A Pastoral Perspective On The Spiritual Struggle In Search Of Justice For The Undocumented

Posted on June 3, 2011

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The Faith of Elvira…

                                     The Politics of Self-Righteousness…

                                                 The Betrayal of Barack…

                                    The Resurrection of the Remnant…

By Rev Walter L Coleman

 

In Psalm 139, David prays for the all knowing, all seeing God to search his heart so that he, David, can become aware of all of his sins, all of his weaknesses. He wants to make himself clean so that he can do what God asks him to do, clean so that he can see what to do with unclouded vision.

That has often been our prayer as we have sought clarity and direction in the Movement for the undocumented and their families. For some, the place of the faith in the movement has been in the support and authority the churches could provide. For us, the faith has been our source for direction, for strategy, for timing, for courage and for strength. Every day we have tried to make our hearts clean and our mind open so that we could find answers in prayer, in scripture and in the revelations that have come from those whose faith drove them to come forward in new ways in the struggle.

 

In these few pages, we respond to those who have asked us to explain the way the faith and the wisdom of the scripture have guided us in these last ten years. We speak of the Faith of Elvira for Elvira Arellano both led and symbolized a movement of faith that led the movement for legalization from below. We speak of the Politics of Self-righteousness to describe the political opportunism in the leadership of the movement which failed to challenge the Democratic Party to keep its promise. We speak of the Betrayal of Barack to describe the crucifixion of families and young people being carried out every day, 1100 times every day, by a President and a Party who were elected on a promise to stop this unholy persecution. And we speak of the Resurrection of the Remnant to describe what is going on now, before our eyes, as the movement rises from despair, discouragement and betrayal to affirm the humanity – and the destiny – of millions of faithful families and to make an offer of redemption to a nation that has lost its way in its own arrogance, selfishness and self-deception.

 

PART 1: THE FAITH OF ELVIRA AND THE POLITICS

 OF SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS

 

THE FAITH OF ELVIRA

Our struggle began in the faith of the undocumented – and in the response, often times confused, of the Latino community and the people of good will – and those seeking political gain or economic gain. This movement, which has produced the largest mobilizations of any movement in the nation’s history, is unique in that it’s leadership, unlike the women’s movement, the labor movement or the civil rights movement, was not led or spoken for by the undocumented themselves, with a few exceptions, but by others who, even when well intentioned, had other interests, other agendas as well.

Yet it was the faith of the undocumented that was the source and the reason for the struggle and as people of faith, we sought guidance, revelation and inspiration from prayer and scripture as we sought the context of the struggle.

We came to understand that the strongest and most universal motivation for those who came to the United States without papers was the preservation of their families. They crossed the border, which became increasingly more dangerous, in order to work and send money back to their families. In many cases, they formed new families here. They stayed out of love and responsibility for these new families and to send money back to the families that remained behind. When they were caught and deported, they risked dangers and prison to return to the families that remained here.

This was what we learned when we looked with open eyes andlistened with open ears from the undocumented. The 12 million was not made up of individuals who chose to come to the United States for a better life – but to sustain the lives they already had. They did not come because they thought the United States was a paradise of opportunity and freedom. They did not come out of rejection of their own countries or their own cultures. In fact they came because of what the policies of the United States in collaboration with their own governments had done to the economies of their own countries – and stayed because of the families that were formed here and the children that were born here.

In sanctuary, Elvira Arellano defined her situation and the faith that has sustained her. “We did not come here for the American Dream; we came because of what the American nightmare had done to our pueblos.” Elvira’s commitment was first to make enough money to support her parents whose lives had been devastated by the policies of NAFTA and U.S. directed financial restructuring. When her son was born, she committed herself to making a way for him in this his new nation.

The faith of millions, their commitment to their families, sustained them under the most difficult conditions. As time went on, the facts and figures confirmed what the lives of the people demonstrated. In spite of the difficulties of living without papers, of the broken law and the pressure of immigration authorities,  families with undocumented members, or nearly three times more likely to be headed by two parents together and more than twice as likely to be married as U.S. citizen families.

 

When religious leaders were asked to respond to the crisis of the people who filled their pews, they went to the Old Testament scripture that called on the Israelites to “Welcome the stranger, for you were once strangers yourself in Egypt.”

From the beginning, we felt this was the wrong source in scripture from which to seek guidance. First, it did not speak to the 12 million and their families. Instead, it provided an ethical guide to U.S. citizens. Yet what was needed was inspiration, guidance and revelation precisely for the 12 million. True we were pastors to U.S. citizens – but we were also pastors for the 12 million.

When you stand before a congregation of Anglo citizens it was comfortable to speak about “welcoming the stranger.” Even before a congregation of Latino citizens, the message of Welcoming the stranger seemed acceptable. Yet standing before a congregation of families with undocumented members, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, or sitting with such a family seeking spiritual strength and wisdom, “welcome the stranger” was an empty, even offensive message.

Were there two directions from scripture, two different sources in the word to guide us? The social context, the witness of the faith of the undocumented pointed us to the same scriptures, the same scriptural stories that guided and corrected the Israelites. Should we not assume that the undocumented and the Latino families and “tribes” of which they were a part should be viewed as the people of God? Why should we treat the predominantly Anglo citizens of the U.S. as occupying the place of the Israelites in the scripture and treat the undocumented as “strangers”. Everything in the social context in which this issue takes place indicated the reverse. The military, economic and political domination of Latin America by the United States, ever since the time of the Monroe doctrine, led us to place especially the Anglos in the place of the Romans or the Babylonians in scripture.

