Paying Our Debts

Posted on October 12, 2011

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By Elvira Arellano

When I was in sanctuary, Homeland Security put the word out that they were ready to prosecute me and send me to jail for twenty years. I was offered a deal to leave the country quietly. Still I was determined that the years I had spent working and raising my son in the United States would mean something, that it would not just be treated as garbage and thrown away.
I left sanctuary and tried to make the journey first to California to confront the Speaker of the House and then on to Washington D.C. I knew the risks. I also knew my responsibility to thousands of people who had supported me. It was a debt I owed them.
When I was arrested in California and taken by armed ICE agents from the arms of my U.S. citizen son, I did not know what lay ahead for me. In a few days, I was delivered across the border to Mexico, free to live, to struggle – and to pay my debt to all those who had supported me.
My commadre and co-chair of Familia Latina Unida, Emma Lozano, is a two time breast cancer survivor as well as a legendary community leader. We have asked each other the question, “Why were we saved?” It is true that we prayed. It is true that we struggled. Yet we beat the odds because something greater than ourselves was helping and guiding us.
All those who have had that experience, including those who now qualify for “discretionary” protection from deportation in the U.S., should ask themselves the same question we asked. For what purpose have I been saved?
Familia Latina Unida has called for the formation of grassroots “Morena” committees. A committee should be formed of from 5 to 10 families. Each committee needs to assign people to be trained to defend our people against deportation. Each committee needs to assign people to protect our families in the areas of healthcare and education and economic cooperation.
It is clear to me that the organizations that made up our movement for legalization failed to meet the challenges they needed to meet for us to win over the last few years. Too many were too concerned with the importance and the finances of their own organizations to take the bold steps and establish the unity that were necessary.
We need a cultural revolution in our movement and in our community! We need to remember that life and family are a gift for which we owe a debt. We cannot leave the organizing and the defense of our families and our communities to others. I had no experience as an organizer when I began. Nobody had “trained me.” I only knew that I had been arrested and taken from my son but that I was not a terrorist or a criminal. I just decided to fight and I found the people I needed to do what I knew was right. When I was freed from prison, I knew I owed a debt to my people and to my God and that is why I have continued in the struggle.
I can only ask with all my heart that good people, faithful people, people who have been saved by the grace of God and by the good will and solidarity of others – that these people will begin to organize themselves for the fight ahead. I can only ask that we put issues of ego and self-interest aside and prepare ourselves to work together for the survival and dignity of our people.
You know who you are. You have had the experience of being saved from what looked like certain disaster. You owe God. You owe your people. Let’s take back our movement from the culture of greed and selfishness. Caught in this multinational economy, our whole community is a migrant community, forced to move to find work time and time again so that we can raise our family. And our community is under attack.
Get involved! If you can’t find an organization, than organize one – in your church, on your job, on your block. Do it from your heart. Do it to pay your debt!

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