From the Heart

Huge thanks for following along these weeks of blogging! Your support and kindness has astounded me. The following is adapted from what I spoke yesterday at our vigil at the Mesa Verde ICE Center in Bakersfield, CA.

Almost exactly one year ago, my dear friend Jo and I were stuck inside an immigration detention center in Mexico City. We had been living at a Catholic Worker house in rural Jalisco, and naively left the house without our passports. While on one of our midnight bus rides, a routine search by Mexican immigration officials led to our detainment.

I remember drawn-out hours waiting: in a barred-windowed van, in the jail yard watching rain fall over barbed-wire fences, in clockless hallways papered with posters declaring our supposed international rights (several of which we were kept from exercising). We are bilingual and had supports both within Mexico and from the US and it still took days to get out.I felt like a child, helpless at the whim of whatever action the gun-totting surrounding guards decided to take.

Though last years experience provides a baseline of empathy for today’s migrants fleeing to the US, I cannot help but notice the differences in our realities: despite the discomfort of sleeping under the night-long buzz of fluorescent lights, going to the bathroom and cold-showering with no doors while others slept in the same room, I know we fared far better with our minimal hygiene and sleeping arrangements than those caged in the US. While Jo and I were detained for an embarrassing lack of foresight while travelling, the women and children detained around us (and those imprisoned today) shared grueling accounts of fleeing their violent homelands and enduring years of separation from their children.

Image may contain: 6 people, people smiling, people standing and outdoor
After vigiling at Mesa Verde ICE Center on Thursday

Fast-forwarding to this year, my walking over the past 2 weeks has brought me even more empathy for migrants. Even with topographic maps of trails and possible water sources, I still did not know if I would come through some desert sections with enough water; my heart aches for those whose journey to the US without such logistical information seems safer than staying in their homelands. When I found myself without a water source, exhausted and frightened at losing my way in the wilderness, I had the safety net of being able to trust strangers I eventually flagged down for help, not having to fear how they might treat me and relying fully on their generosity for my survival. When I decided to stop the walk to maintain my well-being, I could call family to pick me up, all the while holding in heart the family members unable to contact one another after separation at our border.

Our time in the Mexican immigration detainment was a privilege more than anything else, allowing us the opportunity to experience oneness with women and children seeking refuge and asylum. Beyond the fears and unknowns we faced while inside, Jo and I remark that we remember most the kindness and humanity shared while detained: We huddled around a Bible someone got hold of, praying our favorite psalms while sitting on the floor of the washroom. I giggled with a small horde of barefoot children while Jo entertained us by leading us in yoga one morning. We women cried and comforted one another when a volunteer church group visited to lead us in song and Scripture. We swarmed to hug and multiply one another’s joy each time a detainee’s name was called for release.

I share these stories because for all the news stories threatening to depress us, there lies an abundance more of unreported instances where heaven touches earth, where kindness prevails, where people remain human.

Yes, we are the feet and hands, and mouths of God in our small spheres of influence, and yet we can trust that God’s Spirit is present where we are not, caring in unseen ways for the toddler behind bars at the border and the terrified travelling mother whose eyes scan desert horizons.

While on the trail last week, I met a northbound hiker who told me of his recent experience hiking the almost unbearably-hot trail near Tehachapi. “I was so dehydrated, and down to my last bit of water. My thinking became confused and I stumbled as I walked. I was so scared, not knowing what I would do or if I would survive,” he explained. “Just then, I kid you not, I turned the corner and there was a gallon of water underneath a bush in front of me”. As we reflected on his life-sustaining experience, I wondered how many similar stories of miracles occurring for migrants go unheard.

Unexpected connections of compassion spring up for the man parched in the desert, for the kids singing nursery rhymes under barbed wire, and for the women who stay together in holding cells just so no one has to be alone. 

We trust that God works through us to show mercy where we do have agency, as all of you have in following and participating in this blog. And we go on encouraging those around us to take action as well, so that even when we cannot e the ones placing each gallon of water in the desert or holding vigil at each ICE center, maybe our neighbor can.

Shalom, friends

Calia

Some Have Entertained Angels

Today, let’s meditate on Colossians 3:11. Read through this verse slowly, letting our imaginations wander through how the call realistically applies to our present circumstances:

 Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.

