Archive for the ‘Christian’ Category

No Border Wall Walk- Day 7 or A Day of Thanksgiving

March 14, 2008

   No Border Wall Walk- Day 7 with the Heedless Horseman from Smokin’ Joe’s BBQ

    Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Progreso, like so many other churches along our walk, absolutely saw the sojourner in us and welcomed us like a Good Samaritan. We came asking only shelter, and Yolanda and Father Thomas fed us snacks. We were looking for a place to lay our head, and they provided us much-needed showers and our only laundry services of the whole 9-day walk. As tired and beleaguered wanderers, we were welcomed wholeheartedly by this faith community, and one gets the feeling that an extralegal immigrant and his family might find the same welcome at the doors of Holy Spirit. Surely they are living the call of Leviticus 19:33-34 which calls peoples of faith to embrace immigrants, stating, “The strangers who sojourn with you shall be to you as the natives among you, and you shall love them as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

    Day 7 was at least 99 degrees, and by some accounts as hot as 102. Many of us got burnt, I suffered heat hives, and all of us slowed our 2-3 mph pace considerably in the sweltering sun. It was hotter than a human heart, the organ this entire walk has targeted. Believing that people are innately good, we feel that they simply must not know the wonderful people and beautiful places which a wall would destroy and immigration legislation could enhance. As members of the walk give interviews with local news stations or national newspapers, we are laying out the facts of the immigration debate and the logic as to why the United States should not build a wall. The real story, the story we pray is reaching the hearts of the world, is on display behind us, in the gorgeous palm groves and birding preserves and in the single-story homes and land grant ranches which will be devastated by the building of any wall.

One of the most historically fascinating parts of the trip came at the Rio Rico historic landmark. Sipping some much-needed Gatorade (donated by yet another church), we learned that when the international boundaries were moved from the Nueces River to the Rio Grande and everyone to the north was given citizenship status, some people took their rights into their own hands. The people of Rio Rico dug a canal in the 1800s, changing the course of the river so it would flow south of them and give them certain “inalienable rights.” Though this met with some opposition, all 200 of them were finally given full citizenship status and are now proud to be called Americans. People have been subverting unjust immigration laws for a long, long time…

This Friday’s march was another great opportunity to dialogue with the amazing people who have pledged 9 days of their lives and 120 miles of their feet to speak out against the Secure Fence Act of 2006. Some new recruits to the group were discussing political figures who have let down the American public, either through faulty promises or mismanagement or the profit motive. Hearing this rhetoric, though, I could see many of the through-walkers bristle at its negativity. We are not waging a campaign against people, because people are never beyond redemption. In his speech “Loving your Enemies,” our hero and mentor Martin Luther King said,

…This simply means that there is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies. When we look beneath the surface, beneath. the impulsive evil deed, we see within our enemy-neighbor a measure of goodness and know that the viciousness and evilness of his acts are not quite representative of all that he is. We see him in a new light. We recognize that his hate grows out of fear, pride, ignorance, prejudice, and misunderstanding…

We are working to change oppressive and unjust systems in our nation and in the world, but our struggles can never be directed at a single person because it becomes hate and cyclical violence. So, I spoke up to him as he was bashing a man who has waived 19 different environmental laws in order to build the wall in Arizona. I said that it is fruitless and ultimately violent to direct anger at people. If we have a problem with someone, we should not even say their name. Our conflict is not with them but with their actions. On the other side, however, when someone deserves praise, we should use their names in the most intimate way. Praise should always be extremely personal and direct; critiques should always be directed at fixed systems or established actions rather than people, because people possess the power to change.

With that in mind, I would love to praise Laura and Jonathan Loveless for their generous providence of another homemade lunch today in the tiny town of Santa Maria – your surname is clearly a misnomer. I wish to praise the heedless horseman Vince for riding his horse Tocallo and enlivening us with his sage vaquero wisdom and his cowboy guitar-playing. I would like to thank Gene for riding his bike from Brownsville to join us for most of the day’s walk. Jose, your calm discussion about the border region and your work with UTPA students kept me walking when I was most affected by the heat. To all the ladies at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Las Rusias, God bless you for your tambourines and noisemakers as we hobbled home to your fish dinner and your old-time Spanish praise songs. God bless you Nenna for sharing the lives of your eight children, your land along the levee and the site of the proposed border wall, and the encouraging shower at your house. Father Albert – we are so grateful for our kind reception at your church. You and Father Thomas from Progreso, both immigrants from the Congo, illustrate the beauty and the love and the potential immigrants can and do offer if only given the opportunity through our immigration system. Thanks to all 250 of you who have walked even a step of this march thus far; your footsteps give us the faith that we are not alone.

