Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Immigration and Border Resource Update

Greetings OnFire bloggers and readers.

It's been a few weeks since the OnFire team returned from its trip to the US-Mexico border. There are now five blog entries posted (in November and December) with summaries and reflections from the trip.

In addition, I wanted to share some useful resources that have popped up over the past month or so. Take a look, comment and pass them on. If you're interested in writing an entry for this blog, contact Thanks!

Health care: Catholic Bishop John Wester discusses the benefits of including undocumented immigrants in health care reform in this article from Politics Daily.

Border wall: PBS recently did a 12-minute segment on the US border fence. This particular piece examines the effects of the wall on private landowners in the US, detailing the "selection process" for where the fence does and does not go. It also discusses the lack of government oversight of the private companies involved in creating and building border security technology.

Family detention: Earlier this year, the OnFire blog posted a few entries on family detention, including a close look at the T. Don Hutto family detention center in Texas. Since then, the center has been modified to house only female inmates (undocumented persons), but immigrant family detention continues under the Obama Administration, highlighted in this recent article by Lily Keber.

Great immigration blog: The Immigration Impact blog is a great resource from the Immigration Policy Center. Updated daily, the blog contains brief posts on immigration policy and its effects both on a national level and in local communities. According to the website, "Immigration Impact was launched to help shape and develop a rational national conversation on immigration that shifts the terms of the debate towards achieving workable and effective comprehensive policy reform." You can subscribe to the blog and/or the Immigration Policy Center here.

Monday, December 7, 2009

On parking lots, offices, shelters and vineyards

It’s a cold and rainy November morning. I’m up as usual at 6:30 a.m., out the door shortly after 8:00. Overnight, a wintry chill has moved in. Though I’m dressed warmly, my un-gloved hands are numb before I’m halfway to the Metro station. I can’t very well get to my pockets as I manage an umbrella in one hand and my lunch in the other—leftovers from last night’s dinner. On this near-icy day I’ll be able to enjoy a warm midday meal of spaghetti and meatballs—comfort food, in the psychological sense. Physically, I’ll be plenty comfortable at my desk in a heated office, sitting in a cushioned swivel chair with lumbar support. Comfort food for what discomfort?

At the same moment that I’m becoming conscious of my numbing fingertips, my eyes fall upon three figures in the distance. Two, like me, are huddled under umbrellas. The one in the center has his hands in the pocket of a hooded gray jacket and is shuffling back and forth in front of the Home Depot sign. Like me, these men are halfway to work; unlike me, they don’t know where they’re going, if anywhere. Their job “security” involves waiting in a parking lot, hoping that someone will need a hand with a home improvement project they’re tackling this Veterans’ Day.

As I continue on my way to the Metro, the parable of the laborers in the vineyard comes to mind for the hundredth time since moving to this Washington, D.C. neighborhood. How I long to be able to come home on a day like today and play the role of the compassionate owner—rewarding a full day’s wages to all of those seeking work. My head tells me that such charity is unsustainable, that what needs to be addressed and dismantled are the systems of injustice that allow this 2,000-year-old parable to have contemporary relevance. It is for that very reason that I’ve been so vocal in promoting immigration reform, health care reform, and an end to wage theft. But in this moment my righteous anger falls to the wayside. My heart breaks as I sense what can only be a small fraction of their vulnerability, a feeling that echoes an experience I had two weeks earlier in a completely different world.

2,500 miles from my northeast D.C. home lies the once-sleepy town of Altar, Mexico. The mass migration occurring over the past twenty-five years has brought a whirl of activity to the area. People from throughout Central America are passing through; some are on their first journey to the United States, but for many, the trek through the desert has become all too commonplace. During our visit* to Altar, I spent the night at a small migrant shelter run by a Catholic congregation. For no cost, sojourners can get a warm supper, a place to sleep and bathe, a change of clothes if need be, and a warm breakfast for up to three nights, though extensions are granted under extenuating circumstances.

Those seeking refuge at CCAMYN (Centre Comunitario de Atención al Migrante y Necesitado, or the Attention Center for Migrants and those in Need), however, are rarely first-time travelers. Most have already been deported from the United States—some multiple times over—and know about the shelter only because it’s not their first time traveling through the region. Migrants on their first journey are more likely to seek assistance from coyotes, guides who will see them at least part of the way to the border, but who are also likely to exploit, rob, or even physically harm the migrants—who often spend nearly all, if not everything, they have on the journey. In many cases, migrants cannot afford to pay the full price of a coyote, and must agree to pay off the debt for years to come, once they’ve crossed the border.

During dinner at CCAMYN, I found myself sitting next to Juan. He couldn’t have been that much older than I am, but the thousands of miles separating our birthplaces have taken their toll. I’ve spent the past five years on the move—mostly traveling to, from and within Europe—accessing countless destinations with the click of a mouse. Juan has spent the better part of the last ten years trying repeatedly to reach my place of departure. Temporary success has been his at least a dozen times, but that night he was on the road again. He has family in the States now, and they’re there “legally.” But he cannot risk seeing his own nieces out of fear that his sister might be charged with “harboring.” His hope is to cross and lay low for a few months; maybe then he can figure out a way to spend Christmas with the only family he has.

