Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Fortress Europe and USA: Migration and Justice


Fortress Europe and USA

On Tuesday, November 22nd, we gathered at Heilege-Kreuz Kirche for an evening devoted to just migration, "Festung: Europa und USA" (Fortress Europe and USA) (. The main concern of the evening was to develop broader support for a joint statement on the issue developed by a work group from Germany and the United States which has since been officially approved by the Presbyterian Church (USA) meeting in Portland, Oregon in 2016.  We are specifically now seeking the approval of the Evangelical Synod of Berlin-Brandenberg.  The evening was intended intended to not only give background on the statement but to ring an update to the current situation. 

The panel
The panel
included Juergen Quandt, former Pastor of Heilege-Kreuz Kirche;
Juergen Quandt
Ute Gniewoss, current Heilege-Kreuz Kirche; Ulrike Trautwein, Vice Bishop of the  Synod of Berlin-Brandenberg; Asyl worker Bernard Fricke and H-P Buschheur of Sea Eye and myself, Robert Brashear.  Uli Sonn of the Fellowship of Reconciliation of Reconciliation
Uli Sonn
also participated and the  event  was moderated by Hans Thomae, former staf responsible for Migration and Integration of the EKBO.

The evening began with welcomes and then a video from No Mas Muertos in Arizona, The Desert Walkers. (

The update was chilling. The once open and welcoming policy of Germany has changed radically. Asylum seekers are sent back to the first safe place of entry, but when that is a country lile Greece that automatically ships people  back, how can that be safe?  We saw photographs of Belarusian children turned away awaiting deportation that wee disturbingly reminiscent of photographs from the 1930's. We learned of countries flagrantly ignoring their EU agreed obligations and of the millions sent by the EU to Libya to stop people from coming north across the Mediterranean. Sea Eye showed us photos of the  ill equipped overburdened rafts used by people to cross the Mediterranean and  of their   efforts to provide just first level humanitarian assistance like life vests, technically forbidden to "pull people from the sea."  We also heard a moving story of an anti-immigration boat technician who got engaged and changed to being now  committed to  rescue. 

By the evening's end, The  Bishop had agreed to advocate to her Pastors to support the statement. Amy Dalton and Susan Smith representing the Community of Living Traditions of Stony Point, New York, quickly used their organizing skills to call together those who wanted to further the discussion and especially to share their experiences in multi faith organizing.  
A good night
Amy, Susan and Uli

Following is my presentation:

In my presentation, I want to share with you  something of the origins of the  statement  we are exploring this evening and also some uodate on the current  the current situation on the US-Mexico border, the place which has so much  inspired our work together.

The origins of our joint statement go back to a meeting of visiting New York City clergy with Church Asylum workers here at Heilege-
Kreuz Church.  As we heard the stories of how their work had begun in response to Palestinian  refugees fleeing the civil war in Lebanon, we noticed the similarities between that work and work going on at the same time (1980’s) on the Arizona-Mexico borders with Central American refugees. The response was that was the inspiration for the Church Asyl work in Berlin.

The idea quickly developed that bringing together asylum workers  from the US and Germany to share experiences could be helpful to both.   A grant was secured and it was arranged to bring the workers from Germany to the US for a visit with their colleagues and then to bring the US workers to Europe, especially places like Malta where “border” issues are so dramatically visible. The colleagues were able to see first hand the realities  of the situation on our borders and the similarities  of the life threatening  realities of the Sonoran desert and Mediterranean Sea. This was the beginning  of our work together. 
Robert Brashear and PC(USA) World Mission  rep Burhardt Paetzold

In 2015 with a new crisis reality globally of migrants and refugees, with more people in motion globally than any other time in history, (so well documented by AI Wei Wei’s ‘Human Flow”) we renewed our work together and the statement that resulted was passed unanimously by the Presbyterian Church (USA) in 2016. 

My first visit to the border was in the 1980’s when Salvadoran  and Guatemalan refugees were crossing the US border. Despite the fact that both countries were "killing fields,"the US  government refused to recognize  them as refugees and the Sanctuary movement was born. I visited with refugees in a Mexican prision in Laredo and in an amazing coincidence met a man I had first met years earlier in a prison in El Salvador. The Sanctuary movement had begun when my friend John Fife simply answered,. At the door was a Salvadoran refugee. Sanctuary was offered and a movement begun..Soon a network of over 100 churches was created to help transport and protect refugees. He would be harassed by the government, even by agents infiltrating Bible Studies,  and was  ultimately convicted of violating immigration. laws and sentenced to 5 years probation. 

This original movement was the inspiration  for the’New Sanctuary” movement that has arisen in the US to provide shelter and security for refugees. Even whole cities like New York have declared themselves to be “Sanctuary Cities,” promising not to report persons without documentation who live and work in the city and use city services . Even in the face of President Trump's threat to  bock aid to the cities. 

