Friday, May 30, 2008

A Quaker perspective on immigration

I'm thrilled that my article "Seeing that of God in our immigrant Neighbors" was published in the May issue of the national Quaker magazine Friends Journal. I wrote this after several years of thinking and talking about how Quaker "testimonies," or social principles, would apply to the issue of immigration. Here's an excerpt from the article:

Friends have been concerned about the exploitation and dehumanization of workers for many years, most notably in our opposition to slavery. I see these injustices in the context of immigration today, but as Friends, we have not reached clarity on a common, Spirit-led response. My experiences working with immigrants confirm my belief that the Quaker testimonies call us to pursue humane policies towards immigrants. My faith calls me to work for a society where we celebrate the dignity and gifts of everyone, regardless of immigration status.

The suffering I see caused by our broken immigration system touches me deeply. It pains me to see immigrants dying in the process of crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. As a parent, I weep when I think of the immigrant parents who live with the possibility of deportation separating them from their children. I feel angry watching the stricken looks on immigrant teenagers' faces when they see a sign saying, "Illegal Immigrants Not Welcome." Surely, there is a better solution. I believe we can create an immigration system that will work for all of us; we do not have to play the rights and benefits of one group against another's. We have more to gain by coming together and addressing the real causes of inequality and injustice. Our testimonies can help guide us towards an alternative vision of society, where we honor that of God in everyone.

To read the whole article:

Monday: Protest the Aurora Expansion of the GEO Immigrant Dente

"There is something morally wrong about the privatization of prisons and detention centers.”
Rev. Patrick Demmer,
Graham Memorial Community Church

"When the goals of the city are achieved…
- Aurora’s diversity continues to be celebrated as an essential
characteristic of the community.
- Public, private, and religious organizations meet the educational
and service delivery needs of immigrants.
- Aurora has no households that are isolated from the community
by a language barrier.
- Immigrants continue to take advantage of abundant opportunities
to assimilate or acculturate, and fully participate in civic affairs."

The two quotes above express our values and vision for Aurora. The expansion of the GEO Detention Center contradicts those values and calls into peril the ability of our community to be the one we envision it to be. Detention expansion sends a clear, negative and chilling message to the immigrant community potentially impacting their willingness and ability to be celebrated, to be served, to serve and to assimilate and acculturate.

When any part of our community is isolated and cut off from the rest, all of Aurora and the Metro area suffer. Come out this Monday to the City Council meeting and express support for a united, open Aurora that reflects our values and respects our whole community.

City Council Hearing to Decide on GEO Detention Center Site Approval
DATE: Monday, June 2
TIME: 6:30 pm Protest and Press conference
PLACE: Aurora Municipal Center, 15151 E. Alameda Parkway
WHAT: Come protest the GEO Group's proposal to triple the size of its immigrant detention center in Aurora. We need to let Aurora City Council see AND hear strong opposition to inhumane immigrant detention.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Bringing Love to the Immigration Conversation

“I may not agree with it all, but I love you for what you’re doing.”

This was not the closing comment I had expected from a self-identified “businessman, ardent capitalist, and, conservative.”

We had spent the past hour discussing one of the most politically divisive issues of our time: immigration. As an immigrant justice advocate in this discussion, I did not even think love would come up, and certainly not for the task at hand- opposing the construction of 1,100 more beds at the immigrant detention center in Aurora.

Then again, perhaps love is really the point.

Immigration has become such a political hot button that real humanity gets lost in the discussion. We get caught up in the buzzwords and fear-mongering, and we lose the heart.

“John,” we’ll call my conversation-mate, is moved by love, along with his own economic self-interest, when he talks about his best young worker, an immigrant from Central America. John believes “Carlos” deserves the opportunity to make a better life for himself, to make enough money at his job to ultimately go to school.

John, like most Americans I know, believes we should all have the opportunity to work hard and go far. And John admits wanting to sponsor Carlos so that he can get legal status to be in the country and pursue all the opportunities this country has to offer.

Of course, “It’s not quite so easy,” I have to explain. John can’t simply help Carlos fix his immigration status. That is one of the myths many of us believe, that it is easy enough to immigrate “the legal way.”

Most folks who actually know an immigrant and have explored avenues for legalization or family reunification are the first to understand that our nation’s policies require a complete overhaul. Love, we are told when we try to get people rights or reunite families, is beside the point.

Just last week, an Aurora City Council Member asked for some support for an immigrant family quite dear to her. She recently had met the father, a Filipino immigrant, legal permanent resident, and health care professional. The man told her of his family’s failed attempts to bring their three-year-old child to the US.

I looked into it and, saddened, came up with the same conclusion as the attorney’s with whom this man had consulted. According to the current visa bulletin, which outlines wait times for legal immigration to the US, it will be 5-7 years before this family can be reunited with their infant son.

One has to conclude that the US visa system does not take love, or the wrenching pain of divided families, into account. Neither does a proposal to triple the size of the immigrant detention center in Aurora, making it the largest facility of its kind in the country’s interior. Immigrant detention is pretty ghastly. Just check out these recent reports about mass sexual assault, untimely detainee death and generally abhorrent conditions:

Regardless of the flood of scandals, if you think about the premise of immigrant detention at all- locking good, hard-working families up in prison facilities because there is no good way for them to get “legal” status- well, there isn’t much love in that.

But can a self-proclaimed conservative and I, the leftist of left, sit at the same table, discussing the issue of immigration, and agree that love is really what this whole immigration discussion should be about? It seems so. He chose that language of “love”, not me.

Love. Simple and deep.

In the struggle for social justice, we often talk about “changing hearts and minds,” cultivating a new debate where people value humanity above profits and xenophobia. Yet John, “businessman, ardent capitalist, and, conservative,” has taught me something. What if it’s not necessary to change hearts and minds, but simply connect the two?

When it comes to our country’s conversation about immigration, one of the most controversial, politicized, and hateful debates there is- how much further could we get if we just brought a little love to the table?


On Friday, May 30, at 12:00 pm, Colorado Jobs with Justice will have a vigil to show solidarity with "guest" workers from India who are engaged in a hunger strike in Washington DC. We will also discuss similar cases of human trafficking happening in Colorado. Read about one case here. More info about this local action will be posted here soon. For more information about the hunger strikers, visit the hunger strike blog here. This is day nine of the strike and there has already been one hospitalization. Keep these courageous workers in your thoughts.