If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place… I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever”. – Jeremiah 7: 5-7 NIV 1984
There is a heavy sense of urgency. In the church-centered meeting I attend, everyone means well and wants to help in some way. The threat of deportation facing thousands of undocumented immigrants is the impetus for the meeting, so that providing sanctuary is the goal. But there is (frankly, unexpected here in the Bay Area) a political divide, with a small minority dismayed at the anti-Trump atmosphere, so it’s resolved to avoid any political or divisive comments. Even the word “sanctuary” is felt to be too evocative of previous conflicts in the 1980’s, so the effort will be labeled “hospitality” instead. Then some feel “illegal immigrant” should be changed to all immigrants, and it is further suggested to change our goal to helping all those in need. But wouldn’t that dilute the effort, if we lose sight of the risk of deportation- our impetus, after all? And what about nonviolence, when an immigrant is rounded up on a farm without due process, and a rapid-response volunteer is called upon to assist? Where to draw the line: video the arrest? Form a human chain? Shoving and fistfights? Will there be training on how to handle confrontations? Someone points out that demonstrations should not break the law; individuals are free to practice civil disobedience, but the church should not be involved in illegal activities. Where have others drawn the line? Best practices? Are there outcome measures, once we define our goal (becoming foggier by the minute)? And so goes the discussion: clearly, it’s complicated! And it’s all important, all reasonable, but we need to know where to begin (see my earlier post on this blog, Show Me Your Papers, Old Man).
I want to mention a local organization, the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, which coordinates Nuevo Esperanza. In collaboration with faith and community groups, this initiative provides resources and practical assistance to immigrants, along with friendship and moral support. Their address is 1814 Franklin Street, #325, Oakland, CA 94612. Our church group will try to learn from their experience, which should be better than re-inventing the wheel.