Tag Archives: immigration

5 Things to Know About Judge in Brian Encinia Trial

On July 10, 2015 Brian Encinia pulled over Sandra Bland for failing to use her turn signal. Encinia escalated the stop, according to the Department of Public Safety, and after attempting to pull her from her car, threatened her with his taser before taking her out of sight of the dash cam throwing her to the ground. On July 13, Sandra Bland was found dead in her cell. On January 6, 2016, Brian Encinia was indicted with a misdemeanor charge of perjury for lying about why he took her from her car. On March 22, 2016 he will be arraigned before Judge Albert M. McCaig.

1. Judge Albert M. “Buddy” McCaig was elected on a Tea Party Platform: Judge McCaig built his campaign upon anti-Islamic and anti-immigrant rhetoric heavily tinged with xenophobia.

From his 2010 campaign speech: “We were not attacked by a bunch of blonde haired Scandinavians, but by radical Islam. Say it and do something about it. In addition to that, a strong defense means protecting our borders from the 24-7-365 invasion going on from the south… Education is essential to liberty. I have great respect for teachers and educators. But, they have been inundated with rules and regulations that interfere with their ability to teach. They have been swamped with students who do not speak our native language… We know what the problems are, but what can we do to make it right? Short of armed rebellion, is there hope for America? I say that there is. We are not yet at a point of armed rebellion – and I pray to God we never get there – but it is time to act. Call up your neighbors, your sisters, your brothers, your sons and daughters, and tell them plainly that we must take back America now, before it is too late… Illegal immigration is the enemy, but it is not the primary enemy. The primary enemy is the progressive liberal ideas that promote illegal immigration; that sues our citizens; takes down our flag in favor of the Mexican flag; and that forces us to “dial one” for English. That is the enemy. “

2. Experience in presiding over high profile corruption cases: In 2014, in a case upon which Flint has cast new light, Judge McCaig chose to recuse himself from a case involving environmental justice when local authorities were accused of making back room deals that ran the risk of polluting local drinking water.

From the Houston Chronicle‘s coverage of the case: “At stake in the trial, is whether the 15-story dump can be built at the proposed site near Highway 6 and above an aquifer that provides drinking water for many in the Houston region. Opponents argue the project was discussed and moved forward illegally in back-room talks between Green Group Holdings and Waller County officials.”

After a civil trial ruled that the County Judge had acted inappropriately in making the deal to host the dump in back room meetings, District Judge McCaig blocked a criminal trial from proceeding.

From the Houston Chronicle‘s coverage of the case: “A civil jury in December ruled that Waller County – primarily County Judge Glenn Beckendorff and Commissioners Stan Kitzman and Frank Pokluda – repeatedly violated open meetings and public records laws by holding closed sessions with developers more than two years before agreeing to host the project… “My hands are kind of tied on issues of possible criminal prosecution because I was not vested jurisdiction over that,” Mathis said. “Until the district judge says otherwise or until the prosecutors send the case file back to me and ask me to take over, I can’t do anything.”

3. Oversaw 2015 mistrial of ex-Deputy Daniel Willis murder trial for killing Yvette Smith: On February 16, 2014, Daniel Willis shot local African American woman Yvette Smith as she opened the front door of her house. Willis had been responding to a call about two men fighting and was interacting with the men in the front yard when Smith opened her front door to check on the situation and Willis shot her twice as she stood on her front porch. Judge McCaig was brought in from Waller County to Bastrop County to preside over the case, reportedly because of his experience with handling the press. In a shocking turn of events, in September of 2015, the jury delivered a mistrial and Daniel Willis was released back into the community.

From the Austin Statesman coverage of the case: “The ruling allows Willis, 30, to walk free for now in the shooting death of 47-year-old Yvette Smith, sparking accusations of racial discrimination in Bastrop County and anger among Smith’s friends and family. Willis, who is white, shot and killed Smith, who is black, while responding to a domestic disturbance in Camp Swift in February 2014. Smith was unarmed when Willis opened fire on her.”

The evidence that The Bastrop County Sheriff’s Office had lied repeatedly in a blatant attempt to cover up the murder had not been sufficient to ensure a conviction.

From the Daily Kos coverage of the case: “Police not only claimed that Smith emerged from the home with a firearm, they stated that she ignored police commands. In essence, Smith came out of that house, according to police, ready to bring hellfire and damnation on police and they acted out in self-defense from an incredibly dangerous woman. This is a lie. A complete fabrication. When Sheriff Terry Pickering issued the statement, he was fully and completely aware that Yvette Smith wasn’t armed. No weapon was found on or near her. He knew this. The officers on the scene knew this, but Sheriff Pickering issued that statement anyway.”

