chance for her to say goodbye.

FERTIG: This type of volunteering is not easy. It's emotional, and the issues are thorny. At a training session, volunteers are told all immigrants deserve support, even those who have committed crimes. That gave one man pause.

ED STUBIN: I can accept that the criminal justice system isn't always right, but I'm troubled having to go with some people that I don't think should be on this earth, much less in this country.

FERTIG: That's Ed Stubin, a business owner who says his father was an immigrant. He decides he will volunteer, however, when a coordinator assures him that immigrants who commit serious crimes are usually held in detention.

On the day of the coffeehouse meeting, about 40 volunteers are joining eight immigrants. One of those immigrants is Inez, a young mother seeking asylum who doesn't want us using her full name. She's got her 3-year-old son with her, and she's grateful to have six of the volunteers going with her to immigration court.

INEZ: (Foreign language spoken).

FERTIG: The group includes Jean Hale, the retired teacher and first-time volunteer. They spent four hours in the waiting room outside court. Mostly, they played with Inez's toddler. Finally, Inez had her hearing. The judge gave her three more months to find a lawyer.

Afterward, outside the federal building, Hale said some undocumented immigrants deserve to stay.

HALE: I would like to see our laws changed so that people could remain who have come to our country.

FERTIG: Hale also said she'll continue to volunteer. For NPR News, I'm Beth Fertig in New York.