Operation Streamline: An American Obscenity

I am not sure I can even begin to describe this obscene method of handling border crossings.  Understand the militarization of the border was to prevent the crossing of terrorists into the USA.  Since 9/11 there have been zero terrorists apprehended through the border.  But the process of closing the border has increased militarization, spawned the development of the drug Cartels and Mexican mafia that have made the border dangerous. 17.9 Billion dollars is spent on immigration in this country, more than any other law enforcement budget combined in this country.

Operation Streamline is a tribunal under the Department of homeland Security and not the Department of Justice. It is used in 6 of the 9 sectors that border the Mexican border.  Currently, California is the only state that does not utilize Operation Streamline.   But the name Operation Streamline itself is a misnomer.  There  is nothing streamlined in the process. Each sector does the process differently.  We visited the Tucson tribunal where up to seventy undocumented individuals are processed in a mass manner.  There is one public defender for these individuals.  So to handle the caseload, the federal government contracts attorneys at $125 an hour.  The tribunal we witnessed processed 65 people, with a total of 1 public defender and 12 contracted attorneys.

As of January 1st all of the people being processed were being charged with illegal entry (code 1325) and illegal reentry (code 1326) Illegal entry is a misdemeanor with a maximum of 6 months sentence, $5,000 fine, and a ten dollars court fee.  Illegal reentry is a felony charge with a maximum sentence of 10 years. Both of these codes have been on the books since 1952 but only in recent years have they been enforced.  In Tucson, 70,000 people have been processed since Operation Streamline’s beginning in July 2008.  This number represents 13% of the 120K in FY 2012 apprehended in the Tucson Sector.  In 2008, 70% of people were deported with time served.  Today, 80% receive a sentence.  It is the decision of Border Patrol agents who goes to Operation Streamline.  First time crossers are simply deported after receiving their vital information.  Borderwide about 1/3rd of all apprehensions are streamlined.

Streamline has overwhelmed the federal courts.  Over half of all cases heard since 2008 are immigration cases for immigration violations.  80% of these are for petty immigration violations. This means the federal courts are not pursuing serious crimes such as drug prosecutions, human sex trafficking.  These cases are no longer being tried because petty immigrtion violations have become the priority.

THere is a violation of due process rights of migrants.  A study by the University of Arizona revealed that most lawyers in part because of the overwhelming case load of up to 70 defendents in one tribunal, that 40% of the lawyers stated to just sign form and not fight charge; 7% said they did notunderstand the charge, 2% were told t report abuse and less than 1% had their legal status checked.  There have been cases of US citizens deported because they did not speak English and no one asked them if they were citizen or here legally.

There is no apparent rhyme or reason for the sentences. THe Border Patrol Agents determine the sentence based on some formula but it is apparent that it is inconsistently applied.  So some people are sentenced to 30 days, some 75 days, some 105 days, and some the full 180 days.  All of those seen through Operation Streamline are charged on two counts, 1325 and 1326.  They are read their rights and asked if they plead guilty to illegal entry then the felony charge of 1326 will be dropped.  Many choose, without fully understanding what is happening.

There is tremendous cost in these proceedings.  The tribunal that we saw the average sentence was 92 days.  In the 2.5 hours in which 65 people were processed, the estimated cost was $987,000.  THis average cost occurs every day, Monday through Friday. This does not include the private lawyers that are contracted.  It begins in the morning with the attorneys meeting for the first time the defendents, a maximum of ten minutes because of the number of cases. Each private attorney receives about $800 ad day for their services.

We spoke with Juan Rocha, a public defender after the tribunal who explained to us there are 30 public defenders at the federal court.  Currently one public defender is assigned to Streamline daily and the rest are privately contracted by the federal government.  Because of Sequester, beginning July 1, the public defenders wil be on a rotation of only serving Streamline twice a year instead of once a week. This means the Federal government because of federal law that everyone is entitled to an attorney to represent them, that more money will be spent on the privately contracted attorneys.  It is a money maker.  One lawyer or Criminal Justice Act Attorneys as they are called bragged that his work with Operation Streamline yielded him a salary of $100,000.  He did not need to any other form of law.

It is estimated that the Tucson sector spends 96 million annually tho the exact cost has not been determined.

Does Operation Streamline work?  The intended purpose is to make the migrants experience of entering illegally so horrendous that he or she will not attempt this again.  A University of Arizona study revealed however, that while there was a short term deterance in crossing, the long term deterance was not evident.  Interviews showed that 50% of those individuals would be returning.  THe report concluded that ” If dying in the desert is not a deterant, it’s hard to imagine why spending no or little time in a federal prison and being returned to your home country is a deterant– Miller”

Next, stories of abuse …

Alabama’s Shame Deepens

Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision, offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever, ’twixt that darkness and that light.

