Almost four years ago on July 29 2010, I was in Arizona to protest and prevent the implementation of the nation’s harshest anti-immigration law. I was asked to be there by colleague Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Phoenix. She made a passionate plea to her colleagues in June of that year to help protect families that were being torn apart. I went and while I ultimately did not choose to be one of those arrested, I fully committed myself to prevent what I believe with all my heart to be an inhumane treatment of immigrants in a nation that ironically gained its greatest strengths and gifts from immigrants during its 238 year history.
Within a year, Alabama, the state I currently call home, passed its omnibus bill HB 56 into law. A law, that if the Supreme Court had not intervened would have prevented churches from providing services to immigrants as any support, including worship, that enabled immigrants to stay in the state would be illegal. I personally was told by the sponsor of this bill, that if I had undocumented worshipers in my congregation, I would be arrested along with them. I spoke out against that bill. I helped organize interfaith rallies, supported the formation of a local Latino advocacy group, and was ultimately arrested at the State House in civil disobedience of this law. Most of the law was struck down in federal court as unconstitutional. Alabama appealed but was denied a hearing, the decision was final.
In my community of Tuscaloosa, I am witnessing the undocumented becoming laissez-faire in their concerns about immigration rights. Because HB 56 was gutted of its most heinous provisions, they no longer feel an immediate threat. Life has returned pretty much to where it was before passage. Still precarious, but if they keep their heads down, keep their businesses on the down-low, they are able to continue unseen, and live their life relatively undisturbed. The law is not rounding people up in random searches as feared, even ICE’s Secure Communities (S-COMM) which Tuscaloosa is a participant, is not seen as a threat to their families’ safety. Yes, they hear of other communities in Alabama where families are being torn apart through deportation, but it isn’t happening to them or so they think, and therefore they have relaxed their own concerns about immigration rights. Yes, they hear of neighbors being deported but it is an accepted, albeit defeated, reality of that’s just the way it is.
In the course of the last four years, Tuscaloosa has been the host to NDLON’s Undocubus, Nun’s on a Bus, and Fast4Families. All trying to strengthen the base community to the realities that our immigration policy remains shattered and ineffective and is personally aimed at the Latino community that needs to be organized and strong. Meanwhile our borders are increasingly militarized. Life along the border is not the same experience one has in the interior of the country. I remember the first time I came across a border patrol stop on the I-10 in Arizona entering California in 2005. I thought I had left my country. These were heavily armed officers who were simply standing in the highway stopping every car. Other check points are more sophisticated with pull offs that at a glance look like weigh stations but are border patrol stops. But on this day, there was no official station, they were simply standing in the road with their guns, stopping every vehicle. They were intimidating. Their presence made my heart race with fear. When I was in Nogales, a city divided by a 30 foot wall, the militarization was even more intense. I heard stories of drones flying overhead spying on the residents below and I saw first hand what it must feel like in a war zone, not knowing if the next minute will bring ICE breaking down the door. I do not know how to convince my undocumented friends here in Tuscaloosa that this is not the time for complacency but to re-new their efforts to organize. How can I convince them that what is happening at the border is going to have consequences that affect their lives in deeply personal and profound ways–when these groups that they welcomed here have not been able to convince them? I suppose this is a rhetorical question.
I remain as committed as ever to help ensure that our country does the right thing regarding immigration. I take seriously the command “You must not mistreat or oppress foreigners in any way. Remember, you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:21). Elsewhere it states, “you must love the foreigner” and “treat the foreigner as a native-born.” It is core to my faith of loving our neighbor as ourselves. At this point, immigration reform can only come after a full and complete repentance of our cold indifference to the plight of others. We have a congress that has been wasting our tax dollars on their hatred of President Obama instead of working to find solutions to the very real problems that keep our nation from moving forward. We need a new congress and a new re-working of how we are going to handle immigration without turning our nation into a militarized zone.
At our annual Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly in June, we passed an action of immediate witness which, like Rev. Frederick-Gray’s call above, invited Unitarian Universalists to come to Washington, DC, and participate in a faith summit that might include civil disobedience, July 30-August 2. During the debate, Rev. Wendy Von Zirpolo, stated: [A]t the Ware Lecture, Sister Simone Campbell called upon us to walk toward trouble. When minor children are being warehoused and talked about as if they were things or animals, trouble. When people who are black and brown, citizen or not, are routinely detained at our borders for hours, the borders of their lives, communications, and bodies violated, trouble. When children live in fear of a knock on the door or the door being torn entirely from its hinges, meaning another parent taken, trouble.
I am going to DC. I am going to walk toward trouble. While my undocumented friends here in Tuscaloosa may not be able to walk toward trouble, I am using my privilege to do so on their behalf. It is a form of intercessory prayer to walk toward trouble in order to prevent more trouble, more pain, more grief, more unbearable anguish of separation. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. called it redemptive suffering. I believe another word for it is love. This is what abiding universal love calls us to do for one another.
I do not want my friends to live a life resigned to living in the shadows in order to give their families a better opportunity. I do not want the children refugees that are streaming across the border because their home countries are no longer safe for them to be met with fear and hatred. Their arrival, by the way, is the result of 50 years of US foreign policy decisions that trained their militias to commit violence against their own people. Policies that opened the door for US corporations to rape their land’s resources and force farmers off their lands. We are the ones who are culpable for their arriving at our borders. We created this crisis with our own exceptionalist manner of interacting with our neighbors on the global scene. So I will walk toward trouble to let my country know that this wrong needs to stop. We can begin by stopping the deportations.
The president said he has a pen and a phone to intervene on immigration. It is past time that he uses them.