Continuing in the same vein of praise, I would also like to thank the individual members of this walk. These people have dedicated nine days of their lives, 126 miles of their feet, and 24 hours of every single day to the purpose of protesting the injustice of the Secure Fence Act of 2006, supporting the sanctity of all border regions, and respecting the divine spark of humanity in every single immigrant. I am eternally grateful to Mike and Cindy Johnson, both educators from the Brownsville school system who devoted their entire spring break to an issue in which they believe. Mike’s endless energy has uplifted our spirits on many a long day, and Cindy’s heart for each house we pass reminds me of why we are walking. Thank you Cindy for talking with each of these landowners, informing them of their legal rights, and encouraging them with the faith that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

Matt Smith

Thank you Matt Smith for your love of the communities on both sides of the river. Your work in the maquiladora factories in Mexico prove that you are willing to work at righting injustice, and you bring that same moral indignation to this No Border Wall Walk. Your guitar-playing and IPOD-blasting have kept us dancing and singing and positive all 100 miles so far, and they are sure to see us all the way to Brownsville. Thank you also Domingo Gonzalez; your offer of transportation has been invaluable, and your happy car honks always seem to lift our spirits. Cesar Chavez, your fellow UFW mate, would be proud.

Crystal Canales

I have to thank Crystal Canales for her limitless energy, her youthful idealism, and her passion for people. Crystal is the only UTB student who sacrificed an entire spring break to protest a border wall in the Valley she has always called home. Her words of support and positivity, both in Spanish and in English, have been truly profound and have made the most cynical of us act in love.

Elizabeth Stephens

Elizabeth Stephens, we owe you so much thanks for your organizing skills in Progreso and your understated leadership on the march. Bearing blisters since Day 2, you have found a quiet reserve of strength and managed to “mount up on wings of eagles” when others would be plummeting like sparrows. Perhaps it has something to do with your button which states, “I am loved.” We all pray you will continue your activism here in Brownsville and the greater Rio Grande Valley for many years to come.

Nat Stone

Nat Stone, every single member of this walk is grateful for your constant encouragement and your affirmation of our work. Your daily documentary film-making reminds us that our protest is not here in the Valley but in the hearts of our nation. We all pray that your talented filmography manages to prick our country’s conscience. Seeing you leap-frogging us again and again has kept us walking when we would just as soon take yet another water break. We also thank you because no other documentary makers would be calling the Obama campaign office everyday, nor would they be handing out legal information to local residents, nor would they stop and be a first responder at a car accident. You make us all proud to live on la frontera.

Jay Johnson-Castro – your 600 miles of walks before March 8 made our march possible. Your guidance from walks past, as well as your teeming knowledge about this issue, have guided our thinking and our planning on this walk. You have brought media attention to the Valley and to the issues we confront, and we pray you will continue to nonviolently campaign for justice on the border.

Kiel Harell

Kiel Harell, how can we ever thank you for the days and days of accumulated time you spent on the phone rallying support for this March Against the Wall. Your quiet strength, your welcoming persona in your down-home overalls that harken back to the SNCC days of the civil rights movement, your conversational tone with reporters and recalcitrant locals, your well-read understanding of nonviolence and your recent exploration of faith – we are thankful that you canceled your plane ticket home and are campaigning for the homes of thousands along our nation’s southern border.

John Moore

Brother John Moore, this walk was your dream some two months ago. You have lived in San Diego, El Paso, and now Brownsville, and your triangulated perspective on the border gives purpose and far-reaching unity to our efforts here. We are not alone, nor are we simply campaigning for the rights of these people within a 120-mile stretch of this snaking Rio Grande. Our efforts are for the 5,000 mile Canadian border, the largest international border in the world, just as much as they are for the Mexican border. Thank you for directing our anger into purposeful, nonviolent ways; thank you for reminding us of the power of redemption and the promises of our God. Thank you for turning me on to nonviolence and its application to every part of my life.

The thanks could go on indefinitely. We have been brimming with gratitude for the opportunity to hear the stories of this Valley and the opportunity to participate in a story of redemption here on the border. Contrary to the opinions of many, this border wall has not been built yet, and although it is a law right now, so was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the 1924 Immigration Quota based on nation of origin. The Secure Fence Act of 2006 is not inevitable; it has only as much mandate as we give it. Please write your Congressman and convince them to vote for the Grijalva Bill which begins to bring the border wall discussion into environmental accountability, and also urge them to vote against the other bill which would set a certain date for the beginning of construction on this destructive symbol of division. Any prayers and support you can offer this march in its final days would be precious.