Yesterday, the hearts of state legislator’s decided that immigrants are not human beings worthy of fulfilling their dreams in this country like others but rather a threat to America.  The legislature chose to ignore the increased pressure from religious leaders to turn away from injustice towards justice.

They passed the substitute bill of HB 658 written by Senator Beason which included what is being called a scarlet letter provision where any undocumented resident who is arrested on any charge and appears in court would have their information posted on a public online forum searchable by county and judge.

This was not in Rep. Hammon’s  proposed version of HB 658 which was passed in the house before it went to the Senate. When on the last day of the session the senate version passed and went back to the house, Rep. Hammon in telling the house the changes to the bill failed to mention this drastic addition to his colleagues.  The house did not have time read the bill  before Rep. Hammon explained the justifications for the changes in the bill.  After Rep. Hammon gave his justifications for the changes, there was a call to have the bill read again to enable the representatives to hear again how these justifications related to the bill.  This request was denied by the Speaker.  It is therefore very likely that once again the representatives did not know what they were passing.

Governor Bentley said he would not sign this bill. He has ten days to veto or sign the bill, if he does not it becomes an automatic veto. He has placed immigration back on the agenda for a special session that still needs to address such issues as redistricting and bonds.

He specifically stated he dislikes the scarlet letter provision calling it a public relations problem.    The Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice calls it a “public safety problem” because there can be only one purpose of such a provision: The implicit permission for vigilantes to take matters in  their own hands and cause emotional and physical harm to people living in this state.

During the day yesterday there were cries for non-compliance to this law.  Seven of my friends, part of a group I belong to called Alabama’s Conscience,  were arrested for their attempt to block legislator’s from making this vote.  They prayed and sang songs. They were charged with disorderly conduct.

When hearts have grown so very cold to see no violation of human dignity, no violation of moral ethics in breaking apart families in these laws, then the conscience must step up and intervene. It becomes our moral duty to not comply with this law in the quest to break open the hearts of others to see what this law is doing to all Alabamians in order for justice to prevail.

After the vote, our own hearts literally broke that our own leaders would seek to cause violent harm against another.  And while their actions may not be in the form of physical violence, their actions are committing emotional and spiritual violence, not only to immigrants, documented and undocumented, but also to their very souls.

We pray for the salvation of Alabama and for all of America. We are even more  resolved to continue being Alabama’s Conscience and we will continue doing all that we can  to non-violently show the pain this law is causing all of us. It means we will not comply with this law. We will not allow hatred to proliferate in our state.

How we will be in non-compliance with HB 658 and HB 56. Photo by ACIJ

 

Published in: on May 17, 2012 at 2:29 pm  Comments Off on Alabama’s Shame Deepens  
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11th Circuit Court Hearings on HB 56/HB 87

It had rained heavily and so the angels of mercy were kind as we encountered no additional rain as we left Northport at 3 AM CST to be at the court house in Atlanta for 8 AM EST.   I had been able to get in two hours of good sleep before setting out so I wondered how I would fare the drive and the day.

At the 56 Forsyth Street court house the majority of people waiting to sit in on the hearing appeared to be attorneys but in the line waiting to enter were familiar faces.  And across the street immigrants began to gather to carry signs, to march, and to show their outrage that our fair country would seek to bar them from living towards their full potential as human beings. Somos Tuskaloosa members who came with me to Atlanta joined the picket line to make their presence known.  I was grateful the Rev. Jan Tadeo of our Unitarian Universalist Gwinnett County congregation joined me inside.

There were three judges hearing this case: Judge Martin, Wilson, and Voorhees from North Carolina.   Voorhees for the most part remained stoic and silent in the procedures, only offering two or three questions or comments.  He was the hardest of the judges to read.

The disappointing news was the court decided to withhold their judgment until after the Supreme Court rules on the Arizona SB 1070 case.  Several of the sections being contested were similar to that case and they will defer to the Supreme Court case.  This is disappointing because there are other parts of AL HB 56 and GA HB 87 that are not in the SB 1070 statute and unless continued to be enjoined would cause continued harm and humanitarian crisis in our respective states. The judges heard the arguments pertaining GA’s HB 87 law first.

The judges wanted to know how GA HB 87 was different from the 1956 PA vs Nelson case which pertains to a sedition act the state of Pennsylvania passed. The courts ruled that Pennsylvania’s Sedition act over rode the Federal law and states cannot pass laws that do that. Judge Martin stated HB 87 seems to be doing the same thing.