Juan was the first to push back from the large table where about thirty of us had eaten. The inches between us became miles again, as he embarked—under the cover of darkness—on a journey I’d have no trouble making in broad daylight two days later. Neither would I have any trouble boarding a plane to fly me back across the country to our nation’s capital.

Weeks have passed since I spent a night on CCAMYN’s tile floor. Back in the office, I heat up my leftovers and recline in my chair, watching the rain. I wonder where Juan is, whether the laborers have landed a job today, when the policymakers in the buildings outside my window will respond to the widespread, highly-organized advocacy efforts surrounding immigration reform. I wonder if members of my own family, congregation, and circle of friends will be ready to hear the stories of my trip to the border without writing me off for being “partisan,” or naïve to the “complexities” surrounding the situation. But what is so complicated about the desire of parents to feed their children, of young adults to seek a better life for themselves, of people of faith to advocate for those on the margins and in the shadows?

I put down my empty dish and sink answerless into my chair. It’s not as if these questions haven’t entered into the debate before, so what is to be done? I remember the feeling that rose in my chest as I observed the day laborers that morning: the horrific heartbreak, the longing for an outpouring of compassion, the urgency for justice to be realized on earth. But a glance at my inbox tells me that I’m not the only one experiencing this urgency. Articles, reports, action alerts, prayer requests, invitations to conference calls and prayer vigils—a whole movement is at my fingertips. I push back my plate, sit up, roll in my chair, and reach for the mouse, returning to the vineyard where new laborers are always welcome.

*In late October I traveled with a 10-member OnFire team to the US-Mexico border. We participated in a 3-day border justice immersion experience through the popular education organization BorderLinks. OnFire is a network of young adults within the Methodist Federation for Social Action, a national grassroots organization that promotes social justice in and beyond the United Methodist Church.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Much to Learn

I recently participated in a delegation with MFSA. We traveled to
Nogales, Mexico, with a border immersion program called BorderLinks.
Glancing over the schedule, I noticed our first stop was a two-hour
visit with high school students in Nogales, Sonora (Mexico). This
brief visit seemed to pale in comparison to visiting a migrant
shelter, conversing with migrants at the shelter or seeing the wall
that divides Mexico and the U.S. I was skeptical about how valuable
it would be to spend two hours conversing with local high school
students. Reflecting on the trip, however, the time spent with the
high school students was the highlight of my experience.

Our delegation of nine split into eight groups with two or three
Mexican high school students in each group. The groups were given
some markers and a large sheet of paper. We were asked to sketch our
response to three questions: (1) what are the root causes of migration
(2) what are the effects of migration and (3) what can be done to
improve the current situation. I was shocked at how articulately the
students responded to the questions. As we began to discuss the
questions, I realized that I had so much to learn from the students.

The lives of these sixteen and seventeen year old students represent
the reality of a border town. They are witnesses to death as a result
of migration. They are witnesses of the wall. They are witnesses of
families divided by the border. They are witnesses of death as a
result of narcotrafficking. They are witnesses of border violence.
The lives of these sixteen and seventeen year old students represent
the reality of a border town—and we have much to learn about this

Friday, November 20, 2009

Christmas Letter from Mallory

The following was written by OnFire trip participant, Mallory Naake, to her home congregation for their December newsletter.

Dear friends -

The Christmas season is a time when we celebrate and reflect on God’s greatest gift to us. I want to share with you several glimpses from a recent experience that sparked me to think about the gift of Jesus. What does his life represent for me and how do I explore the challenge of being Christian at Christmas?

At the end of October I had the opportunity to travel with eight other United Methodist young adults on a US/Mexico border education delegation with BorderLinks. I signed up for the trip to do some research for the Sierra Service Project Mexico program. As it always seems with these programs, I gained so much more.

The first night we traveled two hours southwest of the Tucson/Nogales border to the small town of Altar. Once a struggling cow town, Altar is now the destination for thousands of migrants from all over Mexico, Central America and beyond. Here, the travelers make contact with guides, “coyotes”, who make promises and charge large amounts of money to transport the migrants in packed vans to the border, then by foot once in the US.

Altar is also home to the Attention Center for Migrants and those in Need (CCAMYN), a Catholic organization that houses and feeds migrants. The volunteers give migrants - many of whom have been taken advantage of by coyotes – a safe place to stay and a warm meal. They also give advice about the dangers of the desert and advise migrants to watch out for each other. Many of their clients are also those who have just been deported and have no money.

During dinner at CCAMYN, we met a family with a two year old daughter who were on their way back from Florida, an eighteen year old boy attempting to cross the border on his own, two friends who were attempting to cross the border that night, and others. Many of the 25 or so guests had tried to cross the border multiple times. I felt blessed we could share a meal and conversation with these migrants. They could have a lot of reasons to be angry with us or not want to talk with us, but there was no animosity at all.

One volunteer at CCAMYN told us that the motivation behind keeping this shelter going was simple, but obvious to us as Christians. Matthew 25: 35 – 40: and Jesus said to them, “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me…Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

On multiple occasions during this two day trip we heard the same thing – “It is better to die in the struggle than die of hunger”. Die of hunger? I can’t imagine this dire struggle. To be in a position of choosing to let your family slowly die of starvation, or to make a dangerous trek on train cars, in tightly packed vans, past men with guns who absolutely hate you, through deserts filled with predators - both animal and human - in the hot sun or freezing cold to a place where you do not feel welcome, with your family far way. I can hardly call this a choice.

