To Be (Brown) or Not To Be?

My buddy Mari Castellanos’ commentary A Supreme Case for the Court is a good preparation for the Supreme Court hearings on the racist anti-immigrant laws in Arizona.

I call the laws “racist” and “anti-immigrant” because they are. But there are legitimate questions that need to be raised about overhauling our immigration system so that it responds humanely to new needs and the massive migrations that are happening around the world. The current spate of “anti-immigrant” laws are rooted in views of “scarcity of resources” and histories of white supremacy.

How can the church model a way of approaching these issues rooted in human dignity and a love that drives out fear? Read Mari’s whole post, and below is an excerpt:

On Monday April 23rd, the Supreme Court will begin to hear oral arguments in a landmark case, State of Arizona v. United States, which challenges the authority of a state to enact its own immigration enforcement laws instead of following federal regulations. On the surface, this case is about a state usurping a federal power. Underneath the surface it is about a lot more.

At the heart of the Arizona legislation are some dangerous provisions that we had hoped to be done with in this country—at least legally, if not in practice as many of us know. A key provision requires any law enforcement officer to verify the immigration status of every person stopped or detained, regardless of how trivial the infraction, if the officer has a reasonable suspicion that the person may be in the country illegally (Section 2B). Reasonable suspicion, one can just as reasonably assume, may be triggered by dark skin, short stature, or poor English language skills. If a person fails to yield the right of way, she or he can be assumed to be an illegal alien and arrested, if the person has no identification other than a driver’s license. Under similar circumstances, most people would receive merely a citation. Persons who “look Latina/o” and have no immigration papers will go to jail. It is also a crime, under Arizona law, for people who fail to carry their “alien registration document” (Section 5C). One could be justified in thinking that Arizona has legalized racial profiling. Similar, if not more insidious laws have been enacted by other states, such as Utah, Alabama and South Carolina. ….–Mari Castellanos, United Church of Christ

Read the rest here.

Jesus of the Billboard: Catholic Sisters Launch Midwest Campaign

Pro-immigrant billboard campaign in Iowa

As Iowa considers taking up anti-American laws targeting immigrants modeled after Arizona, Catholic sisters in throughout the Midwest are leading a public education campaign about what Jesus says about the situation.

“Rooted in the Gospel and the spirit of St. Francis and St. Clare,” say the Franciscan sisters of Dubuque, “we publically proclaim that immigrants have God-given rights to be treated with respect and dignity, to work and to access services that satisfy their basic needs. Basic human rights, the right to life and to migrate in search of the means to sustain life, are conferred not by citizen ship but by person hood. We support comprehensive immigration reform that will respect these right.”

Read more below:

Iowa Billboards Show Sisters Support for Immigration Reform

Catholic Sisters Launch ‘Welcoming Communities’ For Immigration Reform

Ten Communities of Catholic Sisters Launch Immigration Campaign

Francisco X. Alarcón: “Prayer”

I heard Francisco Alarcón at the Associated Writing Programs conference in D.C. in February. He’s working on a great Facebook project called Poets Respond to SB 1070 (that’s Arizona’s terrible new immigration law). For me, his poetry is like drinking living water.

Prayer
by Francisco X. Alarcón

I want a god
as my accomplice
who spends nights
in houses
of ill repute
and gets up late
on Saturdays

a god
who whistles
through the streets
and trembles
before the lips
of his lover

a god
who waits in line
at the entrance
of movie houses
and likes to drink
café au lait

a god
who spits
blood from
tuberculosis and
doesn’t even have
enough for bus fare

a god
knocked
unconscious
by the billy club
of a policeman
at a demonstration

a god
who pisses
out of fear
before the flaring
electrodes
of torture

a god
who hurts
to the last
bone and
bites the air
in pain

a jobless god
a striking god
a hungry god
a fugitive god
an exiled god
an enraged god

a god
who longs
from jail
for a change
in the order
of things

I want a
more godlike
god

“Prayer,” translated by Francisco Aragón, is from From the Other Side of Night/Del otro lado de la noche. (University of Arizona Press, 2002)

St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix: ‘Catholic’ is More than a Name

Sister Margaret McBride, RSM

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof’s ran an excellent column yesterday on the rival religious approaches within the Catholic church. One approach focuses on dogma, sanctity, rules, and punishment of sinners. The other lifts up compassion for the needy, mercy for sinners, and a profligate invitation to the least, the lost, the left out.

