Wednesday, August 27, 2008

PBS Video on Border Fence

The PBS program NOW focuses on the border fence in this new video. . NOW traveled to Texas to meet families on the U.S.-Mexico border who fear losing their property, their safety, and their way of life. You can take action by sending a letter to your member of Congress to call for a more sensible, effective and humane immigration policy.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Calls for Community Understanding after Beating and Death of Local Resident

July 12 started out as a 'normal' day in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. By the end of the day, however, Luis Ramirez (25), father of two and an undocumented immigrant had been brutally beaten and sustained head and body injuries that two days later led to his death. Ramirez worked in a local factory and also picked crops.

Shenandoah, a small hamlet of an estimated 5,600 residents is located 105 miles from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Shenandoah was once a thriving mining town.Today, however, it is a shadow of what it once was, as the mines closed and the population decreased.

Shenandoah's residents still reflect the earlier patterns of migration to the town; Greeks, Irish, Italians and Lithuanians are visible participants in the town's cultural, political and social fabric. Over the last two decades Latinos have also settled in the town.

The death of Luis Ramirez has brought to the surface some of the fear and unspoken tensions in a once-thriving town now grappling with limited economic opportunities, changing demographics, and little communication between its diverse communities.(New York Times).

Local officials have filed charges against four teenagers that include homicide, ethnic intimidation, aggravated assault and several other offenses. The FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice recently announced that they will also conduct investigations into this matter.

In the meantime, several actions have been taken to begin the healing process in Shenandoah. Recent actions included a press conference and a peaceful candlelight vigil. City leaders including the mayor attended the vigil as did many of Shenandoah's non-Latino and Latino residents. A service for healing and connecting community was held at the First United Methodist Church on August 10th. Additional actions to promote dialogue and community are also being considered.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Help Save Friendship Park

Updated August 14, 2008

As I write, a public park that represents the international friendship between the U.S. and Mexico is being divided and walled off by the Department of Homeland Security. Please join us in reaffirming the park's mission and calling for a more sensible and humane immigration policy.

For generations, friends and families from San Diego and Tijuana have gathered peacefully in Friendship Park at the edge of the Pacific Ocean. Now Border Patrol agents threaten this tradition by questioning and detaining people who visit this special public space.

The struggle to save the park is a troubling symbol of the failures in the U.S. immigration policy. The U.S. doesn't need more fences built or immigrants rounded up, detained and often summarily deported. Those punitive measures don't 'solve' our immigration concerns. Instead, what we need is a workable system that provides a fair path to permanent residency and keeps families together.

The park is not just being damaged symbolically. The extra fences being installed disrupt the quality of life of border communities and damage the delicate coastal ecosystem.

Please join us in contacting your Congressperson today. Urge them to "Save Friendship Park."

Thank you for your adding your voice of support for the public park and the basic rights and dignity of all.

AFSC Human Rights Advocate Released

At 10:00 pm on August 5th 2008 the Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Customs and Border Protection (Border Patrol) released AFSC staff member, Christian Ramirez after nearly 6 hours of unjustified detention and without any charges against him. He was told of the many people who called from throughout the country urging that Imperial Beach Border Patrol Station officials to release him. The American Friends Service Committee thanks all who supported and ensured the release of Christian Ramirez and takes this opportunity to share his letter with you:

"Dear Friends and Colleagues,

I am truly moved by the outpouring of support. Thank you so much for the many emails and calls. I am also grateful for the outstanding effort of my friends and colleagues in San Diego; without their coordination, I will still be detained.

There are many things I want to say, I was detained and then arrested for visiting a park where north meets south and the Pacific crashes against the land, a park that I have visited all of my life. I was detained and arrested for bearing witness to the ongoing destruction of that park, for a triple fence will bypass the last place where families can still come together, and see each other through the wall of death that separates our families and communities.

I was able to capture on video most of the incident. My camera, video, and cell phone were all returned. I was detained for two hours at the park and for four (under arrest) at a Border Patrol Station. I spent the four hours in a cell of about 6 feet wide by 8 feet long. I was released as a result of all of your calls.

