Welcoming Immigrants: Strangers and Friends

Why talk immigration at the SoA Watch Vigil? Those who take part in this November 21-23 conference and vigil in Columbus, GA, understand the links all too well. SoA/WHINSEC (SoA is now officially WHINSEC – Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) training is a significant contributor to military violence in Latin America, and that’s one of the many “push factors” that force people to flee and to migrate – many to the U.S. 

That understanding led a thousand SoA Vigil protestors (including half of our PPF group) to take part in Saturday morning’s 2-mile rally and march from Lumpkin GA to “Shut Down the Stewart Detention Center” – the largest for-profit immigrant-prison in the U.S.  (Corrections Corporation of America, the leader in for-profit prisons, profits from 1,800 men await deportation proceedings, and 98.5% of those men can expect to be deported.) 

That awareness is also why over 50 attendees of the SoA Watch conference, looking at the multiple parallel sessions on offer, chose to join our Saturday evening Workshop Ministries of Welcome: The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship presents reports from the Texas Border and the New Sanctuary Movement.  You can see photos from this event in our Facebook album.  The Rev. Kelly Allen, chair of the Mission Presbytery (South Texas) Immigration Task Force, talked of how churches in Texas are cooperating with other local agencies to respond to the surge of children and families fleeing violence in Central America, and the Rev. Linda Eastwood, a PPF National Committee member who worships with a New Sanctuary Movement congregation in Chicago, told stories and shared ways for congregations around the country to advocate for immigration reform and to protect immigrants facing deportation.  (Everyone who came knew, for sure, to visit the www.sanctuary2014.org both to sign petitions for those in sanctuary and to download the congregation toolkit for those considering joining this movement.) 

Both Kelly and Linda made it clear that you don’t need to head for the border to provide support; even those immigrants newly crossing the border and released from detention scatter all over the country. You’ll almost certainly find people needing help right in your own neighborhood, whether they’re new arrivals or long-established immigrant neighbors facing deportation. Local immigrant-rights and legal-support groups can help you find them.

While half of the PPF group was marching to Stewart on a mostly sunny Saturday, the rest were setting up and manning the PPF table at the rally at the gates of Fort Benning, and wandering around other tables making new friends, watching the massive “puppets” being made ready for Sunday, singing along with protest songs from the stage, and signing SoA advocacy postcards. Shame that sun didn’t last into Sunday, but rain did not stop play. It didn’t even dampen the spirits of all of us who marched in the vigil’s moving funeral procession, holding crosses with the names of victims of SoA graduates, and calling out “Presente” to each of the long litany of names of all known victims.

The vigil never ceases to be a moving and haunting reminds of how far we still have to go to prevent the terrible harvest of U.S.-supported militarization in Latin America and around the world.  The fruits are deaths, disappearances, displacements.  We cannot rest.