Speech for an Education Club at UT-Brownsville

February 25, 2008

    I was asked to come speak here tonight on the No Border Wall Walk, issues of immigration, and my occupation educating high-school ESL students. As an English teacher, it is always heartening to find a common theme, and there most certainly is a vein running through all of these somewhat disparate topics. Martin Luther King, Jr. put it this way in his essay “Loving your Enemies”:

An element of goodness may be found even in our worst enemy. Each of us has something of a schizophrenic personality, tragically divided against ourselves. A persistent civil war rages within all of our lives…This simply means that there is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies. When we look beneath the surface, beneath. the impulsive evil deed, we see within our enemy-neighbor a measure of goodness and know that the viciousness and evilness of his acts are not quite representative of all that he is. We see him in a new light. We recognize that his hate grows out of fear, pride, ignorance, prejudice, and misunderstanding…”

The concept that man is innately good and will do good if educated, encouraged, and allowed to do so by law – this concept shapes my hopes and my dreams and demands my participation in immigration, education, and nonviolent demonstrations such as the No Border Wall Walk.

 

    Unlike many teachers, I had not always dreamed of being a teacher. True, I had excellent teachers and mentors who shaped my young life, but I always thought they had shaped me to be a writer, an artist. It wasn’t until I actually set out to be a freelance writer in New York City that I realized the hard truth – not only was it next to impossible to get a job without first having a job, it also would bore me to death to stare only at words all day long. So, I applied to Teach For America and was accepted to teach English in the Rio Grande Valley.

    At this point, my audience must know that one of my favorite verses comes in Esther 4:14, “…And who knows but that you have come to [this] position for such a time as this?” That is precisely how I felt, coming to Brownsville, Texas, the poorest city in the United States, just as the Secure Fence Act of 2006 was passed. Teaching English-as-a-Second-Language students caused me to experience firsthand the immigration process, the excruciatingly slow wait of approved immigrants awaiting their lottery number, the pained reality that for some families, to leave Brownsville would be to leave their loved ones, huddled just across the river.

    ESL education is my job, and I try hard to equip my students with the skills they need to be literate. My goal is for them to be able to mean what the write and write what they mean, but also to be discerning of any message they encounter. However, I also realize my job as a teacher is only one part educator. The role of mentor has been paramount to my students and to my job satisfaction.

    In an effort to impart the ideas of social activism and nonviolence, while also readying my students for college, we spent a 6-week grading period reading inspiring documents by King, Chavez, Gandhi, Thoreau. Every 6-week marking period, students are required to internalize this spirit of volunteerism and community service. Because I feel most people are just waiting for an excuse to do good, it is easy for me to ask this of my students. And most of them have responded with impressive results. Many students attended school-sponsored service outings to the Gladys Porter Zoo, Sabal Palms Audobon Sanctuary, Boca Chica Beach, and Vermillion Elementary School. Some students even invented their own good turns, from mowing lawns and babysitting to cutting hair and painting a house.

 

    Teaching also excited my passion for immigration issues. Over the years teaching ESL students and other recent immigrants, I have become a staunch advocate of compassionate, comprehensive immigration reform. Instead of a border wall of any thickness or design, our nation and the globalized world need the United States to lead with progressive immigration legislation which decriminalizes immigrants, vastly remodels or replaces the current quota system, and which allows current residents viable means to earned citizenship.

    This passion for immigration puts me at odds with the border wall, for moral issues as well as social, economic, and environmental ones. Because I feel that people are good but sometimes make wrong decisions, I feel that liberalizing immigration reform would allow both American citizens and the 12 million extralegal Americalmosts a chance to do “good” by immigration. Given the opportunity and the hope, would-be immigrants would try the legal means which have previously been denied or delayed them. Given the right laws, Americans could welcome immigrants and refugees with open arms into our diversifying communities, our flagging economy, and our cultural melange.

 

    And that is what finally brings me to espouse nonviolence as the proper and only means of advocating against the border wall and for immigrants and the border region. Nonviolent demonstrations, unlike any other form of protest or persuasion, allows both sides of a conflict the opportunity to live up to their absolute best. The nonviolent protester advocates in a way that encourages goodness, and the opposing groups are challenged to compromise and/or amend their thinking to the “more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31 NIV).

