When I encouraged members of Wildflower Church to cross the border for their annual church service education trip, I never dreamed that we would end up detained, deported, and banned from Mexico. I am the interim minister at Wildflower Church in Austin, Texas. I have always found these person-to-person delegations energizing for justice work and profoundly moving spiritually.
It was supposed to be an easy trip, just across the border to Piedras Negras and Acuña, to talk with workers, mostly the women workers, about their experiences in the factories (the maquiladoras) that are run by multi-national corporations on the Mexican border. We felt it would inform our immigration work at home.
We first heard from the women. There is an assumption that maquiladoras women are docile, but these women had proved them wrong. Conditions such as working more than a decade for fifty cents an hour, ten hours a day in a facility with no windows and undependable sanitation organized them to change. After a ten hour day, you earned only enough for a gallon of milk.
I was particularly moved by fifty-year-old, Juan, who told us how he had grown up working on the family farm in the outdoors he loved, only to have to emigrate to the maquiladoras from Southern Mexico when farm prices were driven down after NAFTA. Now he worked just as hard, for less, without the healthy air and open skies he had loved as a young man. This he will do for the rest of his days, far from home. The aspect of NAFTA requiring fair labor practices is not only being ignored, but conditions for unions are getting worse.
After several morning visits, we went to the small meeting room of The Border Committee of Workers (CFO) to have a lunch prepared for us by our hosts. Shortly after we arrived, the building was surrounded by police with large automatic weapons and four immigration officers entered the building saying they had an “anonymous tip” about a large gathering which included foreigners. Eight of the eleven of us (the other three were Latino) were asked for our papers and told we didn’t have the correct papers and we would have to be taken down to the office to remedy the situation. Our Salvadoran-American companion told us later that this was the first time brown skin had ever been an advantage for him with police! We spent eight hours in custody during which we were asked to sign documents we couldn’t read. At first we were denied access to the consulate and later to a lawyer. At one point we were threatened with a two week stay in detention in Saltillo. We finally agreed to sign a short document saying we didn’t have a tourist card (not normally required near the border), we got finger printed, and we were deposited in El Rio, Texas with nothing but the purses we had with us. We were never given a credible reason for our deportation but headlines in the Mexican papers suggested we were political organizers. Through all our detention and the night that followed, the Mexican workers including some of their friends from the miners’ union, stood outside the building in which we were being held and then made sure we were safely across the border. Three of the eight detained were UUs from Austin.
It was clear that it was not us, but our hosts, who were the true target of this action. Multi-national corporations are crushing independent unions in Northern Mexico and this was another attempt to cut them off from friends and to intimidate both workers and allies. Most of us left Mexico truly inspired by the courage and friendship of these Mexican workers and I hope to return if and when the ban on my return is lifted. From Julia, Angelica, Javier, and many others I learned the meaning of the word corazón which means both heart and courage in Spanish. They taught us that to truly Stand on the Side of Love you need corazón and you need it for a long time. We had come to stand with them. Instead they stood with us.
If you would like to show solidarity with the workers, sign the petition online for the reinstatement of people we met who were fired for organizing.More >
Responding to the introduction of immigration reform legislation in the U.S. Senate, a broad and diverse group of more than 70 institutional investors including the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) joined together to call on Congress to take immediate action and pass commonsense immigration reform. The coalition represents $890.5 billion in assets under management on behalf of major pension funds, nonprofit organizations, faith-based investors, and socially responsible investors.
In a public letter, the group stated, “We believe comprehensive reform must be developed and implemented consistent with the human rights of all concerned, must value the integrity of families and must prevent immigrant workers—be they temporary or permanent—from being subjected to second-class employment standards.”
Regardless of our faith, I believe we all share a moral responsibility to stop the suffering caused by the current immigration policy, especially to families. As members of the investment community, we know the path to economic prosperity lies ultimately with the humane treatment of our workers.