Flight to Egypt by Fritz Eichenberg

Colossians 3:11 is an invitation to say “yes” to empathy by imagining ourselves experiencing the loneliness, fear, and suffering of those fleeing for safety or trapped in ICE detentions.

Today’s action idea is to find a visitation program near you to meet with people being detained by ICE. For those incarcerated, feeling forgotten can lead to despair. You can be a personal expression of encouragement and hope!

The Flores Agreement

Some people have unique positions and abilities to act in support of incarcerated migrants. Today, we learn about Holly Cooper and the legal team of the The Flores Agreement Counsel, some of the few people who have access to CBP facilities. They consist of the group of lawyers that first reported on the inhumane conditions of the children in detention centers.

Artwork by Ricardo Levins Morales

The Flores Agreement is a decades old court decision governing the treatment of migrant children. The Trump administration is currently trying to get rid of its protections in court. The Flores Agreement is literally the only legal mandate protecting these children from indefinite detention and it’s under attack. Her legal team recently filed a lawsuit against the government to hold them accountable for their inhumanity and egregious neglect.

Donate to Together Rising fundraiser to fund their litigation and work to stop the indefinite detention of migrant children.

(written by Al Otro Lado

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An Honest Update

Well, folks, I have had quite a journey so far: a couple days hiking out of sagebrush-strewn Owen’s Valley, followed by five days of scaling snow-capped mountain passes in the high Sierra Nevada, and most-recently, a few days trekking through crisping desert basins and canyons.

In spite of my years of backpacking, navigating, and general outdoor experience, though, the last few days have tested me physically and emotionally beyond any previous endeavors. As I moved southward on the pilgrimage, water along the trail became less frequent and temperatures rose. Even with my prior planning and research, the reliability of water sources became questionable. Yesterday, I ran out of water while on a particularly dry section of trail, and essentially was rescued off the trail.

After honestly assessing my physical and emotional state, and talking with folks with lifetimes of outdoor experience, I decided to discontinue the pilgrimage out of concern for my safety and well-being.

While feeling quite disappointed, I brim with gratitude at the outpourings of support from you all and those who have shown such generous care towards me while walking. The focus of this pilgrimage is and always was on building compassion towards migrants and increasing action to support them. Stopping the walk early has only enlarged my empathy towards those trekking into dry, unknown, and arduous paths towards the United States.

I dearly hope you continue to follow the online pilgrimage posts these last few days, and for those who are able, to join us in Bakersfield at the Mesa Verde ICE Center this Thursday for a vigil. We plan to start gathering at Mesa Verde late-morning and engage in a peaceful time of prayer together there 12-1pm.

Many thanks and deep peace,

Calia

The Crosses We Bear

I’ve read defenses made by some United States citizens arguing that, if migrants know they will face harsh treatment in this country, then they should not bother coming to the U.S. for asylum. 

What gross privilege we have to assume that migrants have other options of where to turn when desperately fleeing for safety. If someone held a gun to my head, and I had the opportunity to run away, I would… even while knowing I could be shot while trying to escape. This is quite literally the nightmare in which many Central Americans, particularly women, find themselves. Yes, the threat of ICE incarceration and abuse looms as a likely reality, but at least in the United States there lies some possibility of life without the constant fears of mutilation, kidnapping, and murder inescapable in various countries south of the US border. 

photo by Victor J. Blue of a woman whose daughter was murdered in Honduras

Regardless of differences in country of origin or social status, humans share many of the same basic desires: safety for those we love, education for our children, or satisfying employment. 

Such motivations are shared by staunch anti-immigrant US citizens as well as by people walking across miles of desert to run the metaphorical gauntlet of the US immigration system. I pain at the thought of us throwing out the dignity of individual people by not investing the emotional effort to empathize over the intense suffering and fear that would push a family to make the treacherous and uncertain journey of migration. 

No doubt those presenting themselves at the border have heard of the realities facing asylum- and refugee-seekers in the US. Yet imagine yourself, for example, as a Honduran mother surrounded regularly by over 380 annual murders of women around you. Consider what protecting your family might look like when your neighbor’s daughter, 14-year old Katherine Carranza, was shot 7 times in the head while walking near church when she refused to let gang members take her. In such desperate conditions, the dangerously thin chance of receiving asylum status in the US  may be worth aiming for when compared with certain violence and quite possible death.