It is simply wrong to treat the 12 million undocumented – and the 50 million person community of which they are a part – as objects instead of subjects in God’s ongoing Salvation history. Yet that is what the religious establishment – both liberal and conservative – did when they addressed the issue of immigration by making them “the strangers” and making predominantly Anglo U.S. citizens the Christians, the subjects of the Biblical narrative. Confronted with the faith of millions of people, faith in the face of hypocrisy and shame and persecution – we simply reversed the roles in the Biblical narrative.

This reversal of the way the religious establishment approached the “immigration issue” did not result in an abandonment of the citizen population but it did change the way we sought direction in the Word. We believe that the Word and the Spirit (the Advocate of Truth) leads us to see the world in a different way and can guide our actions and make us more effective precisely because we begin with the truth.

The first scripture we were led to was clearly the commandment that those joined together by God should not be separated by man. Was it not the faithfulness to family that motivated this population – that drove them to the north and that kept them in the north with the families that were formed there? A man who was separated from his family by deportation and returned illegally, facing the dangers of the desert and the gangsters that now control the coyotes to work a minimum wage job under the constant threat of prison if he was caught, was not driven by “the American dream” but by the faithfulness and love of his wife and children. There were just too many stories that pointed us towards family and faith – and there were the statistics.

Our source in scripture led us in a different direction. We focused on the mixed status family, the family with U.S. citizen children and one or more undocumented parent. We sought to put before the nation the conflict between their immigration law and their commitment to family values. We organized Familia Latina Unida and worked to give support and the authority of the gospel to these families and to give them the opportunity to bring forth their witness of faith and family to the nation.

The approach felt right. Most importantly, it gave strength to the faith of the people in our churches and it brought unity. It allowed them to find themselves in the story of scripture and to appropriate the authority and guidance of scripture as their own. But it put us at odds with the immigrant rights movement that was developing around us, a movement that seemed to promise the best and quickest road to a legislative solution to the crisis the people faced.

The Bible is in fact the story of one family – the family of Abraham – and their covenant with God which led them to become as numerous “as the stars in the sky.” The story of that family and the people it became is a constant process of breaking the covenant and being restored to it by God’s intervention through the least likely and the most marginalized and oppressed.

The Latino communities, viewed from the perspective of the undocumented, found themselves in the story of Joseph. Joseph had been betrayed by the jealousy of his brothers, sold into slavery in Egypt. Yet he rose to power in Egypt, perhaps because Pharaoh needed someone to organize and control the growing number of Hebrews who had come to Egypt because of the famine in their own territories. The Scriptures show a man with God’s hand on him, a man of vision. Joseph rises to a position that he can provide for his people. He forgives his brothers and brings his father to Egypt so that they can survive.

Those who came north to the United States in previous decades, struggled through years until the amnesty of 1990 or the 245i family reunification of 2001, who became legal residents and citizens, they made the way possible for those who came later. Latino leaders, some Puerto Rican who felt the same racism when they were forced to come north from the Island, had become Congressman, Mayors, State and City elected officials – and they made the way for those who followed them to come and survive “the famine” that had been imposed on Mexico and Latin America by the United States. These were the Joseph’s, betrayed by their own countries who bowed to U.S. unjust economic policies, who came to the U.S. and made a way for their people to come here and survive.

When the undocumented, when the Latino community as a whole, see themselves in a destiny provided by God, it gives them strength and courage. It validates what they have done and gives them a high purpose. It frees them of the efforts to criminalize them and make them ashamed.

They found themselves spoken to by the prophet Isaiah, for the prophet spoke of a people who were shamed and exploited but who were chosen by God to be a witness to all the nations. Chosen by a God who hates robbery and injustice and who promises to raise them up and change their crown of ashes for a crown of glory, who will make them oaks of righteousness and a light to the nations.

They found themselves in the prophetic vision of the Revelation to John. In chapter 12 they see themselves in the woman crossing the desert, pregnant with child. The woman is chased by a terrible Red Dragon of Hate who seeks to consume her child. The angels take the child up to heaven and the dragon chases the child into heaven. There is a terrible battle and the dragon is defeated and thrown back to the earth. On earth, the wounded and dying dragon – his days are numbered – first chases the woman and her child who are protected by god. And then he turns his attention to the other children.

Revelations was written to communities of faith scattered throughout the Roman Empire. They were treated as illegals, without the right to even buy and sell in the markets. They were hunted down and persecuted. Yet they took strength from the Revelations of John which promised that the empire would fade and be destroyed and the faithful would persevere.

How easily the undocumented found themselves in the woman, with child, crossing the desert, chased by a dragon of hate! They had been that woman! That woman was their mother, their wife, their sister!

And the dragon of hate: was not that a perfect image for the blitz of hateful rhetoric spewed from Lou Dobbs and others? Did it not capture perfectly that hateful anger of those who patrolled the border, chasing down people who were returning to their families? Did it not accurately portray the fear and hate directed at the brown eyed children who were changing the make-up of the population of the United States?

And did not the urging of the prophet to persevere also lift up the spirit and strengthen the faith of the undocumented? Did not the undocumented and their community of 50 million have the right to find themselves in the living word, loved by the Lord, walking with His protection, walking in faithfulness to His law?

While the “welcome the stranger” scripture criminalized the undocumented, separated them from the Latino families and communities of which they were a part and put them at the mercy of a nation which used and exploited them, when the contextualization was reversed, they found themselves as God’s people in these other scriptures, with a destiny and a purpose and the power and love of God with them.

Indeed, is there not a prophetic place for the undocumented and the families and communities of which they are a part, in the salvation history of the American continents?

We began to argue for the destiny and purpose of God in the migration to the north. In a nation in which the citizen born had lost the way of marriage and family – where less than 20% of parents were married and only a few more remained together for more than two years, where abortion was used as a form of birth control – the existence of 12 million people, fighting to keep their families together, and succeeding, the migration to the north should be seen as an offer of redemption to that nation.