The letter outlines the economic rationale, citing a recent study by the Congressional Budget Office which concluded that immigration reform could add as much as 1.3 percent to GDP by 2016. The coalition also notes that reform is imperative to ensuring a competitive U.S. labor force and a more prosperous economy for all Americans.
My colleague Susan Smith Makos, vice president of social responsibility for Mercy Investment Services, says of the letter, “As investors, we have a responsibility to advocate for those without a voice. Comprehensive immigration reform is a necessary step to improve conditions for those immigrants living and working in our country. Our hope is that leaders in U.S. Congress will realize the significant, positive impact that immigration reform can have not only on businesses but also on our country.”
Organizing investors to speak out for comprehensive immigration reform is a part of the UUA’s efforts to express our values through the management of our investments. As an active shareholder, the UUA uses its ownership rights to file resolutions on a range of issues including LGBTQ nondiscrimination, political spending, human rights, and sustainability. But to be effective, we must act in concert with other investors. Therefore the UUA is an active member of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, Ceres, SIF: the Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment, and the Investor Network on Climate Risk.
Together with these investors, we recognize that consideration of justice is as important to investing as risk and return.
An estimated 700,000 people are released from prison in the United States every year. Where do they all go? How do they find employment, reunite with their families and access education? Sheila Rule, founder of Think Outside the Cell Foundation, teamed with Supervising Producer / Business Development Consultant Kimberly Soenen to produce a multimedia documentary short about the experience of reentry and the stigma formerly incarcerated persons endure upon returning to society. The photography and video were produced by Ed Kashi, Ron Haviv, Jessica Dimmock, and Ashley Gilbertson.
Below, Rule shares why this issue is so personal to her and many other families across the United States.
Click here to view the trailer for The Long Shadow of Incarceration’s Stigma.
To learn more or screen the film in your community, contact Kimberly Soenen.
More than a decade ago, I was handed a small bundle of letters bound together by rubber bands and circumstances. Their contents would change the trajectory of my life.
I approached the letters with no preconceived ideas.
My years as a newspaper journalist traveling throughout the United States, Africa and Europe had shown me time and again how practicing a fundamental rule of my profession—never assume anything—could reveal deep and abiding truths about people, places and situations.
The straightforward power of the letters moved me. One came from a lawyer by profession who wrote poetry. Another was from a woman yearning for her children. A third was written by a man in search of greater spirituality. What they shared was their humanity, and an unspoken plea that they not be judged solely by their mistakes and bad choices.
These men and women were the first among scores of incarcerated people to whom I would write as a volunteer for the Riverside Church Prison Ministry in New York City. It wasn’t long before the hearts and minds laid bare in those letters inspired me to look for ways to help beyond the occasional correspondence.
It was around that time that the Prison Ministry received a letter from a man named Joseph Robinson, who was incarcerated in upstate New York. His request wasn’t unlike others; he wanted someone to correspond with. I wrote back, and thus began an exchange of letters that would ultimately lead to our marriage and to the Think Outside the Cell Foundation, a nonprofit organization of which Joe and I are co-founders.
These days, it’s not unusual for me to be confronted by raised eyebrows telegraphing this question: Why in the world would you marry a convict, an inmate, an offender? The answer is fairly simple: I didn’t marry a convict, an inmate, an offender. I married Joe, and he is all that I’ve ever hoped for in a husband. He is kind, generous, thoughtful, confident, funny, intelligent, forgiving, supportive, attentive. He provides for my soul in ways that I could not have imagined. He has a love of books and learning. He’s always striving to give his best, to be his best. He has a sense of purpose and duty; he works to give back to the community he once helped to degrade. With his own boundless potential, he seeks ways to honor the potential of the man whose life he took more than twenty years ago.
My Joe is a good man. But that is not what people typically assume about him, or about others among the millions upon millions of men and women in this nation who have ever been incarcerated. Instead, they are eternally viewed through the distorted lenses of criminalization, stigmatization and marginalization. Such distortions undergird policies that shut these men and women out of mainstream society—for the rest of their lives. From discrimination in employment, education and housing to the loss of voting rights, the stigma makes its weight felt. The human and economic costs are incalculable.