So what does this mean for me during this time when we celebrate the birth of the most generous man in our history? For me, it seems to always return to the drive and desire I have to live my life through love and simple acts of service toward my fellow brothers and sisters. During this Christmas season, we should all consider: how can we, as Christians, replace ignorance with education, replace fear with compassion, and break down walls and borders to truly love our neighbor?

In Christ,


Tuesday, November 10, 2009


The brilliant color throughout the cultural center to celebrate El Día de los Muertos certainly clashed with my middle-class, white USAmerican understanding of death. My mother has taught me to think of funerals as a celebration of life, but the reality of drab, icy funeral homes did not reflect this idea of celebration. Skeletons dressed to the nines, colorful paper strung from the ceilings, altars lovingly decorated. But here, to encounter death with such vibrancy seems the only way to cope with living on the border. For so many people in Nogales, Sonore, Mexico and Arizona, USA, living on the border is a constant encounter with death.

We met with a group of high schoolers and introduced ourselves by going around in a circle saying our names and what the word border/frontera meant to us. As USAmericans, we spoke of separation, of walls, of discrimination. Certainly true, but also in our cases very abstract words. For the Mexican high school students--- fourteen, fifteen, sixteen year olds--- the word frontera means death. A few said that the border meant “my life” or “culture” but overwhelmingly, “death.” The border is a violence--- a physical, emotional, spiritual violence.

We journeyed to Altar, a town that for many is the beginning of the final leg of the journey to the USA, the place where guides are contacted and preparations are made to cross the desert. Here, we stayed at a migrant shelter. Before dinner, we shared songs to welcome tired souls as people came in. We met Pedro, a man in Altar looking for money to buy a prosthetic leg as his old prosthetic was splitting. He said he needed the leg so he could work harder. We met José, an eighteen year old, small, quiet, who sang softly along with us even when he didn't know the words. We met Juan, who came for dinner but did not stay the night as he was going to begin to cross the desert that night. He told us he had been deported fifteen times. What kind of desperation is it that someone who had been deported fifteen times would be getting ready to again cross the desert?

And then, of course, there is the wall, cutting through Nogales. Lupe Serrano, who had installed many pieces of art along the wall, told us that it was illegal to put art on the side of the wall facing the U.S.A. I was immediately struck by this having visited the remnants of the wall in Berlin last year. On the western side of the Berlin wall, graffiti calling for the destruction of the wall. On the east, nothing. The Soviet guards did not permit people to get that close to the eastern side of the wall alive for fear of escape. And the U.S.A. was so adamant about tearing down the wall; forgetfulness is a blessing for governments who are more concerned about profits than people.

And so we come to our part as characters in this story. Ours is a ministry of making present by naming. When confronted with the question “Now what?” our response is to make present by naming. Our response is to speak of the high school students, of migrants like José, Pedro, and Juan, of justice workers like Ceci and Susanna who led us on this trip. To speak of that pain of families ripped from their lands, of communities divided by the horror of a Wall. And to name ourselves and our governments as culprits. To say human beings deserve better than the choice to die in the struggle or to die of hunger. Deserve better than to leave their home to become expendable labor in a rich [white] society. We must educate ourselves. We must act to educate our communities, to reach out to immigrants outside of our communities, to demand change from our government. In the words of the women who volunteer at the migrant shelter in Altar, we must bring the gospel to life.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Tell Them (in response to the question, what do we say when we go back?)

Tell them:
what you are hearing

Tell them:
Migrants are not criminals
nor are they terrorists

Tell them:
They are people - struggling for a better life.

Tell them:
Their crime is trying to work.

Tell them:
You cannot quell this tide.

Tell them
the same thing that the migrants told us
at the other border
the Mexico-Guatemala border
before they grabbed hold of the train
when we told them that they would suffer and what could happen and the risks

They told us:

"Better to die in the struggle than die of hunger."

and we're back

From October 28-31, 10 OnFire young adults participated in a border justice immersion trip with BorderLinks. The entries that follow are our shared experiences, emotions, pictures and messages to the world. We invite you to enter into conversation with us through your comments and responses.

Peace for the journey,
the OnFire team

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

No More Deaths

Here are some images and stories to consider as we prepare for the upcoming trip to BorderLinks next month. There are still a few spots left for the trip if you're interested. See this post for more information and contact Jennifer Mihok if you'd like to participate.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

No one should die for the lack of a cup of water

Note: This letter was written by Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) member Tracy Hughes to her supporters on 26 July 2009. It has been edited for length. For more information on the CPT Borderlands project, please visit

BORDERLANDS LETTER: “No one should die for the lack of a cup of water”

by Tracy Hughes

Hello Everyone,

I just got back from spending the weekend at the No More Deaths desert camp. Wow, the desert is an endless expanse of beauty—mountains, rock formations, cactus, birds, animals, a lot of cows, dry riverbeds, and right now green trees and other vegetation. It is hard…to know that people may be dying in the same moments you are taking in the beauty of God's creation…

My first morning out I went on a water drop to Josselina's Shrine. Josselina was a fourteen-year-old Salvadoran girl whose body was found last year in February by some No More Deaths (NMD) folks. She got sick or injured and could not go any further. She sent her younger brother on with the group they had traveled with, hoping that he could send someone back for help after he reached his destination. People from the area searched for her for two weeks. One day a group from NMD took a short cut between two migrant trails and came upon her body. Her family from the USA and some from El Salvador came for her memorial service and to build the altar at the location where her body was found.

