The Game Changes
17 July 2011 © Rev. Fred L Hammond
Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa
“Once to every man and nation
comes the moment to decide
In the strife of truth and falsehood,
for the good or evil side.”
These words are from the poem entitled “The Present Crisis” by James Russell Lowell, a Unitarian from the 19th century. He is writing against the war with Mexico of 1846 to 1848. President Polk invades Mexico under the pretense of coming to Texas’ aid, considered by Mexico to be a rebellious province in part because the American immigrants in Texas violated Mexico’s laws banning slavery. At the time all of the southwest was a part of Mexico, made up mostly of indigenous tribes and some Mexican settlers. The war was justified as being part of manifest destiny, the belief God had chosen the United States to occupy all of the North American Continent and to be the primary nation of influence in the hemisphere.
The United States has long had this erroneous belief that God has chosen us to be the vanguards of the world. Therefore when American businesses in Central and South America were being restricted by democratically elected governments, the CIA would go in and topple the government and place trained dictators who would allow American corporations free reign. Hundreds of thousands of people were tortured and killed by these CIA placed dictators. 100,000 in Guatemala, 63,000 in El Salvador, thousands in Nicaragua, thousands in Chile killed by CIA trained death squads.
Many of the governments in place with American backing are still torturing their own people. Thousands of refugees from these countries have crossed borders and deserts to find sanctuary from these conditions. They are refused asylum status in the US because to grant asylum to them would implicate the US’ awareness and complicity in these acts of violence. They cannot go home because the American created conditions are still too horrendous—in some cases still life threatening—and so they stay underground hoping that their children will have a better life than they did. And this multitude of America’s sins against our neighbors to the south remains unspoken because we are the chosen ones, you see, and just as in biblical Israel, all crimes against humanity are ordained as being god’s will. As long as we deny our complicity in this then we can continue to claim being the unwarranted victim in this current immigration situation.
The unjust invasion of Mexico in Lowell’s time was justified as manifest destiny and the war crimes of the CIA in Central and South America are manifest destiny’s offspring. The consequences we are only now beginning to see but apparently do not understand.
“Once to every man and nation
comes the moment to decide
In the strife of truth and falsehood,
for the good or evil side.”
There are many who believe that immigrants flooding the US are the cause for America’s economic woes. Rev. Jose Ballester, Unitarian Universalist Minister in New England, asks; “Why are they coming to the United States? Could it be that the United States is responsible for destroying the economic means of the immigrants? Did diverting the waters of the Colorado River for irrigation; green lawns and providing potable water to the growing populations in the Southwest and Southern California destroy the farmland in Mexico? Did the importation of surplus US corn to be sold in Mexico ruin the agriculture economy of Mexico? Did NAFTA permit US Corporations to set-up factories in Mexico that are filled with cheap labor and do those same factories turn the surrounding areas into toxic wastes? Are there drug cartels in Mexico that threaten the government, commit unspeakable crimes and cross the USA/Mexico border to commit crimes? Who is buying the drugs that fuel these cartels?”
I can’t remember the movie, perhaps it is a combination of films. The young child, bullied by classmates, attempts to purchase lunch and sit in the cafeteria. The first table with a seat is denied as being saved for someone else. Then the next table is also saving the seat for someone else. All the students at the tables respond the same way, can’t sit here, this is saved for someone else. For who? Anyone else but the child bullied. Children can be so cruel. And the behavior is simply wrong of the children to reject the child so treated.
So what is happening with our immigrant neighbors? They are no longer able to stay in their country, perhaps for political reasons, perhaps because the land has been ravaged by American corporations’ lack of environmental concern, perhaps because the CIA placed regime is torturing the indigenous people. So they come to the states and they are told can’t stay in Arizona, can’t stay in Georgia, can’t stay in Alabama; these jobs are saved for someone else. Has anyone else applied for these jobs… well no… but you can’t have them cause their saved.
If we were so able to see how wrong it was for the bullied child to be treated so poorly by the other children, then how is it so difficult to see how wrong it is for us to treat our immigrant neighbors in the same way?
Alabama had a year in which to examine what was happening in Arizona and to decide whether to follow suit. We had a year to also examine and to decide what our actions would be should an Arizona type law come to Alabama. Well that year is over. For the most part, those who acted in opposition did not do so fervently enough. I include myself in that accusation. We failed to organize the coalitions needed to prevent the passage of this bill. We did not speak up loud enough.
HB 56 was signed into law and it is set to go into effect September 1st. The game has changed. We are no longer trying to prevent a law from being written; we are now forced to live with the law and its consequences until we can have it repealed. The work will be much harder than before.
I was asked by a colleague to list ten things as to why this law is immoral and should be opposed.
- This law will deport individuals who have only known the US as home. These individuals were brought here as infants in the care of their parents. Many do not have family there.
- This law will break families apart. Forcing US born children to become wards of the state, while their parents are deported. This is a dehumanizing act with dire consequences for the well being of the children.
- This law denies the basic right to shelter. It criminalizes anyone who for humanitarian reasons offers shelter. Landlords must check citizenship status before renting.