Years later, I would  return to see the work of my friends along the border. I would see the imposing wall, so reminiscent of  the wall of separation between Israel and Palestine, that cuts through the city of Laredo. The towers on the US side with bright lights that shine down into Mexican homes. The raked sand on the US side to detect footprints. On the Mexican side, the US factories  and manufacturing facilities built there under provisions of the North American Free Trade (NAFTA) agreement, drawing people north, and the cardboard and scrap wood "shanty" towns that spring up virtually overnight. The shelters and comedores (soup kitchens) set up for detainees. 

The US government  policy of forcing people to the most dangerous parts of the desert has deadly consequences. Since 1982, official Border Patrol statistics report 6915 corpses found on the Mexico-Arizona border. The Pima County Medical Examiner's office says that this is "under reporting" and in their office …among four in border counties ..alone reports since 2002, an average of 170 corpses a year. A hospital official in Tucson says the medical health situation is “equivalent to having a passenger plane crash jn Tucson every year..”

There is a courageous network of ngo’s engaged in humanitarian work along the border. 

Humane Borders , e.g., provides 550 gallon (c. 1990 liters)  water storage containers. Water jugs are marked and placed where they will be safe. They also provide much needed medical supplies to desperately underresourced health workers on the Mexican side of the border.

Samaritans visit  people who have been apprehended and sent to detention centers to make sure that their rights are protected and to help them contact family. 

The Kino Border Initiative has set up shelters for deportees on the Mexican side. 

No Mas Metros (No More Deaths) provides a network of voluntary humanitarian work from  providing water to mapping travel routes of migrants, now with over 4800 kilometers of trails mapped. Most important is the emergency medical tent near Arivaca, Arizona where medical professionals, students and retirees provide first level medical care for migrants. Their  life saving work has now been interfered with by the Trump adminstration.

After years of a “positive working relationship” with the Border Patrol, a change has taken place. The Border Patrol, after tracking four migrants by helicopter to the medical tent, sent a team of 30 agents to raid  the camp and arrest the migrants. The fear  now is that if the tent is no longer considered “safe,” migrants  will not come to the tent and more lives will be lost in a desert where temperatures can reach over 42’ c.

This reality has impact on US citizens as well. The current situation has turned towns like Arivaca, 11 miles from the border, into virtual police states. The government has created what the American Civil Liberties Union describes as a “100 mile constitution free zone”, i.e., within 161 kilometers  of the border, border patrols can function without regard to normal civil liberties, as if it were a port of entry. In Arivaca, e.g., residents must show i.ds to enter or leave the the town. Anyone fitting a definition of “reasonable suspicion” can be stopped and subjected to comprehensive search. And data shows that Hispanic citizens of Arivaca are 26 more times as likely to be stopped as whites. One resident has described it “like being a Palestinian trying to enter Israel from the West Bank.” In essence, The whole Town of Arvaca has been deemed “suspicious.

The human cost is tragic. In Buenos Aires, I met a mother of two who had lived  in New Jersey for 22 years who had returned to Argentina for a medical procedure. Her attempt  to leave from Buenos Aires had been blocked so she travelled 8900 k to the US-Mexcio border and was stopped by US officials and sent back to Buenos Aires where she had not lived in decades and had no family. A church  is now providing her shelter and trying to find a way to help her quest to  return her children.

As one of his first acts, President Trump pardoned Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio who had been convicted  of ignoring court orders and enforcing a policy of detaining Hispanics “on suspicion” in what the court descorbed as “racist and illegal.” And what our  president described as “heroic.”

Walls will not stop migrants. A sign I saw in Hamburg read ‘If you don’t like migrants, stop creating them.” Our South American colleagues in refugee and migrant work are  very clear that it is the global policies of the US and Western Europe that create migrants and our refusal to welcome them is dishonest and immoral.

For those of us who are inspired by our faith, the Bible is clear from the Old Testament on..the stranger at our gate is to be treated as one of us. From the book of Exodus, Exodus 23:9 
“You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt" to Hebrews, 13:1-2 
Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.  The message is the same. 

This statement is a step in that direction. Let is work together for more just migration policies world wide.

And finally, here is the text of the joint statement:

From the borders of Europe to the USA: 
principles of sanctuary in response to the global escalation of displacement
June 2016

We, religious leaders and humanitarian groups from the European Union and the United States, who have practiced migrant and refugee hospitality for decades, express our deep concern for the well-being of the refugee children, families and all migrants currently arriving at the borders of Europe and the United States, as well as those struggling to live within our borders. In response to the increased numbers of people around the world who are being forced to leave their home countries, and the simultaneous increase in punitive enforcement in many receiving countries, our communities are working hard to support those in need with basic survival aid. But what is needed goes far beyond aid. What we desire is justice based on a recognition of the fundamental unity and interdependence of the human family.

