Insights from our RAICES Interns

Insights from our RAICES Interns

This summer, two of our Global Justice Interns are working with RAICES. In the past few weeks, RAICES has been in the national spotlight for the work they have been doing to help reunite separated families. Thanks to a viral Facebook fundraiser, they have raised more than $20 million dollars to continue fighting for immigration justice. We reached out to our interns to see how they are feeling about working with such an important organization at such a critical time. Here is what they had to say:

“The opportunity to work for RAICES when they are essentially on the front line of many immigration issues has been an extremely humbling experience. On a daily basis we interact with moms fighting for their children’s right to a better future. I feel blessed to be able to help these families in any way possible. The work we do is hard, but it is essential. Immigrant rights are human rights and we must always fight for humanity. La lucha siegue!” – Diana

“As someone who is already passionate about immigration rights and the immigration movement; I was blown away when I arrived at RAICES. The attorneys, legal assistants, and others are equally as passionate. They commit to long hours, and work through nights if something needs to get done. It’s amazing to see a group of people equally committed to making a difference. It just fueled me to run with what I love – the immigration movement. When I arrived at Karnes Detention Center, I was nervous. However, I was greeted by women and children who are grateful for our work. It’s difficult to listen to their stories, however these women symbolize the every parent. Every parent would do anything to give their child love, security, and a future. It’s incredible to see these women and their resilience. The children are also so kind and joyful, despite it feeling like the world is against them. Like Diana said, the work we do is hard, but it needs to be done. Immigration is about family and it always will be, and I am grateful to be in the front lines of this movement. Let’s fight the good fight!” – Jamie


Diana (center) poses with two other RAICES interns at the San Antonio Families Belong Together Rally on June 30.

First Church UU’s Human Rights Delegation to the Arizona Mexican Borderlands

First Church UU’s Human Rights Delegation to the Arizona Mexican Borderlands

UnknownWe were shocked, we were saddened, and we are compelled to tell others about the violation of human rights perpetrated by our government. The economic and political systems of the global north have systematically undermined the livelihoods and survival of the most vulnerable of our neighbors to the south.

We were members of a human rights delegation to the border with Mexico last month through the Unitarian Universalist College of Social Justice coordinated with Tucson-based BorderLinks.

Our delegation of eleven was led through five days of exposure to the unique and harrowing culture of the U.S./Mexican borderlands.

Several of us in the UUSC local action group have supported Francisco Aguirre and his family who spent three months in sanctuary at Augustana Lutheran Church in Portland last fall. We also participate in the activities of the Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice.

Through the delegation experience, we learned the impact and role of labor history and policies such as NAFTA, on the plight of many Mexican and Central American communities. At the border we saw firsthand the incredible militarization of that strip of land. There was the imposing wall, the six hundred border patrol staff in the Tucson sector, the vehicles, the drones, the lights, the cameras, and the sensors. We are apparently at war.

We learned though our conversations with Frontera de Cristo and No More Deaths that the people crossing the border are classified as criminals.  Through the use of checkpoints even the desert is used as a “lethal” deterrent.  The very landscape is a weapon.

Our government has criminalized migrants. We witnessed this as our group attended “Operation Streamline” in the Tucson Federal Courthouse where we observed 55 shackled individuals take plea bargains and be sentenced between 30 and 180 days apiece to private corporate-run prisons before being deported. These private corporations contract with our government who simultaneously pays for the border patrol agents who assure that there are people to imprison.

We witnessed some amazing resistance to the dehumanization of the border. We went to an organization in Agua Prieta where women who were formerly involved in the miserable maquiladora factories are growing permaculture gardens, learning to feed their children healthy foods, and gaining leadership skills. We met Shura Wallin, a retired Californian who goes out into the desert with the Green Valley Samaritans to provide water and support to the men, women and children who daily cross over into the harsh Sonoran desert. In Arivaca we heard about the desert clinic and support systems coordinated by No More Deaths. And in Tucson we met Rosa and her supporters at Southside Presbyterian who has persevered in sanctuary there for over fifteen months.