Last week, with a group of about thirty teens from Phoenix, we made prayer altars out of empty plastic water gallon jugs found in the desert along these trails. We wrote the names of some of the people who have died in the desert since October 2008. While at Josselina’s altar, I felt close the Phoenix teens, who were near Josselina's age. I felt close to my nieces and nephews. I also felt connected to the thousands of people who are fleeing their homes and communities around the world—forced out by war, hunger, disease, and poverty…

We were out in the desert only from 8:00 am until 12:00 noon putting out water… I felt exhausted and even in pain because of the intense sun and heat and the workout my body was getting. I know that I have experienced only a drop in the bucket of suffering that women, men, and children who walk migrant trails for days experience

As I reflect on Josselina's shrine and how bad I felt on my short hike, I continue to pray for the migrants in the desert today and those who will still be there tomorrow or who are down in Mexico getting ready to continue their journey to the USA. I pray for the family of Julio, a fourteen-year-old boy from Guatemala whose body was found on July 19. I ask that each of you take a moment to pray for the protection of these travelers, and to pray they have water and food and will find more along the trails to alleviate their suffering and possibly help them avoid the harsh death that comes with dehydration and heat. No one should die for the lack of a cup of water.


Tracy Hughes

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Join us this October on the US-Mexico border

Greetings OnFire members! I’m writing today to inform you of an exciting opportunity to travel to the US-Mexico border for a short immersion trip from October 28-31st. We will be working with BorderLinks for an educational and interactive experience at the border: learning, sharing and serving to bring about positive social transformation in the areas of migration and immigration.

We will meet in Phoenix and drive to the BorderLinks facility in Tuscon, AZ, on Wednesday, October 28th. BorderLinks will prepare an itinerary for us that will include activities such as visiting and serving at aid stations, hearing from persons working to document human rights abuses, visiting with immigrants and their families, learning about labor practices in factories along the border, advocacy training in migrant rights.

The cost of the programming including lodging and food is $200, plus the cost of travel to and from Phoenix. [OnFire will provide transportation from Phoenix to Tuscon, where BorderLinks is located.] This includes a $100 scholarship from the Methodist Federation for Social Action. We will gladly help interested young people with fund raising ideas.

We would like to have a committed group of 10-13 people attend this event. The trip is open to any and all young adults who are interested in connecting their faith to issues of immigration and border justice. If you’re interested, please contact Jennifer Mihok at for more information and registration materials.

Here’s a bit more information about BorderLinks:

BorderLinks is an international leader in experiential education that raises awareness and inspires action around global political economics. BorderLinks grew out of the Sanctuary Movement in the 1980’s when faith communities, universities, and other organizations rallied to advocate on behalf of thousands of refugees fleeing persecution in Central America. Today, BorderLinks’ educational programs focus on issues of immigration, community formation, development, and social justice in the borderlands between Mexico, the U.S and beyond. As a bi-national organization, BorderLinks brings people together to build bridges of solidarity across North and Latin American borders and promote intercultural understanding and respect. For more information, visit

Monday, June 29, 2009

Support the Dream Act

As the United States moves (we sure hope!) ever closer to enacting comprehensive immigration reform, there are opportunities NOW to support some smaller pieces of legislation that would get Congress moving in the right direction. The DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act is a bipartisan proposal, which would create a pathway to citizenship for thousands of young students who were brought to the United States as children. Current immigration law puts an educated class of promising students at risk for deportation to their "home countries," places most of these students hardly know.

Watch this video to hear the stories of dream students:

The DREAM Act has four basic requirements which are:

  • The student entered the country before the age of 16;
  • The student has graduated high school or obtained a GED;
  • The student is of good moral character (no criminal record); and
  • The student has been present continuously in the US for at least five years.

Under the DREAM Act, those who meet the criteria will have six years within which to obtain a two-year college degree or complete two-years of military service. Upon completion the individual will be given the opportunity to adjust his or her conditional permanent residency to U.S. citizenship.

There is no question that comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) is necessary to bring all undocumented persons out of the shadows. However, the DREAM Act is a step in the right direction.

Here are some actions you can take:

Click here to sign a petition asking President Obama and Congress to pass the DREAM Act.

Click here to help stop the deportation of Dream Student, Walter Lara.

Watch and share this video with others. Dream students dare to come out of the shadows and share their stories at a special graduation ceremony.

Rescheduling BorderLinks Trip

Happy Summer, everyone.

Quick update on the BorderLinks trip. Due to a lack of interest, we had to cancel the delegation we planned for July 29-August 1st. We are trying to find a new date that works for more people. If you'd like to come, please reply to me on this thread letting me know which of these three dates would be good for you:

August 5-8
August 12-15
October 28-31

We need to have 10 people in order to make the trip. Cost is $200 + travel (that includes an MFSA scholarship of $100!).

The trip will be an educational and interactive experience on the US(Arizona)-Mexico border: learning, sharing and serving to bring about positive social transformation in the areas of migration and immigration.