The judges brought out that there are individuals that are without documentation but are allowed to be in this country.  Police are going to look at the plain language of this law and not accept a person who is allowed to be here but not legal.  The police are asked to make this determination of legal status and detention which is squarely placed in the role of federal officers. How does HB 87 compliment the Federal law and not usurp its authority in this matter?

At one point, Judge Wilson wondered if illegal population laws have morphed into a public safety concern and therefore states can regulate for the health and safety of the public; including penalizing people who assist undocumented aliens as part of that public safety concern.

The notion that controlling immigrant populations could be considered a public safety concern like controlling rat populations is a public safety concern sickens me, yet I realized this is indeed the point of view that Georgia, Alabama, and Arizona have taken.

It was the Alabama’s case, where the judges asked the harder questions.  HB 56 includes that undocumented persons are not to enter into any transaction within the state.  Where will the undocumented live, how will they access utilities such as water?  The penalties are harsh, the judges said.  What happens with the individual who is in violation of HB 56, criminalized for their presence within AL, charged and convicted with a felony, and jailed under this law; and then an immigration judge determines the person is free to remain in the country?  Where are they to live?  It is illegal for them to be in Alabama.  What if all 50 states were to pass similar laws?   What makes this law not an expulsion law of immigrants?

The attorneys tried to argue that the State Attorney General did not interpret the law in this manner.  Landlords would not be penalized if they rented without knowing the person’s status, and utilities would not be denied regardless of status.  The judges shot back that we can not elevate the Attorney General’s opinion regarding the law over the face of the law.  You can say the Attorney General said that but where does it say that in the statute regarding water?

Could an illegal alien get a more favorable treatment in Minnesota than in Alabama? Yes.  Is this therefore not a policy of expulsion?  The attorneys for the state said, No this is not the intent.  The judge shot back, I don’t see how this law operates in any other way.  [Rep. Hammon stated this law was to make life untenable in all arenas of life for undocumented immigrants forcing them to leave the state-in short a policy of expulsion.]

Again, if all 50 states had this provision where would an unlawful person live, who was determined to be allowed to remain in the country?  Does the federal government that is in negotiation with another country have the right to determine whether an undocumented person can remain in the country? Homeland Security as the determining voice in the statute would only be able to confirm if person was unlawfully present, not that the person is allowed to remain, that decision might be issued later by an immigration judge.  In the meantime, the person is sentenced and jailed in Alabama as a felon criminal.

The judges asked if the school registration requirement was anything more than a scare tactic.  They wondered how the birth status of a child determines if the parent is undocumented?  Isn’t there the fear that if children are declared undocumented they could then face deportation?  The judges did not state this plainly, but it seemed they were pointing to the 5th amendment regarding not participating in self-incrimination.

The state argued this was at most a classification edict to determine the number of immigrants. While the state could be required by the federal government to release this information to them, that is not the intent of this law.  If this information is sent to the federal government, the attorney general must be notified.  The child has the choice to not self declare their status and will be able to remain in school regardless of status. Judge Martin shot back, but if the student does not self-declare they are presumed to be undocumented so how does offering them a choice matter?

The attorneys arguing for this section to be struck stated that while all students are allowed to remain in school, it is what happens after the point of inquiry of status that also needs consideration.  It is the stigmatizing effect that results in removal of the student.  The attorney is referring to the increased ethnic bullying that is occurring in the schools by both teachers and students, regardless of the students’ status.

It is this stigmatizing and apparent societal permission to expressing racism that is occurring through out Alabama and Georgia as a result of these laws.  People who are casually speaking Spanish in public are being confronted with shouts of being illegal. Citizens who are brown are being accosted by strangers and angrily told to go back to Mexico.  People are feeling justified in their racism because this law exists. When laws justify racism then they are unjust laws that seek not to keep harmony within the community but rather seek to divide it.

A prayer for the Alabama Legislature

Tomorrow, Faith leaders from across the state will be holding a press conference in Montgomery on the steps of the State House and will be praying for the legislators as they debate HB 56, the bill passed last year that is projected to cost the state $11 Billion in economic loss, not to mention the hundreds of  millions of dollars combined in litigation costs and county, city, and state taxes. Each faith leader has been asked to deliver their prayers for the legislature as part of this event.

Here is the prayer I will be delivering to my legislators:

Holy One, who incarnated the world with love, your messenger stated the greatest leader among us was the one who served the poor, the weak, the infirmed, and the stranger.  We have strayed from that purpose and have sought instead to align ourselves with the privileged, the powerful, and the wealthy in the vain hopes that we might share in that privilege, that power, that wealth.  In this striving we have failed to serve the least of these who are most vulnerable; the children and elderly, the poor and the working poor, and the sojourner.  We have failed to see that what we do to the least of these we in turn do to ourselves and to all that is sacred. When we enact laws that tear apart families, we are tearing apart the sacred tapestry established from the beginning of life.  Such actions grieve the Spirit that weaves together the human family.  Help us to know that such actions result in pain and suffering in other seemingly unrelated arenas of our state.  Help us to know and feel that grief that cries out for redress are as the cries from the Hebrews who sojourned in Egypt.  The suffering cries out to the heavens for redress of their injustice.

