Prey Without Ceasing

On the eve of Election Day, as the migrant caravan continues its dangerous journey north, I think of the words of the prophet Ezekiel to the ancient rulers: “You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick…but with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered…and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals…[They] have become prey. (Ezekiel 34:4-5, 8)

Focused on migrants as prey and compassionate responses to the immigration crisis, my second reflection from the Arizona-Mexico border was just published by The Christian Century:

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Crosses mark the sites of migrant deaths. Photo by No More Deaths

Sometimes they find people wandering in the south Arizona desert—usually hungry, often lost, almost always dehydrated and desperate. Sometimes they find bodies—if they get there before the vultures and the coyotes. And sometimes they find bones, scattered and bleached by the sun. For the 300 volunteers who call themselves the Green Valley-Sahuarita Samaritans, Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones is one that tragically resonates—as does the familiar Psalm 23, “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.”

Every week these Samaritans conduct compassionate searches around the Arizona-Mexico border, giving aid to migrants who need it. They gather up cherished possessions left behind in the sand: family pictures, icons of saints, a rosary, a child’s backpack, a well-loved doll. They collect signs of dashed dreams—a woman’s high heels and makeup kit, a man’s wide brush for painting houses, cloths used for wrapping tortillas, delicately embroidered with flowers and edged in bright crochet work—found strewn across this unforgiving land.

The Samaritans regularly place 55-gallon drums of drinking water throughout this arid wilderness. With an administration in Washington that is fanning flames of racism and anti-immigrant sentiment, increasingly U.S. Border Patrol agents and members of militia and hate groups slash the drums or shoot them full of holes. One Border Patrol agent admitted that destroying water stations was part of his training.

Continue reading at https://www.christiancentury.org/article/first-person/us-mexico-border-where-migrants-are-hunted

Into the Jaws of a Crocodile

To our right the desert sunset was a dazzling blaze of gold with streaks of red behind towering saguaro cacti, as my partner Bill, our friend Becca, and I drove south from Phoenix to the Arizona-Mexico border. To our left a glowing, salmon-colored full moon rose and perched on a blue-gray mountain peak. We were on our way to participate with a hundred other people of faith from around the country in a week of prayer and protest, communion and confrontation, organized by the Southwest Conference of the United Church of Christ.Cross in desert

The breathtaking beauty of the moment was interrupted by a bank of glaring floodlights, affixed to an enormous metal arch spanning the other side of the highway, behind which waited a backup of northbound traffic. The Border Patrol checkpoint was chilling, like something out of a futuristic sci-fi movie: the blinding lights, a phalanx of agents dressed in army green with weapons at the ready, a drug-sniffing dog running between cars. Continue reading

Rekindled by Ritual

How to hold the heartbreak and the outrage? Hundreds of babies and toddlers, schoolchildren and teenagers wrenched from the embrace of their parents, many now sobbing inconsolably in immigrant detention centers—some unbelievably lost in the system. My friend Rosalinda, who used to earn just pennies an hour working in a U.S. factory on the Mexican border, who had a nephew who was murdered there, felt a need to tell me her own family’s story of escape from desperate poverty and rampant violence. She related a harrowing saga of vulnerable hiding places, grueling river and desert crossings, capture and release by Border Patrol agents, and a second attempt—all endured so that her children might have safety, enough food, and the chance to grow up. It is unimaginable to think that they might have been stolen from her here.Bonfire

So we make phone calls, write letters, sign petitions, and take our candles to the park to pray and protest. We do it over and over because this is how we know to be human, to stay connected, to make sure that no victim is forgotten. Last month in the park, tears slipped down my cheeks as young American Jewish women slowly read out the names of the 60 unarmed Palestinian protesters who were massacred on May 14 in Gaza by Israeli troops, and then led us in a Hebrew Kaddish of mourning for them. In that extraordinary moment, I realized that there is deep within me a hunger for ritual, for gathering with others to remind ourselves of who we are, to keep ourselves grounded in hope. Continue reading

Predators, Profit, and Precarity

To get to Lumpkin, Georgia, you have to really want to be there—or be taken against your will. The highways wind southwest of Atlanta, roughly paralleling the Chattahoochee River, for 143 miles. The town is parked on red clay amid tangles of kudzu, its square a cluster of shuttered storefronts next to an abandoned gas station, where the only visible signs of life on a mid-morning in early January were at the courthouse and a store labeled Christian Gun Sales (motto: “Guns Cheaper Than Dirt”).