The statistics proclaimed the truth of the prophecy. While God had “closed the wombs of the Caucasians”, resulting in a shrinking of their numbers, the numbers of African Americans and especially Latinos increased dramatically. Latinos became the largest ethnic group in the United States.

Texas, stolen by military force from Mexico, now has become a majority African American and Latino state. The new emerging majority would become the force to change the nation from an empire that sucked the wealth from the world, especially from Latin America and Africa, to a nation that could bring prosperity to those countries.

From the faithfulness to family of a migrant people would come the prophetic purpose of a witness to justice that could change the world, a people who in simple family faithfulness could become a light to the nations. They were called, not to assimilate into but to transform the nation that had become their homeland. “The stone the builders threw away would become the corner stone of a force for justice in the world!

Migrant labor had become a part of the economic system in the global economy for the western rich nations, but nowhere were the hundreds of millions of workers working outside their home countries recognized as part of the economic systems of the rich nations and therefore nowhere were they given rights, including the right to raise their children together in families where they worked.

The undocumented and their families, by simply bearing witness to their faithfulness, could become the force to transform this great injustice. In the prophecy of scripture, the undocumented found purpose and a vision of the power God was giving them.

And finally, having found themselves as the principals of God’s intervention and salvation, they found themselves in the gospel, in the Way of Jesus and the seasons of faith and resistance that called out to them from the Gospel and the Holy Spirit, the Advocate of Truth.

Each year for 10 years, in the season of Advent, the families came together to prepare for God to come into their lives in the coming year, to prepare the soil for the seeds of faith that God would plant in them.

Each year, God sent a sign, a family or group of families, which rose to the level of national witness to spread and renew the struggle of the people. Every year, the gift of faith and witness propelled a movement to confront the hypocrisy of the system, just as Jesus began his march on Jerusalem. And every year, they faced betrayal and crucifixion – but also the renewal of their movement in the time of Resurrection. The growing assurance of Resurrection led to the renewal of new forms of organization in the time of Pentecost, led by the Holy Spirit which spoke truth to power. Then through the summer, organization built for a larger mobilization in the fall, for the harvest of the year!

The significance of this gospel driven seasons of faith and struggle, which guided the mass struggle, is that it opened the way for many of the undocumented and their families to “step into God’s time” and find their place in the peace and solidarity of the Kingdom NOW by becoming the SUBJECTS of God’s intervention in our affairs instead of the objects of a national debate about them.

In this way, at the base of the movement, among those most affected, the Word and Spirit of Truth spoke to the people giving them strength and vision. From this immersion in salvation history came the largest marches in the nation’s history, some of the most powerful individual witnesses, such as that of Elvira Arellano – and a force and faith so strong that it broke hearts of stone and won the hearts of the majority of the nation. It also moved and unified the Latino community into a powerful and unified political block. This was the movement led from below

 

The Politics of Self-Righteousness

The organization of the movement for legalization at the top, however, was led by those with a different perspective, a different definition of the problem. For these social and political – and religious – organizations, the undocumented were immigrants who came for the American Dream, like immigrants before them from Europe, but who did not have the patience to come legally.

This perspective defined the undocumented as individuals who made an individual choice to break U.S. law in order to have a better life in a better country. They called for legalization as a humane way to bring 12 million people out of the shadows of illegality. They argued that the workers were necessary for the U.S. economy and that it would be impractical to deport all of them. Gradually, in Congress, a compromise solution was established where legalization would be combined with stricter border control and stricter enforcement on employers to prevent hiring of the undocumented. For legalization, the undocumented would be required to undergo a background check, pay a fine and learn English and basic facts about the U.S. system of government and laws.

From a theological point of view, this perspective was a way to “welcome the stranger” within the law. It maintained the law but showed mercy. Politicians who supported this position said it affirmed the United States as a nation of laws but also a nation of immigrants.

Unfortunately, it failed to recognize that the entire nation had participated in a system of cheap labor that included policies that drove people from their own countries and made the way possible for them to cross the border, find employment, pay taxes and even buy homes and start small businesses. Instead, it put the whole blame for the system of undocumented labor on those who had the least responsibility for it and who were the most exploited by it.

Theologically, this was the same hypocrisy that Jesus confronted in the Jewish establishment as they labeled the poor whom they exploited sinners and excluded them from the participation of the temple society. Theologically, this was a perspective that was based in the premise that the citizenry of the U.S. nation were the people of God, in the place of the Israelites in the scriptural history of salvation – and that the undocumented were “strangers” who wanted the great society that God had given U.S. citizens.

The political compromise came very close to working. It passed the Senate once, only to fail in the Republican controlled house. The persistence of the movement, based primarily on the witness of the families to “their truth”, won the hearts of the U.S. majority and the almost unanimous support of the Latino vote, which played an irreplaceable role in the election of a democratic majority in the house and senate and the election of a democratic president. The process of the democratic primary, with Clinton and Obama both competing for the Latino vote, established Obama and the Democratic leadership firmly behind the compromise of comprehensive immigration reform.

We do not argue that it was wrong to support the political compromise. It was almost accomplished and would have given real benefits to millions of people and families. The enforcement provisions, which many opposed, have for the most part been implemented anyway – with no corresponding concession for our people. In fact, the alternative is what we see now: the deportation and separation of 1100 families a day, the ethnic cleansing of the nation. The compromise would have stopped this.

