SoCS: barbed wire

When daughter T was working in Clinton, Missouri, we visited the local museum. The collection was very eclectic with unexpected things around every corner.

One of the exhibits was a barbed wire collection. I hadn’t realized there were so many different styles.

Having grown up in rural areas, both my spouse B and I were familiar with barbed wire fences. B had grown up maintaining a barbed wire fence around the pasture. I grew up with a barbed wire fence that ran along the edge of the reservoir behind my house.

Both of those were meant for protection. It saddens me to think of barbed wire being used to keep people away, though. It especially hurts to think of people who are fleeing war and violence being encountered with barbed wire and other barriers. Instead of finding protection, they find exclusion.

Barbed wire fences never seem to have gates.
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “wire.”  Join us! Find out more here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/03/13/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-march-14-2020/

2019-2020 SoCS Badge by Shelley!
https://www.quaintrevival.com/

a lament

While I have been concentrating on family issues these last few months – and watching less news on television as the now-two-year-old ABC is more often alert in the evenings – there is always the undercurrent of disturbing news around me.

One of the worst of these issues is the inhumane treatment of asylum seekers, refugees, and immigrants by the Trump administration. Under U.S. and international law, people have the right to cross the border to ask for asylum. The administration has set up barriers to this, including restrictions at ports of entry, that have resulted in desperate attempts to cross rivers and/or deserts that have caused deaths.

Those who do manage to cross the border have been detained for long periods in overcrowded facilities without access to proper food, clothing, shelter, sanitation, communication, and legal aid. The most scandalous part of this has been the continuing separation of children from adult family members, resulting in thousands of so-called “unaccompanied minors”, some who are still infants and toddlers, who are only unaccompanied because they have been taken away from family members who brought them to the US and aren’t able to contact them or other adult family members already in the country. As if that weren’t bad enough, these children are being kept for extended periods of time in horrible conditions without proper care. This is in flagrant disregard of court orders, international law, and human decency.

These sorts of things are not supposed to happen under the rule of law and, if they do, the attorney general, as head of the justice department, should take legal action to ensure that these abuses stop and never happen again. However, this is not happening. Some judges have issued court orders, but they can’t make the Department of Homeland Security carry them out. Meanwhile, the president is holding rallies touting his tough stance at our southern border.

It’s all sickening.

I don’t know how this will end. I am hoping for the sake of the people being held that something will work to free them and care for them, now rather than later. My fear is that this disregard for our laws and for basic human rights will persist until there is a new president and cabinet. That will take much too long, though, with more suffering, deaths, and trauma inflicted on thousands and thousands of people in the meantime. It’s possible that the US could be sanctioned by the United Nations or an international court, but I doubt that would have any greater effect than the court orders of US judges.

There is no good way to end this post, other than to thank all the lawyers, social service agencies, faith communities, and local governments who are doing all they can to care for those being detained, for those who are released with no means to care for themselves or to travel, for those who are sick or hungry or thirsty, and for those who are frightened and confused and separated from their families while surrounded by people who do not speak their language. May their example of love, compassion, and human decency move those who are in power to change their ways.

Update:  I wrote this yesterday evening and woke up to see this post being shared on Facebook. It is very disturbing information about one of the for-profit companies running detention centers using US tax dollars; it lists sources.

Eighth anniversary of the ACA shootings

Three years ago, I wrote the post below. Sadly, it is even more relevant today on the eighth anniversary, with so many expressing animus against immigrants and refugees in the United States and in Europe. Here in the Binghamton, New York area, ACA stands for not only the Affordable Care Act but also the American Civic Association. Today, we remember in a special way all those who died or who were injured that day and re-commit to welcoming immigrants and refugees to our communities.

Fifth Anniversary of the ACA shootings

Last night, when the news broke about the shooting at Fort Hood, the first thought many people had was “not again.” Not again at Fort  Hood, and not again in general.

The timing was especially poignant for those of us in the Binghamton NY area, because today marks the fifth anniversary of the American Civic Association shootings, in which fourteen people died, including the mentally ill gunman, and four were wounded.

Despite the tragic loss of life, the ACA shooting is usually not present in the list of mass shootings that gets recited in the media when the next horrible shooting comes along. Columbine. Virginia Tech. Aurora. Newtown. Fort Hood.

I am not saying that we should not be remembering these other mass shootings. We should, and we should be doing more to avert similar deaths and injuries in the future.

What I do find disturbing is that so many have forgotten about the ACA tragedy. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out why.

