Thursday, March 16, 2017

Sanctuary II

Then Moses set aside three cities east of the Jordan,  to which anyone who had killed a person could flee if they had unintentionallykilled a neighbor without malice aforethought. They could flee into one of these cities and save their life. The cities were these: Bezer in the wilderness plateau, for the Reubenites; Ramoth in Gilead, for the Gadites; and Golan in Bashan, for the Manassites. Deuteronomy 4:41-43
Then the Lord said to Joshua:  Tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge, as I instructed you through Moses, 3so that anyone who kills a person accidentally and unintentionally may flee there and find protection from the avenger of blood. When they flee to one of these cities, they are to stand in the entrance of the city gate and state their case before the elders of that city. Then the elders are to admit the fugitive into their city and provide a place to live among them. If the avenger of blood comes in pursuit, the elders must not surrender the fugitive, because the fugitive killed their neighbor unintentionally and without malice aforethought. They are to stay in that city until they have stood trial before the assembly and until the death of the high priest who is serving at that time. Then they may go back to their own home in the town from which they fled. Joshua 20
The notion of sanctuary cities is obviously Biblically well-based starting with the Old Testament. The New Testament is filled with values of tolerance, brotherly love and support for the needy. These values are the essence of our Judeo-Christian traditions, qualities also found in Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and all the great faiths around the world. There are barrel bombs and poison gas attacks against civilians in Syria, where government forces, just like ISIS, are hardly above using women, children, schools and hospitals as human shields. El Salvador and large parts of Latin America, including large chunks of Mexico, are ruled by drug lords, where decapitation and instant death are dispensed like candy. Economic opportunities are lost in this violent world, amplified by corruption and never-ending drought.
Are they refugees from choice? Their hope resides in migration, legal or otherwise. It is about survival, for the travelers and for the families they left behind. For those struggling northward towards the U.S. border, as many as ten percent die on the trip, most of the women on that trail are sexually molested and bandits along the rob too many of what few possessions  they have. When they make it across the border, they live in shadows but have become necessary parts of the economies where they live. They account for 35% of the local economy in and around Los Angeles, doing jobs locals just won’t touch… from stoop labor in the agricultural fields, manning the slaughter houses or digging impossible ditches on dangerous hillsides.
Yet, despite the fact that we are a nation of immigrants, contemporary American conservative politics has never been comfortable with immigrants in need. “The Reagan administration supported military governments in El Salvador and Guatemala, viewing them as bulwarks against pro-Communist insurgencies. And so it played down widespread human rights outrages by those regimes and affiliated death squads. When Salvadorans and Guatemalans tried to enter the United States, claiming a fear of persecution in their homelands, they typically were labeled ‘economic migrants,’ not political refugees.
“Few were granted asylum — less than 3 percent in 1984. By comparison, Poles fleeing Communism were 10 times as likely that year to find asylum here. Anti-ayatollah Iranians were 20 times as likely… With the front door to the United States effectively shut, Central Americans turned to a back entrance. This was the sanctuary movement. In the 1980s, it came to be embraced by hundreds of churches and synagogues, as well as by some college campuses and cities, in more than 30 states. Refugees denied political asylum were spirited across the southern border and sheltered in houses of worship like Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson.
“‘These were middle-class folks who were fleeing for their lives,’ the Rev. John M. Fife, Southside’s pastor in the 1980s, said of one group of asylum seekers… ‘We’d take in people who had torture marks all over their body, and the immigration judge would order them deported the next day,’ said Mr. Fife, who is retired. When it came to smuggling and hiding people, he said, ‘I assumed it was illegal, but I could not claim to be a Christian and not be involved in trying to protect refugees’ lives.’” New York Times, March 5th.
And so, in 2017, history is about to repeat itself. Despite little basis in fact, Donald Trump was elected on a populist bandwagon that blamed unwanted immigrants for a decline in American power and wealth. “‘Sometimes,’ Mr. Fife said at the time, ‘you cannot love both God and the civil authority. Sometimes you have to make a choice.’
“The issue today for people who share his beliefs is not so much how to bring unauthorized immigrants into the United States as it is how to keep millions already here from being tossed out.
“Dozens of cities and many times that number of counties describe themselves as sanctuaries. [Including California, and particularly San Francisco and Los Angeles.] What that means in practice can be elusive. In some places, the police are ordered not to inquire about immigration status when they take people into custody. Some cities openly refuse to cooperate with federal requests to hold undocumented immigrants until they can be deported. Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York, a Democrat, pledged cooperation if public safety was threatened, but ‘what we will not do,’ he said, ‘is turn our N.Y.P.D. officers into immigration agents.’ Other cities call themselves sanctuaries but have no clearly articulated policy.
“As far as Mr. Trump and many fellow Republicans are concerned, failing to deport unauthorized immigrants is to invite the ‘bad hombres’ among them to commit crimes. In his address to Congress last week, the president singled out several murders ascribed to undocumented immigrants. Often cited by him is the 2015 murder of Kathryn Steinle, 32, who was shot as she strolled on a pier in San Francisco. The man charged with killing her was a Mexican laborer with a long criminal record who had been deported from the United States five times, yet somehow managed to keep coming back.
“To sanctuary defenders, evocations of a case like the Steinle murder amount to setting policy by anecdote. Studies show that crime rates among unauthorized immigrants are lower than those among native-born Americans.
“Moreover, some local officials say it is not their job to enforce federal law. Many of them argue that it is self-defeating for cities to make undocumented but otherwise law-abiding immigrants feel vulnerable and afraid of the authorities. ‘We have to have people that cooperate with their local police if we’re going to have any effect at all on the crime rate,’ Sheriff John Urquhart of King County in Washington State told Retro Report.” NY Times.
And so the war between Judeo-Christian values and populist politics begins. More arrests. A wall. Children separated from their parents. Confrontations with states and towns pledged to protect their undocumented residents. Federal funding cuts. More ICE agents, lots more. Maybe even federal troops. People living in fear. Are we really going to be a great nation when this is one of the most basic building blocks for our future?
I’m Peter Dekom, and no matter how I try and justify this crusade, I just cannot seem to find anything particularly noble or good about it.

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