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.
CHOICES: DEATH, LIFE AND MIGRATION was published in December, 2018. I wrote the book to share stories about my Guatemala experiences to provide some context for what is happening at the USA/MEXICO border. The second section of the book are stories of people in shelters and detention centers.
Since January, 2019 I have made 14 presentations - reading from the book and providing border updates from my five weeks in Tucson, Arizona this past winter and the AFSC Love Knows No Border witness at the San Diego/Tijuana border in December.
I have distributed $1,000 to four immigrant rights organizations: Tucson Samaritans, American Friends Service Committee Project Voice-Oregon, the Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice in Oregon and the Portland Immigrant Rights Coalition (PIRC).
I am calling out to all of you who read my blog and who care about people fleeing violence in Central America
I am working on an article that will highlight non-profits or NGO's, Non-Governmental Organizations that are making a difference in peoples' lives in Guatemala.
TAKE ACTION: A coalition of organizations in a campaign to Defund Hate are urging us to contact our representatives asking them to refuse to fund immigrant detention and stopping ICE from taking money from other agencies. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is currently detaining over 50,000 people for the first time in its history as the administration moves money from other accounts to build or rent more jails across the country.
Please join me in urging Congress to limit ICE's unchecked ability to lock up more and more immigrants in deadly and abusive detention centers. Our dollars should be spent on things that keep our communities safe, like education, healthcare and jobs, not on things that tear them apart. www.afsc.org/action/tell-congress-stop-funding-ice%E2%80%99s-abuses?emci=62819f55-a883-e911-abc4-281878391efb&emdi=a709825e-d683-e911-abc4-281878391efb&ceid=729598&ms=2019AA0531
BIO PROMO FOR DISTRIBUTION:
Pat Rumer, author of Choices: Death, Life and Migration, is a social justice activist with fifty years’ experience focused on Guatemala and immigration issues in the United States. Her book shares intimate stories of the people and places that have affected her justice journey. One reader has said, “She lifts up the voices of people she has encountered along her way.”
Pat is available to speak to book groups and organizations interested in Central America, the current migration situation along the southern border of the United States, and the actions each of us can take to advocate for a more humane immigration policy.
Please contact her at email@example.com. Her book can be purchased at Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Patricia-Rumer/e/B001KDJ2EG. And now on Kindle as well. Locally, it is available at the Beacon Bookstore, First Unitarian Church in Portland, Oregon. The book is priced at $16, with all royalties going to local immigrant rights’ organizations in the Northwest.
Thanks for your support of immigrant rights groups working for justice!
LAST THURSDAY THE INTERFAITH MOVEMENT FOR IMMIGRANT JUSTICE HOSTED A PASSOVER SEDER OUTSIDE THE IMMIGRATION AND CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT OFFICE IN PORTLAND, OREGON. IMIRJ ORGANIZES A MONTHLY VIGIL ON THE LAST THURSDAY FROM 10-11AM.
THE ICE BUILDING IS AN ORDINARY OFFICE BUILDING EXCEPT FOR THE SECURITY FENCE THAT ALLOWS ONLY ICE VEHICLE IN AND AS YOU APPROACH THE FRONT DOOR THERE ARE SECURITY GUARDS INSIDE. IT'S IN A UPSCALE NEIGHBORHOOD IN SW PORTLAND NEAR THE WILLAMETTE RIVER AND HIGH RISE APARTMENTS/CONDOS.
WE GATHER AT A RAILROAD STOP - A COVERED AREA - ON A PATHWAY FOR BIKES AND PEDESTRIANS WHO WEAVE THEIR WAY AROUND US ON THIS DAY. THIS SEDER WAS ORGANIZED BY HAVURAH SHALOM, P'NAI OR AND SHIR TIKVAH COMMUNITIES. IT WAS A SEDER OF FREEDOM AND LIBERATION REMEMBERING WHEN JEWS WERE STRANGERS IN EGYPT.
WE SANG: "GO DOWN, MOSES" WITH THE REFRAIN, WHEN ISRAEL WAS IN EGYPT'S LAND, LET MY PEOPLE GO. ....GO DOWN, MOSES 'WAY DOWN IN EGYPT LAND,. TELL OL' PHAROAH: LET MY PEOPLE GO..
AT THE END OF THE SEDER SERVICE WE WALKED AND STOOD OUTSIDE THE DOORS OF ICE WHERE WE CHANTED "NEXT YEAR IN JERUSALEM" OUR PEOPLES' MILLENNIA- OLD HOPE FOR REDEMPTON. TODAY OUR YEARNING TAKES THE FORM OF HOPE AND ACTION FOR A MORE JUST WORLD. ASKING FOR A SAFE HARBOR FOR REFUGEES AND SURVIVORS OF VIOLENCE AND THE PROMISE OF DIGNITY AND HUMAN RIGHTS FOR ALL.
