My Trip to The Border (Operation Streamline)

My Trip to The Border (Operation Streamline)

A unique perspective from a past Border Witness participant.


More than a trip to Tucson, ours was a pilgrimage to the Mexican American border, and an experience that has shaken me to my core.  

One day after coming back from the desert walk, we went to a court to witness Operation Streamline.

Let me tell you this: when I entered that criminal court my heart was pounding. We saw 70 people captured in the desert by border patrol brought there, as the most heinous criminals, briefly released from their shackles to face a judge. Their crime was to cross from Mexico undocumented. As an immigrant myself, I feel uneasy, to say the least, because the rule of law, a system that is temporarily protecting me during my forced exile from my country, is the same used to condemn so many people, and they are my people too.

An hour into the proceedings and it wasn’t my heart but my brain that was pounding. What we witnessed was a very mechanical process, which was not designed to generate surprises or justice. The judge read the charges with the monotony of a rosary prayer,  while “the sinners” always responded with a sad dimmed voice: “culpable, guilty, culpable…” Using on average less than 2 minutes for each defendant, the judge condemned all of them to time, as always happen (except for this time one was sent to immediate deportation). Streamline judges have sentenced many legitimate asylum seekers, people with legal reasons to be here (and even some permanent residents and citizens). Just there is not enough time for them to present their cases.  

It was striking that everybody in the courtroom was so amicable. I am sure that later that day, every lawyer, agent, and even the judge went home to dinner with their kids or to watch tv and Netflix at home. They might not see it this way, but they work in a factory line that processes people as sausages, most of them innocents, sending them to jail, and then back to their countries, to their desperation, sometimes to circumstances of unjust persecution, to be tortured or killed. But these officers were not monsters; they were doing their job.  

In that instant came to my mind the trials of Adolf Eichmann in Israel as reported by Hannah Arendt, the philosopher that penned the concept of the Banality of Evil. At that time, most people regarded Eichmann as an evil monster, he was after all the father of the Final Solution to exterminate the Jews. But Arendt wasn’t most people: Eichmann didn’t strike to her as a particularly evil man but as a good bureaucrat. He clung to the idea that he was unable “to change anything” and that he was doing his job, obeying the law. That way Eichmann was not only claiming innocence but discrediting the idea that the Nazi criminals were psychopaths, different from us, from “normal” people. He was just a good citizen.

But he didn’t trick Arendt. What we regard as Evil is capable of a fairly ubiquitous presence if only because it tends to appear in the guise of good. She didn’t conclude that situations such as the Holocaust can make ordinary people commit horrible crimes given specific contexts and incentives. And I am not equating Operation Streamline (that is the managerial name given to this unjust system) to the Holocaust, but stressing that in both situations the streamline judge, and the border patrol in Tucson – as Eichmann in Nazi Germany— were voluntarily following the principle of authority. But they forgot to apply another principle of the law: that of reciprocity, the golden rule. They decided to apply the law even if it was unjust. I can see that there is a substantial moral distance between the Final Solution and Operation Streamline. But shouldn’t there also exist a substantial moral distance between a totalitarian regime in the 20th century and democracy in the 21st? Today more clearly than in the past the moral choice between good and evil belongs to the individual. The voter, the politician, the legislator, the executioner chooses the ax and nobody can blame society for its own decisions. All our choices have political consequences even when the chooser seems politically powerless.

I’ll leave you with Hannah Arendt:

“Under conditions of terror most people will comply but some people will not, just as the lesson of the countries to which the Final Solution was proposed is that “it could happen” in most places, but it did not happen everywhere. Humanly speaking, no more is required, and no more can reasonably be asked, for this planet to remain a place fit for human habitation.”

Don’t let the streamline judge, the border patrol, or the legislator to trick you. Don’t be as most people. Don’t comply, don’t be accomplices.

~ R

 

Join Us To Flood The Desert!

Join Us To Flood The Desert!

JOIN US TO FLOOD THE DESERT!
DIRECT ACTION IN ARIZONA, AUGUST 3-6, 2018

Leaders from the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee and the Unitarian Universalist College of Social Justice will be Flooding the Desert with Faith in August. Join Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray (President of the UUA), Rev. Mary Katherine Morn (President of UUSC), Rev. Kathleen McTigue (Director of the UU College of Social Justice) and Rachel Freed (Vice President and Chief Program Officer of UUSC) from August 3rd to the 6th in Arizona for this important action! Read Susan and Mary Katherine’s letter below for more information.


Dear Colleagues,

We are sending this letter to UU ministers and Directors of Religious Education to ask that you consider joining us for a specific resistance action planned for this August 3-6 in Tucson, AZ, called Flood the Desert. This is a strategic act of resistance in response to criminal charges being levied against activists whose humanitarian actions have been focused on saving the lives of migrants who are often lost in the desert.

