I know immigration is a complicated issue.
It is about history and politics and economics.
It involves individuals and families desperately looking for a brighter future.
It involves coyotes and drug lords who take advantage of the most desperate and the most vulnerable. It involves change and our country looking different tomorrow than it did yesterday. And, I also know our political leadership is not serious about working towards a viable solution. Posturing and politics has replaced leadership and compromise.
And, the way we treat the other is not new.
As a country we have always struggled with those we name as the outsider.
The Native Americans.
Today it is Latinos and Muslims.
We continue to fall short of the ideals we say make our country unique.
Tomorrow, rallies in support of immigrants and against the forced separation of parents from children are planned for in many places across our country. Last night, in my community, neighbors gathered to remember and to remind each other of our best values and who, as a country, we might one day be. I was asked to speak. This is what I said.
Tonight is about the detention of immigrants.
And children who are separated from their parents.
And, the impact of that.
And, the cost of that.
And, the morality of that.
We are here to say out loud separating children from parents is wrong.
And not who we are, as a country, or who want to be.
And, we are here to ask the question of who is included when we use the word “our.” As in our children.
As we gather and light our candles.
And do our best to figure out what now and what next.
Let me remind you of our history because none of what we struggle with today happens in a vacuum. I am not an expert of Central American history by any means, but for more than 20 years I have helped to build homes and schools in Nicaragua. I have worshiped in the Chapel where Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated. I have stood in a dirt front yard and listened as Rafina Amaya, the sole survivor of the El Mozote massacre spoke to us about what had happened to her family and community. Let me remind you of our history. In 1981, Salvadoran troops who were trained at the School of the Americas at Ft. Benning, Georgia were flown back to El Salvador and then transported to El Mozote where they rounded up and killed everyone in the village – men, women and children – as a deterrent to the rebels who were fighting the Salvadoran government. And, let me remind you that it was a coup backed by the CIA which overthrew the democratically elected President of Guatemala and was the death blow to democratically elected leadership in Guatemala. And it was President Eisenhower who said of the Somozas, the dictators who controlled Nicaragua for more than 50 years, “He is a son of a bitch, but at least he is our son of a bitch.” That history of our involvement in these Central American countries has unfolded in many ways over many years. Those countries continue to struggle to overcome their broken and heartbreaking history and a crushing poverty and level of violence which you and I cannot imagine.
Those individuals who come to our borders seeking both asylum and hope
Are not aliens.
They are not an infestation.
They are not criminals.
They are people running for their lives.
I know it is true, because it is what so many of our immigrant neighbors live with and tell us. But, even listening to their stories, I cannot imagine what they must feel. Choosing to risk never seeing their children again for the desperate gamble to keep their children safe and to give them a future.
As we return to our homes tonight and get up tomorrow what I know or think I know is this.
It is good for us to be here, but this is not nearly enough.
Each of us and all of us have to figure out the next step and then the next step after that.
And, if change is going to come it is going to come from the bottom up.
From you and me standing up and speaking up and stepping forward.
If we want that different tomorrow to be we have to summon the necessary courage and strength and endurance needed to pull it into some distant today.
Yesterday, when I was struggling to get my bearings I saw this post on social media. From Representative and civil right activist John Lewis who knows more about this than you and I will ever know. If he can say it and do it then maybe you and I can as well.
“Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year.
It is the struggle of a lifetime.
Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get into good, necessary trouble.”
And, this side note…
Tomorrow I once again travel to a small community in Appalachia with a group of high school and college students and four other adults to spend a week repairing homes. My hope and prayer is this: May we learn with and from each other.