We do argue that the faith and civic leaders of the movement should have spoken the truth and given their support to the leadership from below, the leadership that, in spite of them, changed the hearts of the nation. It would have strengthened our efforts to pass the compromise if the faith community had stressed the responsibility which the whole nation had for the system of undocumented labor. Politics is the art of the possible but faith is the realization and articulation and witness to the truth, the way and the light. Especially the faith community had a responsibility to speak the truth and strengthen the forces led from below to force the democrats to lead in making the compromise. Instead, as we shall see, they folded opportunistically and abandoned the people of God and the cause of the Lord.

Two other developments are important in establishing the context of the political situation that emerged with Obama’s election.

In response to the mass demand for legalization, led in Congress by Congressman Luis Gutierrez, Senator Durbin had reintroduced the “dream act” as an alternative. It was not a real alternative, in terms of resolving the system of undocumented labor, but it was a political alternative for democrats fearing the backlash of white voters if they voted for the comprehensive solution.

The dream act also highlighted the “welcome the stranger” perspective which criminalized the undocumented. Certainly there was a factual difference between young people who had been brought to this country, sometimes even as infants, and their parents, who made the decision to come to this country illegally for them. When the dream act movement was resuscitated in the second year of the Obama administration, the students would be asked to condemn their own parents as criminals, proclaiming that the sins of the parents should not be visited on the children. Even the President would make this argument, publically, over and over again.

When we heard the political leaders, and sadly some of the dream students themselves, talk about the “sins” of the parents, we were reminded of the passage in scripture where Jesus describes the unforgiving debtor. The debtor who owed much to the master was forgiven his debt and then proceeded immediately to put someone who owed him much, much less in prison. The response of the master, when he saw the man’s hypocrisy, was to throw him in prison and throw away the key.

When the leaders talked about the sins of the parents, and deviously turned their children against them, the Saints in Heaven cried out against this hypocrisy of a nation that had forced people to migrate from their own countries for survival, exploited them ruthlessly and now wanted to throw them away like garbage because their numbers, like the numbers of the Israelites that threatened Pharaoh, had become too great.

The dream act brought the argument that immigrants came here for the American dream to its logical extent – thus its name. The opportunism and hypocritical blamelessness of the nation were held high with the argument that these were bright young people, who had no knowledge of their parents “crime” and would contribute to the nation, even willing to fight its wars and die in faraway lands.

The dream act would become a disingenuous shield for Obama and the Democratic leadership to protect them from the anger of a people betrayed and a promise broken.

One other development should be noted. After the failure of comprehensive immigration reform in 2006, Elvira Arellano and Familia Latina Unida raised the demand for “a moratorium” on deportations in a march of over 50,000 people in Chicago. Congressman Gutierrez brought this demand through the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to the White House, beginning a process of documenting the President’s power to selectively stop deportations of certain individuals and groups of individuals and give them a legal status short of permanent residency or citizenship. Elvira Arellano, from sanctuary, then dispatched a delegation of families to the democratic leadership in congress proposing that a solution which gave legal status to the parents of U.S. citizen children short of a road to citizenship was acceptable so long as it allowed these parents to stay and work legally while their children were growing up.

The demand for the moratorium – Stop the Raids and Deportations! – was in fact the mass demand, the demand of the people, that stayed alive because of the faith of the people and which allowed the resurrection of the movement in the third year of Obama’s presidency.

The significance of the “moratorium demand” was that it did not assume the criminalization of the undocumented but did affirm the principle of family unity. It laid aside the issue of citizenship in the nation and recognized and respected the human rights of the workers who had fueled the nation’s economy with their labor and who had been driven here by the inequalities and injustices of global economics.

As President Obama entered the White House with a democratic super majority in the Senate and the House and a commitment to passing comprehensive immigration reform in his first year in office, he had over 70% of the U.S. citizenry in favor of legalization, especially of families with U.S. citizen children and dream act eligible young people and their families.

The stage was set for Barack’s betrayal. While there is a justifiable anger sweeping through the Latino community at this betrayal, we would do well to remember that our battle is not with flesh and blood but with powers and principalities. The acceptance and promotion of the hypocrisy of “American exceptionalism”, the self-righteous position that the nation did nothing wrong in maintaining a system of undocumented labor and that immigrants broke the law in order to achieve the American dream, was in fact the evil that led to Barack’s betrayal. Satan always attacks by playing to the arrogance and self-righteousness of human beings. Satan often disguises his attacks in mirror images of scriptural holiness. Yet God always preserves a remnant, a remnant of the struggle that remains to resurrect the struggle from the despair of betrayal and crucifixion.

 

PART 2: THE BETRAYAL AND THE RESURRECTION

So where are we in our spiritual struggle today – and how does that spiritual struggle lead and direct us? We are in the time after betrayal, the time of Resurrection, and this last year has renewed and made clear the betrayal. We recall the prophecy of the advocate of truth who would judge the world for the crucifixion of the innocent. We recall the scripture that calls us to put on the armor of God: the armor of truth and courage

And that is what we have been doing – and that is what we must continue to do in Pentecost, kingdom time – to prepare us for God’s harvest this year. Yet to understand the way God calls us to follow in the next months it is necessary to review the history of the first two years of Obama administration.

In December of 2009, as we awaited Obama’s inauguration, we held a meeting with Congressman Gutierrez in a Catholic church on the north side of Chicago. Before the meeting, the Congressman spoke with the Leno family. Diego Leno was a U.S. citizen with three U.S. citizen children and a beautiful and devoted wife and mother – who was undocumented and facing deportation. When the Congressman rose to speak he called the Leno family to the stage with him and vowed that this family would not be separated, in fact, that he would go to jail before he would let them happen.

Senator Roland Burris had just been appointed to Obama’s Senate seat and he put in a private bill for the Leno’s, preventing her deportation. It was a sign from God for the next season of struggle.

