Last week the last jail in Oregon to hold immigrant detainees announced it was ending its contract with ICE. www.opb.org/article/2020/08/21/northern-oregon-regional-correctional-facility-norcor-ice/
This is a big win for all the organizations and individuals who supported the three year campaign to end detention of immigrants in this regional jail facility. A local group, Gorge Resistance, held a daily vigil outside the facility. They invited others to join them - AFSC Project Voice-Oregon, Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice and the Rural Organizing Project were among the organizations that organized car caravans from various parts of the state to join the daily vigil.
On May 3 2018 I posted a blog about my participation in the vigil in the Dalles outside the NORCOR jail facility. Week after week different groups showed up outside the jail facility asking for the contract with ICE be ended. In the summer of 2018 a walk from the Sheridan federal prison to the Dalles was organized by IMIRJ due to the detention of immigrants at the federal prison that summer.
Persistence pays off. IMIRJ, the Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice, issued this litany of thanks last week in recognition of the many people who persisted in challenging the ICE detentions in a local jail:
"Thank you to the courageous men, women, and kin who launched a hunger strike while they were detained in the spring of 2017 to protest the conditions inside and ICE’s family separation machine.
Thank you to others detained since then for your resistance— whether you were there for two days or two years, sent from the private prison in Tacoma as retaliation, or couldn’t see your family because there was no family visitation.
Thank you to the Gorge leaders who have protested, organized, held vigil, and invited the rest of the state to join them to get ICE out of NORCOR.
Thank you to the clergy who visited the men, women, and kin detained week in and week out— who amplified their demands and stories, listened and shared life together in a time when so much life was being taken away.
Thank you to people of faith and fierce love around the state who amplified the stories of those detained in their services and prayers, organized caravans to stand in solidarity in The Dalles, raised money for the high cost of phone calls, made calls to the Board and kept the pressure on, walked in pilgrimage from Sheridan to NORCOR, and joined IMIrJ for our first-ever statewide campaign and action in the spring of 2018. "
I learned from Central Americans in the struggle for justice and equality that it is important to celebrate the wins as well as to grieve over the losses. So let's dance a little this weekend!
A local pastor in Bend, Oregon and a school board member, asked this question, "Why is it happening?" on a webnair, bit.ly/2DTsoBX , sponsored by the Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice which supports local congregations to become active in Immigrant Justice work. She urged us to ask and demand answers to "Why were Border Patrol agents in full riot gear showing up to break up a peaceful crowd protecting the two immigrants on an ICE bus? And they were so abundantly resourced, while our schools struggle to have enough money to educate the children? Why? Why? Why? "
Bend is a city of 97,000 people in Central Oregon. 93% of the population are white (2010 census). It is known for its outdoor life - most people travel there to ski in the winter and bike and kayak in the summer. However, the population is changing as many Latinx move here for jobs in the tourist industry or nearby farming and ranching.
On August 12, 2020, 2,000 people gathered to surround the bus where the two detained immigrants were held from 5:45AM on Wednesday morning until the arrival of the federal troops to break up the crowd surrounding the bus around 1AM. A local pastor organized the crowd to sit down when the federal troops arrive. It was a peaceful protest but clearly in opposition to ICE raids and detention of immigrants. "If this is allowable, how do we make it not allowable?" That is a question that many of us working for immigrant justice and racial justice, need to keep asking.
One of the organizers working with the local Diversity Council said, "We didn't show up as anti-federal troops or anti-ICE but because we are pro-family and two of our neighbors were picked up by ICE." The crowd changed repeatedly, "Let Them Go." A young boy crying pounded on the bus, saying "Papi, Papi."
An attorney who was in the crowd as a volunteer, expressed her frustration with the broken immigration system. "We work within the system while at the same time we are trying to change it."
Another local pastor shared that "the presence of so many in the crowd was an "act of solidarity of sacredness and the presence of love." So the question again, "why did the Border Patrol show up?" The Border Patrol supposedly had total authority within 100 miles of the northern and southern border of the United States. Bend, Oregon like Portland, Oregon where the Border Patrol Tactical Unit showed up to "protect the federal courthouse, is 374.2 miles from the Canadian border!
What can we do to protect our neighbors? First of all, Know Your Rights! Attorneys at the Bend ICE raid scene shouted out the rights all person have to the two men on the bus. We who are U.S. citizens need to know our rights as well.
