Tag Archives: Immigration Justice

faith on a plane.

25 May

Talking with a colleague recently, he asked about the increased travel I am doing as a Congregational Life Consultant for the Southern Region of the Unitarian Universalist Association. I told him I enjoyed it, and that I had worked out most of the details – what processes work for me, what hotel chains I like, when to fly. At that last point, we talked about how difficult it can be to fly as clergy – as soon as our seatmates ask what we do for a living, it opens all sorts of doors for conversations we may, or may not, want to have.

When I told him that, for the past 9 months, I have been wearing my clerical collar whenever I fly, his face took on a shocked expression. “Why on earth would you do that?” he asked me.

I shared with him that I was bothered by the increasing violence that is occurring on planes, and that I wanted to be prepared to be a force for good if something happened in my presence. I know that people respond differently to me when I wear a collar. If I were to witness something violent on a plane, in a collar I could stand up and be a witness in ways that are more powerful than I could as a mid-40 year old woman. Especially if I then started singing or praying.

I also want people to know that I am a safe person – that I am willing and able to try to de-escalate a situation, or be a good ally if that is needed. So in addition to my collar, I also wear my Black Lives Matter/Pride Flag/World Religions safety-pin (which I wear every day).

I completely understand why some of my clergy colleagues prefer to travel anonymously. But for me, this public witness is a part of my spiritual practice when I travel. It is a away to claim my religious authority and put my faith in action and declare that I am on the side of the marginalized. As a white minister, I have so much privilege. This feels like a good way to use it. I hope I am never needed in such a way when I travel, but if something does happen, I am ready.

a letter to Democratic Party leadership.

19 Dec

Power to the People

This letter was written after I sat in the Kentucky Statehouse today (12/19/2016) with my teenage kiddo as the Electoral College voted. In that room, I heard the Governor say he didn’t understand why people were protesting. I heard the head of the GOP party in the state talk about how Republicans have a mandate in the state. I watched the old white men who were the Electors (one woman out of 8) sign away our future as my child asked me what happens now. When I reached my car, I broke down in tears, and then wrote this letter.

Dear Democratic Party Leadership,

What happened? Where did you disappear to?

When HRC was running, you seemed to be all over the place trying to defend her. But since the election, it is as if you have been sucked into a vast black hole.

We need you. Our children need you. The entire country needs you.

We need you to be on the TV news, on the radio, and in the papers, boldly asserting that THIS IS NOT OKAY. It is not okay that HRC won by nearly 3 million votes and Trump is proclaiming a mandate. His selections for cabinet positions are not okay. His business conflicts of interest are not okay. Bringing his children to State meetings is not okay. Not getting intelligence briefings is not okay. Being infiltrated by Russian propaganda is not okay!! Having election results stand, knowing the Russians tampered with the election IS NOT OKAY!

Others have written about this – about how, if the situation were reversed, the GOP leaders would be pitching a fit. They would be everywhere: they would be filing lawsuits, they would be gathering committees to examine WTF is going on, they would be giving press conference upon press conference stating and restating ad nauseam their horror, disgust, and how THIS WILL NOT STAND.

And yet from you, crickets.

I know you are shocked. I know you don’t understand what happened. And I don’t care. YOU MUST LEAD US.

For years now, you have been moving to the middle, thinking a centrist position would serve you best. And now you know how wrong that is. Now you know that we are well divided between left and right and the center is kinda lonely. So get out of there and come to where your people are!

I hear the cries for leadership amongst our people. We are afraid. Immigrants are afraid of being deported, whether they are here legally or not. Black people are afraid of not being able to vote, and of continued violence. Muslims are afraid of having to sign up for a registry. Same-sex couples are afraid to lose the rights they have gained in the last decade. Trans people are afraid they will be beaten or killed for going to the bathroom. Women are afraid of being treated as incubators for lives that are apparently more important than ours. The working poor are afraid they will never achieve a livable wage. College graduates are afraid that they will never be able to pay off their educational loans*. And across the board, we are afraid that our government has been usurped by the Russians**.