    There are thousands of people in these United States simply waiting to speak out and leave behind the silent majority. Dr King wrote in his Autobiography that, “The ultimate tragedy of Birmingham was not the brutality of the bad people, but the silence of the good people,” and there are countless Americans stateside and abroad who are trying to end the tragedy. “There is no force more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” This Victor Hugo quotation which Dr. King riffed on many a speech sums up the importance of my life philosophy. The time for immigration reform has come, the need for nonviolent protests is readily apparent, and the necessity to educate our youth “in the ways they should go” (Psalm 32:8 NIV) – all these are upon us.

    Let us work diligently under the assumption that our brothers and sisters are simply waiting for the right opportunity to act on the good. Perfect love, the kind that drives out fear, is necessary to be successful in life’s meaningful endeavors. As former SNCC Chairman and current Congressman John Lewis writes in Walking with the Wind,

It is a love that accepts and embraces the hateful and the hurtful. It is a love that recognizes the spark of the divine in each of us, even in those who would raise their hand against us, those we might call our enemy. This sense of love realizes that emotions of the moment and constantly shifting circumstances can cloud that divine spark. Pain, ugliness, and fear can cover it over, turning a person toward anger and hate. It is the ability to see through those layers of ugliness, to see further into a person than perhaps that person can see into himself, that is essential to the practice of nonviolence. (76)

May “perfect love drive out fear” as in 1 John 4:18, and may everyone begin to work towards their ideals with the inspiring epiphany that all men are not only created equal, but also good. For extralegal immigrants and multi-generational citizens, Christians and agnostics, Republicans and Democrats, all we need is the chance.

People of Faith United For Immigrants- American Friends Service Committee

February 22, 2008

   

    In a week that witnessed Hillary Clinton stating, “We need smart borders…I will listen to the people of the Valley and make sure that we secure the border but don’t divide people from their families …” while simultaneously making the international hand gesture for wall, immigration and border security is most definitely back in the nation’s political eye. For some, including myself, it has become the issue of this Presidential race. When Obama and Clinton’s policies look all too similar, if one of them moved to retract the vote they made in support of the wall, a huge shift in support could result, especially in the nation’s minority votes.

    With all this at the forefront of the nation’s thinking, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) begins its annual meeting. This time, however, it is not meeting in the wintry climes of Philadelphia, but rather in the beautiful San Juan Cathedral here in the Rio Grande Valley where Clinton and Obama are making stops themselves. The AFSC is meeting here en la frontera to be able to actively engage immigration reform at its vanguard. Immigration is a focus of this service-oriented organization.

    The AFSC has long been integrally involved in issues of civil rights. Their involvement, encouragement, and enabling of Martin Luther King helped him and his significant movement. The AFSC paid for his pilgrimage to India. They first published his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” And when the time came, the AFSC nominated Dr. King for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, which he won.

    And so it is with great welcome that all social activists, and in particular those citizens concerned with issues of citizenship and immigration, welcome the AFSC to our Rio Grande Valley. We urge you to remain mindful of the, “Principles for Comprehensive Immigration Reform in the United States,” an excellent document published in May 2006 which affirms the humanity of immigration laws.

 

Undocumented immigrants pay taxes, and contribute to the economic, social, and cultural development of their communities in countless ways. A legalization program would recognize the equity undocumented people have built through their participation in U.S. society and acknowledge the inherent injustice of the secrecy, vulnerability, and exploitation imposed on undocumented women, men and children.

— AFSC Board of Directors, June 23, 2001

The work of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in immigrant communities is based on our belief in the worth and inherent dignity of every person. As an expression of this commitment, we have consistently expressed support for undocumented immigrants. AFSC has repeatedly called on the U.S. government to grant permanent residency to all undocumented men, women and children. We thus believe that actions leading to comprehensive immigration reform should reflect the following components:

  1. Respect for the civil rights and all human rights of immigrants;

  2. Inclusive and coordinated measures that support immigration status adjustment for undocumented workers;

  3. Support for the distinctly important and valuable role of family ties by supporting the reunification of immigrant families in a way that equally respects heterosexual and same-sex relationships;

  4. Humane policies that protect workers and their labor and employment rights;

  5. Measures that reduce backlogs that delay the ability of immigrants to become U.S. permanent residents and full participants in the life of the nation and of their communities;

  6. The removal of quotas and other barriers that impede or prolong the process for the adjustment of immigration status;

  7. Guarantees that no federal programs, means-tested or otherwise, will be permitted to single out immigrants for exclusion;

  8. Demilitarization of the U.S. border and respect and protection of the region’s quality of life.

  9. “Free trade” agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA have had a detrimental impact on sending countries from the global South, provoking significant increases in migration. Such international economic policies should be consistent with human rights, fair trade, and sustainable approaches to the environment and economic development.