For more info on BorderLinks, visit or check out the info in the previous post.
Click here to see a sample itinerary of a BorderLinks delegation.

If you're interested in joining us or for more information on the trip, contact

Monday, June 1, 2009

Take Action for Families on International Children's Day!

Greetings, OnFire members. Today is International Children's Day and along with the Interfaith Immigration Coalition, we want to call Congress to let them know that family unity is intrinsic to our faith and values. It's easy!

1. Find your Representative and 2 Senators online here:

2. Make 3 calls to Capitol Hill. Call your Representative and both of your Senators. Call the Capitol Hill switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask for your Representative and both of your Senators. To each office, you can say something like: "Hi, my name is [name] and I’m from [city, state]. As a United Methodist, I believe family is the bedrock of American society. Please keep families together by supporting the Senate bill, Reuniting Families Act."

3. After you call, make a post on the OnFire wall to let us know that you did. And if you missed International Children's Day, that's ok! Our goal for the week is 20 calls!

CALLING CONGRESS IS NOT INTIMIDATING. You will speak with someone in your Congressperson's office who will make note of your support for the Reuniting Families Act, and that's it! Unless, of course, you'd like to share more.

Here are some links for more info:

Reuniting Families Act

Interfaith Immigration Coalition

News: Teens deported on way to school

OnFire blog:

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Quick Devotion #2: Detention


"When I was a stranger, You welcomed me... and when I was in jail, You visited me." (Matthew 25:35-36)

Immigrants are detained in inhumane conditions.
300,000 individuals--including asylum seekers, young children, and families--are detained each year in immigration detention facilities without access to proper medical treatment, legal counsel, religious services, etc.

Loving God, just as you watched over Joseph in Egypt, the disciples in Jerusalem, and Paul and Silas in Philippi, protect those we have unjustly criminalized. We pray for the children living behind closed doors without access to schools and communities where they can grow healthily. We pray for families separated due to detention, for those in need of health care, for those dependent on the support of a detained person. And we pray for the wisdom and boldness to speak and advocate effectively on their behalf, as they cannot.

Other Resources on Immigration Detention
US Detention of Asylum Seekers and Human Rights
Death By Detention, NY Times article
CBS Report on Detention in America
Locking Up Family Values--A study on immigrant family detention by Lutheran Immigrant and Refugee Service.

Monday, May 18, 2009

T.Don Hutto "Residential Center" Taylor, TX

This week, as a part of OnFire's immigration focus, we'll be looking at detention of immigrants and asylum-seekers. Check out this video (a 3-Part series on YouTube) from Grassroots Leadership on the T. Don Hutto facility in Taylor, TX, and visit the Grassroots site to find ways to take action on this important issue.

Part II:

Part III:

From Grassroots Leadership:
ICE holds immigrant families at the T. Don Hutto family detention center. Before the successful legal action by the ACLU in the fall of 2007, children wore prison garb, and were denied adequate schooling, health care, and recreation. Despite some important improvements made as a result of community organizing, the fight is not over. Hutto remains a medium security prison managed by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), a for-profit adult corrections company. Incarceration of infants and children cannot be allowed-- even with the "privacy curtains around toilets" mandated in the ACLU settlement.

The Department of Homeland Security must adopt humane alternatives for managing families whose immigration status is in limbo and work to incorporate alternatives which keep families intact and that do not rely on incarceration. Alternatives must recognize that these families possess equal and inalienable rights to dignified treatment as members of the larger human family.


Sign the Facebook petition to end family detention.

Write letters to the Obama Administration.


The Big Business of Family Detention, by Courtney E. Martin

The Least of These: Documentary Film on Family Detention

US Should Stop Locking Up Immigrant Kids, by Rev. John S. Rausch


"It's not criminal [...] if you run away from your country looking for peace, a place to live."
--Bahja, Asylum-seeker from Somalia
What should be a common-sense statement resonates as profound, or even controversial in our current cultural climate. And though aware of typical responses, I find myself asking anew, why is this the case? There are Biblical examples of "illegals" from Abraham to Joseph, father of Jesus--strangers seeking refuge in a foreign land. If we rarely question the divine purpose of their migrations, why, then, do we criminalize today's peace-seekers? How can we, as young people of faith, reverse the xenophobic hardening of hearts? Please share your thoughts with the community.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Quick Devotion #1: Raids

From May to August of 2009, OnFire members are organizing a movement "Welcoming the Stranger: in out midst, at the border, out of the shadows." On Wednesdays a (very) short devotion about a specific aspect of immigrant justice will be posted here. On Mondays an article or action alert will appear. In light of yesterday's anniversary of the Postville, IA raid, today's devotion focuses on immigration raids. Thanks to Church World Service for providing the framework for all devotions.


"Don't mistreat any foreigners who live in your land. Instead, treat them as well as you treat citizens and love them as much as you love yourself. Remember, you were once foreigners in the land of Egypt." (Leviticus 19: 33-34)

Raids devastate families and communities.
More than 5,000 immigrants were deported in 2008 as immigration officials entered immigrants' homes during pre-dawn hours and/or invaded their places of employment. Persons arrested in a raid are often detained with little or no chance to contact their families. Their children, many of them US citizens, are left to care for themselves without knowledge of the whereabouts of their parents. Persons allowed to return to their children under house arrest are unable to work to support their families.