Lumpkin’s thriving business is a few miles down the road, behind rows of razor wire. The Stewart Detention Center is where most of the undocumented men picked up in the Southeast by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) get imprisoned. Visiting is risky and daunting for the detainees’ families; most don’t have the means to make the journey to Lumpkin, and the motels give out 26 miles away in Columbus. So a dozen of us from Circle of Mercy, my faith community in Asheville, North Carolina, made the trip. Amilcar Valencia of El Refugio, a courageous and compassionate ministry of hospitality and advocacy a mile from the prison gate, warmly welcomed us and briefed us on Stewart and the men he selected for us to visit there.El Refugio

After a two-hour wait, two guards ushered me to the visiting area. Others in our group had to wait up to three hours more before one of the five tiny visiting cubicles available to the facility’s approximately 1,800 detainees was open. Francisco and I spoke on phones, separated by a wall of plexiglass. He told me he didn’t know until he was 19 that he was “illegal.” He had other things to worry about—especially a frequently absent father and a regularly abusive mother. They brought him here from Mexico when he was 3 years old. He was shocked when he found out that, for all those years of his growing up, he wasn’t a U.S. citizen. Continue reading

Lunch with the Law

Three-year-old Enrique’s favorite toy—a plastic helmet with a dark face shield, emblazoned with the word “POLICE”—was parked on his head. As he toddled up to our burly, 6-foot-8 county sheriff, with his mother Rosita watching nervously, the irony just about did me in.

As I’ve mentioned here before, for three hours every week a group calling ourselves Mujeres Unidas en Fe (Women United in Faith) gathers at a nearby church. A dozen Spanish-speaking women and an equal number of us English speakers share Bible study, exchange language lessons, and enjoy a potluck lunch. Fear has been running high since executive orders coming out of the White House targeted North Carolina as a state for increased deportations (see “Family Emergency Plan,” posted 2/13/17).6881569740_5ed52a3468_n

Understandably, when faced with such a terrifying threat, many people choose to lay low and keep to the shadows. But a few weeks ago Carmela announced over lunch, “I think the best way to keep from being sent back is to introduce ourselves to local law enforcement—let them see our children and get to know our families.” It seemed to me audacious and brave—and very frightening for my friends. Continue reading

Harboring Hope

Amid our usual array of alternative-Christian-chic denim and earth-tone fleece, 4-year-old Angelita sparkles like a gem. Her hair is braided with colorful ribbons, and she’s wearing what I presume is her Christmas outfit: a bright sweater patterned with bold red flowers, a black velvet skirt, and shiny patent leather shoes.

Getsemani children playing

A couple that is part of Circle of Mercy, my faith community, has agreed to care for Angelita and her older brothers if her parents are forcibly sent back to Guatemala. As we hear the details of the legal arrangement, Angelita sits in her father’s lap, snuggling against his chest. It’s a bittersweet gift, I think, as Angelita’s mother tearfully expresses her gratitude.

While most eyes were distracted elsewhere during the end-of-the-year holidays, the Obama administration announced a stepping-up of deportations of undocumented Central Americans in 2016. They wasted no time. Just hours past New Year’s Day, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) carried out pre-dawn raids in Georgia, Texas, and here in North Carolina. Altogether 121 immigrants—all women and children—were swept up and threatened with return to the perilously violent situations from which they have fled. Continue reading