I’m sitting in the waiting room at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement Detention center. I am one of two white faces in the crowd of many brown faces. The other white face is the guard. The brown faces look despondent, overwhelmed, some are frightened. I have just dropped off a bag of personal belongings to a person being held in this building, a “detainee.” I don’t know where he or she was picked up or anything about this person’s life, except I know they are a person. And I know a person should not be treated this way.
At First Parish UU in Bedford MA we have elected to become a sanctuary church. For the last month we have had a person living in our church. I along with over 200 other volunteers, many from our congregation but also many from 8 other nearby churches and synagogues, provide 24/7 presence in the church while our guest is with us. We offer sanctuary in the belief that our government will not violate the boundaries of our church to take our guest into custody. But we have no guarantee. In the meantime, we will do what we can to support this human being who had to leave their family and entire life structure and come live within the confines of this church building in order to remain in our country. We hope justice will prevail and our guest will someday be allowed to rejoin society. But for now, we offer what protection we can and bear witness to their persecution.
There are many other churches like ours providing sanctuary, but all of us together can help only a tiny fraction of the people who are being targeted. That is why I am at the detention center --- to deliver to a person already in detention some personal belongings that have been gathered by their family and friends some distance away. We are part of an extensive network helping each others’ friends and family members who bear the brunt of persecution. Far less dramatic, certainly, but in its own way, a modern day underground railroad.
There are so many dimensions of what is being done to these people in our country. There are political dimensions, there are legal dimensions, there are race and class dimensions, and there are economic dimensions. But I am most clear about the human dimensions. As a UU, I believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person. As an American, I believe our country should be a refuge for those who wish to build a better life. And as a human being, I believe we are mostly the same except for our circumstances. I know I would not want to be treated this way. How hard is that to get?
In April I will attend the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office's (UU-UNO's) Intergenerational Spring Seminar (April 5-7, 2018) to learn more about immigration. The UU-UNO is working with the governments and other NGO’s at the UN to help address the enormous immigration and refugee crisis the world now faces. There are over 60 million displaced people in the world today, exceeding even the number at the end of World War II. It is impossible to grasp the meaning of that number, much less feel there is anything I can do about it as an individual. But I do know I can help human beings who are being targeted in my community. And by supporting the UNO and taking advantage of the learning opportunity of the Spring Seminar, maybe I can gain a deeper understanding of what is happening, and in fact, do something about the larger problem.