Turn us away from our self serving actions.  Guide us back to being the servants of the people who are disenfranchised and made vulnerable to exploitation and abuse by an unequal system.  Teach us again the meaning of the Samaritan, the one disenfranchised and hated by society turned out to be the one who was incarnated by the Spirit of Love.  May we humble ourselves before the Sacred that lives within each of us.  May we seek to honor the holy within each of us by enacting laws that strengthen the human family by nurturing our resident’s potentials and receiving our resident’s gifts rather than castigating their presence among us.   In the Spirit of the Holy One who calls us to give voice to the voiceless, to lift up the downtrodden, and to offer hospitality to the sojourner, Amen.  Let it be so.

 

Rev. Fred L Hammond

Minster, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa

Forging Destiny

Forging Destiny
16 October 2011 © Rev. Fred L Hammond
Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa

OPENING WORDS : “The movement of the spirit of god in the hearts of men often calls them to act against the spirit of their times or causes them to anticipate a spirit which is yet in the making. In the moment of dedication, they are given wisdom and courage to dare a deed that challenges and to kindle a hope that inspires.”—Howard Thurman

 
READING FROM On the Waterfront:
Charlie: Look, kid, I – how much you weigh, son? When you weighed one hundred and sixty-eight pounds you were beautiful. You coulda been another Billy Conn, and that skunk we got you for a manager, he brought you along too fast.

Terry: It wasn’t him, Charley, it was you. Remember that night in the Garden you came down to my dressing room and you said, “Kid, this ain’t your night. We’re going for the price on Wilson.” You remember that? “This ain’t your night”! My night! I coulda taken Wilson apart! So what happens? He gets the title shot outdoors on the ballpark and what do I get? A one-way ticket to Palooka-ville! You was my brother, Charley, you shoulda looked out for me a little bit. You shoulda taken care of me just a little bit so I wouldn’t have to take them dives for the short-end money.

Charlie: Oh I had some bets down for you. You saw some money.

Terry: You don’t understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it. It was you, Charley.

 

The film On the Waterfront is about Terry Malloy, the gifted boxer who coulda been a contender had he followed his heart’s voice instead of that of his brothers is a message of what could happen when you allow someone else to forge your destiny. Now to be clear rarely are destinies created outside the context of other people.

Fulfilling our destiny is not something that is done in a vacuum. It is done in the context of our relationship with others. There are many engagements with our destiny that would be essentially impossible if it were not for the positive relationship with at least one other person. An example of this is Helen Keller. At a young age before she fully began to talk, she suffered the ill effects of scarlet fever that left her deaf and blind. Her family and physicians thought she was also dumb as a result of this illness. The family’s hope was for Helen to be well behaved and so they brought in Anne Sullivan to work with her on her behaviors. Anne Sullivan sensed there was intelligence in Helen’s behaviors and began trying to break through in communication with her. And she did. Helen realized that things have names. Anne Sullivan became a mentor for Helen, teaching her how to communicate with the larger world. Helen eventually went on to be the first deaf blind person to receive a Bachelors degree and to write several books. There is a balance that is needed between the individual and the relationships we are accountable to in this life.

But what happened in Terry Malloy’s life is that he lost that balance between what his goals in life were and the goals of his brother. His brother wanted to get rich. His brother wanted to rise in the mob world of power. And Terry Malloy, out of his devotion to his brother agreed that his brother’s happiness, his brother’s dreams, his brother’s life were more important than his own. And when Terry Malloy did that he forfeited his own destiny in the pursuit of fulfilling his brother’s. And as we see in the unfolding story his journey back to forging his own destiny was difficult and painful but one that eventually would be regarded with respect and dignity.

In the first part of this sermon series, I talked about the different aspects of destiny as defined by Rollo May. There was the cosmic aspect of destiny such as birth, death, and acts of god like tornadoes and earthquakes. The genetic aspect of destiny includes the physical characteristics and limitations of our bodies and minds. The cultural aspects of destiny includes whether we were born into a family of wealth or poverty, the location where we spent our childhood, and the time in history in which we live. And there is circumstantial destiny; those events that happen around us that cannot be taken back or redone such as the loss of a sibling or parent at an early age or a nation declaring war or going into economic recession.