These are costs that we as a society do not have to continue to pay. When we combat the wholesale marginalization of those who live in the long shadow of prison we increase the likelihood that they will become productive members of their communities, we help to enable them to embrace their full potential, and we plant the seeds for a more just society—one in which no one bears the crippling weight of being judged solely by their mistakes and bad choices.
Sheila Rule spent more than 30 years as a journalist at The New York Times. After retiring, she co-founded the Think Outside the Cell Foundation, which seeks to end the stigma of incarceration and help those who have been in prison to create their own opportunities.More >
While there is no empirical link between violence and psychiatric disabilities and over 25% of Americans will have a diagnosable mental illness in their lifetime, still the fear-mongerers are at work against this already stigmatized group of people.
The current leader is Rep. Murphy, who wants to strip HIPAA rights from people with psychiatric diagnoses. HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) gives the right to privacy of health records to individuals. This is despite the fact that exceptions already exist in HIPAA where a public danger is perceived. Moreover, people with mental illness have been prohibited from testifying at Rep. Murphy’s hearings on this issue. There a petition sponsored by the Autism Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) is currently circulating–click here to tell Rep. Murphy not to leave the voices people with mental illness out of the conversation.
Nuanced public discussions are not easy, but it is important that when we talk about background checks for weapons purchases, or putting people’s names in databases, that we are aware of and accountable to those who we are targeting and have a rationale that is based in reason and can withstand scrutiny. Simply having a diagnosis of a mental illness cannot be a sufficient reason for someone to be targeted in this way. This is preying on people’s fears and ignorance and making mental health prejudice worse. This is going in the opposite direction we need to go; away from Love. We need to respond to this outrageous oppression.
The U.S. Surgeon General’s report on Mental Health in 1999 says:
“Confidentiality generally is considered to be a cornerstone of a doctor-patient relationship. Many psychotherapists assume that mental health treatment is most likely to be successful only if the client has a trusting relationship with the clinician. While the research findings on this subject are somewhat mixed, it is beyond dispute that many individuals in seeking treatment for mental illness reveal much of their private selves. It seems reasonable to assume that for many people, trust that their privacy will not be intruded upon beyond the confines of the clinical relationship is an important element in permitting unguarded exchanges during treatment. Concerns regarding confidentiality may cause individuals to take steps to protect themselves from unwanted disclosures in other ways that carry their own costs. For example, an individual may withhold certain types of sensitive information during treatment, or avoid seeking care.
“The law has given considerable attention in the last three decades to the idea that people have a right to privacy in making decisions regarding their health care… The general principle that the value of privacy is important to mental health treatment is not disputed.”
We encourage people to sign the ASAN petition and speak out against this discrimination.
EqUUal Access Board:
Carolyn Cartland, President
Suzanne Fast, Vice President
Linda Wright, Secretary
Carol Agate, Treasurer
Rev. Barbara F. Meyers, Policy Committee Chair
Bill Dockery, Communications Consultant
In response to the recent Boston Marathon bombings, the UU Mass Action state advocacy network quickly organized a vigil for Love Not Fear in Massachusetts as part of their seventh annual Advocacy Day on Tuesday, April 23rd. Over 100 Unitarian Universalists gathered outside of the Massachusetts State House as a faithful presence, calling for love and compassion for all our communities and especially for immigrants and Muslims. They were joined by Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director of NETWORK and organizer of the “Nuns on the Bus” tour, who was the keynote speaker for Advocacy Day. Sr. Simone spoke of the need for us all “to touch the pain and from that pain talk with each other and our legislators.” She described how she does that in her role on Capitol Hill and announced that the nuns are going on the bus again for federal immigration reform. She also talked about the importance of not demonizing any faith tradition and applauded the message of Standing on the Side of Love. When she was finished, Jesse Jaeger, Executive Director of UU Mass Action, presented her with a Love t-shirt.