Many of you will have heard of No More Deaths, a volunteer group that works along the rugged Arizona/Mexico border. It is a program affiliated with the UU Church of Tucson, AZ, and a partner organization of UUSC. Over the past decade, No More Deaths volunteers have hiked the migrant trails leaving water caches; staffed a first aid tent in the desert for migrants who are wounded or ill; and helped recover remains of hundreds who have lost their lives – marking the places with memorial shrines.

Nine volunteers with No More Deaths now face federal misdemeanor charges, and one faces felony charges, for their humanitarian assistance. These excessive charges are part of an escalating strategy to criminalize activism. They are meant to intimidate citizens away from dissent. In response, we are asking ministers and other religious leaders to join us in early August and Flood the Desert.

In an action of direct civil disobedience, religious leaders will assert the right to offer humanitarian aid by stocking water caches and in so doing, challenging the government’s utter disregard for the most basic human rights.

Our purpose in this action is three-fold. First, to call attention to the escalating injustice of US policies toward migrants in order to inspire others to raise their voices. Second, to act in solidarity with the volunteers facing criminal charges for living out their religious mandate to welcome and care for the stranger. And third, to raise the call of our faith traditions as an act of resistance against the cruelty and violence that dominate US policy and actions.

If you are able and willing to join us, please follow the link above to register.

In faith and solidarity,

 

Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray                                                 Rev. Mary Katherine Morn

President, UUA                                                                    President, UUSC

Letter From Susan Frederick-Gray to Religious Professionals

Letter From Susan Frederick-Gray to Religious Professionals

Dear Colleagues,

As we enter a new year, we are more determined than ever to mobilize our UU communities around the core justice values that make our faith so relevant to the current political moment.

Among these core values is our commitment to the worth and dignity of each person, which leads us to resist laws and policies that treat some people as disposable.

Migrants are particularly vulnerable today, not only in border states but all over our country. And one of the best ways I know of for you as a religious leader to galvanize your own ministry toward migrant justice is to travel with the UU College of Social Justice on their Border Witness Journey for ministers and religious educators.

Kathleen McTigue, Susan Frederick-Gray and Religious Professionals Walking the migrant trails

Kathleen McTigue, Susan Frederick-Gray and Religious Professionals Walking the migrant trails

I know the power of this program first hand: I joined the 2014 journey, and found enormous support and benefit for my own ministry through the chance to travel, reflect, pray, and strategize with other religious leaders. The next program runs this coming May 8-12, and I hope you’ll be able to join it!

You can learn more and register by March 1st, 2018 at www.uucsj.org/theologyandmigration/

Thank you.

Susan
President of the Unitarian Universalist Association

 

Answering the Call for Solidarity and Action in Honduras

Answering the Call for Solidarity and Action in Honduras

In early January I received an email that began with these words:

We are writing you on behalf of Padre Melo, the Jesuit priest who has accompanied the Honduran people for more than 20 years. He is appealing to the international community for an emergency delegation: “We need you to organize people who will accompany us, witness what is happening here, and share it with the world”.

The Honduras presidential election last November has widely been condemned as fraudulent. Since then, people throughout the country have poured into the streets in peaceful protests that have often been met with lethal violence from the state.

The hope in sending an international delegation to Honduras is that our presence will shine a spotlight on the struggle and amplify the voices of those who are being ignored and silenced. UUSC has long been a champion of Honduran human rights groups, supporting our grassroots partners financially and working to lift up the stories and urgency behind their struggles. This brief journey of accompaniment is another way for our organization to show the Honduran people that they are not alone.

I decided almost immediately that I would answer Padre Melo’s call and join the emergency delegation, which departs Wednesday, January 24. While I have never been there before, I have heard of Padre Melo and the courageous work he and many other Hondurans are engaged in to advance fundamental human rights. I also know about the decades of financial and military support our own country has sent to the Honduran government, despite their many human rights violations. And, I believe that under the Trump administration, the thousands of people who try to flee the violence in Honduras are even less likely than before to find asylum here in the United States.

My desire to join the delegation is fueled by multiple interests. I’m driven by my commitment to human rights, as well as my sense of moral compromise as a U.S. citizen—knowing my own country has helped foment the violence from which it refuses to shelter those who flee. But I am also compelled by my faith: by the core values of Unitarian Universalism that remind me we are never really separate from one another. Our interdependent web links us to struggles for human rights and dignity, wherever they occur, and pulls us compellingly, relentlessly, to act as we are able to mitigate harm.

I believe in the power of prayer as a way to ground ourselves and to center our awareness on those who live daily in harm’s way. So, I ask you to pray for the people of Honduras, holding them in mind and heart, and to act on your prayers and concern by speaking out for the rights of those most at risk. I will have more to tell you on my return January 30, but for now I hope you will join me on this journey in spirit, by learning more about what is happening and preparing yourselves to answer future calls to support this critical human rights struggle.