AS WE FACED THE ICE BUILDING, TOGETHER WE SAID: NEXT YEAR IN A JUST WORLD. THROUGH OUR ACTIONS FROM THIS PASSOVER TO THE NEXT, LET US MAKE THIS DREAM A REALITY.
UPCOMING SPEAKING EVENTS WITH PAT RUMER ON BORDER UPDATE AND READING FROM HER BOOK.
LOVE IS IN THE AIR - CALL TO ACTION IN TUCSONAPRIL 15, 2019 On Palm Sunday in Tuscon, Arizona ICE dropped off hundreds of children at the bus station. This is a story written by one of the volunteers who took action to help the children. Used with her permission.
The mid-afternoon sun beat down painfully on the crowd of people surrounding Gretchen, as Dottie and I arrived simultaneously to provide back-up. They were the first 30 of what would become 120 of God’s children from Guatemala and Honduras and Brazil, dumped on the streets by vans from ICE and Border Patrol with no instructions or support this Palm Sunday. Chaos was the goal as mothers and fathers used their bodies to shield their little ones from the burning sun. Yet, as on so many occasions before, Gretchen Lopez was somehow there to intercept and redirect people from despair to hope, from confusion to affirmation, from danger to security.
“Bienvenidos a Tucson,” I hollered as Dottie and Jim and I walked up to join her, and Esperanza bounded towards the children. This “release to the streets” game that the administration plays was one we knew all too well. Earlier this year, El Paso had been hammered for weeks by the “release to the streets” strategy, and here in Tucson, Gretchen had already navigated it before. For days we had been getting warnings that ICE & Border Patrol would be delivering people to the streets, rather than the shelters, in what we know is the ongoing attempt to create the illusion of crisis and surge here on the border.
As The Inn and Casa Alitas were full, Gretchen and Dottie were calling around trying to get an answer from any church who might be willing to take them. It was Palm Sunday afternoon, and answers would not be quick to come by. The huge white wall of the building we were next to was acting like a mirror, intensifying the heat of the sun, and we needed to get them out of it.
Remembering that it was the Episcopalians night at the Campus Christian Center up the street, I told Gretchen that Rev’d Benjamin Garren would surely not mind some extra attendees this Palm Sunday. Dottie’s husband Jim and I began to shuttle people up the street from the parking lot of Office Max to the Campus Christian Center.
“Should I start to cook?” Ben asked as we entered. The answer was an enthusiastic, “Yes.”
Just as soon as we had gotten everyone settled, we got a call that they had released more to the streets. 60 this time. To the same big, white, scorching wall. The exhaustion and despair in 60 sets of eyes hit me like a punch in the gut as Gretchen and I pulled up. What would we do?
One of the Greyhound employees came around the corner with a cart full of water and began handing it out.
Soon another van pulled up from Border Patrol to unload more people. We begged them to take them to the church instead. But they opened the doors of the van and added another 10 people to the crowd. A volunteer from No More Deaths happened to be coming around the corner, and began to get the word out that we needed support.
There was no way we could get these people out of the sun fast enough, so Office Max gave us permission to move them to the shady grove of trees on the opposite side of their building. Gretchen communicated with other shelters in town, while Dottie dove back into calling churches to find some willing to take a big crowd on short notice.
The Mayor, Jonathan Rothschild, had sent Tucson Police Department officers to deliver teddy bears and to let us know that the city would be donating buses to take the people to wherever we could find room for them. Seeing the officers, it seems the last van from Border Patrol thought it wiser to unload around the corner, and soon another 20 people started walking up to us to bring the total to 120.
Back at the Campus Christian Center, Rev’d Bailey Pickens was getting the Presbyterians involved in supporting the first 30 who would now be staying there for what would become the Episcopalians’ all night feast and vigil to begin Holy Week.
After what seemed like ages, Dottie got the approvals from 3 churches, and Gretchen was able to begin sorting people into groups to head out. Nancy would be riding up with one city bus to take a large group to one church, while another bus would take a large group to another. Jamie and Colby and Jim would be shuttling the rest to the last.
While we waited for all the logistics to be worked out, and transportation to arrive, the volunteers from No More Deaths arrived and began to unload water and hand out snacks.
