A family waits outside the San Ysidro Port of Entry where thousands of names are on a waiting list.
A family waits outside the San Ysidro Port of Entry where thousands of names are on a waiting list. Photo by Chris Stone

The privately funded shelter for refugees opened last month and revealed Monday by a coalition of San Diego social service agencies follows a long tradition of Americans taking government-created problems into their own hands.

When Immigration and Customs Enforcement began dropping off refugees at the downtown bus station with ankle bracelets but no other arrangements, Jewish Family Service, Catholic Charities, the ACLU and other local groups sprang into action.

Their effort is part of a grand tradition in America. Whether it was slavery before the Civil War, women’s right to vote after World War I, civil rights in the 1950s and 60s, or the environmental movement in recent decades, Americans don’t quietly accept misguided government polices. They ignore them, fight them and find creative ways to circumvent them.

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The Trump administration apparently believes that creating as much hardship as possible for refugees is the best way to dissuade them from migrating. But that Machiavellian view collides with America’s fundamental humanity.

The earlier policy of separating families at the border was denounced by Americans on both sides of the immigration debate. The latest policy has been met by private efforts large and small all along the Mexican border.

The new refugee shelter, operated under the coalition’s San Diego Rapid Response Network, is housing as many as 100 people a night, providing food, medical assistance, legal support and travel arrangements as they await an asylum hearing.

On a smaller scale, Times of San Diego has reported on the efforts of two local women to distribute food bags and stuffed animals to families at the bus station.

Rabbi Devorah Marcus of Temple Emanu-El put the shelter effort in the context of our Thanksgiving holiday, pointing out that the Pilgrims fleeing religious persecution were welcomed by the Indians, who shared a harvest feast with the new arrivals. Like those welcoming Indians, San Diego has an obligation to help.

“As a border town, we understand that we are a gateway of welcome,” said Marcus at the press conference announcing the shelter.

Nothing in these efforts suggests breaking the law, but Americans have a long tradition of independently standing up for what’s right. And that’s definitely something to be Thankful for this week.

Chris Jennewein is editor and publisher of Times of San Diego.

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.