Congressman Gutierrez began a series of “familias unidas” meetings in Evangelical, Catholic and Protestant Churches across the nation. In city after city, people of different faiths joined in each other’s churches, heard the witnesses of families facing separation, of children who had lost a parent to the broken law, and heard the often emotional response of Congressman brought together by Gutierrez.

We recall the statement by an evangelical pastor that “today, we are not Catholics or Evangelicals or Protestants. Today we are throwing religion out the window. Today we are all members of the body of Christ.” In a Catholic church, the President of the College of Catholic Bishops called the separation of families a sin and was followed by the closing prayer of a leading evangelical pastor. The meetings were not only strong political message to the President to keep his promise – they were necessary affirmations of the families that were feeling the attacks of persecution and shame – and experiencing painful separation. In other words, the church was doing its job!

Obama, who had dropped immigration reform from his first 100 day priority list, delayed his meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the DC based advocacy groups. Finally, under increased national pressure, he met with them in June and promised to have legislation before the congress in September. It was the first of several broken promises – three in fact, as Peter had denied Jesus three times!

THE BETRAYAL OF BARACK

If the struggling believers found hope and meaning in the woman crossing the desert of chapter 12 in Revelations, then they found an explanation of Obama’s betrayal in chapter 13. For in that chapter, the prophet describes “one with the appearance of the Lamb” whose mission yet was to heal the beast who had been defeated in chapter 12. In the last three weeks the nation has seen a side of President Obama that people in Chicago saw when he was beginning his rise to the White House: an ambitious, sometimes vindictive politician more concerned with “positioning” himself than with taking a position that would benefit the community he was elected to serve.

Obama’s campaign promise to pass immigration reform in the first 100 days of his administration has haunted him for his entire presidency. Obama was forced into his campaign position by his competition with candidate Hillary Clinton who was sweeping the Latino vote in the primaries. With the nomination under his belt, Obama steadily dropped immigration reform down on his 100 day priority list until, by December, it didn’t appear at all.

Community leaders were not surprised in Chicago. From the beginning Obama surrounded himself with media consultants instead of policy leadership. When the McCain Kennedy reform legislation was crafted – and ultimately passed the Senate before failing in the House – then Senator Obama at first refused to sign on, seeking to craft his own more conservative bill with Republicans. He did not attempt to justify his position in policy terms, saying only that he needed to “position himself” for his upcoming presidential campaign.

Later, when he had angered the Latino community by his vote for border security, ironically it was Congressman Gutierrez who came to his defense and “squared him” with Latino leadership. Again, Obama explained to community leaders that he was just “positioning” himself to be able to help them later. Moreover Gutierrez was the first, and for a long time only, Latino Congressman to endorse and campaign for Obama. Instead of rewarding Gutierrez for his support, Obama moved even in the early campaign to keep Gutierrez at arm’s length. Clearly it was immigration reform that Obama wanted to keep at arm’s length in his political “positioning.”

Obama also moved quickly to distance himself from African American leaders in Chicago from whom he had often actively sought and received support – first throwing under the bus Minister Louis Farakhan, then Rev Jesse Jackson and finally his own pastor. In so doing he “immunized” his administration from later criticism that he had saved the banks and Wall Street brokers while abandoning millions of families who lost their homes and their jobs. The “positioning” was put in place which would allow him to abandon the demands of his African American and Latino political base while holding their political support with the threat of a hostile Republican opposition. His marginalization of potential critics frequently came with efforts to isolate and humiliate them. His persistent efforts to humiliate Rev Jackson and his family was particularly ironic as Jackson had probably done more than any other single individual to make the democratic party nomination of an African American Presidential candidate possible.

 

With immigration reform taken off the President’s first 100 days agenda, Congressman Gutierrez led a concerted national “familias unidas” campaign and finally forced a meeting between the President and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Again promises were made – but never kept. The President never presented his own bill and, under strict White House control, not a single hearing on comprehensive immigration reform was held in the House. In the Senate, the White House stalled again and again even the introduction of a bill.

The White House claimed that its priority was Health Care Reform but only angered Latinos more with Obama’s frequent statement that his health care proposal would provide no benefit to “illegals.” Observers recalled that he had changed his language from “undocumented workers” during the campaign to “Illegal aliens” now that he was in the White House.

Sadly, the movement had two more chances to force immigration reform while the Democrats still held the political majority in Congress. The first came when the President’s health care bill was up for a vote in Congress. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus and other allies of reform held the votes to pass or deny passage of the health care bill on which the President had staked his administration. A mobilization of over 250,000 came to Washington to demand immigration reform. Before the march, the President called a meeting with the advocate groups and then with the Caucus. The Advocates, perhaps drunk on the white house tea and the prestige of the office, basically folded. They even invited the President to send a video tape of his support for immigration reform to be played at the March before 250,000 people – but they got nothing but a vague promise to move the legislation – later. With no backing from the advocate groups, the Hispanic Caucus also folded, throwing Gutierrez and a faithful few under the bus.

After that, Obama prevented legislation from being introduced n the Senate or hearings from being held in the House. As spring turned into summer, more and more of the advocate groups, seeking support and funding, dropped the demand for immigration reform and adopted the “downpayment” goal of the Dream Act. By doing this they essentially “negotiated before they got to the table” – making even the passage of the Dream act or other even more significant reforms impossible. The Religious establishment followed suit – without a word of protest.

After Republicans swept control of the House in the midterm elections, Obama belatedly joined his voice to the passage of the “Dream Act” after breaking yet another promise (made to Senator Bob Melendez) to support a last ditch introduction of comprehensive immigration reform in the “lame duck” session of the Congress, the last time in his administration that the Democrats would control the House of Representatives.