Immigration Realities: An AFSC Perspective

The growth of undocumented migration is a worldwide phenomenon. Although many people are propelled into migration for political and other reasons, labor migration clearly accounts for the greatest part of the migrant stream. In this sense, the growth of a transnational labor force is a structural feature of increasing global economic integration. U.S. policies that are intended to deter undocumented migration have failed entirely to achieve this objective, while increasing the violation of human rights, as well as aggravating anti-immigrant prejudice and hate violence.

In addition, punitive measures such as increased surveillance and patrols at the border, raids on homes and workplaces, and detaining and deporting undocumented people do not address the underlying reasons that people migrate. Those measures create fear and polarization during a time when we should be creating hope and peace in our communities.

One stark indication of this failure is that hundreds of migrants die each year trying to cross the Mexican-U.S. border in increasingly dangerous circumstances. U.S. communities that lie along the border with Mexico live a reality that is essentially different from the rest of the country. U.S. immigration policy has transformed the region into a militarized zone where the U.S.

Constitution and international law are applied only selectively. Efforts to secure the southern border have had dire human consequences, from the ever-increasing tally of migrant deaths to the systemic violation of the civil and human rights of border crosser’s and border communities.

Because border enforcement is a reality that these communities will continue to face, it is essential that any debate that focuses on increasing the security of the U.S.-Mexico border be based on a strong commitment to accountability and human rights, including civil rights. It is essential that the perspectives of those who live in border communities be included in such a debate.

AFSC calls upon the U.S. Congress to consider that its policies, laws, and regulations on immigration will affect the rest of the world negatively or positively, especially our neighbors to the South. Remittances from migrant workers in the United States and other rich countries contribute more to the economies of their countries of origin than all forms of development assistance, by approximately 50 percent yearly. For many of the world’s poor, economic integration through remittances is the only form of economic globalization with a positive impact on their living standards. Sooner or later, comprehensive immigration reform will need to be carried out not just unilaterally, but multilaterally, in concert with the needs and interests of other countries that send migrants or refugees to the United States and whose cultures, peoples, and economic prospects are thereby bound up with the citizens and residents of this country. <http://www.afsc.org/immigrants-rights/PrinciplesforImmigrationReform_en.htm>

Once again, the AFSC highlights the human aspect of a topic which all too many people debate coldly, stiffly, politically. Their advocation of smart borders makes sense both for the world and for the person. In reading this excellent document, I am reminded of a late-night coffee-table talk with longtime activist and Friend Domingo Gonzalez. He pointed out that, “In taking the train from New Jersey to Philadelphia, you cross more ethnic and racial boundaries than at any border crossing. If only we could make our borders like those of our cities’.” Hopefully this weekend, the AFSC can discuss more ways in which our nation can be made to take real steps towards making this world a collection of city-states where migrants need not fear imaginary lines. And hopefully, they will add both their prayers and their endorsement to the No Border Wall Walk as it attempts to re-open the issue of immigration via the border wall. If everyone in the Valley says the same thing at the same time, how powerful a message we could send! Maybe all the way to Washington, maybe all the way to India…

People of Faith United For Immigrants- Lutheran Church

February 9, 2008

While the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) claims to have no “…special wisdom from the Word of God to determine which laws should be changed, if any, or how to change them,” it still has come out strongly in favor of increased refugee admittance and family reunification. Unlike LCMS, The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) focuses some humanitarian efforts on “newcomers without legal status” as “a permanent sub-group of people who live without recourse to effective legal protection opens the door for their massive abuse and exploitation and harms the common good.” <http://www.elca.org/socialstatements/immigration/> Both of these churches, despite their divergent views on extralegal residents, have historically striven for justice for the refugee and the asylum seeker.

The stance of the ELCA echoes the LCMS, however, in its call for increasing the number of admitted refugees and asylum seekers into the United States. According to the ELCA website, after WWI, when 1/6 of Lutherans were a refugee or asylum seeker, their church became very active in advocating for displaced peoples, resettling some 57,000 people. Although refugee numbers have been decreasing in the past couple years, Lutherans continue to help about 10,000 refugees resettle a year, 1/8 of the annual total for the entire country. I can personally attest to this church’s effective refugee advocacy, having taught refugee children from Bosnia, Somalia, Sudan, Kenya, China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Laos, and Vietnam in Minnesota ESL summer school. For its efforts in reforming refugee and asylum-seeker policy, the Lutheran Church should truly be lauded.