For more information about how you can help, please read the press release from the Emergency Interfaith Delegation to Honduras

Post Hurricane Harvey Houston Update

Post Hurricane Harvey Houston Update

In early December, our Director, Kathleen McTigue, and UUSC consultant, Syma Mirza  met with four grassroots groups in Houston, Texas: the Fe y Justicia Worker Justice Center, the Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (TEJAS), and the Living Hope Wheelchair Association, as well as the local Houston organizer for RAICES. Kathleen also met with members of four area UU congregations.


Chemical plant from TEJAS Toxic TourVisiting Houston earlier this month was an eye-opening experience for me. Traveling with UUSC consultant Syma Mirza, I met some of the UUSC partner groups in Houston to learn about their post-Harvey work. One of them, the Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Network (TEJAS), took us on their “toxic tour” so we could see for ourselves how vast and poisonous the industrial complexes on the Gulf really are. These immense industrial campuses that produce (and often release) toxic chemicals are located right next to homes, schools, and playgrounds. Even with the car windows rolled up, the air smells of chemicals. The populations closest to the toxins are, predictably, lower income and often communities of color, including those who are undocumented and live doubly in the shadows.

We also gained insight into a particularly vicious dimension of intersectional oppression. As in so many other cities, Houston’s construction industry relies heavily on undocumented workers, especially in the more dangerous jobs. These workers are routinely subject to wage theft and workplace harassment, and post-Harvey are often sent into clean-up and demolition jobs without the proper protective equipment. When they become ill or are injured, they do not have recourse to the support and protections that most of us assume are available by law. And if they are disabled due to workplace injury, none of the standard support – from counseling to the proper kind of wheelchairs – are within their reach.

The Living Hope Wheelchair Association is a scrappy, grassroots organization working for the rights and dignity of people with spinal cord injuries, especially those who are undocumented.

Long before Harvey struck, Living Hope was providing life-saving services and equipment to its members, and building grassroots power to advocate for housing, employment, and transportation. But in the wake of Harvey’s destruction, and with their constituents profoundly vulnerable to the flood waters, the Association gained sudden new visibility.

We sat in their small office and listened to Board members tell their stories; all of them are living in wheelchairs, all are undocumented, and all devote countless volunteer hours to Living Hope. As I listened, one question kept arising for me: doesn’t their new visibility bring with it a new level of personal danger for these leaders, for arrest and deportation? One Board member responded, “Visibility brings more fear, but it won’t hold us back. To be honest, with Jeff Sessions as Attorney General we know they’ll come for whoever they want. We can’t control that, but we can control our commitment, our solidarity. That’s ours.”

We are proud to support the work of Living Hope through the UUSC disaster relief grants. As we enter the new year, UUCSJ will continue our conversations with these and other UUSC partners to discern when and how volunteers from outside the region might usefully support their work.


Sign up to join the volunteer list if you’re available to travel to Texas or Florida to support relief efforts and would like to hear more detailed information as it becomes available.

Interning at Rural & Migrant Ministries

Interning at Rural & Migrant Ministries

Melissa Rodney was a summer 2017 intern with Rural & Migrant Ministry and is a graduate of American University (Class of 2017). If you are interested in interning with UUCSJ, fill out out 2018 Internship Interest Form.


This summer I had the wonderful privilege to sit down and say, “If I could run a summer program for youth on issues pertaining to social justice, what would that look like?” I don’t think I have ever held a position with so much freedom and creativity and I enjoyed every minute of planning (well-maybe not very minute . . . . I am human) and I certainly enjoyed every minute of being with the students as a counselor and seeing how they reacted to my lesson plans and activities.

Youth Art Project

Youth Art Project

My summer internship was with Rural &  Migrant Ministry in Lyons, New York. Rural & Migrant Ministry is a non profit organization that supports members of the rural farm worker community through advocacy of fair and just labor rights in New York State. They also provide educational services and host a variety of youth empowerment programs throughout the year. The youth empowerment programs at RMM are truly unique. They are designed to challenge a child’s perceptions about the communities they grow up in, to teach students to identify injustices within their community and to come up with solutions they can argue for as youth passionate about improving their community. With this wise doctrine by RMM, I  sought to create a program that would be well rounded offering stories of people addressing injustices from all around the world that could be used as examples for actions the students could take in their own community. For example, in the summer program, our older age group looked at graffiti art and murals used to protest the World Cup held in Rio in 2014 and they learned how the art  in essence captured the frustrations of  Brazilian citizens over the reality of where the wealth was being invested for the world’s most famous game. Our younger age group debated challenging the school system and created quite a few compelling arguments about the importance of teachers having an adequate salary, the importance of having a good education and even the importance of homework. These were just a few topics discussed during the lesson portion of the program

Youth Making Art Project

Youth making art project

While these lessons were incredibly important to me, I also knew that I wanted to give the students a well rounded “camp” experience. Summer camps are not affordable for every child and we wanted to offer a program that students could participate in for free and they could still get that camp experience that is full of fun activities. Some of the more camp like activities included sport challenges, workshops with local artists, daily trivia questionnaires, a designated lesson time called “Reflections”, field trips to the Women’s Rights National Convention and Sodus Bay, a scavenger hunt and even a  talent show!