You can become involved. Take action. Join the UUSC Action Group; attend an Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice (IMIrJ) meeting and find ways to support our immigrant sisters and brothers. Learn more about our trip to the borderlands; see photos of our experience by visiting our church website. Come for a presentation by one the humanitarian aid workers of No More Deaths on November 30, 6:30 PM at First Unitarian.

Ending Detention Centers, a Volunteer’s Perspective

Ending Detention Centers, a Volunteer’s Perspective

Melanie RAICES

The following post was written by Melanie Poeling, a participant in UUCSJ’s RAICES volunteer program.

Imagine that you are a mother with small children and you have traveled over a thousand miles from Honduras, Guatemala, or El Salvador because of extreme violence against you and your family, only to be detained after requesting asylum at the U.S. Port-of-entry. You imagine being safe and free in the U.S.; instead you are imprisoned indefinitely in a family detention center with your children anywhere from weeks to almost a year. When you finally get out, you are released at a bus station in a strange city in the middle of the night with little money, no clothes, and not even a change of diapers for your baby. This is the reality for many families from Central America fleeing violence.

Volunteering through the UU College of Social Justice and RAICES allowed me to see firsthand the mental, physical, and emotional toll that mandatory detention has on refugee families. I saw children famished due to inadequate food in the centers, not eating and losing weight. I saw mothers and children who were very ill but feared seeking help because the medical unit at the Karnes detention center was being used for solitary confinement and punishment for mothers that protested.

The stories I heard from refugee mothers were heartbreaking, but their strength, love, and determination outweighed the pain. We heard stories of women witnessing their children being murdered in front of them; stories of years of domestic violence; stories of sex trafficking and the kidnapping of teenage girls; stories about extortion and extreme gang violence. And then, once in the U.S., indeterminate detention in family detention centers. These families are refugees. How can we not see this as a humanitarian crisis?

Witnessing all of this firsthand deeply impacted me as a Unitarian Universalist and as a mother. As a UU, I believe in the inherent worth and dignity of all people. In the detention centers, women and children are stripped of all dignity and treated as worthless. Profits are valued over people. As a mother, I am deeply disturbed that as a nation, we are detaining infants, toddlers, and pre-schoolers with their mothers in detention centers that are no better than a prison.

I am so glad that through our work with the UU College of Social Justice and RAICES we were able to provide information, assist with court preparations, provide temporary housing and transportation, and support these mothers in their fight for the safety and well-being of their families.

As a UU, I am called to action to end the detention of mothers and children. This is a humanitarian crisis and family detention centers are not the answer. They should be immediately shut down.

Border Memories

Border Memories

Reyna Grande

This post was written by Reyna Grande, a participant of the 2015 May Border Justice journey with UUCSJ.

Thirty years ago last month, I crossed the border illegally through Tijuana. At nine years old, I found myself running through the darkness, trying to find a place to hide from the ever-watching eyes of “la migra”. I crossed the border for one reason—to be reunited with my father, whom I hadn’t seen in eight years. I was lucky. I made it on my third attempt, and I began my new life in the U.S. with my father by my side. I went on to become the first in my family to graduate from college. I went on to become an award-winning writer published by Simon & Schuster.

But I never forgot where I came from.

This is why thirty years after my crossing, I decided to go back to the border and experience it through the eyes of an adult. I joined the UU College of Social Justice border delegation and headed to Tucson, Arizona where I met with the others in the group: Jose, Debbie, Marguerite, Briana, Roberta, Ian, and our guide, Emrys.

Early the next day we headed to Douglas, Arizona. The first thing on the agenda was to see the border wall. I’d seen pictures of it, but those pictures didn’t quite prepare me for the experience of actually being there, standing before this huge monstrosity as I pondered on what it represented, on the effect it has had on the people living on either side of it. As the group stood by the wall, we could feel the wind howling through the slats, forcing its way through the wall. Emrys said, “Look, even the wind has a hard time getting through.” Yes, this wall was meant to keep people out, but even the wind had to struggle on its own journey north.