Compassionate God, come into our broken midst--into our broken communities, broken families, broken and breaking hearts. We beg of your comfort for the oppressed, for those who as a result of a raid must live unjustly separated from loved ones and homes. We pray for the children, for their cries that often go unheard. We ask for forgiveness for our complicit silence, and for the strength to raise our voices when others cannot. Amen.

Other Resources on Immigration Raids
Effect of Immigration Raids on Children
Examination of the 2007 large-scale raid in New Bedford, MA.
Examination and Analysis of the 2008 raid in Van Nuys, CA.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

1-Year Anniversary of the Postville Raid

Today marks the one year anniversary of the raid in Postville, Iowa where 389 people were arrested. In Postville and in communities across the country people are standing in solidarity with Postville and calling for justice and comprehensive immigration reform. You can TAKE ACTION NOW by standing in solidarity as well by sending a letter to your representatives through the Interfaith Immigration Coalition’s website. For more information on the history and the current situation in Postville, read the summary below from Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, or check out the articles at the end of this post.

Impact of Immigration Raid on Postville
On May 12, 2008, helicopters and dozens of agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) descended upon Postville, a small Iowa town with a population just over 2,400. ICE conducted an immigration raid of the Agriprocessors plant, apprehending 389 immigrant workers, nearly 20 percent of the town’s population. ICE officials used the National Cattle Congress [click for video] in Waterloo, Iowa, to temporarily hold workers. Many workers were then transferred to detention facilities in Iowa and across the country and have since been deported from the United States. Sole caregivers among the apprehended were released from detention with electronic monitoring devices, but were prohibited from working. One year later, 24 of these caregivers and their children still rely upon charities for food, medical care, housing and financial support offered primarily through St. Bridget’s Catholic Church with the assistance of churches and groups nationwide. The faith community also supports individuals required to remain in Postville to assist as material witnesses in the federal and state criminal investigations of Agriprocessors.

The prosecutors used aggressive negotiating tactics, such as time-limited plea offers, and brought charges of aggravated felony identify theft against the workers, nearly all of whom were represented by overburdened appointed counsel. The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that the government overstepped in applying such charges.

Twelve months following the raid, devastating ripple effects continue to impact every corner of the Postville community. Hundreds of families have either been separated by deportation or have left Postville. Others remain in legal limbo, waiting for the completion of their cases. Many businesses have closed, boarding up their windows. More businesses face bankruptcy. Decreased student enrollment will likely force the Postville schools to consolidate with other school districts.

In sum, the federal government spent over $5.2 million to conduct the raid. Given the extreme hardship Postville and surrounding Iowa communities have suffered, many question whether these taxpayer funds were properly spent.

On the anniversary of the raid in Postville we are reminded that harsh enforcement measures put children at risk, divided families and drove other immigrants even farther into the shadows. The raids threw an entire community into disaster and economic peril as a result of a failure to recognize that immigrants and refugees are integral to our communities and to America’s economic, cultural, social and political fabric.

Articles & Resources:

United Methodist News Service Report

A People in Peril: Archdiocese of Dubuque on Postville Relief

Reflection on Postville by UM missionary, Jim Perdue Burke

Interfaith Vigil in Waterloo, IA

Friday, March 27, 2009

27 March: Event Update

Consider getting involved in one of the following events.

Worker Justice

10th Annual National Student Labor Week of Action to "Resist and Reclaim our Future"
We are living in a historic moment; that is what everyone around us keeps saying. But this moment’s role in history is defined by what we do within it. Many of us participated in the recent election for change but are now faced with the reality that we need further action. Budget cuts in our universities, home loss and unemployment in our families and lack of good jobs for our future after college all threaten our quality of life.

The 10th annual National Student Labor Week of Action, hosted by the Student Labor Action Project, is an opportunity to reclaim our future by mobilizing our communities. From March 27 th to April 4 th , in honor of the lives of Martin Luther King Jr and Cesar Chavez, students and workers will unite and demand:

* The passage of the Employee Free Choice Act and living wages for all campus employees
* University codes of conduct that support workers’ rights both on campus and overseas
* Development of “green jobs” that support workers in our communities and promote a healthy environment
* Access to higher education for all and the passage of the DREAM Act
* Fair wages & working conditions for the people who grow our food and harvest our crops

Check out this website for organizing materials and a grid of local actions.

Interfaith Worker Justice 2009 Leadership Summit: June 13-15 @ Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana
The summit will bring together leaders from throughout the country with an opportunity to reflect on our success, share our struggles and build our movement. IWJ has extended invitations to Ms. Hilda Solis, Secretary of Labor, and to Rev. Joshua Dubois, Director of the Office of Faith Based Initiatives and Neighborhood Partnerships, to share their vision of new opportunities for partnership. There will be a joint meeting with the National Day Labor Organizing Network (NDLON) and IWJ workers centers, along with the regular IWJ Worker Center Network meeting. Religious leaders, students and allies will join in an action to support low-wage workers in the New Orleans Area. There will also be opportunities to tour New Orleans and visit communities nearly four years since Hurricane Katrina struck.

For more information and to register click here!