Progressives have a compelling message, if you would just claim it. Claim your voice, proudly. Claim your values. Stop being so wishy-washy-wait-and-see because there is an army of us who are behind you and who will put our bodies on the line for our cause.

And if you realize that maybe we are actually too bold for you, if you find yourself confused by how upset we are and how scared we are and HOW ANGRY we are, or if you don’t have the courage to speak up, then may, just maybe, you need to get out of the way so that others can step up.


Me, and probably a whole lot of other progressives desperate for leadership


* College enrollment has been steadily dropping since 2011.

** Russian popularity among Republicans has been skyrocketing, as shown in the tweet below.

an intro to immigration.

28 Jun

On June 24, 2012, the three Louisville Unitarian Universalist congregations joined together in one worship service that centered on immigration justice. The three congregations represented were:

Below are several pieces of the service.

A History Of Migration, by Henry Austin, TJUC
Listen here: 2012-06-24-HAustin

We all come from someplace. One thing we know is no one came from this place, this city, this state, this country. We all come from someplace else.

It is widely agreed that the First Nation population crossed the land bridge from Eurasia into North America across what is now known as the Bering Strait approximately 12,000 years ago . While it is difficult to determine exactly how many Natives lived in North America before Columbus, estimates range from 2.1 million to 18 million By 1800, through horrific genocide, disease and wars, the Native population of the present-day United States had declined to approximately 600,000, and only 250,000 Native Americans remained in the 1890s.

Since the end of the 15th century and the beginning of what has become known as the “age of discovery” 60 million people have migrated to this country, 7 out of 10 from European areas. And why would so many people leave their homes to immigrate to unknown lands? Three primary reasons are- a push, a pull and a means. Push refers to those circumstances that encourage or compel people to immigrate- these can be such things as natural disasters, war, economic pressures, religious or ethnic persecution or such things as the Irish potato famine. A pull refers to attractive aspects of someplace new- religious freedom, the promise of new opportunities and wealth, freedom from military service and a rejoining of families. The means involves the ability to migrate meaning available and affordable transportation and the absence of barriers at the destination.

There have been 5 distinct waves of immigrants to North America since the “Age of Discovery” The first was pre 1800, the so called Colonial Period. These are the families genealogists are so eager to find in their family histories- the “founders of America”. This group comprised 600,000 Europeans, most of whom were English and 300,000 Africans. The majority of these immigrant ancestors were not free, either being slaves or indentured servants. The early pilgrims and puritans were attempting to escape the religious tyranny of the Church of England, yet they were a minority of those early immigrants coming to America. This was also a time of open borders when the country wanted any and all to support its growth. In 1790, the first census count was 3,929,214. A second period was 1820-1860 when primarily German and Irish Catholics, Scottish, Scots-Irish, and English immigrated. In those 30 years 5.4 million came primarily through New York. In 1860, New York City was known as the largest Irish city in the world. 1865-1890 found many Germans and eastern Europeans coming to America. 1890-1917 eastern and southern Europeans came in record numbers up to 10,000 per day at Ellis Island alone. Finally 1965 to the present has found predominantly Latin Americans, Middle eastern and Asian immigrants joining the many who had previously arrived to these shores.

From the beginning of immigration history in this country we have experienced an ever changing set of policies influenced by politics, economics and fear. We’ve moved from those early open borders to restrictions that excluded large groups of immigrants. In 1790 the newly formed Congress adopted the first uniform rules so that any free white person could apply for citizenship after a two year residency. The “white” law was in effect until 1952. The first federal immigration law, the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 barred Chinese in the U.S. from citizenship and suspended all Chinese immigration for 10 years. In 1890 the U.S. census indicated more than 5.2 million immigrants entered the country between 1880-1890.

Also from our early beginnings, we have heard the alarmist nativist voices, such as the Know Nothing Party fearfully say immigrants were going to take jobs from “real ” Americans, over throw the government, spread crime and refuse to assimilate. We’ve blamed immigrants from many places for, well, the same things over and over.