- This law infringes on the right to practice ones religion. Congregations that allow undocumented immigrants to become members and attend their services would be criminalized for harboring.
- Congregations would not be allowed to transport members (who might be undocumented) in their vehicles because this would be considered human trafficking and would be subject to felony charges.
- Children and parents would be required to show proof of citizenship before registering for school. All children under the age of 18 have the right to an education according to federal statute regardless of legal status. But consider that not having documentation of citizenship might discourage families to have their children attend school and then the question of what will they be doing during school time. Not attending school might lead to criminal mischief as it did in the 1800’s when public education was not mandatory.
- Victims of Domestic violence who are also undocumented would be subject to arrest and deportation should they seek police intervention in a domestic dispute. This is the ‘punish the victim’ scenario. This scenario becomes even more exaggerated if the spouse is an American citizen.
- Domestic workers can be criminalized for harboring and transporting domestic violence victims who are undocumented.
- All major religions have teachings and stories that command their followers to welcome the foreigner and offer hospitality.
- This law justifies ones racism, bigotry, and hatred under the rubrics of obeying the law.
The work to repeal will be much harder than the work to prevent the law from being passed. There will be consequences in disobeying this unjust law. There will be consequences in offering assistance to the immigrants in our community.
At General Assembly our association re-affirmed its desire to host a Justice General Assembly in Phoenix, AZ in 2012. This was not arrived at lightly. We were there a year ago when the law went into effect and prevented Sheriff Arpaio from conducting his raids on that day. 80 people were arrested for civil disobedience, 24 of them Unitarian Universalists, many of those were ministers. We went because we were invited by the people who were being impacted by this law.
We went because there are people being detained in inhumane tents where the temperature has reached 140 degrees in the hot Arizona sun. Detained because they had a broken tail light on their vehicle and they might be undocumented. Until their legal status can be verified they are held in these inhumane settings. A broken tail light.
We went because there are families that are being torn apart. Mothers who go out to do the days shopping are arrested without being able to notify their families of their whereabouts.
We went because people in this country should not live their life in fear of being stopped for random things because they happen to be of brown skin. These are citizens who are being stopped because they look like they might be an immigrant.
These things are already happening here in Alabama. A young man born in California with a California drivers license seeks to transfer his license to Alabama. This is simple transfer. It took me all of ten minutes to have it done. This young man is told he needs to show his social security card and his passport. Then told that the numbers on the two documents do not match and therefore he must be illegal. The numbers, by the way, are not supposed to match; they are two very different documents through two very different federal agencies. He goes to another department and is told that he must take the written test.
Another man from Puerto Rico is denied a driver’s license because he is told he needs to have a green card to be here. Puerto Rico is a US territory which makes him a US citizen; he does not need a green card. This is the harassment that Latino / Hispanic people are already facing and the law has not gone into effect yet.
At Justice GA 2012 we are not anticipating any arrests. We are planning [this is still tentative] however to be of service to the 190, 000 people who are eligible for citizenship but do not have the funds to get a lawyer to fill out paper work. There is some talk about having some sort of immigration fair where people can come to the air conditioned convention center and receive help in filling out the paper work needed. This might include power of attorney forms in case of deportation so their children will not be placed into state facilities but rather into trusted family or friends homes who are citizens. If our going to AZ in 2012 can help keep families safe and together, then this will be well worth the efforts.
We are planning on having workshops on how to do this work in our communities back home. Because these laws are not just happening in a few states but are being raised in states across the country.
But it isn’t just state laws that need changing. There are federal laws as well. The Secure Communities Act is supposed to target the undocumented violent criminal. However, this law has instead targeted soccer moms, those who are just going about their business seeking citizenship. 26 % of those deported do not have a criminal record let alone a violent one. “If people without criminal records are at risk for deportation, they will be less likely to call law enforcement in unsafe situations.[i]”
What is happening in Alabama? There is an increase in the religious voice against this law. Rallies in Birmingham and in Huntsville have already taken place. I am working with my interfaith colleagues to have one here in Tuscaloosa the end of this month. We are still working on some of the location logistics and hopefully this will be in place soon so we can officially advertise.
Holy Spirit Catholic Church is hosting a power of attorney fair this afternoon. I will be going there to assist as best as I can in helping folks fill out power of attorney forms to protect their children from becoming wards of the state should they be arrested for deportation.
And one of the things I am doing in my role with the Mid-South District is to help organize a coordinated interfaith response across the state. Right now there are events that are happening but it is not coordinated state wide and if there were to be a repeal bill then we need to be in communication with other people of faith on the judicatory and diocese level so that a united voice can be made.
The game has changed. We are being asked by our faith denomination to step up to the plate because we have a role to play. I was speaking with someone the other day and she stated she didn’t know what the will of god is for this new century. All she knew is that she wants her actions to help create the America of this new century. She wants it to be an America that loves its neighbors, within its borders as well as outside its borders.
I was touched by her statement. What story of America do we want told of the early 21st century? What part of that story will you be telling?