REPORT ON AN IMMIGRANT ACTIVISTS GATHERING AT THE U.S.-MEXICO BORDER, NOVEMBER 1-4, 2015
"I was sorting donated jeans at the Comedor (shelter) at the border when a young man, Jesús, asked where I lived in the United States,” said Brianna Frenchmore, Pilgrim UCC, Seattle, Washington. Briana was shocked that Jésus had lived near her in Issaquah, Washington, but had been picked up by the police who then turned him over to ICE.
Fifteen local UCC immigrants rights activists from ten states and nine conferences gathered in southern Arizona for a four day intensive border immersion and retreat in order to experience the transforming power of God’s love in the desert.
Rev. Randy Mayer, pastor of Church of the Good Shepherd, Sahuarita, Arizona that hosted the delegation, said that in his sixteen years’ experience with migrants, “they never fail us. We went out to the desert to save them by providing water and food, but found we were the ones who were saved, we always meet Jesus there.”
Rev. Todd Smiedendorf, Washington Park UCC, Denver, Colorado, experienced God in the flesh at the Jesuit border café and Operation Streamline, the fast track sentencing process to create a criminal record for those who cross the border without papers. “It is so important to be there with the persons – one has to see migrants face to face.”
Reflection and planning sessions were woven throughout the retreat. Although we were on the U.S.-Mexico border, Rev. Tyler Connelly, Silver City UCC, New Mexico, reminded us that everyone who crosses the border is going somewhere in the United States, and every city has their own borders.
The goal of the gathering was to bring the UCC National Collaborative on Immigration together and do the following:
Marta Bernadini from the UCC ecumenical partner, the Waldensian Church of Italy, works with migrants crossing the Mediterranean from Africa and the Middle East, through Mediterranean Hope project. “The sea is our desert,” she commented. The Migrant Memorial trail walk was powerful for her to see the crosses in the sand where migrants had died. Marta will spend four months as an international volunteer working with the Church of the Good Shepherd in 2016.
We concluded our strategy session centered on the theme, God Loves Beyond Borders is the theme for our future work. Rev. Linda Jaramillo, former Justice and Witness executive minister, quoted Kierkegaard, “Hope is the passion for the possible.” Even during this discouraging time on immigration issues, Linda reminded us that God is present on the migrants’ journey and we are called to be faithful and walk alongside our immigrant brothers and sisters.
To get involved with the UCC National Collaborative on Immigration, contact Rev. Noel Andersen, email@example.com
Jose Emiliano, Rosa's son, ran up to a friend at the press conference, "Mom is coming home!" His excitement was palpable as people and TV cameras poured into the Kiva/round sanctuary which houses the Southside Presbyterian congregation.
In contrast to the previous night's vigil the press conference was the "official" announcement to the world that Rosa Robles Loreto after 462 days living in the church was free to return home. Her attorney, Margo Cowan, said that she would honor the confidential agreement with ICE to not share details of the agreement BUT Rosa was protected.
Rosa spoke thanking everyone from the Mayor to Congressional representatives to her son's school board for their support and especially to Pastor Allison and the members and friends of the church and Sanctuary movement who supported her. Over and over again, she said "Gracias de mi corazon- Thanks from my heart.
As she and her family processed out, they were followed by Jose Emiliano's school baseball team in red outfits ready to have his Mom back cheering at the games. As Margo Cowan reminded us, "First and foremost, Rosa is a mother." Now she is free to be with her family.
In a week of great disappointment to immigration activists with the 5th District Court's decision to not overturn the February 2015 federal court decision to block the implementation of President Obama's Executive Order that would have stayed deportation of up to 5 million people, Rosa's freedom was good news. Everyone at the press conference pledged to continue the justice struggle until all undocumented persons, especially families, have the right to stay.
Read the story in the Arizona Daily Star.
Pastor Allison Harrington announced to a joyous crowd last night that Rosa is free - "she is untouchable" by ICE! She was in sanctuary 461 days. Allison continued, " Here at the border we are confronted with a choice, do we turn away or do we choose to fight? We chose to fight. As people of faith, how do we get in the way of the deportation machine?"
I am back in Tucson and in the next few days I will share more about Rosa Roble's story of the 461 days plus other voices of Resistance and Resistance from the voices of migrants and those activists working to change the broken immigration system.
Look for coverage of today's press conference. Have to run now to be there for the wonderful occasion!
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?