We seem not to have learned from our history. Benjamin Franklin in 1750 said in response to German immigration ” Few of their children in the country learn English. Unless the stream of their importation could be turned they will soon so outnumber us that all the advantages we have will not be able to preserve our language, and even our government will become precarious”. Those fears and predictions did not materialize. The same fears and debates continue, however, now from the descendants of the very same demonized immigrants who built this country.

In 1886 the Statue of Liberty arrived in 300 pieces , a significantly symbolic image of a nation of many souls. As it was assembled, so have we. We’re a nation founded on immigration and immigration has always enriched and shaped our identity. We have all truly come from someplace else to this permanently unfinished country.

The Invisible Immigrant, by Lisa Austin, TJUC
Listen here: 2012-06-24-LAustin

People immigrate for a variety of reasons: political strife, tribal warfare, religious persecution, to escape oppressive regimes or a desire for freedom and justice. No one immigrates to be a slave but that is what happens to approximately 50,000 people each year in the United States.

There are more slaves today than any other time in human history. There is an estimated 27 million slaves worldwide with someone being sold into slavery every sixty seconds. It is the second largest criminal activity in the world next to drug trafficking and the fastest growing international crime with women as the fastest growing commodity.

According to the Justice Department there are a variety of human trafficking categories: forced labor, bonded labor, sex trafficking, child soldiers, debt bondage, involuntary domestic servitude, child sex trafficking, and enslavement for organ selling.

Debt labor, which is probably the least known form of slavery today yet the most widely used, is when a person’s work is demanded for repayment of money. This is also used frequently with sex trafficking as well. Immigrants are promised a legitimate job and once they arrive their papers ( which are not legitimate) are taken away and they are forced to work to pay off the cost of bringing them to America. Of course, the loan is never paid off and in fact, they have been sold to an individual and because they are undocumented have become invisible.

Women are often raped and tortured to comply with their new “owner”. They must meet a quota or be beaten or killed, They are put in cages, never allowed to leave them and must service their customers where they live and sleep.

The men are taken to isolated areas where they are also tortured and often housed in a locked environment while under surveillance. In both sex and labor trafficking cases the rooms have boarded windows, bars, and the property is covered with barbed wire and security cameras. Often the owners threaten to kill their families and police have found records of murdered families in raids. Those who become ill or useless are dumped on the street or killed. Since the average price for a slave is $90, a human being is a relative cheap commodity.

In Kentucky alone there are have been 57 cases of human trafficking in the last three years. There have been arrests in the J’town and Newburg areas of Louisville where rental houses had been turned into brothels. The men are usually sold to rural land owners to work on farms or they are forced to work in urban restaurants where they are imprisoned when not working.

This past legislative session in Frankfort, House Bill 350 would have created a fund to seek and support trafficking victims. It also aimed for the formation of a Ky. State Police human trafficking unit. Unfortunately it did not make it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Because we are a country that considers “illegal immigrants” criminals and not, as they often are, victims, it does not seem the invisible immigrants will be helped despite a moral obligation to take care of any person living in our borders. All around us are people living lives of desperation who came to America, innocently and under false circumstances, to live a better life. Instead what they have found was one much worse.

One Family’s Journey, by Jo Ann Dale, First U
Listen here: 2012-06-24-JDale

Through these messages we have heard this morning, we are moved beyond thinking about fences or laws to consider the question posed at the outset of the service: What causes people to leave their homes? We now turn to the answer one family has given to this question. I was honored to be able to talk at length with the Burundian family we are co-sponsoring, and to have been given permission to share with you a bit of their journey.

For those of us who have formed our understanding of the geography and history of central East Africa primarily on repeated viewings of The African Queen, a bit of introduction. What is ultimately most important in this story, of course, is a family’s courage, determination, and endurance. Still, we can’t ignore the European and American policies that help create the circumstances of their persecution. In the area we now know as Burundi, Rwanda and the Congo, Hutu and Tutsi lived together in harmony and agricultural stability for hundreds of years, using a communal land tenure system. When the late nineteenth century ushered in the colonial system, communalism and cooperation were not advantageous to the European powers, who needed to install instead individualism and consumerism. Thus, first Germany and then Belgium, began formalizing Hutu and Tutsi tribal identities. The agricultural stability was disturbed by the introduction of coffee and tea, which were grown in Africa, but always processed in Europe. Thus, when Burundi became independent of Belgium in 1962, the country was impoverished by externalization of resources and the transfer of debt to the new country, and the Hutu and Tutsi were eyeing each other resentfully.

