Friday, August 7, 2009

Musings from Mexico by CFIR member Kathy Bougher

I´m writing from Juchitan in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. I spent the past two days in a migrant shelter in Ixtepec, about half a hour from here. It´s a place where Central American migrants change trains in their journey north. Monday night Father Alejandro, the priest who is the heart and soul of the shelter, was expecting a train to arrive from Arriaga, the town south of here from which trains depart, around 10 pm. About 7 pm he received a phone call from one of his contacts down the line reporting that the train would be in around 8 or 8:30 and that there were at least 200 people riding. The half dozen people in the shelter--a cluster of cement block building still under construction--immediately organized to prepare dinner. They started the wood fire, put on water to boil for rice and chicken, chopped vegetables, and squeezed lemons for lemonade. We bemoaned the fact that there was only one knife in the entire kitchen. Knives seem to walk away. A while later I went with the Padre to the tracks where he welcomes every train as it slows down coming into the station saying, ¨"welcome" and "There´s food at the shelter." "This is your home." There were indeed about 200 people who had made the 12 hour trip that day in the blazing sun. Back at the shelter people were lined up to get lemonade while the food finished cooking. We had to serve in shifts because there were not enough plates for everyone to eat at once. The food ran out and we started cooking more. Eventually everyone ate. I went around and tried to talk with each of the women, perhaps 10 or 15 percent of the group. So many women are assaulted either during the train ride or on the long trip from the Guatemala border to Arriaga, where there are no trains. Most of the women seemed to be ok, or at least that´s what they said. Most were almost too exhausted to talk. One young woman told me she was fifteen and then said, well, she would be fifteen in a few months. She missed the first round of food and I had to convince her to get up and put her shoes back on her aching feet to come eat during the second round. There are a few mattresses, but most people slept on cardboard, on the cement floors, or outside under the trees. Fortunately it did not rain. The majority of the people left on another train early the next morning.

So, this is my context for thinking about why our work as educators is important The increasingly heated and often hostile national and international debates on immigration impact our students and their families so much. I´ve seen young children as well as teenagers cringe with shame when they hear the word “immigrant” at school. Then they explain that what they have heard is that the definition of immigrant is “illegal.” That´s not acceptable. As educators we need to make our school s safe places for students, as well as places where all students learn to apply critical thinking skills to questions such as immigration. We need to be talking about immigration in our schools in informed ways and we need to be able to support students as they speak for themselves.

written by Kathy Bougher, CFIR member, Aug. 5, 2009

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The National Dialogue on the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review begins TODAY!

Join the conversation at
Right now, thousands of stakeholders across the country are coming together to produce ideas and priorities that will inform our nation's homeland security policies for the next four years. DHS will produce a report based on the results of its review for submission to Congress on December 31, 2009.
You can read and rate actual DHS study group proposals, contribute your own ideas, and watch in real time as the best ideas "rise to the top" at
Please participate in this initiative, and help spread the word:
1. Forward this e-mail to five friends or colleagues whose ideas and perspectives should be part of this discussion. We have created a one-page summary of the National Dialogue for your ease of use.
2. Post a message or link on your blog, newsletter, corporate intranet, or e-mail list.
3. Block out 2-3 hours between August 3rd and August 9th to visit, create a user account, and participate in the Dialogue.
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Need more info? Watch this short video of Secretary Napolitano explaining the National Dialogue on the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review, and why your input is so critical to this process.
This unique opportunity is hosted by the National Academy of Public Administration, a non-profit, non-partisan organization focused on effective government. Your participation, and that of stakeholders like you around the nation, will inform this important review of our nation's homeland security strategy and priorities. Thank you in advance for joining the discussion and sharing your feedback.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Reflections of Solidarity-Migration of the Spirit

JOIN US TODAY, AUGUST 3rd for our Faith Action
at the Detention Center

We will Illuminate, Strengthen, Stand with
Our neighbors, Our family, Our community
For Fairness, Human Rights, Dignity, and Reform,
To Remember and to Witness

TIME: 6:00 PM
WHAT: Community for Just and Humane Immigration Reform
Solidarity with our immigrant brother and sisters

CARPOOL: meet at AFSC offices at 5:00pm

For more information please contact Jennifer Piper at or 303-623-3464

Week Four Reflection
Randle Loeb is a community minister and chaplain devoted to human rights, spiritual life and ending poverty. He has dedicated his life to working with the homeless and the marginalized.