Both in Europe and in the southern United States, the root causes of these migration trends include the economic and political priorities of the Global North. The wars, economic upheaval, and climate disasters befalling peoples of the Global South are more often than not driven by decisions and policies set in motion by the wealthiest nations in the world. As residents of these wealthy nations, our efforts to aid these migrants are carried out in recognition of this reality — in recognition of our role in their suffering — and in service of the “web of interdependence” which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of. We know that our ability to live truly dignified lives is bound up in their ability to do the same.

In an ideal situation, it is the responsibility of our governments to respond to these needs — and some governmental response has indeed taken place. The recent attention on the plight of refugee children and families arriving at the borders of Europe and the Mediterranean has spurred interest and compassion across the world. This spotlight on the European refugee crisis is similar to that of the Central American refugee crisis that received attention in the summer of 2014. Unfortunately, when the immediate flurry of attention wanes, we have seen how policymakers use such crises to promote fear-based strategies to detain and deter migrants, and to further the militarization of our border regions. At the grassroots, this is a tragedy. At the grassroots, we need living compassion much longer than the press interest lasts. These transit and migration points into Europe and the US have been, and undoubtedly will continue to be, protracted humanitarian crises as long as the strategy of deterrence prevails with a border enforcement-only approach. We yearn for a new, restorative and compassionate response to these global humanitarian crises of mass displacement — and it is toward this vision that we continue to act on a day-to-day basis.

We are clergy, academics and leaders of faith-based organizations who have worked in Europe and the United States to protect refugee children, families and all migrants, and to defend their human rights. We have been in relationship with one another for three decades since declaring sanctuary for refugees threatened with deportation from the U.S. and Germany. We have exchanged delegations to witness the work being done by faith-based organizations on the Southwest border of the U.S. and in Malta, Germany and Italy. Now we join together because of the common crises of alarmingly increased numbers of people being forced by war and economic upheaval to flee the Middle East and Africa, and the equally alarming increased numbers of people fleeing drug wars, poverty, and gang violence in Central America and Mexico. We join in solidarity with these migrants and with one another in faith, to uphold the human rights of all and the mandates of our faiths.

The following principles (further elaborated below) unite and embolden us to work together toward these ends at the borders of the US and Europe:
Compassionate Response: We care deeply about these refugee children, families and all migrants, and we urge our countries to have open arms to protect them and preserve their human dignity. We reject detention of migrants as a violation of human rights and dignity.
Due Process: We advocate for fair and timely legal proceedings, competent legal representation, and due process for children, asylum seekers, and all migrants.
Family Unity: We uphold and respect the unity of families as a basic human right.
Restorative Justice: We desire revitalization and healing of our borderlands, not militarization. The only long-term solution is a holistic approach that prioritizes safety and opportunity for these migrants and addresses root causes.
Civil Initiative: As long as our governments are not adequately addressing these humanitarian crises, citizens have the right and responsibility to respond with an approach that follows the mandate to provide sanctuary when needed and, above all, to love our neighbours. 

Based on these principles, we covenant with one another to work together for just and humane response to all migrants both at our borders and within our countries.

We ask our allies and supporters across Europe, the United States, and beyond to join us in this covenant, and in insisting that the above policies and principles serve as the basis for all countries receiving migrants in response to the current and ongoing international humanitarian and refugee crisis.

Church in Asylum, Germany
No More Deaths, Arizona 


What these principles mean to us:

Compassionate Response: We care deeply about these refugee children, families and all migrants, and we urge our countries to have open arms to protect them and preserve their human dignity. We reject detention of migrants as a violation of human rights and dignity. Entering a country without documentation is not a crime if a refugee asks for asylum — the seeking of asylum should not be criminalized, and refugees should never be detained in prison-like conditions. In the US we oppose the proliferation of immigration detention centers maintained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and private prison corporations to hold captive immigrant men, women, and children. These detention centers are filled through national legislation mandating that 34,000 detention beds be filled at all times. This legislation creates demand for the policing and criminalization of immigrants for corporate profit.  The results are devastating as detained individuals are often held far from family and face frequent transfers, impossibly high bonds, a lack of legal resources, and deportation. We are especially concerned by the re-opening of family detention centres, proven to be harmful to the well-being of children and families, and we urge collaboration with community-based centres for shelter. In Europe, some refugees have to stay in detention camps (for example Malta, Poland, Hungary), and others can live in refugee-houses or private homes. The rising numbers of refugees in more and more countries in Europe tend to move to a more restrictive policy against refugees, which leaves us very concerned. Flight is not a crime; refugees should not be detained. This principle stems from the belief that every person who arrives at the borders of Europe and the US has unique and sacred dignity, which is not bestowed by governments or by laws or based upon their wealth or where they or their parents happen to be born.