I am afraid that the primary reason is that the gunman and most of the dead were immigrants. Most of them were gathered in one of the American Civic Association’s classrooms, taking a class to improve their English skills, when they were shot. They were from Vietnam, China, Pakistan, Iraq, Haiti, Brazil, The Philippines. Two were in Binghamton as visiting scholars. Others had been resettled in the area as refugees. The ACA is well-known in the area as a gathering place for immigrants to study English or prepare for citizenship tests. Several of those who were shot were employees or volunteers who had embraced this important mission. Somehow, though nearly all of us in the United States are descended from immigrants or are immigrants ourselves, the story of the ACA shootings did not embed itself into our minds as have some of the other tragedies that took place in schools or other public settings. I’m sorry to say that I think people see themselves or their grand/children as being just like those gathered in an elementary school or at a movie theater, but that they don’t see themselves as people from a different country, with a different skin color, speaking with an accent, working toward citizenship.

Five years on, I don’t want these people to have been forgotten. I want them to be remembered – and to be remembered as neighbors, as members of our community, as people like us.

 

Poem: Beatitudes

Beatitudes
~~~by Joanne Corey

The priest took a risk in his homily,
asking the President to look
again at the refugee ban,
before a conservative congregation
who thought the Sermon on the Mount
was meant only for long-ago Jews;
the poor and hungry,
those searching for justice and peace
have nothing to do with them,
secure in their homes
with well-stocked kitchens,
their children safe
in schools with locked doors.

Who is my neighbor?
Who is my brother or sister?
Questions as ancient
as Cain and Abel,
confined within church walls.

Still, a faithful few
go forth,
march,
chant,
pray,
demand justice,
give shelter,
        food,
        clothing,
        sanctuary,
dare to be Christian
and American.

Note:  Thanks to Sappho’s Circle and the Grapevine Group for their help with this poem. I decided to share it here as it is related to current events and doesn’t have a long shelf life.

More on refugees

I am very grateful for all the judges who have heard various cases on the administration immigration/refugee/travel ban. Their rulings have resulted in a stay on implementation, so refugees and visa holders are once again able to enter the United States, having already completed visa requirements, which, in the case of refugees, are extensive, taking 18 to 24 months to complete, after having gone through initial United Nations resettlement clearance.

I was heartened by our church service this morning. As it happens, our gospel readings in recent weeks have come from the Sermon on the Mount. Last week, we heard the Beatitudes; this week, we heard about not hiding our light under a bushel, but letting it shine for all to see. The hymns, which were chosen weeks ago to accord with the readings, were striking about all finding “a rightful place.” Given the refugee crisis, I was especially glad to sing this text from “Christ, Be Our Light” by Bernadette Farrell (published by OCP, 1993, 2011):

Longing for shelter, many are homeless.
Longing for warmth, many are cold.
Make us your building, sheltering others,
walls made of living stone.

Many the gifts, many the people,
many the hearts that yearn to belong.
Let us be servants to one another,
making your kingdom come.

Our regular pastor was ill, so a priest from another area parish came to say Mass. In his homily, he directly asked the President to look again at the refugee situation and told us that our bishop in Syracuse was also dedicating a Mass this morning in solidarity with refugees and exiles. There was a statement from the Bishop in our church bulletin, denouncing the executive order on refugees as un-Christian and un-American.

(Of course, if I were a deacon preaching today, I would have gone further into other encroachments on human rights that fly in the face of social justice, but that is a much too long and complicated story for a blog.)

I realize that we are in for more difficulties with DT’s executive orders and appointments and goals and plans, but the outpouring of people from all faiths, backgrounds, and parts of the country standing up for our Constitution and our moral and ethical values gives us strength to serve and protect one another, especially the most vulnerable.

Refugees definitely fall into the category of most vulnerable. The Syracuse diocese looks forward to welcoming the 220 refugees initially affected by the executive order as soon as new travel arrangements can be made. Other parts of the country are preparing to welcome thousands more.

We are living out the mission to which we are called by our country and by our convictions.

Immigration in the US and the world

Immigration issues have been in the news in the United States for the last several years. The current system is outdated and cumbersome and the last several presidents and some prominent members of Congress have worked on comprehensive reform packages.  In the summer of 2013, the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill with a strong bipartisan majority, but the House refused to take it up and the rhetoric against reform has escalated.

Some of the Republican presidential candidates have been trying to outdo each other in their vehemence against undocumented immigrants, even going so far as to threaten denying birthright citizenship to babies born in the United States. There are also proposals to build walls on both the US-Mexico and US-Canada borders, disregarding the fact that many currently undocumented people reached the US by air or were documented at the time of their arrival or were trafficked into the country or are refugees.