Environmental Justice

"Greening Our Spirits, Greening Our World": June 15-21, 2009 @ Ghost Ranch Retreat Center in Abiquiu, NM
This course offers an in-depth week of group study and reflection on answering God’s call to care for the Earth, and a chance to re-fill your spiritual well in the mystical surroundings of Ghost Ranch. The sessions will incorporate scriptural study and eco-theology, eco-spirituality, times for contemplative and short written reflections, ideas for creation-honoring worship, and group prayer and discussion. Participants should leave feeling empowered and more equipped to help lead earthkeeping efforts in their home congregations.

Presbyterian Conservation Core Young Adult Stewards Program:
The Presbyterian Conservation Corps is looking for Eco-Steward applicants from ages 18-24 years old who demonstrate interest in church, camp, and environmental concerns. Each program, Midwest and West, will comprise of two components at different sites: 1. Eco-Stewards Training (3-4 days) and 2. Eco-Stewards Program (3-4 days). More information and the application for either of the following events can be found here.

Eco-Stewards West (July 5th-12th) will be held in collaboration between Highlands Presbyterian Camp and Retreat Center in Allenspark, Colorado and Greenwood Farm in Hardin, Montana.

Join the Presbyterian Conservation Core in the beauty of the Rocky Mountains to explore the intersections of ecology, theology, and justice during an intensive hands-on seminar at Highlands Presbyterian Camp and Retreat Center. From all around the country, participants will come together in intentional community to explore how various threads Christian thought have influenced modern American lifestyles. Furthermore, participants will work together as eco-stewards to design and build a solar project to benefit the ministry of Highlands, while being equipped with personal tools to live and share a more faithful personal lifestyle. Surrounded by the mighty majesty of the Colorado Rocky Mountains, come and be transformed by the landscape and intriguing discussion, learning to live together as a community of faith.

Venturing north from Highlands, the team will travel to Greenwood Farm in Montana. Located in a rural setting adjacent to the Crow Indian Reservation, Greenwood Farm is an experiment in simple living, sustainable building and intentional community. Building on the experience at Highlands, participants will learn and apply practical skills of sustainable building and organic gardening in the daily life of the farm. Through talking circles with community members and tribal elders, the team will explore the unique and often turbulent confluence of ecology, theology, poverty and culture that exists in the area. You're invited on this exciting journey of discovery and transformation!

Eco-Stewards Midwest (August 2nd-9th) will be held in collaboration between Stronghold Conference Center in Illinois and the Lakeview Presbyterian Church in the Chicago community.

Come explore the woodlands, meadows, and prairie of Illinois at Stronghold Retreat Center with the Presbyterian Conservation Corps, building a community of Eco-Stewards and examining eco-theology, environmental and social justice, systemic change, spirituality, lifestyle simplification, local watershed issues and consumption. The team will complete a high ropes course, explore spirituality through the labyrinth, and tour a cooperative organic farm. We will combine this team-building with classes, hands-on workshops, film discussions, and guided self-reflection as we focus on the foundations of environmental stewardship. Join us as we collaborate on a response to the environmental crisis as part of a local and global community.

The hands-on portion of the program will be held in the Lake View neighborhood of Chicago, IL where the team will design and implement an eco-project that responds to environmental justice issues facing an urban community. The group will collaborate with the Eco-Justice Task Force of Lake View Presbyterian Church and meet with local green community activists and leaders to learn about how urban neighborhoods are affected by environmental injustice and the ways that city churches can respond. Tour neighborhoods affected by urban pollution as well as the Chicago Center for Green Technology, the Lake View Action Coalition, and the Eco-Justice Collaborative. The program will conclude with a community education workshop led by the Eco-Stewards promoting awareness and collective action.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A few more resources and opportunities

Resource Update

United Methodist Resource Hub. The General Board of Discipleship has a "Resource Hub" on their Young People's Ministries page. You can search by title, author, subject or age group. You can also submit a resource that you've found helpful.

Internships and Gigs.
The (UM) Young Adult Network has an "Internships and Gigs" page. Current postings include the Ethnic Young Adult (EYA) summer internship in Washington, DC, a Honduras service opportunity for youth and young adults, and the Living Justice Seminar Program. Consider adding the site to your favorites to keep up with new opportunities!

The Bahamas Methodist Habitat. The Bahamas Conference of the Methodist Church (BCMC), in partnership with interdenominational groups, has been providing disaster relief to the Islands of the Bahamas since 1992, when Hurricane Andrew devastated many communities throughout the islands. Today, Bahamas Methodist Habitat continues these efforts and avidly seeks new ways to assist individuals and communities in need. Together people can connect real needs to real resources by sharing God’s love. BMH's goal is to do this through Disaster Relief and Sub-standard Housing Repair by offering a life changing volunteer experience that introduces a new way of living out the Christian faith.

Cutlass is the youth and young adult summer program connected to the Bahamas Methodist Habitat. The young adult summer program for this year will occur from May 9-23rd. For more information and an application, visit the BMH website.

Abolitionist Investigation Certification Summer Academy. From the Not for Sale Campaign: Held in the heart of San Francisco, The Abolitionist Summer Academy is an in depth two week training session for those desiring to become Abolitionist Investigators of modern slavery. Attendees will be educated on how to properly record, document, and map all of the various types of human trafficking through hands on education, training, and meetings with experts in the field. They will learn how to identify probable cases of human trafficking, how to properly record cases of human trafficking, and how to effectively confront slavery in supply chains. By certification, attendees will be equipped with the knowledge and tools they need to become investigators of modern slavery in their own backyards.