Just last Sunday, communities from Tijuana and San Diego came together at the park for an ecumenical gathering. Hundreds of people attended on both sides of the border, including my family. On the Tijuana side, my grandmother sat on a lawn chair flanked by my aunts, uncles laughed, we smiled, we sang together and for that moment the 10 foot wall between us disappeared.

After the event ended, we said our goodbyes; I stretched my fingers through the fence and touched my grandmother's fingers, the only parts of our bodies' small enough to cross through. It was only at that moment the wall reappeared with its entire monstrosity.

This special space has been known as Friendship Park. In my mind and the mind of many here in the San Diego-Tijuana border region, a high wall or other barriers will never take our friendship away, and most certainly not our dignity.

Join us as we endeavor to ensure that Friendship Park can be a space for friendship, family gatherings and the peaceful co-existence of two communities. Greetings and again my deepest thanks to the many colleagues friends, family and faith voices who took action for my release.

Desde la herida abierta - la frontera (From the open wound - the border)

Su humilde servidor, Christian Ramirez"

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Reflections on My Trip to Postville

Guest post by Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman of Madison, Wisconsin

I was standing next to a long table full of neatly arranged trays of cookies when I felt a light tap on my shoulder. I turned around and saw a woman with white hair smiling kindly at me. Noticing my kippah she offered, "The kosher cookies are over here." After finishing our march through the tiny town of Postville, Iowa, the hospitality committee of St. Bridget's Catholic Church was waiting for us, eager to show their appreciation that we had come. (Photo Credits: Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman)

Interfaith March Joins Over 1,000 People

It was an extraordinary experience to march through Postville, a town of 2,200 people. The afternoon began with an interfaith service with hundreds of people packed into the tiny church. We read liturgy of courage, hope, and love together both in English and Spanish, and we sang a beautiful rendition of Hinei mah tov in unison - indeed, how great it was that we were all sitting there together.

We were quite a diverse group of over 1,000 people. The march, organized by Jewish Community Action of Minneapolis, Jewish Council on Urban Affairs of Chicago, and our host, St. Bridget's Catholic Church, drew a fascinating crowd. As we walked through the neighborhoods, Postville residents sat on porch stoops or lawn chairs watching us as we marched by. They seemed to be fascinated by us - after all, such a march had never happened in this town.

When we arrived at Agriprocessors, a rabbi, speaking through the loud-speaker, explained a piece of Talmud which prohibits employers from oppressing their workers. We passed a park where we heard more speeches and a poem by children. We then walked into the center of town where we were confronted by a small, angry group of counter-protestors who did not seem to be from Postville. One sign read, "Pack their sack and send them back." A line of police officers separated us.

Community Reflects on "Disaster" of Raids

I walked for some time with an older couple who lived ten miles outside of Postville. They kept repeating the word disaster - the raid was a disaster, the working conditions at the plant were a disaster, the plight of the children separated from their parents was a disaster, the deportations were a disaster. They were members of St. Bridget's. I asked what people in the church thought of all of this. They answered, "The church just doesn't like to see families separated. It's just not right."

Iowan Hospitality

A downpour interrupted the last of the speeches outside of St. Bridget's. We all piled into the church - with a spread of cookies waiting for us. Throughout the day I had wondered what the folks at St. Bridget's thought of so many Jews converging on their town. Did they understand that we also shared so many things in common? The kosher cookies seemed to say it all. I thanked one of the women on the hospitality committee. She responded, "We are so happy to have you." "But serving 1,000 people cookies?" I asked. "We're Iowans. This is what we do."


For information on the May 12 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raid in Postville and AFSC's involvement, click here and find out how you can help.

  • To read "Interpreting after the Largest ICE Raid in US History: A Personal Account," by Erik Camayd-Freixas, Ph.D., click here (PDF, 104Kb).
  • To read an article by Sandra Sanchez of AFSC Des Moines about the ICE raid on immigrant workers in Postville, click here.