Those of us living in relative security and stability have no right to condemn parents or individuals for making the harrowing decision to seek life in the United States. Part of our call is to humanize our view of the “other” by recognizing that we hold in common with many migrants similar fears, values, and hopes for the ones we love. 

Today’s action idea: I’m meditating on this prayer as I walk today. I invite you to take time to pray the following with me, as we learn to see ourselves and Christ in the most outcast and disregarded of society: 

You are the God who bears the brunt of the question, “Why didn’t you stay where you belong?”

You feel the red-faced embarrassment when we hear, “Keep your distance, you foreigner, with your different-colored skin and your strange-sounding speech, with your culture, food, religion, and clothing that are inferior to my own.” 

You are the God who sits along side of us who work in sweatshops, with our bloodshot eyes and aching fingers squinting under the soul-less glare of a fluorescent light. 

You are the God who rises early in the morning with us as we go to harvest fresh vegetables and fruits picked with fingers stained by the pesticides and fungicides that penetrate our skin. 

You are the God who stands with us in the chill of the morning in the parking lot at Home Depot, with anxious stomachs hoping that we too would be picked to work just for that one day. 

Loving God, as we stand before you today, help us to remember that when we speak of immigrants and refugees, we speak of Christ. 

Hear our prayers for necessary, just, and comprehensive immigration reform.

Make us strong in the work for immigrant justice and remind us that our work is no easier than the everyday work of our immigrant sisters and brothers. 

We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

(adapted from Justiceforimmigrants.org by Fr. Jon Pedigo)

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How “out of line” are the actions taken by our government?

Jo Buckley

Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, has been in existence since 2003. It is not unique to the Trump administration. It was founded under President Bush celebrated under President Obama. According to their website, “ICE was granted a unique combination of civil and criminal authorities to better protect national security and strengthen public safety in response to the deadly attacks perpetrated on 9/11. Leveraging those authorities, ICE has become a powerful and sophisticated federal law enforcement agency.”[1]This means, ICE has immense power and control to do as they see fit without much democratic oversight. Throughout their existence, they have continually ramped up the violence and number of raids. Since 2006, they have had alternatives to detention which better allows families to stay together until a person’s court date. Yet, under Trump they are strategizing their raids and using them as political pawns and detaining more people than ever. For example, in the recent raids in Mississippi, workplaces were watched for months then the raids were timed to be executed right after the tragic attacks of El Paso and Dayton and the first week back to school for many children[2]. The disparity ICE creates of targeting thousands of immigrants while letting many employers off the hook after months of surveillance shows that ICE is a predatory system that targets vulnerable people. It is not an agency that supports folks in following the law, processes for people to get documentation, that understands the community impact of ravaging a town, or counsels and supports businesses to go through the legal processes correctly. It may have been started to reduce terrorism threats in the US but has become a threat in itself.

The Encyclopedia Britannicadefines terrorism as, “the systematic use of violence to create a general climate of fear in population and thereby to bring about a particular political objective.” People of color, folks from impoverished communities, and especially Latinx people are speaking up and against the fear that ICE provokes. We also clearly know who is gaining political power in this situation. So now let’s focus “the systematic use of violence.”

How do we put the word “violence” in context? Violence is harm done. Death rates within the concentration camps, especially by suicide, are appalling. Folks are denied to basic hygiene such as toothbrushes. Kids are kept separate from their families and housed in inadequate places like former Walmart stores. Rhetoric is being spread widely that aims to diminish the inherit value of immigrants and all people of color. These are all intentional, violent actions. All the while, private prisons are booming as they profit from the increase in private immigrant jails

So, what do we do? How much of this is our responsibility? What are we complicit to? 