 

In its 2006 Resolution to Support Refugee/Immigrant/Asylee Resettlment, the LCMS states the following:

WHEREAS, Holy Scripture directs Christians to show love, care, hospitality, and assistance toward the strangers and foreigners in our lands; and

WHEREAS, Millions of refugees are in desperate need of our Christian charity and support; and

WHEREAS, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) is the second largest agency currently providing for the orderly admission of refugees to the United States (as regulated by Congress); and

WHEREAS, The ministries of LIRS offer congregations opportunities to provide Christian charity and support; therefore be it

Resolved, That we encourage our congregations, Districts, synodical church officials, boards, and agencies to petition our federal and state governments and their agencies to continue funding existing refugee or immigrant or

asylee resettlement programs and agencies; and be it further

Resolved, That we encourage our congregations, individually or jointly, to contact LIRS, LCMS World Relief, and/or local Lutheran social agencies or services for information and assistance to resettle at least one refugee or immigrant or asylee family as soon as possible and that this action be taken to carry out the Great Commission.

http://www.lcms.org/

The most challenging, and progressive, portion of this resolution is its call to parishioners to get involved. If every single American sponsored an undocumented resident or refugee, then millions of people currently living without rights and in constant fear could have the chance to live open lives, work for a fair wage, and enjoy the rights of the country in which they reside. If our definition of refugee and asylum seeker was broadened to also include immigrants from countries with any large “push” factor (economics, drought, lack of meaningful work, education), then surely the majority of extralegal residents here in the United States would be covered by American, and Lutheran, refugee policy.

 

Although the ELCA and LCMS has not officially supported the 2008 No Border Wall Walk from Roma to Brownsville, TX, from March 8-16, the ideals and objectives of the sponsoring Border Ambassadors would most certainly align with most of their church doctrine. Real immigration reform, immigration reform which stresses family reunification and the humane immigration of many more refugees in need, is the ultimate goal of this nonviolent community act. A border wall is, at best, a poor substitute or farce for real, lasting reform in immigration and bi-national policies. At its worst, such a wall will only make for more restrictive immigration legislation, will serve as an affront to our Southern neighbors, and further criminalize the newcomers in our country without documents. Undoubtedly, the Lutheran Church has welcomed countless angels without knowing it (Hebrews 13:2), and the Secure Fence Act of 2006 will only serve to tighten immigration laws and make it harder for churches like the Lutherans to continue to minister to refugees and asylum-seekers.

People of Faith United For Immigrants- Presbyterian Church USA

February 5, 2008

    “Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9 NIV) Martin Luther King Jr. puts this another way in his speech Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.

We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.

 

Immigration is not a matter of us or them but of humanity. While the compassionate, human side of immigration is often forgotten in shock-jock radio shows and television syndicates, the Church continues to be a bastion of hope for the hopeless, a voice for the voiceless. The Presbyterian Church is part of this solidarity for border reform – not for the sake of simply changing immigration laws but rather changing the hopes and dreams and rights of immigrants themselves.

    In its 2006 General Assembly Policy on Immigration, the Presbyterian Church of the USA (PCUSA) set forth the following conditions as their dream for the Church.

2. Affirm that our denomination, mindful of the current realities and threats to our belief system, not sway from our solidarity with, and pledge of service to, all of our brothers and sisters regardless of their race, creed, color, nationality, or residency status.

3. Affirm those Presbyterian congregations and presbyteries that are already standing alongside immigrants and are actively engaged in acts of compassion, empowerment, and advocacy.

4. Challenge each Presbyterian congregation and presbytery to embrace a comprehensive approach to “advocacy and welcome” for immigrants that includes, at the very minimum:

a. an opportunity for hard-working immigrants who are already contributing to this country to come out of the shadows, regularize their status upon satisfaction of reasonable criteria, and, over time, pursue an option to become lawful permanent residents and eventually United States citizens;

b. reforms in our family-based immigration system to significantly reduce waiting times for separated families who currently wait many years to be reunited;

c. the creation of legal avenues for workers and their families who wish to m migrate to the U.S. to enter our country and work in a safe, legal, and orderly manner with their rights fully protected; and

d. border protection policies that are consistent with humanitarian values and with the need to treat all individuals with respect, while allowing the authorities to carry out the critical task of identifying and preventing entry of terrorists and dangerous criminals, as well as pursuing the legitimate task of implementing American immigration policy.

e. a call for living wages and safe working conditions for workers of United States- owned companies in other countries;

f. a call for greater economic development in poor countries to decrease the economic desperation, which forces the division of families and migration.