Examining the battle between Phoenix’s Bishop Olmsted and St. Joseph’s Catholic hospital – particularly Sr. Margaret McBride, in Tussling Over Jesus, Kristof says:

The thought that keeps nagging at me is this: If you look at Bishop Olmsted and Sister Margaret as the protagonists in this battle, one of them truly seems to me to have emulated the life of Jesus. And it’s not the bishop, who has spent much of his adult life as a Vatican bureaucrat climbing the career ladder. It’s Sister Margaret, who like so many nuns has toiled for decades on behalf of the neediest and sickest among us. Then along comes Bishop Olmsted to excommunicate the Christ-like figure in our story. If Jesus were around today, he might sue the bishop for defamation.

There is nothing new in this dynamic. It’s the yin and yang of the world. Conservatives preserve institutions so that there is a mechanism for advancement from one generation to the next. Liberals draw from an original animating spirit and push the edges of what currently exists in order to allow it to fulfill it’s purpose in the present. In other words, liberals will say If the church isn’t truly the church in the here and now, then what good is it. And conservatives will say, If we don’t have a core belief system that is clear and transferable from one generation to the next then what good is it just acting on what we feel in the here and now.

The trouble is that conservatives tend to consolidate power and then that power bloc needs to be pushed back on so that it doesn’t become a dry and lifeless shell. St. Joseph’s Catholic hospital is one example of many where Catholics are pushing back. Kristoff writes:

Bishop Olmsted initially excommunicated a nun, Sister Margaret McBride, who had been on the hospital’s ethics committee and had approved of the decision [to terminate a pregnancy to save the life of the mother]. That seems to have been a failed attempt to bully the hospital into submission, but it refused to cave and continues to employ Sister Margaret. Now the bishop, in effect, is excommunicating the entire hospital — all because it saved a woman’s life.

Make no mistake: This clash of values is a bellwether of a profound disagreement that is playing out at many Catholic hospitals around the country. These hospitals are part of the backbone of American health care, amounting to 15 percent of hospital beds. Already in Bend, Ore., last year, a bishop ended the church’s official relationship with St. Charles Medical Center for making tubal ligation sterilizations available to women who requested them. And two Catholic hospitals in Texas halted tubal ligations at the insistence of the local bishop in Tyler.

The National Women’s Law Center has just issued a report quoting doctors at Catholic-affiliated hospitals as saying that sometimes they are forced by church doctrine to provide substandard care to women with miscarriages or ectopic pregnancies in ways that can leave the women infertile or even endanger their lives. More clashes are likely as the church hierarchy grows more conservative, and as hospitals and laity grow more impatient with bishops who seem increasingly out of touch.

Apparently, Bishop Olmsted thought that by excommunicating Sr. McBride – a Sister of Mercy – and then effectively excommunicating the hospital itself so that Mass can no longer be celebrated in the hospital chapel that he could somehow make the hospital “unCatholic.” What he fails to realize is that it’s not the name that makes the hospital Catholic, it’s the people serving in the ministry of Jesus and the tradition of the saints. Linda Hunt, the president of St. Joseph’s said, “St. Joseph’s will continue through our words and deeds to carry out the healing ministry of Jesus. Our operations, policies, and procedures will not change.”

Many ordinary Catholics have reached a breaking point and St. Joseph’s heralds a new vision of Catholicism. As Jamie Manson writing in the National Catholic Reporter put it: “Though [St. Joseph’s hospital] will be denied the opportunity to celebrate the Eucharist, the Eucharist will rise out of St. Joseph’s every time the sick are healed, the frightened are comforted, the lonely are visited, the weak are fed, and vigil is kept over the dying.”

Arizona Adopts ‘Jimenez Crow’ Laws: Direct and Indirect Civil Disobedience

by NEPHTALI DELEON

Next week, Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070 will go into effect.

This bill, among other things, requires local law enforcement to check an individual’s immigration status if there is “reasonable suspicion” that said individual is undocumented. Another provision of SB 1070 requires immigrants to carry papers denoting citizenship at all times while in the state.

The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a suit against Arizona, citing the bill as discriminatory. (For more on the law and comprehensive immigration reform, please see Sojourners’ great campaign Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.)

As the action heats up in Arizona, we’ve got a “teachable moment” about what nonviolent direct action looks like when taken directly against an unjust law — as opposed to symbolic civil disobedience that often breaks a smaller law to highlight the injustice of a larger situation.