Become active with your local immigrant rights group! Be prepared to show up - many communities have Rapid Response Teams prepared to act in case of an ICE raid. Join one and be prepared to show up! Write about what is happening in your community - send Letters to the Editor or write an OpEd piece.
Why the Border Patrol? Why did the local police not protect the peaceful protesters from the federal troops?
Demand answers from your local and state elected officials. And most importantly, this year VOTE! The immigration system will not change until there are enough courageous legislators willing to make the changes to ensure a fair and humane immigration system. Black Lives Matter and the call for major police reform is connected to the racist oppressive laws that keep people out of our country and then detain and deport them.
The current administration has worked to systematically limit access to asylum at the border. When
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) implemented metering in May 2018 at the ports of entry in
Nogales, migrants were abruptly faced with weeks and later months-long waits before being able to
formally begin their asylum process in the U.S. This dynamic was exacerbated with the subsequent
implementation of Migration Protection Protocol (MPP), otherwise known as “Remain in Mexico,” forcing
asylum seekers to wait months or years in Mexico for their U.S. asylum hearings. These policies have
obligated many of the migrants passing through Nogales to live in unsustainable uncertainty. Now the
Administration has used the global pandemic as a pretext to fully suspend asylum processing, denying
migrants fleeing persecution their right to refuge and due process in the United States.
Dozens of asylum seekers currently in Nogales, Sonora have been waiting since December to begin the
process of seeking protection in the US. The hundreds of asylum seekers returned to Nogales under
MPP have had their very first court dates rescheduled from March or April 2020 to October 2020, with no
guarantee that court will even be open by that date. Yet CBP continues to place newly arriving Cubans
and Venezuelans into MPP and returning them to prolonged limbo in Nogales, Sonora, even as they
subject asylum seekers from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to expulsions with no consideration
of their claims for protection.
Beyond metering, MPP, and the state of asylum during the pandemic, on June 15th the administration-
controlled Department of Homeland Security proposed a rule that would permanently dismantle the entire
asylum process with irreparable consequences extending far beyond the context of the pandemic. The
proposed rule appears to have been crafted to create insurmountable procedural obstacles, establish
high burdens of proof, and narrow the grounds for qualification for asylum. Under this new proposed rule,
the majority of migrants stranded in Nogales, Sonora would not meet the basic standards for asylum
qualification, and therefore, would never be heard in front of an immigration judge. The rule would
completely decimate a process meant to protect asylum seekers from improperly being returned to harm.
We believe that the United States government has the responsibility to fulfil the guarantees that it made to
refugees and that is why we are joining forces with other organizations, local leaders, communities of
faith, and asylum seekers in acting to save asylum.
'LAST YEAR I WAS IN TUCSON, ARIZONA WORKING AT SHELTERS AND VOLUNTEERING WITH SEVERAL HUMANITARIAN ORGANIZATIONS-THE PHOTO IS ME PROMOTING MY BOOK, CHOICES: DEATH, LIFE AND MIGRATION AT AN IMMIGRATION ISSUES FAIR IN SAHUARITA, ARIZONA. (Still available through Amazon or contact me)
NOW - I AM AT HOME LIKE MANY OTHERS DUE TO COVID 19. QUESTION: HOW CAN ONE ADVOCATE FROM HOME?
It's definitely lonelier and harder to tell if my actions are making a difference. I miss the energy of the community of activists when we gathered for the monthly vigil outside the Portland, Oregon ICE office. The last vigil was February 27, a clear, cold day with just a handful of witnesses outside ICE.
Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice (Imirj); American Friends Service Committee Project Voice Oregon, the Innovation Law Lab among others organized a campaign to convince the Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Martha Walter to make permanent the ruling from last November prohibiting ICE from making arrests in county courthouses. The petitions and letters went to the Oregon Trial Rules Committee. Decision pending
OREGON WORKERS RELIEF FUND: Other advocacy this past month was to convince Oregon State legislators (not in session) to vote funding from the state's Emergency Board to assist Oregon workers who do not qualify for the federal governments COVID relief checks. The Oregon Emergency Board allocated $10 million to this special fund. Yeah! Kudos to my two State representatives: Rob Nosse and State Senator Kathleen Taylor. The process by which these funds will become available is in process. The funds will be distribute to local culturally appropriate organizations working with farm workers, day laborers and others who pay taxes but cannot/do not receive the federal checks.