5. Affirm the right of each congregation, presbytery, and our denomination as a whole, to speak out clearly and constantly to the media and others regarding the PC(USA)’s call to serve all those in need and to stand with the oppressed, our refusal to be deferred from this mandate, and our willingness to break laws that forbid us to live out our responsibilities to God and to our brothers and sisters who do not have U.S. residency documents…

10. Reaffirm that we must find ways to ensure that “marginalized persons” in our society, citizen or not, are not pitted against each other.

11. Express our grave concern about the negative impact of the growing effort to make the border more secure through building walls designed to move migrant patterns further into the more dangerous part of the borderlands, by increasing the number of federal agents, and by deploying armed National Guard to the already volatile region.

12. Commend the visionary efforts of programs such as Just Coffee, Just Trade Centers, and micro-credit programs that strengthens communities and enables people to stay in their homeland through economic development.

 

The Presbyterian Church, like so many other Christian denominations, realizes that the issue of immigration is not ultimately about borders but about boarders, not pesos but the peso of a world which continues to keep America rich and endowed with certain inalienable rights which are alien to so many people living in poverty just a few miles away. Christians in different denominations all realize that it is a sin for teachers in border towns, like myself, to make 10x as much money as qualified teachers across el rio. We must realize that the Gospel is not just the good news of Heaven but the good news of heaven on earth; it is the Church’s prerogative to tirelessly work to redistribute the blessings and gifts of God here in America to the rest of the world. So many nativists and xenophobes are opposed to immigration because it is a constant reminder that there is still not an equilibrium of rights and wealth in this 21stcentury globalized world. It is a constant reminder that the United States needs to reach out more, not less, to its neighbors, to work at the root of “push” immigration.

 

    *The Border Ambassadors are proud to be in solidarity with the Presbyterian Church of the greater Rio Grande Valley. As we walk the 120 miles from Roma to Brownsville from March 8-16, it is both to protest a physical border wall but also to encourage and show solidarity in the communities which are being impacted.*

People of Faith United For Immigrants- Mennonite Brethren

February 3, 2008

This Thursday, January 31, 2008, it was announced that the Latin American District of the Mennonite Brethren Church was being sued by U.S. Department of Homeland Security for refusal to allow government officials to survey their property for the border wall. This sort of civil disobedience is not unique to the Mennonite Brethren Church, however; Christian churches have long been counterbalances to politics. Immigration has long been an issue for the church, and of late a plethora of denominations have taken strong stances and bold mission statements both pro-immigrant and anti-border-wall.

 

The Mennonite Brethren Church’s refusal to allow government officials to step on their land is indeed a brave action of nonviolence, but it is entirely in keeping with their church statement on immigration. At the Mennonite Central Committee U.S. (MCC U.S.) Executive Committee Meeting in Akron, PA, in March of 2006, the Mennonite Brethren discussed their church’s doctrine on and commitment to immigration. MCC U.S. was responding to an outcry from parishioners, communities, and the Biblical passage in Leviticus 19:33-34 which states, “ “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do (the stranger) wrong. The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love (the stranger) as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

MCC U.S. has a long history of civilly disobeying unjust laws and nonviolently working for just and compassionate legal reform. This church has had members be conscientious objectors long before the law made provisions for such people. In other cases, Mennonites have disobeyed laws to become sanctuaries for refugees and illegal immigrants. With this history in mind, the Mennonite Brethren drafted the following resolution.

“Therefore:

1. We commit ourselves to helping anyone who asks including the strangers/immigrants in our midst regardless of their legal status in this country.

2. We are committed to obeying God rather than human authority, especially when laws call us to harm others and block us from efforts to protect life.

3. We commit ourselves to support MCC workers who are working with immigrants by:

a. praying for them, their families and their work on a daily basis.

b. giving them our moral support as they continue in their work assignments.

c. providing the financial resources needed for any legal defense or penalties imposed because of the work we have asked them to do.

4. We will partner with denominations to provide financial resources to assist individuals and congregations with legal costs.

5. We encourage our constituent denominations to call on area conferences, districts and congregations to provide financial help and set aside monies in case pastors or other church workers would need any legal help.

We also:

1. Call the U.S. government to enact realistic, humane and just comprehensive immigration reform.

2. Ask that any immigration reform provide workers with sufficient labor protections, reunite separated families, end militarization of the U.S./Mexico border, allow workers to come and go safely across the border and create a path

to legalization for those undocumented immigrants who wish to stay.

3. Ask the government not to force church workers to choose between obeying the dictates of their faith and the dictates of their government.

4. Call the U.S. government to create economic policies that will assist developing countries and provide for fair trade. If people are able to provide a decent living for their families, many would choose to stay in their home countries.