After the border wall, we went to Agua Prieta to visit a women’s co-op and then a co-op of coffee growers called Café Justo. In the evening, we went to a migrant shelter to have dinner with the migrants. This was for me, the part that touched me the most. I had never set foot on a migrant shelter before. As I sat there, eating a dinner of beans, rice, and squash, I looked at the migrants around me. They told us their story, and as we listened I looked at those men’s faces and I thought about my father. He’d been the first migrant in our family. He’d headed north when I was only two years old to pursue a better life for his family. As I looked at those men I couldn’t help but wonder about the families they had left behind, and how much responsibility these migrants carried on their shoulders. Whatever happened to them—there in the border—would seal not just their own fates, but their families’ as well.

The next day, we returned to Agua Prieta to visit the Migrant Resource Center. It was not opened when we arrived, so we waited outside the door. There were a few migrants waiting as well, and I took the opportunity to go talk to one of them. He told me his border crossing had not gone well and he’d decided to return to his home, but he had no money for the bus fare and was hoping the Center would be able to help him. I asked him questions about his home, and he told me about the poverty, the low wages that had driven him north. He said, “I’ve failed, but now when I go home at least I won’t be fantasizing about the U.S. anymore. Now I know the hard reality—that I’m stuck in Mexico, that there’s nowhere to go.”

It saddened me to think of this man returning to his home with broken dreams. It infuriated me because I knew first-hand the poverty he was trying to escape from, and I wished he’d succeeded. Then I felt guilty, too, because I had “made” it. And he hadn’t.

On the second-to-the last day, we teamed up with the organization No More Deaths to do a water drop-off. We carried 16 water jugs and bags up food up a 1.5 mile hike. As we struggled through the bushes, our feet getting covered in dust, I thought about my border crossing. I remembered hiding in the bushes while a helicopter flew above us. I remembered wishing I were invisible. We left the water and food by a dry creek. As we made our way back, I kept thinking about the migrants who walked on that trail. I scanned the bushes and wondered how many of them were out there now. I hoped that when they found the food and water we’d left, their faith would be renewed and they’d find the strength to continue on their journey.

One of the last conversations we had as a group was what steps we would all take to continue our mission to educate people about the border and to help the migrant population. Everyone had different ideas, and I was happy to see that every single one of us was deeply committed to making a difference. I had recently run two successful fundraisers, so upon my return to Los Angeles I launched a fundraiser on behalf of Casa del Migrante. In nine days, I’ve raised over $1,000. There’s still a month left to go and by the end of it, I’ll pay a visit to Casa del Migrante. One thing I learned from the border delegation is that we all have it in our power to do SOMETHING, no matter how small or how little, to help migrants in their journeys: From talking about migrants as human beings instead of statistics, donating to organizations that help migrants, putting pressure on our government to treat migrants with compassion and dignity, to participating in border delegations.

So what will you do today?

Statement at Interfaith Prayer Service for Immigration Justice

Statement at Interfaith Prayer Service for Immigration Justice

The following statement was written by Rev. Kathleen McTigue, Director at the UU College of Social Justice (UUCSJ), on July 31, 2014 following her arrest during a protest at the White House.

We’re gathered together here as people of faith, as well as conviction. We come from many different faiths, so I wouldn’t presume to know all the reasons so many of you have gathered. But I can tell you why the Unitarian Universalists are here.

We’re among those who find our home on the religious spectrum at the place that is most thoroughly grounded in this world, in this one precious and fleeting life. We are the religious descendants of people who believed that the God they knew, the God of pure love, could want only good things for every human being.

So these ancestors of ours rejected the idea that God has a hell waiting for us after death. Instead, they pointed to all of the ways we human beings create hell for each other, right here on earth. Their faith called them to do something about that very real and present hell. Our faith — the same faith — is calling out to us still.

That’s why we are here, as Unitarian Universalists. We see the hell of hopelessness that’s been created for immigrants who are lost in detention, the hell of anguish when family members are torn away from each other, the hell of fear when people are so scared of deportation that they can’t call the police when they need them. We see the suffering and the deaths caused by turning our borders into military zones. And we see the desperation that drives tens of thousands of children to flee their homes with nothing but a little sliver of hope that they might find safety here.

Religion, at its core, is not about our beliefs. Real religion is about what we do with our beliefs. Our faith calls us to act, in every way we can, to ease the suffering of migrants and to demand justice in our immigration laws. So today we call on President Obama — our elected leader — to lead us now in the right direction, and to join us in standing on the side of love. May it be so.