4. Fought the end of the “pick-a-pal” Grand Jury selection in Texas: In a highly publicized series of letters. Judge McCaig, along with Waller County DA Elton Mathis, passionately disputed the end of the “pick-a-pal” system that was replaced by a more random process of selection for those to serve on Grand Juries. Concerned about how the new system would impact proceedings, on July 27th, two weeks after the death of Sandra Bland, Judge McCaig wrote a letter to Sen. John Whitmire, who had sponsored the bill to reform the Grand Jury System, complaining about the new process that he and DA Elton Mathis would have to use.

From the Texas Tribune coverage: “I remain convinced that the Texas Legislature has given us a law that is not only unworkable but is fraught with avenues of abuse,” state District Judge Albert McCaig Jr. wrote in an Aug. 21 letter to state Sen. John Whitmire about the new law, which ends the controversial “pick-a-pal,” or “key man,” grand jury system.

Throughout the month of August, as the time for Grand Jury selection in the death of Sandra Bland approached, Judge McCaig continued to correspond, exhibiting a particular focus on concerns about the Bill’s language around race.

From the Houston Press coverage: “McCaig claimed in the letter that the new bill required him to select a grand jury based on “seemingly subjective standards of race, ethnicity, sex and age.” In his letter, McCaig had a number of questions about the specifics of the bill, including “What is the difference between race and ethnicity?” and “Does the word ‘consider’ mean ‘must consider’ or ‘may consider’ or some other subjective standard?”

5. His Office hosted Sheriff R. Glenn Smith throughout the Grand Jury proceedings: Members of the press and supporters of Sandra Bland observed Sheriff R. Glenn Smith, Captain Brian Cantrell and other senior members of the Waller County Sheriff’s Office keeping a watchful eye over the Grand Jury proceedings from Judge Mccain’s office adjacent to the courtroom. This took place both during deliberations concerning Waller County Jail employees on December 21st which ended in no indictments, and deliberations concerning Brian Encinia on January 6th which ended in a minor indictment for perjury.

From my own report of the scene: “Emerging from Judge Albert M. McCaig, Jr.’s office, the room next to the courtroom, Sheriff Smith sauntered slowly past the Sandra Bland supporters to the door of the courtroom and took a seat on the bench. After a few minutes a man poked his head out and said to the Sheriff, “You’re good to go!” At which point, overcome with good humor, Sheriff Smith turned to Officer L. Watts and Officer J. Henry and delivered his crowd-pleasing line, “It wasn’t me. It was her! It was her!” before chuckling and sauntering back past the Sandra Bland supporters and into Judge McCaig’s office once again to rejoin his Captain of Patrol, Officer Brian Cantrell, and the others gathered there.”

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Last Glance

“Agua! Agua, por favor. Para mi bebé,” the young mother boarding the bus pleaded, catching my arm. Not knowing if I would have time, I sprinted across the bus terminal to the vending machines. My friend Jasminne explained that this woman had been unable to obtain water for her infant because she did not have the right bills. Having traveled internationally, I knew well the struggle of figuring out how to use unfamiliar currency. Hurriedly, we dug through our pockets and wallets. “I have it. I have it,” I exclaimed as I slid two crumpled one dollar bills into the hungry mouth of the Aquafina machine. “What button do I push?,” I asked Jasminne in a panic. “Any button! The whole machine is water,” she responded.

Grabbing the bottle that dropped smoothly down the slot, I rushed back across the terminal, and thrust the water into the woman’s hand just before the bus doors slid closed. Our eyes met. My lips formed the words, “Vaya con Dios.” Her lips formed the word, “Gracias,” but it was the eyes that said it all.

It is always the eyes that say the most. Whether I spend two minutes, or twelve hours with a family, it is always that last glance that says the most. Gratitude and sorrow and fear and courage. At the close of a day filled with last glances, I shut my eyes and they are all I can see. Those moments imprinted on my memory; those moments when we say everything that the language barrier and our own guardedness has inhibited.

Days like this are never expected or planned. They start with a rapid succession of phone calls and texts. “Hannah call me back…Hannah call now…Hannah, a group of children came in. There’s a lot of them. Get here as soon as you can.”