“If we respond to this tragedy with hatred, with fear, with racial profiling, with religious bigotry, with attacks upon immigrants, with a fortress mentality that demonizes and excludes—they win. If we respond with courage, with compassion, with generosity, with inclusiveness—we win. Everyone wins. We honor the first responders who risk their own lives to save the lives of others. And we—we are the next responders.”
Rev. John Gibb Millspaugh, Director of Congregational Development for the Massachusetts Bay and Clara Barton Districts, spoke on behalf of the District and the Unitarian Universalist Association. He said:
“Already in the town of Malden, a town I drive through each week, a white male has assaulted a hijab-wearing woman of Middle Eastern heritage out with her baby stroller. He punched her for two minutes, shouting obscenities and saying ‘Muslims, you are terrorists.’ It’s inexcusable and morally abhorrent. And yet, people whose sacred space has been violated naturally desperately want someone to blame. I shudder to think what we might add to the desecration.
“We need courage, compassion, and commitment. Courage to grieve what we have lost. Compassion for one another, for all people, all of us. Even for a nineteen-year-old boy in serious condition and in custody. And commitment to not only call on our highest values, but also to call them forth. We can respond to the actions of these two individuals by calling on our highest values, and calling them forth. Together, we can make new life out of tragedy.”
Rev. Millspaugh invited the crowd to share some of their highest values aloud and various voices called out—love, compassion, justice, dignity, respect, solidarity, courage, and more.
Patricia Montes, Executive Director of Centro Presente, spoke in support of solidarity and the need to get the Trust Act passed—legislation that would bar local and state police officers from federal immigration enforcement. She said:
“In 2012 more than 61% of the people deported by [Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)] in Massachusetts had no criminal convictions. The ICE [Secure Communities (S-Comm)] program has failed to increase community safety, has shattered thousands of innocent, hardworking families through deportations with no due process rights, and causes distrust between local police and crime victims which ultimately decreases community safety.”
She also thanked UU Mass Action for their solidarity and partnership and said Centro is also standing on the side of love.
During the vigil, a group of high school students who had been touring the State House joined the sing-along and asked for Standing on the Side of Love placards and pins, and then placed the placards on the windows of the bus as they drove away. The message resonated with those observing: one man jumped out of his car to take a photo while stopped in traffic; Duck Boat tours waved along with other supportive passersby.
Following the vigil, UUs visited state representatives to advocate for immigration reform, gun violence prevention, and teenage homelessness. A meeting with Governor Deval Patrick was held with Jesse Jaeger, Sister Simone, Susan Leslie (UUA Congregational Advocacy & Witness Director), and several UU ministers and lay leaders, including members of First Parish in Cambridge’s youth group.
Sister Simone spoke eloquently and warmly to Gov. Patrick’s Director of Constituent Services, Thomas Reece. “The TRUST Act is really an important step to deal with the issue of Secure Communities and making sure people feel comfortable reporting crime to law enforcement and protecting them from the consequences of that, the real need is for comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level. Compassionate state legislation can help move us in that direction.” She conveyed thanks for Governor Patrick’s support and asked that he continue to exert his influence saying, “What we need is leadership.”
Mr. Reece was receptive to the comments, and asked in return: “What I need to say to all of you is, don’t stop here at this office or at this State House. Keep pushing and putting a face to the story so our congressional leaders understand how important this is to all of you. “
Jesse delivered a letter that was also passed along to all Massachusetts legislators, signed by UUA President Rev. Peter Morales, UU Service Committee President Rev. William Schulz, UU Urban Ministry Director Rev. Catherine Senghas, UUA Clara Barton & Mass Bay UUA District Executives Rev. Sue Phillips and Rev. William Zelazney, the UU Mass Action Board, and 300 UU clergy and congregational leaders from across the state, calling for Massachusetts legislators to let compassion not fear guide public dialogue and public policy, and to continue progress on immigration reform, gun control, and respect for all faiths and peoples.
This post was written by Audra Friend & Susan Leslie of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Congregational Advocacy & Witness Office. They are also Bostonians and members of our Standing on the Side of Love Team.More >