The White House felt confident that the “Dream Act” legislation would not pass and that they could then blame his lack of progress on immigration reform on the Republicans. In fact, Senator Dick Durbin, Obama’s political sponsor for the Presidency and his closest ally in the Senate, had originally introduced the Dream Act as an alternative to comprehensive immigration reform – another case of political “positioning.” After Gutierrez virtually forced consideration and passage of the Dream Act in the House, the Senate failed to pass the bill – by five democratic votes.

The White House then loudly announced that the Republicans were to blame for the lack of progress on immigration reform and that Obama would return to the issue after the next Presidential election. The White House believed that the issue had been put to bed and told Latino leaders that “nothing can be done in the next two years but that he would be reelected and then would get something done for them – so let’s all get on the team.”

As Obama’s intensification of deportations, separation of families and federalization of local police into immigration agents expanded however, anger grew steadily in the communities. Deportations reached the highest level in U.S. history and Homeland Security devised a multifaceted program to meet a politically devised quota of 400,000 deportations a year.

The attempt to cover the mass assault on the Latino community by claiming that Homeland Security was targeting “criminals” failed the test of the statistics. The vast majority of those deported had no criminal backgrounds. Instead they were moms and dads of U.S. citizens and dream act eligible kids caught in a growing net of racial profiling by local police working with the federal government or “collateral arrests” from ICE raids. The Administration’s legal action against the Arizona law failed to cover over the fact that Homeland Security continues to enable Sherriff Arpao’s infamous racial profiling program through a federal cooperative 287g program

 

In December of 2010, responding to the pain, suffering and outrage in the communities, Gutierrez and Senator Bob Melendez led the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in sending a letter to the President and requesting a meeting. The letter pointed out that the President has the discretionary authority to grant deferred status or parole in place to undocumented family members of U.S. citizen spouses and children as well as dream act eligible children and their families. The letter cited a memo produced by the Department of Homeland Security to the President which documented his authority. The genius of Gutierrez’s demand for administrative action was that it stripped the President naked of the excuses he had been using for two years. Here was something he could do without the action of the Congress. The Republicans could not be blamed. If Obama refused, then he would have to bear the full burden of his broken promise. The emperor had no clothes!

Gutierrez than began a 30 city tour that gained steady publicity, demonstrating that the Obama administration was deporting thousands of parents of U.S. citizen children with no criminal history. Incredibly, facing three wars and a budget government shutdown, the President himself took two hours out to call 9 congressmen telling them not to attend the press conference announcing the campaign! Finally, with no response from the President, Gutierrez began saying that “he would be unable to support” the President in the next election if he did not use his authority to stop these deportations.

The Faith community began to come back to life as the second Familias Unidas tour again joined people of different churches together to hear the witness of families separated and young lives destroyed. This time, the dreamers and the families were united n the demand on the President for administrative action and a youth movement which demanded relief not only for itself but for their families was born.

A meeting was scheduled for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to meet with the President in mid April. Alarmed by the overwhelming response to the Gutierrez campaign for “American Children and Families” – and the threat of Latino non-participation in the President’s reelection – the White House postponed the meeting. Their intelligence had shown a united and angry Latino caucus.

Instead, the White House initiated a whirlwind high level propaganda campaign of its own. They called in the advocates, and then they called in a group of Latino celebrities. They held meetings with Univision corporate leadership – threatening meetings – to stop this important Spanish language outlet from supporting the Gutierrez initiative. Key Univision radio and television personalities, who had previously pressured the President for immigration reform, suddenly became his allies and Gutierrez’s critics.

It seemed for two weeks, previously hidden Latino officials of the White House and the Democratic National Committee were visible everywhere. They had one message: the president does not have the power to stop the deportations but he is “serious about moving reform legislation in the next two years.”

Both statements were without a grain of truth. First, the President did have the authority, documented by his own department heads and legal advisors. Second, the President himself had conceded publically and privately that there was not the smallest chance of passing immigration reform in the next two years, including the dream act, with Tea Party Republicans in control of the House of Representatives. Nevertheless, White House spokesmen continued to put out the propaganda and the White House began spreading the money around, hiring consultants to begin their campaign to clean up the President in the Latino community.

In the midst of this propaganda offensive, came an overt campaign of personal attacks on Gutierrez and the claim that he was undermining Obama’s reelection and would be responsible for the election of a Republican President. It was mean and nasty and personal and broadly orchestrated.

When the President finally met with the Hispanic Caucus he had to admit to the truth. He did have the authority but he felt it was “bad politics” for him to use it. He agreed that legislative action would go nowhere in the next two years. Congressman Gutierrez emerged from the meeting saying “the debate about whether the President has the authority to stop the deportations of the families and students is over. He has the authority. The only question is how broadly and how generously he will use it.”

Clearly the President has been stripped of his excuses for the failure of immigration reform and for his greatly intensified assault on the Latino communities. He is not taking it well. He is striking back with all the power of the White House and sadly some people are folding before the pressure.

The President is showing the truth about the failure of immigration reform in the last two years – and the campaign of terror now reigning down on the Latino community: he is more concerned about “positioning himself” as a middle of the road politician who can win the support of white independents than with standing on the position he campaigned on. And as we saw in Chicago years ago, when he is stripped of his excuses and shell games, he gets mean and nasty.