When I get a call like that, a few things go through my mind. First, I know that a couple hours ago children, and likely their mothers as well, were released from a nearby detention center in Texas and sent to stay somewhere until their trial and – more than likely – their deportation. Second, I know that they are exhausted, hungry, and just as confused as I would be trying to navigate a public transportation system in a language I do not know. Third, I know that they have a long journey ahead of them and it may be a few days, or longer, before they can get a good night’s sleep. Fourth, I know that they have likely already experienced trauma, possibly even before their arrest and detention; and all measures must be taken to make them feel safe, loved, and respected.

The psychological reality for children who are two years old and four years old is chilling. Even more alarming is the messages being received by the eight year olds, and the twelve year olds, and the fourteen year olds, some of whom have grown up in school in the United States and now are being told they cannot stay. Now they are being told we do not want them. Now they are being told they are not a part of the family after all. In Guatemala, I spent time with some of those who have returned. While they focused on empowering those around them and celebrating their culture, some still carried with them scars inflicted by the nation of my birth: scars similar to a child whose parent refuses to claim them as their own. They loved us, and we cast them out as if we did not know them.

So when the call comes in, I go. I drop everything, and I go. I spread the word to those in my network that we have family in town, and we do not have much time to make them feel welcome. We might have two minutes to sprint for water before the next bus leaves. Or we might have twelve hours to collect supplies for the journey and share meals and laughter and stories.

Sitting across the bus aisle from the woman with the thirsty baby, was another mother with a young daughter. She had arrived on an earlier bus and so her transfer had not been quite so erratic. We had a two hour head start on understanding her situation and her needs. However, even with all that time, as I looked around the room at the other two dozen women and children, I could not gather my mind clearly enough to understand what she was trying to tell me. She kept saying something about “tres dias” and I just nodded politely, unalarmed. (The average length of time that these women and their children will be on buses is two to three days, sometimes four.)

Thank God for Jasminne, who came over and with her profound fluency was able to understand that the woman was worried because her cousin would only let her stay for three days when she arrived; after that time she did not know where she and her daughter would stay.

Thank God for Jordan, who lived in the city she was traveling to and answered his phone immediately. “Pastor Hannah!,” my former church member and current colleague exclaimed. I hurriedly explained the situation and left it in his relentlessly compassionate hands, as I turned my attention back to the other eight mothers traveling that day.

I am rarely that fortunate; often I do not get an answer soon enough, and I do not have the luxury of time. That day, however, Jordan did answer the phone and did have the ability to help. So, as I slipped that bottle of water into her seat mate’s hand, she slipped her name and her cousin’s phone number into mine. I would spend the next couple days praying that that information, along with the picture I had taken of her on my phone, would be enough for Jordan to find her when she arrived on the other side of the country.

The bus departures continued throughout the day, more leaving every couple hours. We organized triage so that we could deal with the needs of families case by case: focusing on the needs of those leaving the soonest first, and working our way to the midnight departure of the final group.

Contacts from throughout Houston came in shifts as they were available throughout the day, bringing what they could. Comfort food from a Honduran restaurant arrived first in the hands of Jasminne. Then a coat in the hands of Marianella. Clothes in the hands of Lupe. Hats and gloves for the snowstorm they were driving into from the hands of Brandi. New clothes for the mother whose clothes did not fit in the hands of Jenny. Resources in the hands of Mia. And one final late night delivery by Elaine to meet the requests of the midnight departure.

As I rushed about, I was pulled to the side by a gruff, Texan man with a baseball cap and boots. “I see you are helping these mothers,” he said. “The thing is, I lost my own wife to a brain aneurysm earlier this year, and it would sure make me feel good to be a part of helping.” With that he slipped a twenty dollar bill into my hand, and I slipped it into the hand of a nursing mother.

I drove across the street to get cheeseburgers for the group, and as I pulled up to the window to pay, the cashier told me that the woman in line ahead of me had already paid my bill. I made eye contact with her in her rear view mirror and mouthed a “Thank you” to accompany that last glance.

Back at the bus station, there was one pair of eyes that remained downcast throughout the day. Probably about fifteen, he was the oldest minor present, and he seemed to feel the weight of it, and the weight of caring for his younger brother and sisters.

As this family climbed on the bus in the late afternoon, I called out softly, “Vaya con Dios,” and the young man’s head whipped around. He made eye contact with me for the first time and the last time; and “Thank you!” were his first and last words to me as he finally raised his head erect and his mother’s eyes welled with tears.