But in a small town of a few thousand on the banks of Lake Tanganyika, two families still lived as neighbors untouched by tribal tensions. Esperance was Tutsi with a Hutu father, and Mohamed was Hutu with a Tutsi mother. They grew up, married, and began raising a family. Eric, Seleman, Grace, Jonas and Robert were born in the 1980s. Then, in 1993, the first multi-party elections took place. Voting was mandatory, but voting is contrary to the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Mohamed was thrown into prison. When the new president was assassinated, the country erupted into violence that grew to a genocide of Tutsis. A group of Hutus attacked Esperance in her home. They beat her and broke her wrist, but her life was saved by the intervention of Jehovah’s Witness neighbors.

An uneasy peace resumed. Esther and Ruth and Mary were born, and Esperance and Mohamed continued running their restaurant. Still, racial tensions and religious intolerance simmered around them and assassinations and violence continued governmental instability. In 1998, Eric, the eldest son, was ordered to join the army. As a Jehovah’s Witness, he attempted to resist. In 2001, Seleman and Grace were expelled from school for refusing to salute the flag. Seleman was attacked, thrown into a well, and left for dead. He was rescued and hospitalized, but it was clear they were not safe.
During this time, bands of expatriate Burundians living in Tanzania would regularly cross the border and conduct night raids to rob and to murder. The family stopped sleeping at home, instead hiding in the bush at night. Esperance, pregnant with twins, dared not stay at home. Rebecca and Sara were born in the jungle.

On the first of January, 2003, the country exploded. Eric failed to join them where they hid in the bush, and they found his body later that morning. That same day, Esperance’s mother, her brother, and his four children were all murdered in the violence. Esperance, Mohamed and their surviving children fled that very day to Malawi, but in the camp, which housed primarily Hutus and Tutsis, they found their safety threatened by the same tribal tensions they had fled. Crossing to Zimbabwe, they were arrested as undocumented immigrants. The men endured daily beatings, while Esperance and the youngsters, in a transit center, endured the same old racial hostility. One day as they walked to school, Esther and Ruth were attacked. Ruth’s leg was badly broken, and she was hospitalized for three months. In November, word reached the family that they would all be killed while offices were closed for an official funeral. Again they fled, this time to Botswana.

In the 4000 person Dukwi camp, housing refugees from sixteen different countries, the situation was better. Still, they had no access to employment opportunities or higher education, were not allowed to leave the camp, and they found themselves the target of psychological violence, which ultimately resulted in Mohamed’s return to Zimbabwe for health care.

Esperance and her surviving children are among the lucky one percent of the 43 million refugees in the world in that they achieved resettlement. They had no choice as to the country where they would be resettled, simply enduring repeated interviews about their experiences until an opportunity arose.

Now they just want to rebuild their lives, go to school, get jobs, practice their religion, fit in with a new culture.
We can help these remarkable people; but let’s also think about how governments, NGOs, the World Bank, the IMF, and new Unitarian congregations can pursue policies that strengthen respect for inherent worth and dignity.

Immigration and emigration are two sides of a coin: It matters how we treat people who find themselves among us. And it also matters why they have left their homes.

Responsive Reading “Prayer for Travelers” by Rev. Angela Herrera

This is a prayer for all the travelers.
For the ones who start out in beauty,
who fall from grace, who step gingerly,
looking for the way back.

And for those who are born into the margins,
who travel from one liminal space to another,
crossing boundaries in search of center.

This is a prayer
for the ones whose births
are a passing from darkness to darkness,
who all their lives are drawn toward the light,
and keep moving,

and for those whose journeys
are a winding road that begins
and ends in the same place,
though only when the journey is completed
do they finally know where they are.

