Bellingham fellowship assists families of immigrants arrested in ICE raid

Bellingham fellowship assists families of immigrants arrested in ICE raid

Unitarian Universalists provide meeting space, food, money, and volunteer support to local immigrant families disrupted by ICE arrests.

Elaine McArdle
Families of Bellingham men detained in an August ICE raid are getting support from the organization Raid Relief to Reunite Families

Families of men detained by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement in an August raid in Bellingham, Washington, are getting support from the organization Raid Relief to Reunite Families. (© 2018 Elizabeth Darrow)

© 2018 Elizabeth Darrow


A special interfaith service and gratitude dinner took place on November 21 at the Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship (BUF) in Bellingham, Washington, to raise money for sixteen immigrant families whose primary breadwinners were arrested during an ICE raid on August 29 at a granite company in Whatcom County.

“Somos el Barco: An Interfaith Celebration of Thanksgiving” raised approximately $5,000, an amount that was then matched with a grant from another local group, said the Rev. Paul Beckel, the fellowship’s minister. The funds will be used to provide basic support for the families, including food, housing, and transportation, he said.

About 170 people from thirteen faith groups attended the service and the fundraising dinner, which featured foods from the countries from which the arrested men hail. Tickets sold out weeks ahead of time, Beckel said. At the service, the fellowship’s choir and a combined choir from the participating faith groups sang songs in Spanish; the service was also translated into Spanish.

The situation of the men, who were arrested at Granite Precast in Bellingham, and their families is “urgent,” said Deb Cruz, a fellowship member and the president of JUUstice Washington, the state action group for UUs. After arrest, the men—who are from Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala—were sent to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington, where Unitarian Universalists from around Washington State have been protesting U.S. immigration policy for the past four years.

Immediately following the August raid, BUF agreed to accept donations for the men and their families and was able to help pay the bonds of some men, who were released. Others were deported, however, and some remain in the detention center, Beckel said.

The fellowship has raised $15,000 for direct aid to the families and men so far, including a $4,000 donation from University Unitarian Church in Seattle, Beckel said. BUF has now passed the administration of the funds to Catholic Community Services in Bellingham, which has the experience and capacity for processing donations, including those from large donors. Whatcom Community Foundation is also supporting the families with fundraising and in other ways. BUF continues to assist by directing funds to help those who were arrested pay attorneys’ fees and bail bonds.

Soon after the raid, some families affected by it began joining the congregation’s weekly community dinner, Beckel said. Afterwards, they meet in the BUF building to support each other and collaborate on how to address the detention of their breadwinners. Having the families at the weekly dinner “has changed the atmosphere tremendously in a positive way,” says Beckel. By fundraising and offering space and fellowship to the families, “it just feels very purposeful that we are providing something very concrete.” The congregation also serves as a place where a local food bank drops off food for the families.

For thirteen years, the Bellingham UUs have partnered with Community to Community Development, or C2C, a women-led grassroots organization dedicated to food sovereignty and immigrant rights, to support immigrants in Whatcom County, Cruz said. The executive director of C2C, Rosalinda Guillen, is a member of the fellowship. BUF works with C2C to assist immigrants in the community “because we want to affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person, including our undocumented neighbors, and this is something that is within our sphere of influence that we can do in a very concrete way to make a difference in people’s lives,” Beckel said.