There it was. The last glance. Varied in intensity, but still the same every time. A glance of gratitude mixed with sadness. A dropping of the guard carefully maintained. In that last moment, getting on the bus unhindered and realizing they can trust us; while at the same time realizing they are walking away. Safety found in the moment it ends. Heart wrenching. In that last glance, they release all they’ve been holding back. Tears well in their eyes. Mouths say words I do not always understand.

I do not know what will happen to them, and it breaks my heart every time.

I wonder what they see in our eyes. I hope they see love. I hope they see respect. I hope they see that my eyes reflect the pain in theirs, and commit to carry a little bit of it with me. I hope that solidarity makes their own burden just a little bit lighter.

***************

Two days later, my phone buzzed. It was a text from Jordan. “We found her!!” Jordan had arranged for housing, clothes and support for the woman who did not know where she would live in three days; he had found her at the bus station. For the first time, the last glance would not be the final word.

Traveling mother - on the left in Houston with us. On the right, in Boston when Jordan found her. (Face intentionally not shown.)
Traveling mother – on the left in Houston with us. On the right, in Boston when Jordan found her. (Face intentionally not shown.)

Which Way Home?

“¿De dónde es?” It’s the first thing most people ask me here in Guatemala. I wonder sometimes if my friend Delia notices that I don’t always answer it the same way. Sometimes I say Pennsylvania, sometimes I say Washington, D.C., sometimes I say Philadelphia. None of these are places where I have technically lived over the past couple years, but they are where my mail goes to try to find me.

I much prefer this question to the one I usually get asked back in the United States, “Where do you live?” In Guatemala, it does not matter what answer I give, the response is “Ah, Estados Unidas” and we can move on with the conversation. When I am asked in the United States where I live, there are always follow up questions about what neighborhood and for how long that I can’t really answer because I don’t really live anywhere. You never really understand how uncomfortable those kind of small talk questions can be until you no longer have a socially acceptable answer.

When I am feeling up to it, I just respond cheerfully, “The world is my parish” and briefly explain that I have been unhoused for the better part of the last 14 months. I do feel cheerful about it… now. It is a choice now; a journey with God; a journey of freedom in preparation for the next stage of my life which begins in May. Since October, it has been a period of saying “no” to every opportunity until God told me to say “yes,” and finding the courage to do the things that terrify me. I have never felt freer or braver or more hopeful. A year ago, however, my situation was not my choice; it was a stalemate, the result of stubborn competitions and miscommunications taking place far above my position in the institutional hierarchy. It was the decision to treat my passion and youth and calling with reckless abandon. So, I have known both sides of being without an address of residence, both the freedom and joy of it, and the pain and abandonment.

The question has arisen many times over the past year of whether I would call myself homeless. I have struggled with that question both personally and communally. I think that part of the way that I have arrived at an answer is the awareness that those who are asking the question are usually doing so in some kind of admiring tone, as if I am somehow making myself saintly. It strikes a discordant note in my mind that makes me want to protest that I am not attempting anything grandiose or self-promoting, just trying to make the most of the circumstances that come my way. That may sound self-deprecating – a “humble brag” as my friends would call it – but I have very strong personal reasons for feeling that way.

The biggest reason why it makes me uncomfortable when people ask me in an admiring tone if I would call myself homeless is that, in most cases, those that are unhoused or underhoused in our communities are neither viewed, treated, nor spoken to as if they are worthy of admiration. To accept that admiration, then, becomes irony in its deepest form. It feels like a theft of some form. Do not give to me the respect that you will not give to them.

Over the past couple months that I spent in Estados Unidos, I have struggled in conversation with those I respect who work in partnership and solidarity with their unhoused neighbors. I have dialogued with them concerning the talk I heard in 2010 at the General Board of Church & Soceity about the need to broaden the definition of homelessness in people’s minds. I struggled with whether I needed to claim the identity as the presenter from the Homeless Speaker’s bureau had said then, and whether it was empowering or dishonoring to the homeless community for me to do so. I have reflected on my life changing experiences living in intentional community in 2008-2009 with women and children transitioning out of homelessness at the Isaiah House. I have picked the brain of my pal Jerry Herships; received an education in homeless culture and women’s role within it from Rudy Rasmus; observed the empowering arts ministry of Lanecia Rouse; chatted to no end with my UMC LEAD compadre Brandon Lazarus; and broken bread with my former parishioner and current colleague Jordan Harris.