The real solution lies in comprehensive immigration reform with an earned path to citizenship for those who want to remain permanently and work visas for those who want to stay only for a limited amount of time. There also needs to be a better process for applying for visas that takes human needs into account, such as family unity and protection from violence and persecution. Why should someone fleeing Cuba be admitted while someone fleeing more dangerous conditions in El Salvador is not?

Adding to the picture is the current crisis in Europe regarding refugees from the war in Syria and Iraq and other unrest in the Middle East and northern Africa. Desperate people are taking to overcrowded and dangerous boats and rafts or are traveling overland to try to reach safety in Europe. While some countries, especially Germany, are being welcoming, others, such as Hungary, are denying safe transit through their countries.

It’s horrifying.

Part of my upbringing as a Christian is that one should welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and treat every person with respect.  I live in a country where the the vast majority of the population either are immigrants or their descendants and which often touts the strengths that our diversity lends to our democracy. (I also know our history and that our country has behaved unconscionably in dealing with the First Nations, those who were trafficked or enslaved, and various ethnic groups, including the Japanese-Americans who were imprisoned during world War II. None of this negates our current responsibilities toward those in need of refuge.)

I believe that all the nations need to work together to relieve the suffering of those displaced by violence and economic disruption. Some may be looking for permanent re-settlement in a new country, while others may need a safe place for a few years in hope that they can return to their country of origin. The United States, as one of the richest countries in the world, needs to do its part to help, accepting many more than the 10,000 places offered if more refugees wish to live here and offering financial and logistical aid to help in caring for refugees while they are being processed to go to their final destinations.

I know that many will argue that we can’t afford it, but we can. It’s all a matter of priorities. The United States spends huge amounts of money on our military, including weaponry and equipment that the military leaders don’t want or need. Billions more dollars could be spent on human needs programs both at home and abroad if military spending is brought in line with what is truly needed rather than what is embarked upon due to fear or pork-barrel politics. The tax code also is in need of major revision, re-instituting a more progressive tax system for both individuals and corporations, closing loopholes, eliminating tax havens, lowering taxes on the lower earners and increasing rates for high earners.

There is a lot to do. Enough with the grandstanding and fear-mongering. It’s time to get to work to address immigration in a comprehensive way.

watch your language

I continue to watch in horror the coverage of the situation with so many children from Central America coming into the US. I am distressed by those who have no sympathy for their plight and refuse to welcome them, even for a short time, in their communities.

It pains me to hear these children – and the adults who are in the same situation – termed “illegal immigrants,” “illegal migrants,” or just plain “illegals.”

All of the children and many of the adults are actually refugees, fleeing from failed states, violence, hunger, drug gangs, crime, and a level of poverty that most from the US cannot even imagine.

The United States, Canada, European countries, and any country that borders another where there is war or famine know what it is like to offer help to refugees. The US routinely urges other countries to accept refugees fleeing war, persecution, violence, failed states, starvation, and other dire situations.  The US continues to accept and re-settle refugees in the US, sometimes temporarily, but often permanently.

Many US citizens, myself included, are descended from those who came to the United States fleeing war and famine. That the war was World War I and the famine was the potato blight in Ireland – itself set in motion by British politics – does not change the basic fact that my forebearers arrived here because they were fleeing threats in their countries.

I know that my Irish and Italian ancestors faced discrimination when they arrived here. Many did not want to welcome these newcomers, despite Emma Lazarus’s words of hope enshrined on the Statue of Liberty. (My Irish ancestors would not have seen them, but my Italian ones who arrived after the completion of the Statue of Liberty may have.)

It’s true that the US immigration system was different in those days. It’s also true that our current system has not been functional for decades, but Congress has not been able to muster the will to reform it, despite many plans and bills and speeches and the urging from a range of people from the last several presidents on down to advocates ministering to those living and working in the shadows across the country.

I believe it is our duty as human beings and as a democracy to offer refuge to those in need in our own hemisphere, especially those who have survived a perilous journey to seek safety and often family members already here in the US. Refugees should be welcomed, fed, and kept safe, while family members or sponsors are located and refugee status documents are completed.

We should also do what we can through the State Department to help failed states transform to functional ones, enabling refugees to return to a safe home and community, if they choose.

Meanwhile, it is our moral obligation to care for these refugees. I am ashamed that some want to block entrance to the United States to others in such desperate circumstances.

Postscript:  While I am not near the Southern border where the current crisis is occurring, I do live in an area that has been an official re-settlement area for refugees for decades.