Due Process: We advocate for fair and timely legal proceedings, competent legal representation, and due process for children, asylum seekers, and all migrants. 
Since the outpouring of support for the Central American and Mexican minors who arrived at the US–Mexico border in the summer of 2013, US Department of Homeland Security has introduced practices designed to expedite mass deportations that offend fundamental principles of due process and endanger mothers and children fleeing extreme violence, according to the CARA Project and Human Rights First. Violations of due process and unreasonable delays in legal proceedings are also rampant in ICE and privately run detention centers throughout the United States. In Europe more and more countries are defined as “sichere Herkunftsländer (ie. safe countries) — including Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Albania, Mazedonia — which means that refugees from there have the most restricted means to apply elsewhere for asylum and almost no chance for acceptance. In Germany there are discussions at the moment to declare Afghanistan a “safe country” — though currently 50% of all Afghani applicants to Germany are accepted for asylum under the Geneva Conventions — because the German government asserts that in some regions of Afghanistan, like Kundus, people are able to live peacefully. This is also happening with several countries in North Africa. In the US, we are also concerned with the due process of enforcement mechanisms such as the criminal prosecutions carried out by Operation Streamline. In Europe, more and more countries are implementing the policy of closing borders, even though it is arguably against EU policy. The EU Commission should challenge those countries, but because it is not seen as a “normal' situation, and because of the prevailing 'culture of intolerance' such actions are condoned. With the trauma that many of the migrants carry and their confusion about the immigration system, they should not have to defend themselves against a system stacked against them. We insist that the principles of due process and legal representation be upheld for these refugee families. We believe the justice system and the immigration system should not be used to criminalize or punish people who have had to migrate to feed, protect or re-join their families, or be used to expedite their removal.

Family Unity: We uphold and respect the unity of families as a basic human right. Many of the children and other migrants arriving at our borders, whether or not they have asylum or protection claims, are trying to unite with their parents or family members. We support this process for traditional nuclear families as well as non-traditional family units. In the US, we oppose the record number of deportations under the Obama Administration, and in Europe we are concerned about the practice of granting humanitarian status, a lower status which does not come with the right to family reunification. We oppose excessive time restrictions on reunification, and practices that link this right to costly monetary fees. We call for immigration policies that promote family unity and prioritize reunification. When families are travelling together, everything must be done to keep them together. We believe people have the right to migrate to sustain their lives and the lives of their families and that they should not have to choose between supporting their family and being with their family.

Restorative Justice: We desire revitalization and healing of our borderlands, not militarization. The residents, indigenous peoples, historical sites and wildlife of our borderlands feel the heavy impact of the migrations funnelled through them and the concentrated enforcement apparatus. We desire healing for all these communities and eco-systems. The plight of these vulnerable should not be used as an excuse to further promote fear of migrants and to militarize our borders. We believe that respect for basic human dignity, human and civil rights, as well as the restoration of environmental protections of public lands, must be prioritized. To achieve this, we must pursue more effective international cooperation. In Europe, the so-called “Dublin System” places the heaviest burden on the countries at the southern borders of Europe. In the southern US, it is the US-Mexico border that bears the burden of the migration from many Central American countries. We envision a system where every country is sharing equal responsibility, regardless of their proximity to the border. We suggest that refugees be registered near the countries from which they have to flee, and then be allowed to enter countries which will process their applications through safe corridors. Countries can decide about the number of refugees they will accept through this system. In Europe, those who are given a refugee status should be allowed to move freely within the EU and to choose the country in which they want to live. In the US, this vision implies cooperation between Canada, the US and Mexico. Refugees must take precedence — this will prevent family separation and deaths. The only long-term solution is a holistic approach that prioritizes safety and opportunity for these migrants and addresses root causes. 

Civil Initiative: As long as our governments are not adequately addressing these humanitarian crises, citizens have the right and responsibility to respond with an approach that follows the mandate to provide sanctuary when needed and, above all, to love our neighbours. While the specific ways we extend support will vary, we are united in our commitment to respond. We seek to understand and educate others on the root causes of migration. We mourn with the families whose loved ones have perished in the Arizona desert and Mediterranean sea or other land borders. We recognize that a border-enforcement approach to the refugee children and families and the ongoing humanitarian crises will lead to more deaths, violence, human rights abuses and human trafficking already faced by vulnerable migrant populations. We urge the creation of transparent independent oversight groups to review customs and immigration officers’ practices and investigate allegations of abuse. We hold the belief that building just relationships with our neighbours should guide our efforts as a community to respond.

No comments:

Post a Comment