It was in my last conversation with Jordan that I finally found peace in my answer. As Jordan and I dialogued about ministry in Philadelphia at the Grace Cafe, a ministry of Arch Street UMC, he explained that many of the people in Philadelphia that people assume are homeless do not consider themselves to be. Whatever other people’s perceptions of us may be, no one has the right to categorize or describe or determine our status in a manner that overrules our own voice.

Consequently, I claim my voice. I have just as much right as anyone else to determine what I call myself, and I choose to say that I am not homeless. I am not homeless because people do not treat me the way that they treat those they call homeless. Christians walking by me on the street do not avoid eye contact with me. Friends and family are authentically thrilled to have me as a guest. People think my life is interesting and inspiring, rather than pitiable and discomforting. To claim the category would be to confuse the issue. I may have, at some point in the past year, legally or technically fit that category, and I may still fit within the spectrum of the definition; however, in practicality, I do not feel that to claim the category helps the cause. It seems to bring attention to myself rather than to the real issue. If I change my mind, I’ll change my answer.

For now, the strain of living on the road does get to me at times, but I always have a place to lay my head should I choose to accept the invitation. If my life were a Venn diagram, there would be places where my life would overlap with what we call homelessness; but because there is so much of the psychology of the experience that I do not have to endure, to say my circle does anything but minimally overlap would be disrespectful and unhelpful.

I have written before about the fact that we romanticize ourselves and objectify the unhoused when we find some kind of thrill in being close to someone who we see as homeless. I told the story of the church in Texas that was so thrilled to have a homeless man coming to their church that they trotted him out at Christian conferences and made him a mascot of sorts. Until, that is, the pastor of another church, Rudy Rasmus, finally did what should have been the obvious thing from the beginning and asked the man whether he wanted a place to live. Which he did.

We are all familiar with the concept of having a “safe” or “token” friend from a people group that is intimidating or uncomfortable for us. I am not interested in being the “safe” unhoused person who can be a placebo or go-between for people so that they do not have to deal with the very real responsibility Christ gave them to treat the truly and genuinely unhoused as brothers and sisters. Our sick souls are not in need of a placebo action, they are in need of the real thing.

Before I came to Guatemala, I was eager to learn and watched anything on Netflix that had to do with this country. The film that stayed with me – the one that I see when I close my eyes at night – was a documentary “Which Way Home” about adolescent boys living on the road, trying to cross the border by themselves from Guatemala through Mexico to the United States. The film raised the question: when you are living on the road, which way is home? Is it forward to what could be, or backward to where you came from? Most of the boys in the film, the ones who survive and live, are deported and do not have a choice in the matter. They have to return to a place that does not feel like home anymore. People tell me that I cannot be homeless because I always have a place to belong with family; but they are our brothers and sisters and they do not feel like they belong anywhere.

So many people are trapped in that liminal space. Which way is home? Is it going back to a life that took great courage to walk away from? Or is it figuring out how to move forward when you do not know the way? Because of the Venn diagram that is my life, I can identify with people who are living the journey in many different ways, and I believe I have learned something very important – home is where people treat you as though you belong.

As a result, I have found that I am in no way homeless. My home is in James Cistern, Eleuthera, Bahamas; my home is in Arlington, Virginia; in Houston, Texas; in Towson, Maryland; in Newark, Delaware; and in Hawley, Pennsylvania. All of these places became home because people there treated me as a valued member of the community and told me that I belonged.

But why me? We can do that for anyone. There is enough love to reach us all; enough beds to rest us all; enough clothes to clothe us all; enough food to feed us all.

Which way is home? You could be the answer. For thousands of people in your state that are sleeping on the streets, you could be a part of the answer. For hundreds of people in your state awaiting deportation, your voice could make a difference.

What if nobody was homeless? What if no one felt unwelcome? What if we treated everyone like they belonged, were welcome, and were worthy of respect.

What if you were the answer to “Which Way Home?”