Will Travers’ article A Rare Opportunity for Direct Civil Disobedience in Arizona provides an excellent outline for this conversation.  Will’s a scholar of nonviolence with a degree from the University of Michigan. He works with the NYC-based band/nonprofit, Lokashakti, promoting peace and social justice through collective nonviolent action. Here’s an excerpt:

… Not since the end of the draft in 1973 has there been a law in the United States that seems to render itself so well to direct civil disobedience. Arizona SB 1070 requires non-citizens to keep registration documents on them at all times and forces police officers to inquire about immigration status during any kind of arrest or routine stop if they encounter “reasonable suspicion” that the person might be in the country illegally. In addition, the new law gives police leeway to arrest someone solely on the basis of there being probable cause that they may be undocumented, at which point they’re to be turned over directly to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

This basically boils down to the police in Arizona having new license to stop anyone looking remotely Hispanic — for no other reason than that they look remotely Hispanic — demand papers from them, and take them into custody if satisfactory documents are not immediately produced. Predictably this has led some people, such as Roman Catholic Archbishop Roger Mahony, to draw parallels to the lives of those in Europe forced to live under the Nazi regime. Additionally — and this concerns all of us — the new Arizona law makes it a crime to “transport or move,” or “conceal, harbor or shield” undocumented immigrants, reminding me more of something out of the Fugitive Slave Acts from this country’s dark past. Against such blatantly unjust, potentially far-reaching legislation, at least we’re armed with a chance for everyone to participate in its direct disobedience, instead of just abandoning our undocumented brothers and sisters to their fate.

In a relatively short amount of time, Martin Luther King Jr. became somewhat of an expert on unjust laws. In a speech he delivered before the Fellowship of the Concerned in 1961, King defined an unjust law as “a code that the majority inflicts upon the minority, which that minority had no part in enacting or creating, because that minority had no right to vote in many instances.” Although close to 50 years old, this definition holds up in modern-day Arizona quite well. The undocumented minority, having virtually no recourse to its voice being heard, is at the mercy of the majority — in this case that of the Arizona Senate — 60 percent Republican and 100 percent white.

King places upon his definition one condition: that the law the minority is compelled to obey is not binding upon the majority. This indeed rings true again, as one would have a very hard time imagining members of Arizona’s white community consenting to being stopped because of their skin color, questioned by police, and immediately forced to prove their legal status under penalty of detention. On the necessity for civil disobedience when faced with such a law, King writes in his Letter from Birmingham Jail that:

[A]t first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

While it’s difficult for me to speculate as to exactly how this unjust law should best be disobeyed, the inspiring example is already there of the five students and community organizers who staged a sit-in at Senator John McCain’s office in Tucson after the bill’s April signing. Remarkably enough, three of the five were undocumented and knowingly subjected themselves to possible deportation, finally undergoing arrest, then detention by ICE, before thankfully being released the next day. …

Read Will’s whole article here.

Poetry: ‘If You Leave Your Shoes’ by Joseph Ross

My friend Joe Ross has written a provocative and stunning poem in reaction to the new immigration laws Arizona is about to enact.

Joseph Ross is a poet, working in Washington, D.C., whose poems have been published in many journals and anthologies including Poetic Voices Without Borders 1 and 2, Poet Lore, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, and Full Moon on K Street.

Joe co-edited with me Cut Loose the Body: An Anthology of Poems on Torture and Fernando Botero’s Abu Ghraib for D.C. Poets Against the War. He has given readings in Washington, D.C.’s Miller Cabin Poetry Series and in the Library of Congress’ Poetry-at-Noon Series. He teaches in the College Writing Program at American University in Washington, D.C. I’m grateful to Split This Rock for posting Joe’s poem.

If You Leave Your Shoes
A Response to Arizona’s Law SB 1070
by Joseph Ross

If you leave your shoes
on the front porch
when you run

to the city pool
for swimming lessons,
you might end up

walking across the sand
of the desert in
scorched feet,

bare, like the prophets,
who knew what it was
to burn.

If you leave your lover
to run to the market
for bread and pears

you might return
to find your lover
gone and the bed

covered with knives,
hot and gleaming from
a morning in the sun.

If you leave your country
in the wrong hands,
you might return to

see it drowning in blood,
able to spit
but not to speak.

Joe Ross appeared on the panel Gay and Lesbian Poetry in the 40th Year Since Stonewall: History, Craft, Equality during Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation and Witness 2010. Find out more about Split This Rock.