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Sunday, February 9, 2014

Why I Will Get Arrested on President's Day

On Monday, February 17, I will join a group of faith leaders and undocumented immigrants and together we will commit civil disobedience in front of the White House in hopes of being arrested as we protest the 2 millionth deportation which is expected to happen in just a few weeks. We are saying we do not want any more deportations - not 1 more - until genuine, solution-based immigration reform is passed.

It is my prayer that this action will bring about the end to deportations. I am also praying that this action will pierce the hearts of those in the Church who have chosen to sit idly by, to watch from a distance rather than to act. And it is my prayer that this action, more than anything else, will help bring comfort to immigrants in this country who live daily in fear of being arrested and deported, ripped away from their families and friends, from their homes and communities of faith.

This Administration has deported nearly 2 million people since 2009. Think about that. 2 million people. It boggles the imagination. 2 million fathers or mothers, sons or daughters, nieces or nephews, aunts or uncles. 2 million people have been ripped away from their families. 2 million circles of friends have been broken. There is a lot of yelling and screaming about "big government" these days, especially from the politically far right, but I have yet to hear them yell or scream or make a fuss at all over the most intrusive act I know of - the federal government breaking into homes or workplaces, grocery stores or restaurants or even places of worship and taking someone away from their lives, ripping them from their most intimate relationships and sending them back to a country that some of them have not seen in decades or do not even remember at all.

I know President Obama's get tough approach with immigration over the first five years of his administration is meant to try and prove to the Republicans that he can be trusted on border security. Guess what? It hasn't worked at all. After nearly 2 million deportations John Boehner said just last week that the President cannot be trusted to secure the border. Can he be trusted by the Republicans at 2.5 million? 3 million? The truth is that this is all just politics for Boehner and the House Republicans, as it is for most DC politicians. And now that President Obama knows he will never do enough to gain the trust of the other side of the aisle it is time - indeed, it is far past time to do what is right and to stop the machinery of deportations once and for all.

Many individuals who have been and who are still being deported are people who have lived in the United States for years, some for decades and some, practically all of their lives. They come to this country to pursue their dreams, to escape religious, economic or political oppression, or to reunite with family members. They contribute to the United States in so many ways. They are our neighbors, they are our colleagues at work, and they are members of our congregations - our brothers and sisters in Christ. Many of those who have been and who still are being deported represent absolutely no threat to you or me or anyone else. Yet the record number of deportations continues unabated. It is horrific. When you step back and look at the enormous number of deportations and the enormous number of people we have incarcerated in this country, I believe we have to name this for what it is: state-sponsored terror committed against people of color.

The other reason I am getting arrested is to spur the Church to action, not just to support legislative reform, but to speak out and move publicly against deportations. Some religious leaders are indeed speaking out. I am very proud of the over 1,300 United Methodist Bishops and clergy from 49 states who, in less than one week's time, signed a letter just a few months ago calling for "an end to all deportations until genuine, solution-based reform is passed."

I am sure other religious leaders have spoken out as well, but the time for press conferences is over. The time for redemptive action that involves personal risk is now. With the 2 millionth deportation quickly approaching, where is the outcry by all faith leaders on this issue? Why does the group being arrested on Monday, February 17 not include every supposed national faith leader who supports immigration reform?

I cannot help but wonder if the lack of outcry against the Administration concerning their over-dependence on deportation centers on the Washington DC-based advocates' obsession with access to power. The prophet Jeremiah charged many of the priests in his day of pleasing the King rather than God; of becoming palace priests. The result of their mistaken allegiance is that they cried out "peace, peace when there is no peace." (6:14) They ignored the reality of injustice those who were vulnerable faced so that those in power would not have to come face to face with the devastation they were actually causing.

I fear that far too many religious leaders today, especially those based in Washington DC, seem far more preoccupied with the politics of immigration than with defending and supporting the rights of immigrants. Access to the White House is not worth muffling our voices and refusing to speak out against the injustice this Administration continues to commit by its over-reliance on deportations.

My prayer is that the action taken on February 17 will be so transformative that it will change the many palace priests we have in Washington DC into prophets of righteousness crying out against the injustice of the deportation machinery; a machinery that has created a sense of terror in so many immigrant communities. We do not need palace priests who soothe those in positions of power, telling them that people of faith stand with them. If politicians - no matter which party they belong to - are hell-bent on ripping immigrant families apart, then we need prophets crying out for justice, crying out for the voices of those so easily ignored to be heard, crying out for the lives of those so easily crushed and disregarded to be kept safe.

While palace priests need professional talking points that will tickle the ears of those in high positions of influence, prophets need only hear the anguished stories from those whose loved ones have been whisked away in the middle of the night. And hear them we must. I am personally sick of the endless press conferences where religious leaders praise politicians for taking a step forward on immigration reform when those politicians either actively take part in pushing for more deportations or have done and said nothing to stop the deportation machinery. Everyone must be held accountable for lives destroyed and families torn apart.

The essence of the prophetic task is to tell the truth no matter who it may offend. The essence of being a palace priest is to maintain the status quo and moreover, to maintain your own position within that status quo. We need religious leaders who will tell us, the politicians, and indeed, the entire world the truth of how deportations have ruined lives, ripped apart families, and devastated congregations and communities. The prophet seeks to align the values, actions, heart and soul of society with the Kingdom of God. The prophet is solely interested in the transformation of the worldview and basic allegiances of the individual and the society as a whole.

I pray our actions on February 17 will be prophetic, but God's Spirit has a bigger say in determining that than I do. I do believe that we have heard from far too many palace priests for far too long. It is time to hear from some prophets and something tells me that they won't be invited to the next DC faith leaders press conference. They prophets will be the ones lying in front of buses refusing to allow ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) buses to take more immigrants to be deported. The prophets might even be kneeling in front of the White House on President's Day urging an end to the injustice of continued mass deportations.

The good news is that the prophetic task is not reserved for a few, but is open to all in the Church. You don't have to have a long, important title. Most prophets have no title at all. We just have to be willing to listen to our immigrant sisters and brothers, hear the devastation in the stories they tell us and be willing to risk our safety to gain safety for them. And it is time to risk. It is time to tell the truth. And it is time for deportations to end for good.