So Terry Malloy in our story was born with some athletic talents that enabled him to be a good boxer, potentially a great boxer. This is a genetic aspect of destiny. He was born into a working class family with an older brother who was smart and ambitious at a time when mobs ruled the way things went down. It is a family that taught values of sticking together. This is the cultural aspects of destiny. He becomes involved in the mob that abuses workers with intolerable working conditions and poor wages. Those who speak up about these issues are either replaced or removed by killing them. This is the circumstantial destiny he is surrounded by and he cannot redo what has already happened.

In order for Terry Malloy to redefine himself as a person of integrity and worth, he must choose to engage his destiny. He must begin to self-differentiate himself from his surroundings and relationships and not have his identity be fused with them. Self-differentiation is a term that Murry Bowen, founder of family systems theory, developed to describe the ability of being able to separate out ones emotional and intellectual awareness from that of the family or group. This comes from the person developing and considering thoughtfully their principles and values that they will seek to follow rather than simply adopting the views and values of others. This means when conflicts occur, the person is able to assess the situation from a clear perspective and not clouded with the emotional entanglements such as fears of criticism or rejection. This enables the person to hear the opinions of others, respect them, without feeling the need to either adopt those opinions or try to get others to conform to their opinions and values. Self- differentiation includes both a separation from the emotional entanglements and a connection to the person or group through listening to what is happening.

No one is 100% self-differentiated but it is a goal that individuals and groups can strive towards in forging destinies for themselves and for the groups where they have aligned themselves. This is not easy work. It is not something that happens over night and suddenly a person is self-differentiated. It is a process.

In the movie On the Waterfront self-differentiation resulted in push back from the system. When Terry began to self-differentiate his brother and the mob bosses began to get nervous because Terry was always a submissive person. Terry was the person who wanted above all else to please his brother and that even meant being silent when he witnessed a murder. So Charley, Terry’s brother, tries to get Terry to conform to the mob bosses wishes and desires or risk being killed. Self-differentiation can carry with it risks but in the long run it is a healthier way of being.

The prayer that Alcoholics Anonymous uses is a prayer for self-differentiation. God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. It is also a prayer to engage one’s destiny. To have serenity over the things that cannot be changed does not mean surrender or helplessness; it simply means to accept them and then use them as the boundaries to redefine one’s path.

In the story of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, Pip meets Miss Haversham. Now Miss Haversham is an aged spinster who continues to wear her wedding dress and has stopped all the clocks in the house at 20 minutes of nine. She was jilted before the wedding and now she waits eternally for her betrothed to come and marry her. Miss Haversham has tried to stop time and has tried to preserve the anticipation of her wedding that will never happen. This is not an act of engaging her destiny of circumstances. She has in the process of trying to control time become bitter and cruel.

Nor is this an act of accepting things that cannot be changed. True, Miss Haversham cannot change the fact that she was jilted by her betrothed but it does her no good to pretend that it is forever 20 minutes of nine, frozen in time. While we might chuckle at Miss Haversham’s absurd and possibly insane behavior, I dare say that this happens more times than not, perhaps not to the same degree of insanity.

Miss Haversham blames the way her life turned out on this man who jilted her decades before. She then allows her life to be defined by this tragedy instead of grieving the loss and then using her wealth and privilege to create a different life for herself. Miss Haversham did not engage in destiny instead she allowed events to define who she is and in the process became less of a person for it. Life is meant to be lived to the fullest potential and we each have a responsibility towards that endeavor.

So let’s bring this idea of forging destiny closer to home. There are many things happening in our little part of the world. We each have our own unique genetic destiny. None of us know when our bodies will give out so our time of active engagement is limited, for some that limitation will be here sooner than later. And that statement has nothing to do with age because we all have known people whose lives came to an end far ahead of season. So there is that part of engaging our destiny.

I have been engaging my genetic destiny by seeing to my health. I am losing weight, I am now walking three miles a day and I am on top of my medical stats of cholesterol, triglycerides, thyroid, and blood pressure. The question still remains to whether I will follow my father’s family or my mother’s in terms of years ahead of me. There is a sense of urgency for me if my father’s genes are dominant. My hope through my health actions is that I will tip the scales towards following my mother’s ancestry. How are you all doing in engaging your genetic destiny?

There is my cultural destiny. I was born in rural New York State to a working class family. The community I lived in was relatively homogenous. Being born white and male gave me privileges that I came to understand early in life through a friendship in junior high school with a person of color. We challenged each other to read about Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. And we would discuss these books. Since she moved to the country from Harlem, her experiences were vastly different than mine. This gave me a desire to have different experiences than I could have in this rural community. I engaged my cultural destiny by moving to a city where there was exposure to other cultures. And I took risks to live in parts of the country that I never experienced before away from family and friends. All of this has given me a broader understanding of the human condition. And I continue to engage my cultural destiny by confronting racism and fear of multiculturalism.

