Through the Prism of Nonviolence
Nukewatch Quarterly Spring 2016
By John Heid
…you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.
no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under your feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into your neck…
—Excerpted from “Home” by Warsan Shire
The sign beside our front door reads in black and white: “US Border Patrol: Do Not Enter Without A Lawful Search Warrant.” Who knows how effective it really is? After all, the majority of house raids are carried out by Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) and most raids happen in the dark of night by its armed, aggressive agents who jackboot their way into homes forcibly removing mothers and children alike in handcuffs. The sign presents a minor legal hurdle, if that. Still, I dusted it off on Christmas morning.
The night before, the White House had announced that raids to deport Central American women and children would begin in January. A few days later, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced: “Our borders are not open to illegal immigration. If you come here illegally, we will send you back consistent with our laws and values.”
Laws and values? Who’s values and what laws sanction nighttime raids on families? The policy and strategy of house raids runs roughshod over the rule of law, let alone ethics. Not since “Operation Return to Sender” in 2006, has such a tidal wave of shock washed over immigrant communities in the US. Around the country, day-laborers vanished from worker centers before New Year’s. English-as-a-second-language classrooms witnessed an abrupt drop in attendance. Grocery stores and streets in Latino/a neighborhoods became ghostly quiet.
Within a week, over 100 people—families and children—were rounded up in Georgia, Texas and North Carolina, and 77 were summarily deported. The Deportation Defense Hotline [1-844-363-1423] of United We Dream received 316 calls reporting ICE activity by mid-January.
On January 4, the Dallas Morning Star reported, “ICE focuses its enforcement resources on individuals who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security.” Yes, at-risk mothers and their children in the southeastern US are now deemed a threat to national security.
Who are these people that pose such a formidable risk? And why are they fleeing their ancestral lands in the first place? The poet Warsan Shire writes: “No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.” Why then are these families not recognized as refugees seeking asylum?
Thich Nhat Hahn, the Buddhist monk, poet and refugee, says that we must call things by their true names. It is critical to recognize the circumstances that people are fleeing for what they really are: torture, rape, kidnapping and murder—systemic violence. Only then can we understand the circumstances, if not the root causes, of the forced dislocation the world has witnessed in the last two years. International observers report levels of violence in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador not seen since the 1980s.
The Obama Administration, which has deported more than two million people in seven years, says its deportation strategy prioritizes those who have come to the US since May of 2014, and have exhausted all formal avenues for legal status here. It is noteworthy that nearly 80 percent of the targeted families do not have attorneys. Most families coming into the US seeking asylum have a limited understanding of their legal obligations, let alone the complicated immigration process. Many have been pressured by government officials into signing documents without access to counsel. The court process that people are hustled through is nicknamed “the rocket docket” because it is so rapid that there is little time for people to find legal assistance and to compile the evidence required to substantiate their asylum request. It is frontier justice on crack.
Casa Mariposa, our community near downtown Tucson, has seen hundreds of women and children come through the front door over the past couple years (see the Fall 2014 Quarterly). The stories we have heard are as painful as they are consistent. People are fleeing direct, personal violence. These families are seeking safety, refuge, asylum. They grieve the loss of their loved ones and their homeland.
The house raids must stop. Entirely. Their use is a stab to the heart of civil society. The tactic reawakens the ghosts of not-so-distant atrocities that still scar the face of humanity. We cannot be silent. Nor can we wait for our government to find its moral compass. While we employ the avenues of education, petition, vigil and legislation, we must also pursue more immediate measures to address the acute severity of this humanitarian crisis. The raids are happening now.
United We Dream is among the humanitarian organizations on the front line in this crisis. Managing Director Cristina Jimenez reports: “We are exposing where Obama’s immigration agents are, what they are doing and we are ensuring that our community knows what to do. The days when immigration agents can conduct their raids in anonymity are over. Everywhere they go they will find a child with a camera and everywhere they go they will find a mother who knows her rights.” This struggle will be a long one. People will not abide injustice lying down.
Old, familiar allies are rising as well. Pastor Allison Harrington of Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, where the 1980s Sanctuary movement gained traction, said in response to the raids: “We feel as we are once again living through a nightmare all too familiar to us.” Harrington’s church and other faith communities have resurrected the Sanctuary Movement. Today over 300 churches in more than 30 states are considering sanctuary. These efforts rekindle the memory of a banner that hung in a church sanctuary in the 1980s. It read: “When they come for the innocent without walking over your body, cursed be your life and your religion.” ICE agents will have to walk over some bodies because communities are taking their backs away from the wall and putting them in front of the church doors. At Southside Presbyterian, there’s no need for a sign like the one that hangs on our front porch.
How far would any of us walk to find safety for our children? Where will we stand as our government raids the homes of immigrant families and deports them back to what poet Warsan Shire calls the “mouth of a shark?”
—John Heid lives and works at the Casa Mariposa Community in Tucson, Arizona.