In this week's reflection, Mr. Loeb asks us to look at the arc of history and the deep rooted causes of migration, both of spirit and of body.

To read Randle Loeb's Migration of Spirit, go to the shrine and light your candle. No registration is necessary to leave a candle or a comment.

Last Week's Reflection

Right now in America, a major employer is disrupted, its workforce cut by the hundreds or thousands. And a detention camp holds people without access to our usual rights and liberties.

But, the employees will not be laid off because of the recession. There are no terrorists in this camp; it’s not in Cuba, & President Obama has not ordered it to be closed.

Losing their jobs, being held without rights are America’s undocumented immigrants – our country’s mixed multitude.

Postville Iowa does not stand alone – it is a microcosm of a larger problem across our land. I want to invite you to help teach Torah and change policy as part of the JCA’s “Progress by Pesach” campaign – to end, within the first hundred days of the new Obama administration, the destructive immigration enforcement raids begun under the previous administration.

How does this tie to what we’ve been reading in Shmot?

Rewind: 3000 years ago, it was much the same – a pivotal time of change. In our first hundred days as a people, we left Egypt with a mixed multitude, crossed the Sea of Reeds, and encamped at Mount Sinai. The next ten months at Sinai will establish:
  • a judiciary, courtesy of Jethro,
  • laws and policies, from G-d
  • a tabernable, built by the people to G-d specs
  • and a functioning community
In this week’s parsha, T’Tzavveh, we get detailed instructions for building the Mishkan, a visible structure for G-d’s presence among the people and for swearing in Aaron as the Cohen-General. Aaron will sport the ephod, a breastplate set with semi-precious gems representing each of the twelve tribes and inscribed “Holy to the Lord”, to reminding him of his role representing the children of Israel before G-d.

And who is missing?

The first missing person is our new leader. T’Tzavveh is the only parsha, from Shmot forward, that omits our leader – Moses. Many commentators say that Moses’s absence is to leave room for Aaron. But perhaps, we should see Moses’ absence as leaving room for the our responsible involvement in making decision and a warning against rely on any one leader to fix our problems. Finally, Moses’s absence in this parsha makes us think of the seder haggadah and the invitation for you to join us for the JCA Freedom Seder at 3PM on Sunday March 22 at Mt. Zion Temple.

Also missing are the strangers among us. Etz Chaim commentary describes “a mixed multitude” of “varied groups of forced laborers…” who left Egypt with us. Since then, more strangers have joined us on our journey, coming to live and work with us. Yet these strangers may not share our culture, our religion, or even our language. So, how will we, this new people emerging at Sinai, treat the strangers among us?

G-d could have instructed the people: “When you reach the promised land, erect strong walls at your borders, to keep out the strangers, the non-believers, the others; that your jobs shall remain only with your people and that different ways shall not come amidst the community of Israel.”

Instead the Torah paints exactly the opposite vision: we are expected to live in an open land, in successful communities that will, in all likelihood, attract strangers who are different than us.

All great societies do this – attract, and even invite strangers to join us, to work amongst us.

Ancient Egypt began this way. The Joseph saga culminates with Pharoah’s invitation to the children of Israel to come to Egypt to settle and to work in the land of Goshen. And they can have those smelly, menial jobs that cultured Egyptians won’t do: being shepherds.