Sadly, Obama failed to learn the age old lesson of Chicago politics: Good Government is Good Politics and Promises Made must be Promises Kept. The President’s effort to intimidate and buy his way back into the Latino community is meeting stiff opposition and angering key Latino leadership. He is fast losing ground in a key constituency that gave him victories in key states across the nation and is only growing in numbers and influence everywhere. More importantly, he is losing the moral high ground he once claimed and is exposing himself as someone more concerned with his political position than with  fundamental human rights,

The President’s counter attack now takes a predictable turn. Senator Durbin has reintroduced the Dream Act in the Senate and suggested that he was open to pairing the dream act with the Republican’s call for a mandatory e-verification program. The President has already, on his own authority, made E-Verify a condition for all those companies who have federal contracts. If he could take credit for passing a limited dream act and at the same time satisfy the republicans with E-Verify, than he would go into reelection with “defensible position” on immigration. The consequences for millions of families would be devastating and his betrayal would be complete.

Truthfully, the faith community ceased its struggle after the defeat of the dream act and the Republican take-over of the House of Representatives. They moved on to other issues such as gay marriage and abortion. While the different denominations continued to issue statements in favor of comprehensive immigration reform, the resources of the established churches were put elsewhere.

The advocate organizations, facing funding difficulties because of budget cuts, focused their attention on their individual states. They confronted their states participation in federal enforcement programs such as secure communities and on passing “dream act” bills which offered state benefits to undocumented students. This was a safe strategy since it gained the organizations support from their state democratic allies and did not challenge the betrayal of the national Democratic Party leadership. This “safe” strategy also allowed the advocate organizations to strengthen their ability to get state funding for immigrant assistance programs which paid their bills. In response to the second Gutierrez Familias Unidas tour and the challenge to Obama to give administrative relief, many signed on, participated in press conferences and even sponsored local events for Gutierrez to speak, but no real campaign to challenge Obama was organized.

 

Many asked in the last few weeks, how far would Gutierrez and Familias Unidas go? Would they ask Latinos to withhold their votes from Obama? Would they mount third party challenges to the democrats? Would they risk electing a Republican President or Republican control of the Senate?

Gutierrez answered these questions with the story of Rosa Parks. “Did Rosa Parks, before she sat down on the bus, call the Democratic National Committee to see how her action would affect the election of the President? No – she just did what was right. This is not an issue of politics or political parties. This is a human rights issue and we must take a stand.”

 

The Faith Challenge: RESURRECTION OF THE REMNANT

In fact, Gutierrez’ reference to the civil rights movement is instructive. In the early 1960’s, the civil rights movement was faced with a similar contradiction. President Kennedy would not take a position on the proposed civil rights and voting rights legislation, fearing a white southern backlash. The Republican Party had been taken over by the arch conservative Barry Goldwater movement. The argument was made many times to King and other leaders that their pressure on the Kennedy administration might result in the election of a Goldwater Republican. But there was a difference.

The Civil Rights movement was based in the African American Church. King and others had fought through those in the African American Church who opposed action and unified the church. And there was Malcolm X and a militant African American youth movement that had no love for the Kennedy’s. Mrs. Hamer’s dramatic leadership of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party challenge to the Party establishment shook the party at its foundations. The march on Washington, where King made his famous “Dream” speech, was in fact a movement to force the President to get off the fence and support the demands of the civil rights movement. Kennedy in fact tried to stop the march! And from a different perspective, there was Malcolm’s “the Ballot or the Bullet.”

The independent leadership of the faith community – and the refusal of the youth movement to cave in – not only forced the passage of national legislation but facilitated the election of democratic leadership based on a newly energized African American vote.

 

In order for that success to be repeated in this new civil rights movement, the battle with Obama and the Democratic leadership must be won. The responsibility lays heavy on the faith community – and especially on Latino faith and youth leaders – to stay the course and bring the battle to Obama’s doorstep

The advocate organizations, the unions and the established churches shared a common philosophy which resulted in a weakness that Obama and the Democratic leadership exploited and which made the coalition for immigration reform different from the civil rights movement. Put simply, they all put their own survival and growth first. Collectively, this leadership was made up of many hundreds of many hardworking, well intentioned people with hearts that leaned towards the people, yet they differed from the leadership we experienced in the civil rights movement.

In the civil rights movement the commitment to self-sacrifice – and sacrifice for the people – was at the foundation of everything that was done. Young volunteers were schooled to learn that “if you are not doing this for generations to come, then you are standing in the way.” Leaders like King and Malcolm, and there were many whose names will not be remembered in the history books, were willing to give their lives in the struggle and knew it was likely that they would. They leaned on scripture to move a whole generation to self-sacrifice and service. More than that, they were willing to sacrifice the survival of their organizations for the movement, for the people they served. This Christ principle, based in the assurance that their sacrifice would draw God’s favor, made for a powerful, trusted and uncompromising force that brought not only great change in the country but which lifted up the moral and spiritual character of the people who followed them and the people they served.

Sadly, as the racial barriers they fought began to fall, a new generation of African Americans moved to assimilate rather than to challenge this society and an ethic of self-interest became predominant. The result has been the rise of hundreds of African American millionaires, hundreds of thousands of African American Professionals, mayors, congressmen and organizational executives – while the great masses of African Americans are perhaps worse off than they were at the beginning of the civil rights movement.

The not for profit organizations that became the visible and recognized organizational leadership of the immigrant rights movement in fact came out of a counter organization to the civil rights movement and began, most famously, with Saul Alinski in Chicago. Where the civil rights movement stressed taking on battles that affected the most people most deeply, Alinski taught to take on winnable battles with defined groups of people. Where the civil rights movement stressed connecting the different struggles of oppressed people – both in the United States and Internationally – Alinsky taught his organizers to “isolate” the issue they organized from other issues in order to get a clear win. Most significantly, where the civil rights movement through its Christian and its young revolutionary leadership stressed the importance of sacrifice, Alinski taught his organizers to put the principle of self-interest first in their organizing.