Then there is the cultural destiny that results from living in the first quarter of the 21st century in Alabama and America. Some of this is also circumstantial such as the recent laws against immigrants and the banks too big to fail economic crash. How do we engage this destiny?

When I first moved to Mississippi and discussed where to begin addressing social justice issues, the response I received was point your arm in any direction and you will be pointing at an issue that needs addressing. It seems to be true here in Alabama as well. How do we engage this destiny? Can we have a say when history writes the final chapter on this era in American life?

The past two weeks my heart has been heavy as I hear from immigrants the fear they are now living, regardless of their status, with the enactment of portions of this law. Even though additional portions were blocked from enforcement this past week by the 11th circuit appeals court, there still remains much that is heinous. The nullification of contracts that will result in the shutting off of water to suspected undocumented immigrants is a flagrant violation of human rights. Water is essential to life. The potential for a public health crisis looming as families begin living without access to water is enormous.

I have begun exploring what I might possibly do to engage this aspect of our mutual destiny. I explored with the ACLU about the possibility of my standing in as contract holder for families whose water was shut off. This would be an act of civil disobedience. The consequence of this action could result in a Class C felony under HB 56 with fines up to $15,000 and ten years in prison. This new law has not been tested yet in the courts. Am I willing to do this? The idea of sacrificing my career which is what would happen because after ten years in prison, I would no longer be a good candidate for a long term ministry. I am not opposed to prison ministry but I would prefer to do it from this side of the bars. I am not sure that I am as brave as the Berrigan brothers were in the 1960’s and 70’s when they protested the Vietnam war by burning draft cards and then spent six years in prison. But I also do not want to be only an observer of this obscenity occurring in our state.

I recognize that any act of civil disobedience that I might engage in Alabama needs to be done in relationship with you as the congregation I serve. Any action that I take will impact this congregation and if I continue to pursue this path of engagement, that day will come when I will choose to be arrested in civil disobedience. For me, civil disobedience has to be more than just blocking traffic. It has to be geared towards either breaking the law itself or preventing the law from being enforced in some manner, other wise the point is somehow lost to the masses. I am telling you this because this is where my mind is these days. The pain and suffering this law is causing our neighbors is real and unjust. This law is not about their entry into this country with out papers. This is about how we as a nation have time and time again treated immigrants as less than human. Every immigrant group that has come to this country has been vilified by the dominant culture. And our despicable treatment of people from Mexico and further south is not a new phenomenon; it is over 200 years old. It is time we put aside our hatred and bigotry once and for all.

How do we engage this destiny in a manner that reflects our Unitarian Universalist values and principles? How do we forge a destiny that is more representative of a just and noble nation?

I also recognize that my engaging my destiny may not be the same as your engagement with yours or even the congregation’s. We have members here who are engaging their circumstantial destiny in ways that is every bit as important to repealing HB 56 or any other unjust law in our society. The reason why it is important is because in their doing so they are finding ways to be the most alive they can be.

In addition to the personal engagements to forge our destiny there are the engagements that are needed in order to forge our destiny forward as a congregation. And just as it is important for individual self-differentiation in engaging personal destinies there is the need for self-differentiation within the congregational setting as well. Leaders need to be self-differentiated because there are many opinions of what we should or should not be doing for our congregation. We need to be able to hear the words, hear the anxiety, without becoming anxious ourselves. Congregations are not about any one person, they are about the health of the group. How we handle conflict is important to this process.

As a congregation we have circumstantial events that we need to engage.. We as a congregation can also choose to allow our ship to drift on the sea of destiny or we can engage with our ship and determine its course. The choice is ours to make. We have some challenges that we need to engage in soon if we do not like the direction in which we are drifting. We currently have no director of religious education. We currently only have a half time minister. This is a down ward drift from last year. We currently have no one to chair our stewardship campaign for the second year in a row. What will be the result of our stewardship this next year if we have no one to help direct this particular aspect of our boat? It will do us no good to bemoan our misfortunes. It will do us no good to bemoan the lack of volunteers. These bemoaning behaviors only keep us drifting away from our goal instead of moving towards it.

We have the people here to do what needs to be done. If you have not done anything recently beyond attending Sunday morning, this is your invitation to get involved to help forge our future.

It will take all of us looking out for each other to steer this boat into the future we want. All of us together to create the destiny we desire. Our congregation can be a contender in making a difference in the lives of our larger community. May it be so and blessed be.

CLOSING WORDS: “There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.”—Howard Thurman

The Game Changes

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. This law denies the basic right to shelter.  It criminalizes anyone who for humanitarian reasons offers shelter.  Landlords must check citizenship status before renting.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Domestic workers can be criminalized for harboring and transporting domestic violence victims who are undocumented.
  9. All major religions have teachings and stories that command their followers to welcome the foreigner and offer hospitality.
  10. 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?