As a volunteer with the AFSC Project Voice Oregon we made the difficult decision to cancel our annual concert friend/fundraiser this past weekend. Pedro Sosa is working with several Latinx community organizations to provide masks, food and COVID 19 health information in Spanish, Quiche and Mam languages. In addition, he has done programs about health care access on local Spanish speaking stations.
As for the accompaniment work that I have done for the past four years, no hay mas! It's not happening due to social distancing. Some ICE court hearings continue but ICE itself is not doing face to face check-ins. The situation in detention centers is very bad and there are several campaigns to pressure DHS to close and to free detainees using ankle bracelets to track persons. www.washingtontimes.com/news/2020/may/8/first-positive-covid-result-at-northwest-immigrati/ for story about Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington
Like others who don't really need the federal government's COVID checks, I decided to donate my $1200 to various immigrant justice organizations as well as a personal friend who is not eligible. Here are some organizations to consider for a donation:
Florence Immigrant and Refugee Project (ARizona)
Kino Border Initiative (Arizona/Mexico)
American Friends Service Committee - COVID 19 Appeal
AFSC Project Voice Oregon
Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice - a portion of the funds go to Oregon Worker Relief Fund
On a personal note I am studying French long distance via Zoom with my sister Connie and our French teacher who lives in Normandy - staying at home as well. I spent three months last fall in France and was able to learn about French organization work with refugees from Africa and the Middle East. I currently serve on the International Program Executive Committee with AFSC and have been working on a strategic plan on displacement and migration. Yes, still busy but working and living at a distance. A virtual hug to all of you staying in place but acting for justice where you are!
THE LIFE OF A SUMMER IMMIGRANT ACTIVIST!
It's been two months since my last Blog post. These two months have been full of Trump- tweets and bad decisions. It's hard not to react each time a new action against immigrants and refugees is announced. First, it is cutting off development aid to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, Then, the U.S. government announced that it's sending security aid to Guatemala to train the police and military to intercept immigrants traveling through Guatemala on their way north. Human rights violations occur daily in the three Northern Triangle countries although rarely does this news make it North. It is hard not to despair if you, like me, care about the people in these countries and elsewhere in the world who have been told by #45 that you are not welcome in the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Taking Action: Two weeks ago over a thousand Portlanders gathered in a Plaza across from the Federal building as part of the national Lights for Liberty events. Two mothers who work in health care locally, organized this rally, vigil and march. There were no celebrities, just people concerned, angry and indignant about the state of our country and its horrific treatment of immigrants.
My local organization, Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice, was there along with many other groups and organizations. We held our battery operated candles high as we marched across a bridge with a full moon adding light to our lights. In the photo below, I am the one with white hair holding a candle.
Keeping up the struggle - finding hope in community. Last week I went to a forum on the current status of the border. The Numbers are mind-boggling. 9,000 people seeking asylum have been sent back to Mexico from San Diego and overall, 15,000 have been turned back to wait for their number to appear to have a chance to apply for asylum. Volunteers are needed to help pro bono attorneys prepare background for the asylum appeal - Spanish is necessary. Check Innovation Law Lab for details. innovationlawlab.org/about/
HOST FAMILIES FOR ASYLUM SEEKERS NEEDED: At the Lights for Liberty event a local pastor approached me about the need for a host family for asylum seeker in a Tucson shelter, the Monastery. As the weeks passed, emails were exchanged, calls were made and we are still trying. Finding the right host family for women and children who only speak Spanish as well as the financial and emotional support needed for this family or any other seeking asylum is not easy.
It's similar to refugee resettlement, but no federal dollars are there to assist asylum seekers so faith based groups and individuals of conscience are where we turn. We, meaning out network in Oregon, has supported an asylum seeker and her child this past year. We have learned a lot. What I know is that it takes a community to support the host family and the person/families seeking asylum. An overground Railroad is needed to get people from the border to safe places and families to take them in. Sometimes, their relatives are the ones but with the numbers seeking asylum it is challenging.
I don't know what will happen to the family in Tucson, but I pray that she and her children will be safe and that a way will be found. The good people in Tucson who care for the newly arrived, do an incredible job and we need to support them there and to help them send families on their way.
Steve Manning, founder of Innovation Law Lab, reminded us at the Border Update forum, that each of us can act. Don't wait around for someone else to act, when you see or hear of a need, ACT!
It's summer and the living is good for some of us, but not all of us. Listen to your heart and lift your voice when and where you can.
My life has been about crossing borders and cultures and building bridges across the boundaries that normally divide. Have you crossed any borders in your life?