Finally, the streets were empty. There was no crisis, because our community knows how to take care of each other. You don’t have to be from Tucson to be one of us. All we did was take care of us today. All we did was act like family.
Getting back to the crowded CCC, I plopped into a chair, grateful to share the meal that the Episcopalians had prepared in the many hours that we had left them with little warning or information and a dramatically increased community.
Knowing it would be an all-nighter for me, the Wesley Student President came by to check on me and put a cup of water in front of me, before putting her fluency in Spanish to use explaining things to our guests.
“Gretchen is badass,” Bailey’s wife Kelli said to me as we watched her continue to make phone call after phone call to make sure that people got in touch with their families and to their destinations. The admiration in her voice let me know that I finally had someone who understood the level of surgeon-like skill that this woman has for the very difficult work she does. Because she is laity in a religious world that celebrates clergy, it is so easy for us to miss that humble, tireless force that skillfully interrupts injustices on a daily basis without ever expecting to be thanked, acknowledged or celebrated. It’s so easy for you to see me, so important for us to see her.
Today, it took dozens of people to work together under her leadership to intercept injustice, heartless cruelty, and the illusion of crisis. It took pastors, and bus drivers, and police officers, and No More Deaths volunteers, and church members, and Greyhound employees, and students to fight with everything they had and work together for love to win out today. And it did.
Tomorrow is another day, and we’ll face it when it gets here, but tonight, here in the Campus Christian Center, at the Inn, and at United Methodist Churches and other shelters all around Tucson, LOVE is in the lead. Love is in the lead.
To help replenish our supplies and support the work of The Inn, donations can be ordered from our Amazon Wishlist or monetary donations made here.
The first week in February of this year I worked briefly at the Benedictine Monastery in Tucson which has become a shelter for migrants. Here is an update from a friend who volunteers at this shelter.
CCS Monastery Migrant Shelter Update, Tucson Arizona
This past week has been a very busy one for Monastery volunteers. Over the past weekend, and again on Friday, we received over 100 guests a day which raised our numbers to almost 350 men, women, and children! Imagine the dining room with comfortable space for fifty or sixty people, full to capacity with lines out the door as guests waited for their meal. Families gathered to eat in the hallways, outside, and in every available nook and cranny. Volunteers in the clothing area kept pace with 100 guests arriving and leaving each day, sorting clothing and personal item donations and helping each family to select adequate clothing for their final destination. Our medical teams were kept busy with sick parents and children. (Yet one physician told me that most guests made it through the harrowing journey north in remarkably good health.) Intake and transportation volunteers worked tirelessly to ensure the smooth transition for guests from arrival one day to departure the next. In addition, news teams, elected officials, schools, and immigration delegations formed a steady stream of people touring our shelter.
It is difficult to imagine our transportation volunteers making the many phones calls necessary to arrange for that many people’s travel and rides to get to the station or airport. Our intake volunteers check, clean, and assign beds for our guests. The laundry team makes sure hundreds of towels, blankets, and personal clothing items are washed, dried and folded. Volunteer groups help sweep and mop floors and do general cleanup. One man comes in several times of week just to empty the trash With the support of more than 150 volunteers a day and many many donations of food, clothing, and other supplies, the shelter hums with the voices of those who are finally free from fear mixed with those who serve them. Guests and volunteers alike are most often seen with a smile on their faces. Laughter resounds through the halls.
Volunteers tell me that this is the most fulfilling thing they do. One of our medical team members reported, “What everyone does here brings joy and light, not just to our guests, but to other volunteers as well.” For me, volunteering at the monastery shelter is a powerful antidote to to feelings of despair and anger over how our guests are treated in detention and almost every step thereafter of the asylum process.
The CCS Monastery Migrant Shelter is now one of the largest in the country, run almost completely by volunteers and in-kind donations. And we are in great need of financial support in order to keep the lights on and water running. With an ever increasing number of guests our costs are also rising. We need your help to continue to serve these vulnerable and at-risk families. A list of immediate needs follows for those who live close enough to drop donations off. Please also consider a financial contribution and encourage friends and family to do likewise. Please share this email with anyone you think might like to support our work to ensure safe transition for our families seeking asylum to their sponsors’ locations. We cannot do this work without your help.
I have heard repeatedly that this collective effort to shelter families seeking asylum has been incredibly life and soul saving for volunteers and guests alike. Our ministry together has carried beyond our wildest imaginations to inspire and embolden others to act for justice, compassion, and joy. This is truly Good News. Pass it on!
In hope for a better future.
Rev. Delle McCormick
Monastery Shelter Volunteer
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?