Upon completing the Academy, attendees will:

* Understand the various forms of human trafficking inside the United States
* Have personal experience and knowledge of how to work with victims and those at risk for trafficking
* Know how to best document cases and map human trafficking in their area
* Have an understanding of how to effectively address forced labor in supply chains
* Be able to investigate forced labor in specific product and supply chains
* Be certified as an investigator who can document cases nationally and internationally for Not For Sale

For more information, and an application form for the Academy, email:

Friday, March 13, 2009

Some Resources

Two quick items:

1. Sojourners has compiled a list of Resources for Social Change. Add them to your reading/viewing list!

2. The United Methodist Office of Deaconess and Home Missioner is hosting their Living Justice Seminar program for young adult United Methodists (between ages 20-30) from June 13-17, 2009. This year's theme is "Eradicating the Diseases of Poverty: Women, Children, and the Struggle for Wholeness," which reflects one of the current priorities of The United Methodist Church. The event will be held in New York City, with the Office covering the costs for participants. Applications are due May 1. For the application form and more information, click here.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

What to say when you don’t have anything nice to say Or Homophobia is like a mullet, it’s so last season

by Courtney Harvey

I’ve been trying to write this piece for some time now. I’ve blamed work and travel and a lack of creative energy for my tardiness but the truth of the matter is I don’t have anything nice to say. Just for the record I find the adage - if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all – to be very compelling. In fact I tried my best to channel my inner Obama and write a hopeful and persuasive article about being an ally. Perhaps it’s the hour of the evening or the fact that I am way past the original deadline but I’m disregarding that good advice and going with – sometimes the truth hurts. Consider yourself forewarned.

So why don’t I have anything nice to say? Well for starters I’m over the whole queer thing. I know that sounds callous so let me clarify. I’m not over queer folk or queer issues. To the contrary I love them like I love ice cream, the more scoops the merrier. What I am over is the debate about whether or not homosexuality is a sin, the debate over whether or not to legalize gay marriage, the debate over whether or not it’s okay for Spongebob to be more than just friends with Patrick. I’m over it. In fact, the majority of my generation is over it too. We felt the same way about the “debate” over global warming. We didn’t wait for President Bush or Fox news or the guy from the 700 Club to utter the words global warming for it to become a reality. We didn’t wait for that and we aren’t going to wait for this. Case closed, it’s okay to be gay.

I’m so over it that I couldn’t even bring myself to write a nice story about being an ally because it felt a little too much like justifying once again why I am. Why do I need to justify being an ally? Shouldn’t they have to justify why they are homophobic? Shouldn’t they have to justify why they choose to translate some parts of the Bible literally but they still eat shellfish and wear polyester-cotton blends? Shouldn’t they have to justify their slurs or hushed whispers or disapproving glances or beatings? Shouldn’t they have to justify why it’s okay to support a gay bashing culture that terrifies the parents of gay children, that shames the little boy who loves to dance, that pushes the gay teen to suicide and that impedes the transgender woman from fulfilling her call to ministry? Why do I have to convince them, isn’t more love always better than less? In fact when Christ came I’m pretty sure his central message wasn’t to love less and identify people to ostracize.

So, I’m done and many in my generation are done too. We’re done with the gay debate because it’s not our debate. We’re done with the debate because engaging it gives credence to the debate itself. We may talk about the problems of racism today but we certainly don’t debate if it’s okay to be racist. Why then should we debate if it’s okay to be homophobic? The Bible argument doesn’t fly with us so don’t waste your time on it…especially if you’re a shrimp eater. Sinner! And the argument that it’s unnatural also doesn’t work for us because we know that it happens all the time in other animals. At this point I think the remaining argument is that it makes some people feel icky. Well, mullets make me feel icky but I still support the rights of people with mullets to get married.

I’m sure at some point throughout this rant you thought to yourself that in all my angry youth I have missed the value of those gentle conversations and nudging that has brought many people to the ally side. I have not. I believe there is great value in this but I do not think that it is my particular calling. In any social movement you have those great saints who work on the movable middle, the people that may be influenced by reason or compassion to shed their prejudices and join the struggle. To these people I pay my deep respects, but there is another group of people to which I belong. They are the ones who demand a new social climate simply by refusing to tolerate the current one, refusing to accept that this is the way it should be.

I can’t tell you when the tide will turn on queer issues in the U.S. or the world but I know I have history on my side when I say it is coming. And between now and then I don’t plan to spend much time in debate. My energy will be spent strengthening our queer/ally base, supporting those coming out and working with young people as they envision a new world. And I’m going to do this with the confidence that this too shall pass. Because just as a storm always passes so too will those currently in power in the government and in the church, and when they do, we’ll be ready.

So, in the meantime, in the space between today and tomorrow, I want to leave you with these words from Henri Nouwen, may they help to carry you as many of you have carried me. All I want to say to you is “You are the Beloved,” and all I hope is that you can hear these words as spoken to you with all the tenderness and force that love can hold. My only desire is to make these words reverberate in every corner of your being—“You are the Beloved."