400 years later, the children of Israel multiplied into hundreds of thousands. But, changing, wiser, cagier government policy enslaved and oppressed them. Families were ripped apart, literally, as children were separated from parents and drowned in the Nile.

The Torah gives us a reminder - one commandment, one reminder, for every 11 years of suffering in captivity in Egypt: Not just once or twice, but 36 times, in the most repeated commandment in Torah, we are taught about our obligation to the stranger and the vulnerable:

I won’t read all 36 to you. Here is a sampling
In Shmot, in Mishpatim we learn:
“You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.” [Exodus 23: 9]

In Va-Yikra, in K’doshim, we learn:
“When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt…” Leviticus 19:33-34

So a summary of the Torah’s immigration laws still resonates today:

  • Don’t enslave strangers.
  • Don’t wrong strangers.
  • Don’t oppress strangers.
  • Treat strangers with respect and compassion.
  • Provide strangers who accept our ways a pathway to citizenship and integration into our society
And the irony of history or divine plan was that for thousands of years, our people have been the immigrants, the strangers, the vulnerable resident aliens in the midst of other nations. Will we remember the feelings of our families, and of similar families today --- the feelings and the desperation that impelled them to move when times and places became untenable?

Fast-forward all the way to the present: Wealthy, safe first-world societies still attract and invite strangers to live and work amongst us – filling the menial, tough jobs we don’t want.

In the United States, our current harsh and unrealistic immigration policies push over 50% of our immigrants to come here without documents, with total numbers swelling to over 12 million people.

Have you detected these immigrants? Have you seen the rebuilt stores and the vibrant community rebuilding on Lake Street? Have you heard “Oprime ocho par espagnol” on a menu? I’m sure you haven’t personally oppressed any strangers. Maybe you even tipped a Somali cab-driver or the Hispanic maid in your hotel. So you are in the clear – right?

But in reality, our communal response to immigrants is quite different than how we would act as individuals. And over time, our policies have become increasing harsh and inhumane.

Today, there is no pathway to citizenship for our undocumented, mixed multitude of 12 million strangers. Everyone knows that we cannot deport 12 million people – can you imagine any system that could extract 12 million men women and children from our communities, their jobs, their homes and their schools? And if we could imagine a horror on this scale, would we think it a wise use of our money or an ethical way to treat our neighbors?

While our past administration knew that it couldn’t deport all the undocumented, it felt it could crank up immigration enforcement, creating a small-scale symbolic deportation system. First it convinced Congress we had a security issue – we wouldn’t hunt down ordinary undocumented immigrants, but we surely needed to track down the criminals living among us. Funding and arrest quotas were increased – and the nominally sounding “fugitive operations program” began in 2003.

The numbers?
The policy of mass workplace and neighborhood raids arrested strangers at a rate of 20,000 per year. At this rate, it will take just 600 years to deport all the undocumented immigrants. I didn’t say to deport all the criminals - because we aren’t catching them. Our prior administration, through executive policy choices, redirected this program away from hunting the small percentage of truly dangerous criminals to achieving those expanded arrest quotas. Almost ¾ of the 100,000 people rounded up in the past 5 years are undocumented immigrants with no criminal record.

And the workers?
Federal teams have surrounded workplaces and neighborhoods. The workers caught in the raids are engine re-manufacturers in Washington, meatpackers in Minnesota and Iowa, and others. They will be arrested for civil immigration violations – not for criminal offenses.

And the detention camps?
Surely our people and our country have seen enough of these…
From mass arrests and conveyor belt justice, the immigrants are moved to detention camps, part of a large gulag across our country, housing 33,000 immigrants on any given day and where 80 immigrants have died while in custody since 2005.

And the families?
Like the instructions of Pharoah, we have separated families: husbands from wives and children, some US citizens, from their parents. We have disrupted neighborhoods and workplaces, sowing fear and confusion among immigrant communities. We move those arrested to far those away detention facilities, keeping key details of their whereabouts from their families and their communities.

To read more go to Progress by Pesach