5. Ask the U.S. government to make trade agreements and institutions more accountable.”

While detractors often point to the multitude of Christian denominations as a source of contention and “factionism,” the Christian stance on immigration is anything but fractured. If anything, the church is asking the questions that so far have not been making it into the political scene or the Presidential primaries. The Mennonite Brethren Church, along with numerous other Christian denominations, are civilly disobeying more restrictive immigration reform and nonviolently opposing a wall because they do not see it as a compassionate response nor a successful strategy. What these churches share in common is their desire to reshape the world so that there need not be illegal immigrants. Whether this is through U.S. investment in Central American countries, or earned amnesty legislation, or a phase-out of the quota system, or harsher penalties on employers perpetuating this sector of society, what is the same is their desire to target the laws which make such people criminals rather than the people who are being criminalized by current legislation.

 

 

*The Border Ambassadors are proud to partner with Mennonites throughout the Rio Grande Valley as part of their 120-mile No Border Wall Walk from Roma to Brownsville, Texas.*

Veteran’s Day

November 12, 2007

The organ mimics marching feet, the harmonized singing echoes the call and response of orders and assent. The five verses summon up images of the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I and II, Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq I and II. How clean and pure and melodic it must be for angels to wage war singing songs like this, songs that sing like peacetime parades but conjure up allusions to the battlefield.

Veteran’s Day falls but a week after All Saint’s Day. What uneasy company! The one is to celebrate all those who have died, died working and loving and waiting and worshiping. The other celebrates all those who have rushed laughing and mistaken to the plunge of bullets, deeming their cause righteous enough to kill for, judging their salary a mandate of the people and their victory divine right.

Perhaps instead we should remember all those who we’ve killed in the name of war. There can be no other cause for war than war, and we have certainly killed more than our fair share of the opposition, whether that enemy opposed us or our economy or our friends’ economies.

Like many congregations around the nation, a Methodist church in Brownsville struggles with the Veteran’s Day holiday every year. Inevitably the large cadre of veterans want military songs and salutes, while those who hold Jesus’ message of peace cringe at the thought of a militarized church zone. The same dispute waged years ago over the three flagpoles outside. Many wanted the American flag to fly above the Texas flag and the Christian flag, but many complained, some because they though Christ should be overall, a few who thought Texas should be tallest.

The myth of redemptive violence is alive and well in churches who still speak war rhetoric. There can be no vanquishing of evil, because it is people who commit evil deeds. To vanquish evil is to unconscionably vanquish those individuals who oppose our position, thereby making us evil and vile and worthy or violent retaliation. The cycle goes on and on, with the church’s crusade banner marching on at the forefront.

If the Christian church is to take serious its role in healing the nations, it must recall all hymns which equate holy wars with Calvary. Redemptive violence is not sacrificial love – one invokes suffering on oneself, the other inflicts it upon any who oppose it. This imagery, contrary to some beliefs, is not necessary nor bedrock to the Christian faith. For years we Christians have been slack in our acceptance of war rhetoric. The late Kurt Vonnegut scathingly accused his fellow fiction writers of taking the easy way out by having the good guy kill the bad guy in the end. He writes,

I want to apologize for all of us. We have ended so many of our stories with gunfights, with showdowns and death, and millions upon millions of simpletons have mistaken our stories for models of modern living. We have ended our stories with showdowns so often because we’re so lazy. Gunplay is no way to live – but it is a peachy way to end a tale. (“Address at Rededication of Wheaton College Library, 1973”)

The same sad statement could be leveled at the church, though we have even less excuse than a capitalistic storyteller. Every time Christians support a war, we are admitting that God’s followers are unwilling either to follow his teachings or too impatient to work at the peaceful solution. Every time we give in to violence, we are espousing the dangerous belief that Jesus’s Good News of peace and love does not apply to all men everywhere the same.

Martin Luther King, Jr., was often frustrated with the churches of his time. He saw countless Christians talking about love but then keeping mum about the injustices of segregation and the immorality of Vietnam. In his famous book, Where do we go from here?, he writes,

Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases …Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

All too often, we Christians forget that we serve Jesus, the man of sorrows, the Savior who saved by becoming a living sacrifice, a martyr. How can we go on supporting “righteous” violence any longer?

The church is best when it counterbalances and opposes the state. It should provide the moral conscience of our 3-party system; it should be the fourth party, mores so than the media. Instead, we have allied ourselves with soldiers in a time that needs no encouragement for warring. It is high time we took Jesus’ brave stance against violence and began working on problems themselves rather than attacking those who might oppose us. The gospel of peace speaks for itself when it is lived out in earnest.