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
(Isaiah 58:6-7, NRSV)

El ayuno que he escogido,
¿no es más bien romper las cadenas de injusticia
y desatar las correas del yugo,
poner en libertad a los oprimidos
y romper toda atadura?
¿No es acaso el ayuno compartir tu pan con el hambriento
y dar refugio a los pobres sin techo,
vestir al desnudo
y no dejar de lado a tus semejantes?
(Isaias 58:6-7, Nueva Versión Internacional)

Man walks home in Guatemala
Man walks home in Guatemala

Do Justice, Love Mercy as Deportations Rise

“Si, se puede! Si, se puede!” The voices of Spanish speakers mingled with the struggling accents of the primarily English speakers who stood in solidarity with them in front of the White House on Monday morning. The prayerful supporters called out the words as they faced, across police barricades and yellow tape, the religious and migrant leaders who knelt on the concrete, engaging in a pray-in just feet from the White House lawn and calmly awaited arrest.

The words flowed back and forth, supporters straining to hear what those awaiting arrest sang in order to join their voices in support. “…this little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine…” flowed into “Amazing Grace how sweet the sound…” flowed into “…Go down, Moses, way down to Egypt land…” Intermingled with the singing were chants, not only “Si, se puede” but “Obama, Escucha! Estamos en la luche” and the rallying cry of the event “Not one more: Deportation.”

They took all the women away first – fastening their hands tightly behind their backs and leading them into waiting vans. Sol Cotto, a devoted teacher, wife, and mother was one of the first to go; the last time I had seen her, she had been smiling her amazing grin as we celebrated the Commissioning of our friend Lydia over Italian food in Philadelphia. Now her face was solemn and determined as she was led away to detention.

They continued to arrest the women, finally bringing Hermina Gallegos to her feet and fastening her arms behind her back. That morning she had shared with us about her daughter, Rosy, who had been in detention for more than a month and was becoming ill. Hermina was there, without documentation, risking everything to plead for mercy, justice and a halt to detention and deportations that were dividing loving families like her own. When she had first begun to tell us about her daughter over coffee that morning, I had been shocked. Looking at her youthful face, I realized that her daughter must be young; and she is – Rosy is only twenty years old.

Next to Hermina in the front row was Bishop Minerva Carcaño, who knelt in solidarity with her, prayed in solidarity with her, and finally was arrested in solidarity with her. They would maintain that solidarity until the very end; remaining in detention together throughout the day and evening and finally emerging together at the end of the trickle of releases – Carcaño only willing to come out when they could both come out.

As the arrests slowly continued, we could see the physical exertion of those who waited and waited with their knees planted on the hard concrete. For several minutes after the rest of the women had been taken away, Harriett Olson, the General Secretary of the United Methodist Women, continued to kneel with a determined posture as the last woman among the men. Then, the officers came, finally; they pulled her to her feet, they fastened her hands behind her back and they led her away.

At the very end, after more than an hour of kneeling, only Bishop Julius C. Trimble and a couple other men remained. It was then that the tapestry of songs and chants found its way home again to its most frequent refrain, as Bishop Trimble, whose voice itself embodied protest, its strength refusing to be diminished by the physical strain, sang out: “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.”

That was what this was all about. Demanding that the nation, that the President, that the world see what we are doing to families like Hermina’s. People who are neither criminals nor moochers nor sluggards, but hard working people with loving families that just want a chance to be together and make a contribution to the world.

That is the kind of family I come from too; and when my great-grandparents brought my grandparents to this country, they experienced struggle and prejudice, and they worked hard in menial jobs. They found people like Adair, from whom my name has trickled down, to help them and support them when they struggled in a new country.

But there are differences that made the road smoother for my family. One is that my skin is pale, undercooked as Elias Chacour says, and my eyes are blue, and our culture has always had a prejudice that somehow this land belongs to people who look like that more than it belongs to people of a different complexion. This lie is so powerful that it somehow enables us to feel comfortable saying that this is “our country” and “we were here first” as we tell people to “go back where you came from,” even though neither of those statements is true. This land belongs to God; and the native peoples, who truly were the ones who originally inhabited it, were much better at remembering and honoring that than its current stewards have ever been.

It is true that our immigration issues today are not exclusively issues of racism, our economic prejudice leads us to treat many Caucasian immigrants just as poorly. However, while our immigration issues may flirt with other people, it often feels like they are going steady with our racism issues. While parents of children who look like me can feel fairly safe sending their kids out the door, there are far too many families in our nation that have to worry about whether their kids will come home – whether they come up against Stand Your Ground in Florida or detention of young DREAMers like Rosy in Arizona. While saying “all men are created equal”, we behave as if all children are not created equal.

What happened to the nation that claimed to proclaim proudly from Lady Liberty’s base, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Was it ever true?