The massive network of non-governmental organizations that resulted from this counter movement, and which became the advocate organizational leadership in the immigrant rights movement, was committed to the cause of the undocumented but drew the line at actions which would cost them major support or put their organizations in danger. This made them vulnerable especially in confronting the Democratic Leadership and the liberal philanthropic establishment which followed that leadership.

Similarly, the established churches believed it was more important for the church to survive so that it could continue its mission than to be sacrificed in the struggle. We witnessed wonderful leadership in the church, from local pastors to passionate bishops that gave great direction and support to the movement. But when things looked bad, when it seemed like a win was not at hand, they pulled back rather than risk losing members, supporters and influence among the powerful. The issue we have discussed here, the position of “Welcome the stranger” and the focus on gradually and patiently winning the support of Anglo and U.S. citizen members of the church, was greatly influenced by the principle that it was more important for the church to survive than to refuse to compromise the faith. The church sought reconciliation of its members and its supporters first – somewhat different than the Jesus who, reached out for all but was willing to finally stand alone in death on the cross.

Similarly the labor unions who played such an important part in this struggle are self consciously built on satisfying and winning gains for the self-interest of the majority of their members. When choices had to be made, priorities set; the cause of the undocumented was put on the back burner.

None of this is unexpected or disappointing. The pressures to assimilate into the culture of self-interest are powerful. That is why the Bible shows us a continual process of regeneration and spiritual renewal from the most unexpected, marginalized people whom God puts his hand on. The leadership of many individuals in the church, the advocate organizations and the unions stands out over this last decade as they did take risks and make great sacrifices. The realities of the struggle should only point us to understand the necessity of Christian, prophetic witness in the midst of this movement.

God has blessed this movement in many ways. He raised up ordinary people like Elvira Arellano, filled them with unbelievable wisdom and faith and prepared them to meet great challenges. God also touched important leaders like Luis Gutierrez, who had many other options, and gave them the faith and vision to lead without regard for their own personal gain or power.

 

The next few months are perhaps the most important months in this struggle. If the movement fails to stand up to Obama and the democratic leadership – or if it falls for a cheap trick like the Dream-E-verify compromise, than this issue will fade from the public stage for years to come.

No one can promise us victory – but we need to pay attention to the words that we preach every Sunday. “The Victory is already won in Heaven and we are called only to Claim the victory!” The issue at stake is much more and much deeper than the debate over reforming our immigration laws.

From a global perspective, the marginalization of the human rights of hundreds of millions of people, forced by global economics to leave their countries, is the faith issue of this generation. The redemption of this nation, called forth by 12 million people seeking faithfully to hold their families together, is before us. And the fate of the church of Jesus Christ, through all its denominations, will be determined on whether it bears witness to those who are now marginalized as the subjects of God’s intervention – or relapses into the self-righteousness and opportunism of a nation falling further and further away from God.

From a pastoral perspective the road is clear. While we are called to understand the political and social context of the struggle the believers find themselves in, our commission is to help to open the Word and working of the Spirit to the believers and those struggling to find their faith. To do this, we must help them find themselves as subjects in God’s intervention, required only to bear witness, in their lives and in their actions, to the lives of family and faithfulness which God has prescribed for them.

We have already seen countless victories. We have seen men and women who know who they are – and know whose they are. They have emerged from the spirit killing grip of criminalization and marginalization to walk strongly in the footsteps of our Lord. We have seen thousands of children and young people proud and devoted to their people yet humble in their service to God and their willingness to work without glory.

For those who have the choice to ignore the injustice in which they participate, the suffering from which their lives of relative comfort are derived, better that we call on them to join the intervention of God, join the people through whom God is working and feel the Holy Spirit at their backs as they become part of the force for Redemption, that they not become “strangers” to the Lord.

Those who humble themselves before the Lord, abandoning self-righteousness, self-interest, pride and hatred, need never bow down before the arrogance which Satan places in the hearts of men. True freedom – purpose, love and meaning – is found in obedience to God. If our movement is strong and centered in the faith then there is no one or nothing that can defeat us. The struggle is not really with an unjust law or opportunist politicians, the struggle is within ourselves, for it is there that the spiritual struggle must first be won. The challenge is not to BELIEVE that Jesus is Lord, for as He himself said, even the Demons believe. The challenge is to walk in his footsteps.

 

Let us conclude with a story that came to give new meaning to the understanding of the Resurrection. A young mother with two children came to our church one day for help. Her husband had been arrested at their home, in his pajamas, early in the morning and deported. The day on which he was arrested was Good Friday. We tried to support the family in the months that followed. But, like so many fathers, this man risked the dangers of the border and the risk of imprisonment for returning after deportation to come back to work and support his family and raise his children. When he came back, we were planning a stations of the cross in front of the immigration offices. It was again Good Friday. The returned father came forward and said he would like to play the part of Jesus in the procession. We discussed the risks with him but he persisted. I believe he needed to restore himself of the shame of being arrested in front of his young children and the pain of their separation. He indeed was Jesus in the procession and at the end he laid down on the cross at the feet of the ICE agents. When they moved to pick him up the prayers of the people stopped them. The media interviewed him and played that night for thousands on T.V. the testimony of “an undocumented Jesus.” Yet what I remember were the words of his young daughter as she said, with tears of joy, “He came back. My Daddy came back!” – Just so the joy of his followers when Jesus returned to them after the crucifixion.

As for Elvira, twice arrested and torn from the arms of her young son, she was three days in the hell and darkness of deportation but she has risen in Mexico to lead a movement of migrants that today challenges the policies of both the Mexican and the U.S. government.

This is a movement that has God in it, in front of it and behind it. It cannot be stopped. It cannot be defeated.

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