Friday, June 20, 2008

Reflections on the First Year

A couple of years ago, I took my two nieces to an aquarium. The scene was rather entertaining. There was a light, being projected into the tank, in the shape of a fish. The penguins were moving, chasing after the fish. The underlying message to the human audience was: thank God we are not so foolish. But aren't we? I have the experience of being part of a movement that is chasing after lights. This month, ICE was exposed in the media for criminal neglect and violence that rises to the level of negligent homicide. Sixty-six people have died in its custody, custody that is "civil" in the eyes of the law. And headlines keep coming about the agency, ICE, which raided a workplace in Iowa, detaining nearly 400 people. Was theirs a distracting light, a way to
blur our vision? I also keep hearing, in an anonymous chorus, that immigration reform is not going to pass. No one will touch it, they say. On the ground, beyond the calculated inaction of
politicians, unleashed and escalating enforcement and policing has reached terrorizing proportions. We have completed one year of witnessing with our families and sensitizing people here in NY -putting a human face to the issue and connecting with communities, many of whom are nonimmigrant. There are some fundamental lessons. First, a great deal is happening to demonize and persecute our immigrant - mostly Black and Brown - brothers and sisters. Secondly, if we are going to be faithful as a movement to our vision of changing the terms of
the debate, we need to refocus our religious cultures. Our traditions speak about the dignity of
the person based not so much on the country of origin but on the reality that one is created by
God. This is fundamental to our is an insult to his or her dignity. The underlying reality is that
one's identity derives from where one has his or her divine genesis. That liberating knowledge echoes the tradition and witness of the prophets, who announced the truth and decried the lies and systems that exploited and reduced human beings to objects or commodities. Our families in Sanctuary keep encouraging us to resist, to organize and challenge the hypocritical veneer of our supposedly "immigrant friendly" City. The facts point to the systematic and increasingly militarized tactics of the Departments of Corrections and Probation, which identify about three hundred people weekly for deportation, even before they are found guilty or innocent. The City agencies violate due process. Worse yet, they are orphaning our children. All in all, one of the weaknesses of the movement is that we usually focus on the effects. The causes of displacement are often overlooked.
The task before us is to intimately connect our lives to the communities that are being directly affected, the same way that our partnership with families seeking sanctuary has blazed the way. The second phase lies ahead of us: our politicians and those in power need to be kept in check
and challenged. Our beliefs and our history point to an inescapable fact: in the face of evil, nonviolent resistance is necessary. Let us discern reality from the distracting lights whose images are ultimately phony.

The Child Citizen Protection Act

What You Can Do In The Fight For Family Unity

The Child Citizen Protection Act is considered by many to be "the best kept secret in the immigration debate". If we all work diligently, we can change that perception and make this bill a reality, saving many families from lifelong separation. First a little history and then some concrete suggestions on how to move this legislation.

On February 2, 2007, Representative Jose Serrano of the 16th District of NY introduced HR 1176, the Child Citizen Protection Act. This Bill provides discretionary authority to an immigration judge to determine that an alien parent of a United states citizen child should not be ordered removed, deported, or excluded from the United States. In lay man's terms, it means that the power of decisions would be returned to immigration judges when "the best interests" of a U.S. citizen child hangs in the balance. The legislation would apply to both undocumented immigrants and legal immigrants with convictions, though some exclusions would apply.

On March 19, 2007 the bill was referred to the House Judiciary's subcommittee on immigration. Since that time it has garnered 32 cosponsors in the House. In March of 2008 the NYC Council passed Resolution 1250 in support of the CCPA and asked Congress to pass this legislation.

In April of this year, Families for Freedom and the New Sanctuary Movement held a Children's Vigil outside the NYC office of U.S. Senator, Charles Schumer to ask that he introduce this bill in the Senate. To date we have had no response from Senator Schumer and currently there is no sister bill in the Senate.

Now, here's what we can do to support this bill. First, check to see if your U.S. Representative in Congress is listed as a cosponsor. Go to the web site and type in HR 1176 and search under bill numbers, then click on bill status and summary, next click on cosponsors. You will get a current list of who has signed on. If your representative is listed, terrific! Send them a thank you note and ask them to promote the bill to their colleagues. If they have not cosponsored, write, call and email them asking them to do so. Better yet, make an appointment with their office aide on immigration issues to discuss the bill. Make sure that you are armed with the facts to back up your request. Families for Freedom's Fact Sheet is available at . If possible, bring an affected family with you on your visit. It makes a more powerful statement. If they can't give you an answer on the spot, be sure to follow up with a phone call. Ask for their email address to send them additional information and as another avenue for follow up. You can take the same measures with your Senators, but ask them to introduce the bill.

On a local level, you can approach your local city council or your state representatives and ask them to sponsor a resolution in support of the CCPA as the NYC Council did. To see NYC Resolution 1250, go to and click on legislation, then search resolutions for 2008. This can be used as a footprint for other city and state governments.

Additionally, writing letters to the editors of your local papers or writing op-eds calling for passage of the bill are both good ideas for spreading the word. Circulating petitions among your congregations, club memberships, and neighborhoods will help to educate the public about the necessity for this legislation. The Internet can also be used effectively by posting videos on You Tube, creating My Space pages, and utilizing to create online petitions.

The most important thing that you can do is to talk about the devastation that children and families face when a parent is deported and how this legislation can help to correct some of it by allowing immigration judges to judge. It is up to us to educate the public and to remind them of their responsibilities as children of God, no matter what their faith.