 


Legal but not Moral

” It’s not a moral issue at all- it’s an issue of legality,”  wrote a commenter on an earlier post. This person wrote further attempting to argue his point.  It is an interesting comment but one that holds very little water.  If obeying the laws of the land were the only determinant of what is moral and just, then this writer has some merit in his argument.  However, there are many laws that have been passed by the US government in its 235 year history that have been legal and immoral.

And there are many examples in other governments where what is legal has not been what is moral.  But let’s just look at American history at the legal laws have been passed that have been immoral.  The laws that were passed that removed the indigenous people from their homelands were immoral.  The laws that enslaved a people were immoral, including the laws that required slaves to show their papers, giving them the right to be away from the plantation, to any white person they met on the road. (Does this sound familiar?)  The laws that banned the vote from non-landholders, women, and blacks.  The laws that sent the CIA, our soldiers, and trained militants from the School of the Americas  (SOA) into combat to destabilize governments in Central and South America (Nicaragua, Columbia, Guatemala, Chile, and Argentina as examples). And laws that then will not grant amnesty to the refugees of these countries because we are allies with the SOA trained dictators.  Laws that banned  interracial  marriage and same gender marriage.  Laws that banned races and genders of people from access to education and employment opportunities. All very legal, but not very moral.

Morality has to do with how we are with one another.  Morality is expressed in how we treat other people.  So when actions are coercive against another, that is considered to be immoral.  The laws that demean another being; whether female, or of another race, or ethnicity, or nationality are also considered to be immoral. Jim Crow laws of the 20th century while very legal were not moral because they went against the very fabric of all of our religions’ tenets that teach us to treat others as we ourselves would like to be treated.

It is therefore deemed as immoral those actions that are done against another that are not of the person’s fault.  Therefore the laws that deport children who were brought here as young children is seen as immoral because to deport them means removing them from the only culture and, in some cases, the only language that they know. The laws targeting children by checking their citizenship status before attending school  and placing families at risk in defiance of Federal law of education regardless of status are immoral.  Deporting young people into Mexico who only speak English and know nothing of that country other than it is the country of their parents is immoral.  Actions that attack the family unit are seen as immoral.  When mothers and/or fathers are deported and children are made wards of the state, this as in immoral act against the family.

The Federal law regarding immigration is an immoral  law. One such federal law, The Secure Communities Act that instead of targeting violent criminals who are here without documentation is targeting the undocumented that if they were able to enter the country legally would make the ideal citizen. But our federal process is racist, convoluted, arduous, decades long to complete, and outrageously expensive. The process itself is immoral and unjust.

The states passing their own versions of attrition through enforcement laws are also immoral laws.   Landlords become accomplices to ICE  by having to check residency papers before being able to rent to people of their choice.  States are targeting churches and domestic violence shelters who transport people to their services, which under these laws are being charged with felonies for human trafficking and harboring undocumented.  These laws are immoral because they limit civil and religious liberties.

Employers are being mandated to use E-Verify, an employment data base that only is able to screen 46% of the workplace with any sort of accuracy. This system does nothing to intercept those engaged in identity theft. Citizens are being told they are not legal in the US to work and are losing their employment. And while a first denial has a limited time window to check for errors, employers are simply denying employment rather than do the legwork to verify the information as correct.  Employees are not being told why they are being let go.  The process is seriously flawed and creates an unjust system that harms peoples ability to support themselves.

The federal and state laws addressing immigration have to be reformed.  There needs to be a humane process for acquiring citizenship in this country.  It can be done and it can be done in a manner that is morally and ethically sound.

Yes, it may be very legal to pass such laws.  But at some point, one has to make a decision as to which law one will obey.  The laws of the land or the laws of conscience that guide our behaviors in how we treat our human family.  I will obey the laws of conscience.  My faith demands that of me.  What does your faith demand of you?

What makes US Immigration laws unjust?

Benjamin asked on the recent blog regarding the ICE raid on Howard Industries what makes US immigration laws unjust?  It is a good question.  It is also a difficult question to answer because there are so many nuances to our legislation that places layers and convolutions to the process that immigrants have to go through to become citizens here. 

I am not an expert on immigration law. I am a minister so my answers will be based on my perceptions as a minister within the Unitarian Universalist liberal faith.  Prior to becoming a minister, I did advocacy work for AIDS education and prevention in undocumented communities in Connecticut.   This is the lens through which I see my world and more specifically this issue. 

Because this is such a convoluted and complex issue, I will just look at the recent example at Howard Industries to describe why this aspect of the immigration laws is unjust. 