I like to reference the Pyramid of Pyramid of White Supremacy when understanding the complexities of immigration especially because people of color are barred at much higher rates than their white European counterparts who try to enter the country. The foundation of the pyramid is the indifference we tolerate every day. All the times we fail to take action or don’t see this as our cause. Minimization builds on that whenever we shy away from calling these camps what they are or deny the societal impact of migrants. Violence builds into veiled racism when we allow horrible treatment of people held in camps or let it slide when our President or anyone to tweet racist remarks or let people chant death threats at his rallies. Finally, violence builds to the level of mass killings and genocide such as the shooting in El Paso earlier this month. I am intentionally saying “we” because it is all of us who have been complicit in this coming to a head and it will take all of us to dismantle it. It is up to us to stand up for the human rights and decent treatment of all people. 

Action Item for today:

Susan Sontag was asked what she had learned from the Holocaust, and she said that 10 percent of any population is cruel, no matter what, and that 10 percent is merciful, no matter what, and that the remaining 80 percent could be moved in either direction[3].

“In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true. … Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.”
― Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Martin Niemöller

Contact a politician in your area. Here is how you can access their information. Be it a phone call or an email, local or nationwide, your voice and participation matters. We need to become the democratic oversight and approval our country needs to get on track. The 80% that are remembered in history for turning the tide toward human rights, peace, and justice. 


[1]https://www.ice.gov/features/history

[2]https://www.cbsnews.com/news/ice-raids-in-mississippi-officials-tout-largest-single-state-immigration-sweeps-in-us-history-today-2019-08-07/

[3]http://inthesetimes.com/article/susan_sontag_and_arthur_miller

God Our Mother

Empathy comes through education. Putting forth the effort to listen and consider the background, hardships, and worldview of another helps pick apart our barriers of harmful stereotypes and presuppositions. 

photo by Veronica G Cardenas/The Guardian

Today, I invite you to read this article exploring the plight of female-identifying immigrant farmworkers. 

Then, let’s pray the following prayer for migrant women, adapted from Education for Justice

Prayer for Migrant Women 

O God, Creator of the heavens and of earth, 

Help us to see one another through eyes enlightened by understanding and compassion. 

Help us to listen to the voices of all of our sisters throughout the world with respect and attention. 

Open our ears to the cries of women who have been denied their rights and their dignity.

Empower us to be instruments of justice for all, for in the wholeness of Christ, all mothers are our own mothers, and we are one.

Amen.

Further prayers for immigrants can be found here

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Robbers and Samaritans

co-authored with Jo Buckley

Luke 10:29-37

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.  A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.  So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  

But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.  He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.  The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Exploring Jesus’ metaphor of the various travellers, we would be fools to not recognize those presently at our border as the man on the side of the road, with the United States having the opportunity to choose which of the three passing strangers we will emulate. On personal and collective levels, we have the potential to take the role of the last passerby. Despite the immense cultural and social divides between the two travellers, the Samaritan sees and acts generously towards the unfortunate man along the road. In this parable, Jesus is clear that we are to move towards those who have been abused and abandoned, resisting the desire to retreat to  “our own side of the road” by continuing on our own convenient paths of personal prosperity. 

Yet continuing with this story’s metaphor reveals that caring for the  migrants at our border is not “just a nice thing to do,” but rather is our undeniable responsibility. While considering the best of our charitable efforts we might like to claim ourselves as the ‘good Samaritans,’ the United States is to those seeking asylum what the robbers where to the man on en route to Jerusalem. Decades of drug and weapons trades, unjust trade mandates, and subversive support of abusive dictatorships have largely contributed to the current collapse of Central American countries’ well-being. 

Consider Stephen Kinzer’s (a New York Times correspondent) exploration of US action: “Throughout the 20th century and into the beginning of the twenty-first, the United States repeatedly used its military power, and that of its clandestine services, to overthrow governments that refused to protect American interests. Each time, it cloaked in its intervention the rhetoric of national security and liberation. In most cases, however, it acted mainly for economic reasons–specifically, to establish, promote, and defend the right of Americans to do business around the world without interference” (Kinzer 3).  This exploitation by the United States has been directed at the same countries that send the largest groups of migrants and asylum seekers to the US. Places like Venezuela where US imperialism and global power is a large part of the reason the country faces economic collapse. Places like Honduras where the military has been largely trained by the US and repeatedly uses violence against its people. Places like Guatemala, where President Eisenhower and the CIA deposed of the government leaving the United Fruit Company and other horrendous human rights abusers reign of the country and economy (Kinzer, 6). Given that US fingerprints indelibly mark the political and social catastrophes south of our border, the least we can do is help relieve a bit of the immediate suffering while we urge our representatives to create a just and peaceful society in their dealings at home and abroad. 

