Pedro Rios of American Friends Service Committee leads a breakout group at WJUMC.
Hospitality for our immigrant brothers and sisters | By Jesse N. Love
Detention Centers and Border Enforcements breakout group educates WJ Conference members in Extending Extravagant Hospitality towards immigrants.
As part of celebrating the theme of “Extending Extravagant Hospitality”, the Western Jurisdictional Conference set on its agenda to recognize the plight of immigrant brothers and sisters during Thursday’s Plenary Session. Stories of the Mexican/immigrant experience, especially from the San Diego area, were shared. The difficult journey to “the Other Side” (United States) was told through the arts, family stories, and through stories of a complicated and conflicted immigration system. Listening to these testimonies reinforced the need to recognize immigrant people as members of our community who the Western Jurisdiction is determined to serve.
DETAINMENT & BORDERS
After Plenary, the body was invited to participate into breakout sessions discussing the immigrant experience. Pedro Rios, representing American Friends Service Committee, led a session on the immigrant experience pertaining to detention centers and border enforcement. Rios stated that understanding issues related to border people is more difficult for citizens who live farther away from the border.
According to Rios, there are about 21,000 border patrol agents in the US with 80% concentrating on the US-Mexico border and 20% dedicated to the US-Canada border. In Douglas, Ariz., there is a ratio of 1:9 border agents to people in the area. Rios shared that detention and border patrol is – at best – an “opaque” organization in need for further transparency. There has been an increase of abuses due to a lack of accountability, so it’s much easier for agents to abuse many who crossover to the US illegally. Investigations on the deaths of immigrants connected to the border patrol watch are sometimes not done.
EDUCATION IS KEY
Rios is working to help educate people in order to help bring justice to those who are victims of this system. He shares he is serving with a team heading towards the Washington, D.C. to meet with individual representatives in helping to put ‘mechanisms’ in place holding those in the border/detention centers accountable for actions against immigrants.
Rios also presented a few ideas for local communities in regard to immigrant people in their communities. Education is vital. For people new to this country, immigrants can benefit from tools to allow them to be active in the local community, with potential to become involved in leadership. Training on civil rights, the history of immigration in the US and Constitution can also be very helpful. Understanding how the US government works can also help empower immigrants to incorporate themselves into the greater society.
WHAT WE CAN DO
A member of our WJUMC asked Rios, “How can we help?” Rios responded that the best way to help is to be informed. Learning about the issues involving immigration and the detainment system’s connection to corporations benefitting from the politics of immigration can be helpful. Rios explains: “That’s probably one of the biggest motivators for laws such as SB 1070 out of Arizona – you create the conditions where people are criminalized for seeking employment. And once they are detained and in prison, then the large corporations are profiting off that detention.”
“If thinking people knew about these things, they would be more apt to be active and to demand justice,” shares Mary Ann Tabor of the Rocky Mountain Conference. “Too often we are complacent – we think it is for our own security and our own safety…and it really isn’t” Tabor saw this breakout session from a personal standpoint as her new son-in-law recently became a citizen, but legally with a 4-year wait and $10,000 – time and resources that many do not have.
Rios concluded the session on detainment and border patrol. After his session, he shared:
“I think that often times that we hear that everyone was an immigrant and this country was built on immigrants; I think that is partially true. However, I think that it is important to understand that people contribute in many ways to the formation of community and how “society” gets defined. So if we have people who are undocumented – they may be our neighbors, they may be parents of our kids’ friends at school – wherever they may be – they are still a part of our community. To enter into dialog with them is the best way to overcome biases and false beliefs that often times get played out through the mainstream media. Trying to build dialog and build community with our neighbors is the best way to know each other and break barriers we put in front of ourselves.”
Special thanks to John Fanestil, Bishop Eduardo Carillo, Saul Montiel and Christian Ramirez.
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Jesse N. Love serves as the Print & Publications Manager of the PNWUMC