First the employer rarely faces any consequences while the employee is deported. This is based on federal laws.  It has been suggested by one of the commentors on the blog about the raid, that it was doubtful that Howard Industries would be charged for hiring undocumented workers under the new MS Employment Protection Act.   The reasons given are interesting ones but highlight the injustice if this scenario unfolds.  According to the commentator, Howard Industries is too important a corporation to Mississippi to be prosecuted under this new law.   If this is true and Mississippi does not enforce the law recently passed, then this proves this law is unjust because some employers would be exempt from its reach.  It also proves that Mississippi’s legal system is corrupt and also unjust to allow the law to be ignored in favor of such an important contractor.  If laws cannot or will not be fairly applied across all corporations that are impacted by it, then the law is biased in its creation and is aimed at a different segment of the population.  Say perhaps minority owned corporations? 

The law passed mandates that employers use the E-Verify system.  This is a national data base that allegedly has screened legitmate social security numbers against falsified ones. It also screens official green cards  against forged green cards.  I say allegedly because this system has been noted to be full of holes which showed up when the program was piloted in 1997.   These errors were never corrected. 

In the book, The Politics of Immigration: Questions and Answers by Jane Guskin and David L. Wilson, they quote Amy Sugimori of the National Employment Law Project summary of two independent surveys done for Homeland Security.  The E-Verify program, then known as the Basic Pilot Program, Guskin and Wilson quote Ms Sugimori as stating this program, “jeopardizes employee rights as defined by fair information standards” and could result in ” growth in the underground economy, which could lead to worker exploitation and related problems.” 

We have already seen the growth in the underground economy.   Many of the commentators on the ICE raid blog stated that the undocumented employees were paid sub wages for their work.   If this is true, then this would be an example of the growth of the underground economy.  Employers hire undocumented workers for less wages under the threat of deportation if they complain or organize for their labor rights.  Employers use existing anti immigration laws to exploit undocumented workers by stating they are taking a huge risk in hiring them. 

There is erroneous thinking that if we make life difficult for undocumented workers that they will not settle here and leave.  This was certainly the thinking of some legislators in the capitol when the MS Employment Protection Act was being discussed.  Mississippi has encouraged ICE agents to make it clear that undocumented immigrants are not wanted here.  Mississippi has averted its eyes to ICE agents entering public restaurants with guns brandishing in the air and rounding up anyone who “looks”  foriegn, regardless of citizen status.  The raid in Howard Industries was done with huge flair and dramatics of ICE agents helicopting in with guns.  It was done with one intent…  to instill fear.  These tactics are only done in the most repressive of regimes and to have them done here is a sign of something far more sinister afoot. 

Unfortunately, many undocumented workers have been living in far greater fear for decades in their home countries where repression, economy, and government bullying tactics are far worse.  America still remains a better place to be even with our unjust behavior towards them.  Equally unfortunate is that enforcement procedures is a recently revived and strengthened money making industry.  Boeing received a 2.5 billion contract to set up a highly sophisticated surveillance system.  Contracts like these means that larger corporations are going to be lobbying for increased immigration enforcement legislation in Washington because anti-immigration laws means money and lots of it.   This is another injustice as a result of immigration laws.  Corporations taking advantage of repressive and oppressive laws to increase their wealth and keep the poor, poor. 

The United States has had a love/hate relationship with Mexican immigrants for the past century or so.  In early 1917 the Immigration Act  shut the door to Asians but opened the door to Europeans who could pay a “head-tax” and pass a literacy test.  When the US entered World War I, agricultural centers were complaining of a shortage of farm laborers.  The US suspended its head tax and literacy test and invited Mexicans to come and provide farm labor and a few other labor areas.  When the depression struck, Mexicans were seen as taking jobs away from citizens and thousands were deported even those who were now legally citizens.  World War II created another labor shortage and once again, Mexico was where America turned to help with their labor shortage.  This program called the Bracero Program was filled with corruption.  The wages were held in escrow and mysteriously never made it to the employees when they returned to Mexico.  There is still litigation being sought in Mexico and in the United States to recoup these earnings.   In 1954 another wave of deportations occurred, Operation Wetback.  Thousands of people were rounded up simply because they looked Mexican.   So it seems what is happening today is a repeat of our love / hate relationship with Mexican people.  We love Mexicans when we are in need of laborers, we hate Mexicans when that need is over.  Another injustice of our immigration laws as they seem to be created to only serve the whims of our desires and not what is best for all people. 

This is only a thin slice of what I see as injustice in our immigration laws.  There are many many examples.  NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, has contributed substantially to the immigration woes this country faces.  But that my friends is another blog. 

Blessings, 
SerenityHome