The rhetoric against immigrants is not new. This article describes how this tactic has used racism and economic gaslighting to create hatred against migrants. It is not our job to call into question the legitimacy of others’ fear. Our call is first and foremost to care, reflecting God’s unquestioning love towards us. As Dorothy Day writes, “The Gospel takes away our right forever, to discriminate between the deserving and the undeserving poor.”

Reference:

Kinzer, Stephen. Overthrow: Americas Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq. Times Books/Henry Holt, 2007.

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Each Name

Today’s action idea:

Though our hope for healing and justice does not lie in government, we can recognize the potential power in political tools. Today, sign the following petition urging Senators to close the present concentration camps, and pass it along to a few others as well. If we believe that each person whose name is included in the thousands detained matters, then we must also believe that each one of us who signs our names on a petition counts as well.

Please find some friends, family, strangers to sign…you might even make a few new friends! Click here for an online version.

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Where is our “yes”?

I’ve sensed feelings of fear from folks who support enhanced militarization of the immigration process and borders. Often we hear concerns of United States citizens’ jobs being ‘taken’ by immigrants. Many are anxious that the United States lacks sufficient  resources to take in people seeking refuge and asylum. 

When people believe strongly in their reasons for acting (regardless of what those actions are) they  find the ways necessary to make the situation work. A lot of beauty lies in saying yes to causes we believe in. When people hold  onto moral convictions in the face of apparent logistical barriers, they are forced to creatively seek possibilities that would otherwise lay hidden. “Faith sees the invisible, believes the incredible, receives the impossible.”

Our government says yes to a myriad of ambitions for which we do not have resources, such as ‘updating’ our nuclear weaponry while simultaneously claiming insufficient funds for comprehensive low-income preschools or universal healthcare. 

I’m struck by how far the effects of reacting out of fear can reach. Fear of “the other” (like those whose race, citizenship, faith, etc.  differs from one’s own) leads us to direct funds and human energy into militarization -whether abroad, domestically, or at our borders- creating structures of forceful oppression such as ICE. Refusing to empathize with “the other” and seek healthier solutions to our fears leads to further investment in and expansion of ICE facilities, which perpetuates racism and idolatrous patriotism. 

For example, instead of seeking peace-economies, US cities have chosen to profit heavily from investing in maintaining local ICE facilities,  institutions born out of fear-based politics. ICE payments received from 2017-2018 by the city of McFarland (which funded the Mesa Verde ICE Center where I’ll finish my walk)  exceeded $17 million. Cities become reliant on private companies, like GEO Group and CoreCivic, (who run prisons and immigration detention centers) for the cities’ employment and revenue. Continuing of the current trajectory of our immigration politics would entrench local governments even further in these vicious cycles of fear-based economics. 

If saying “no” out of fear to those at our border has already drastically impacted the functioning of  our government and economies, imagine what could be possible if we said “yes” out of love instead. Doing so frees us to tap into the creativity and determination that flows out choosing empathy and solidarity with those around us. Converting our current militarized immigration system to one committed to a wholehearted “yes” to those at the border is one step towards the sustainability and life-giving nature of peace economics (where policies, practices, and psychologies honor the sacred nature of all people and creation). For those of us who identify with Jesus, the call to humanize our response toward those seeking asylum and well-being here is further necessitated by God’s repeated calls to 

“love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself” (see Matthew 25:40, Luke 10:27, Deuteronomy 6:5). 

On personal and systemic levels, let’s consider how often our decisions and reactions find their roots in love or in fear. With all the humanpower, and cultural influence the United States holds in the world, I hope we seek ways to voice and work through our fears so that we are able to say a powerful and loving “yes” to those at our border. 

Today’s action idea:

Donate to the small legal team at Americans for Immigrant Justice, which represents almost all the children at Homestead Detention Center in Florida and desperately needs donations. Homestead is one of the largest detention facilities for immigrant children in the nation and yet is not subject to state child welfare inspections because it is on federal land. (written by Al Otro Lado)

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