For all the travelers,
young and old,
aching and joyful,
weary and full of life;

the ones who are here, and the ones who are not here;
the ones who are like you (and they’re all like you)
and the ones who are different (for in some ways, we each travel alone).

This is a prayer
for traveling mercies, and surefootedness,

for clear vision,

for bread for your body and spirit,
for water, for your safe arrival
and for everyone you see along the way.

Connecting it to Our Values, by the Rev. Dawn Cooley, First U
Listen here: 2012-06-24-DCooley

Moments ago, in Phoenix, Arizona, thousands of Unitarian Universalists from all around the country (and even around the world) sang the song that we will close our worship with in a few minutes. We are building a new way.

For the past 5 days, these thousands of UUs have gathered in Phoenix to learn, grow, and act compassionately around the issue of immigration. This is our annual General Assembly – where we normally conduct the business of the Association. But when Arizona bill SB 1070 came up two years ago, a conversation began: do we cancel the 2012 General Assembly, scheduled to be in Phoenix? Do we boycott it? Or relocate it? Or do we do something completely different. The vote was to do something different: to have a Justice GA – do the absolute minimum business possible and spend as much time, energy and effort standing on the side of love.

This is not about politics. Well, it overlaps with politics – as discussions of values often do. But it is about much more than that. At it’s core, the conversation about immigration (a conversation taking place in UU congregations around the country this morning) is a conversation about about how we respond to people who we classify as other.

Driven by economic, social, political and environmental factors, people around the world are traveling. Are migrating. Millions are currently in transit, in refugee camps, in detention centers, or living and working in places (like the United States) without full legal status and without access to social services or protection of their basic human rights.

As Unitarian Universalists, we are called to work to build the beloved community – a world community of peace, liberty and justice for all. Our current UUA President, the Rev. Peter Morales, boldly claims that “We have to remember that the great struggle for basic human rights …is not a legal battle. It is a battle for our souls. For Unitarian Universalists, our commitment to justice is based on the principle that every human being has inherent worth and dignity.”

But Morales does not stop there: “At the very core of our faith,” he says, “…is the conviction that religion should focus on this life. Our religion is not an escape from this life, but a means of engaging life fully. Our emphasis on justice is not partisan, but rather an organic expression of our belief that we are all equal and all in this together. The struggle for justice, for the beloved community, is a long, long struggle. It will not be won in the courtroom. It will be won in the human heart. It will be won when we let go of fear, let go of hate, let go of greed, and let the power of compassion fill our hearts and guide our lives.”

So how do we begin to let go of our own fear, hate, and greed (and, I would add, self-absorption)? How do we transform other into us? How do we let the power of compassion fill our hearts and guide our lives?

I think it starts with stories. The stories of people who have migrated – refugees who have fled persecution, women sold into slavery, children who were raised in this country who have been deported to places where they don’t speak the language, or had their parents or caregivers deported. Stories make it almost impossible for us to turn away, make it almost impossible to continue to dehumanize human beings by calling them illegal. No human being is illegal.

Stories, also, shine a light on how complicated our immigration system is. Stories demonstrate that human beings are in this country without documentation for many complex and complicated reasons – many not by their own free will, many without a home to return to, much less a safe home.

When we truly hear these stories, we begin to let the power of compassion fill our hearts and guide our lives. We are then called to “shine a light on the culture of cruelty perpetrated…by state governments that pass anti-immigrant laws like SB 1070 that lead to racial profiling and discrimination; ,” and we are called to shine a light on “a federal government whose practices…at the border and via an increasingly for-profit system of mass detention and deportation have created a culture of fear that terrorizes entire communities, makes us all less safe.”

This is not an issue just in Phoenix, or just in Arizona. It is an issue everywhere – all over the country. Including here, in Louisville, KY. Including here, in this sanctuary. How many of our lives are touched by our country’s immigration policies? All of us.

As the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr, reminded us: Justice is love in action. Let us act. Let us not turn away. Let us not stand by as the the discourse labels human beings as illegal, but instead work together to find solutions to an immigration system that is broken. May we work to build a new way, a new way that respects the inherent worth and dignity of every person, no matter their migrant status. Let us be a part of the mighty stream.

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