Civil Disobedience 21st Century Style
When we woke up in our several beds on the morning of December 30, 2009, we were one people. Now we are a different people. On that day, one of our members, who was born in Haiti, Jean Montrevil, was detained at his regular check in and first put in a detention center on Varick Street, right down the street from our solemn assembly. He was later moved to the detention center in York, Pennsylvania where he now resides. It took an earthquake to stop his deportation. It also took some civil disobedience in the street. Without that action, Jean would have been in a now collapsed jail in Port Au Prince. With it, he remained state side, in order to continue to lead our growing national movement for immigrant rights and to be able to be a father to his four children and husband to his American born wife. He does not qualify for "temporary protected status" because he has a felony in his youth. SO now he is in limbo. Can't go to Haiti, can't come home to his wife and four children and business, can't get out of detention center. That is limbo!
On two different occasions, a group of clergy was joined by the Montrevil's 26-year-old Sunday school teacher, and arrested on Houston Street last week, to stop the cruel and immoral absurdity of deporting Jean. We didn't know then that we were galvanizing a national movement, saying enough to the surplus of injustice that has surrounded his situation. Jean has been buried under rubble for years.
The older members of the New York City New Sanctuary Movement were against the civil disobedience as a tactic. "Stale." "Over used." "No one will notice." The younger ones - now the vanguard of this movement - said we have to do something. So we did. None of us could have imagined what happened next. 90 plus organizations are on board, locally and nationally. Money arrived in the mail to support the family. CNN bloggers and the New York Times picked up the case. We were both viral and on the street, in accelerating numbers that resulted in ICE (Immigration and Control Enforcement) to ask that we stop the messages as we were getting in the way of their phone systems and their "ability to do their work." You bet we were.
Is this an elegy to the art of civil disobedience? Yes. It is also a song to getting serious The Riverside Church Council voted to offer physical sanctuary to an immigrant family if they wanted it. Even if Jean gets home, which we believe he will, we are just getting started.
Like the government's current intention to not even allow some immigrants to BUY health insurance, Jean's captivity by the state is stupid, impractical, un economical and risks putting a whole family on welfare, which welfare the same punitive tax payers who want to be safe above all, will end up paying for. Stupidity joins immorality in this potential deportation. Like many immigrants, Jean is a businessman, employs people and pays taxes and has for over twenty years.
When you get serious, you connect the dots. One of the dots is Jean and the thousands like him, already detained, even more already deported, leaving behind children who will be known like those in the Cuban boatlift or Japanese detentions during World War II. We will not look back on this period of our history with anything but shame at what we have done to children.
If you go back to the source of this trouble, you find it in unjust immigration laws, which have their foundation in stupid and immoral responses to terrorism. We know the president has taken a vow to protect the nation. How does deporting people, or for that matter, storing them in Guantanamo, protect the nation? Our new seriousness tells us that we are getting less safe, the more we use mean laws and mean enforcements to try to protect the nation. Welcome, if not to everyone, then at least to many more, is a way for the president to fulfill his oath. Heavy handed, mean techniques, joined by under funding detention centers so inmates get sick or don't get food, are endangering national security, not assisting it. We are concerned about whether the President is keeping his promises, so long as ICE has the free reign it now has. Additionally, we can't imagine why Temporary Protected Status for Haitians is not automatically offered to all in the current "climate." The foundation of Jean's captivity is a big lie. Nothing less than civil disobedience can expose it. King knew that, and so do we.
The big lie is that we can fight off terrorism by deporting people or having more wars or better-organized national security agents. Terrorism will not be fought off by torture or war or deportation. Justice rolling down like waters, internationally and not just domestically, will tame terrorism. When righteousness comes, people will stop bombing us.
At the heart of Jean's situation is the absurdity of our foreign and domestic policy regarding terrorism. Of course it is scary when people get bombs on airplanes or penetrate the security systems we idolize. Very scary. The only thing scarier is the way our government encourages terrorism by being mean and unfair to those who want to make this country their home. People who pick our strawberries, care for our children, wash our salad greens, bus our tables, care for our elderly, make our motel beds are not terrorists and the average American knows this truth very well.
Fear is clustering. What stops fear is action in the streets. It says we are not that afraid of being jailed. We are more afraid of not being jailed in the prison of the big lie. This big lie has already drained the national treasury in undeclared and immoral and ineffective wars. If we want to connect the dots, we need to connect the dot of Jean's oppression ot the national insecurity state. Next time you go through a security check, you might want to think about where true security lies.