As I waited and prayed for release with other drivers outside of the detention center in Anacostia where our protesters were held, I could not help but keep thinking of three words. “Si, se puede.”

At the end of the pray-in, when Bishop Trimble had finally been taken away, the lingering echo of Amazing Grace had faded, and all that remained was bare concrete, my friend Leticia turned to me and asked, “Was it what you expected?” I responded, “I do not know what I expected.”

That could be as true for the past several years of my life as well as it was for the past few hours. The reason was those words, “Si, se puede.” When I had heard them chanted that day it was as if a wave of memories and emotions smacked me in the face.

The last time I had heard them chanted that way was in 2008, when the majority of my life was devoted to urban teen leaders in Durham. In this group of amazing youth, we had many leaders that were the children of immigrants. And as Barack Obama was running for his first term, the chant “Si, se puede” was common in the part of the city where we lived.

When he won, they were given the chance to go to the Inauguration. We traveled north and stood out in front of the Capitol at 4:00 am to get our spot, as they looked at me despairingly in the bitter cold and I assured them they would be glad someday that they had been there.

Throughout the day they were interviewed by news cameras and the New York Times, but I had a question of my own. I asked them what their personal reasons were for being excited to have this man as their President. I will never forget what they said.

One of them looked at me and said that Barack’s daddy was an immigrant just like their daddy, and they believed he would help him.

When Leticia asked me what I expected, I did not know, but I knew what those young leaders expected. One twelve year old believed that his cousin, who was serving his new country in the armed forces, would be brought home from war. The five year old who came to church crying every single morning because she missed her deported daddy expected that she would see him again. They expected things would be different, could be different, will be different.

And they will. But it takes more than one man whose daddy was an immigrant. It takes all of us realizing not only that we are the children of immigrants; realizing not only that other people love their children just as much as we love ours and deserve to be with them; but also, for those of us who are Christians, it takes us realizing that we follow a migrant God who wandered from the time he was born into danger and taken into Egypt.

It takes more than one man whose daddy was an immigrant to change things. He can do a lot to help, and we need him to listen; but it will take all of us.

“Si, se puede” does not mean “Yes, we can” as many of us Spanish novices assumed. That would be “Si, podemos.”

“Si, se puede” means “Yes, it is possible.” That means something slightly different. It is a challenge, not a chant, a challenge for all of us. We know it is possible to treat one another with love and compassion. We know it is possible to create the beloved community. We know it is possible to do justice while loving mercy. The question is – do we have the will to do it? Because it costs something. You cannot insist on having everything, if you want there to be something left for others.

On Monday, many brave leaders knelt on the cold concrete sidewalk in front of the White House because they were making a statement. Not only do we as United Methodists believe compassionate justice is possible, but we also have the will to take action and make sacrifices to see that day come. They were willing to spend one day in jail away from their families, because millions will spend a lifetime separated from the people they love.

It is possible. But it will not happen if we are silent. God gave us voices that they might be used to speak truth. God gave us hands that they might be used to do justice. God gave us minds that we might imagine a better way.

“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” Lev. 19:33-34

Wish you had been there Monday?  Well there is something you can do today.

Call President Obama today at 1-888-907-2053

Mr. President, as your administration approaches 2 million deportations, people of faith have a simple message for you: Stop the deportations. The United Methodist Church calls for a ban to all arrests, detainments, and deportations of undocumented immigrants. We need you to show principled leadership to end all deportations. Thank you.

Before the pray-in, Harriett Olson says "Let our yes be yes, and our no be no... Not one more deportation."
Before the pray-in, Harriett Olson says “Let our yes be yes, and our no be no… Not one more deportation.”
Religious & Immigrant leaders kneel for a pray-in in front of the White House
Religious & Immigrant leaders kneel for a pray-in in front of the White House
Sol Cotto of Philadelphia preparing to take her place
Sol Cotto of Philadelphia preparing to take her place
Harriett Olson and other United Methodist Women leaders hold their arrest numbers after being released from detention after a much longer wait than expected
Harriett Olson and other United Methodist Women leaders hold their arrest numbers after being released from detention after a much longer wait than expected
Sol Cotto is released from detention in Anacostia
Sol Cotto is released from detention in Anacostia
Debriefing with Hermina Gallegos an others after all are released.
Debriefing with Hermina Gallegos an others after all are released.
After debriefing, most of the arrestees and support team gather for a photo together with their arrest numbers
After debriefing, most of the arrestees and support team gather for a photo together with their arrest numbers