The Blog

Love vs Sheriff Arpaio's Tent City

Locking human beings in oppressive heat, whose only crime was seeking a better life for their children, is as far from standing with 'the least of these' than I can imagine
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Somewhere in this country, there is a camp where we keep people locked up in tents. Alleviated only by fans, these prisoners remain in canvas directly under the beating Sun. In the summer, this tent city suffers from 110 degree weather. Not far from Sheriff Arpaio's tent city in Arizona, animals are in an air conditioned shelter. Across the street, I saw a large truck with a peevish quote, "I want what is right... not what is left" falsely signed, 'God.'

I think this quote is a good indication of what is wrong with social conservatism in this country when it draws upon imagined theological values. There's a thought that God stands on the side of the Right, and rejects the Left. God is not political. God is not running for office. Politics are humanity's attempt to wrestle with earthly power. God does not need to wrestle with earthly power. God calls us to stand on the side of Love. In the Christian tradition, Jesus called us, and continues calling us, to stand 'with the least of these.'

Locking human beings in oppressive heat, whose only crime was seeking a better life for their children, is as far from standing with 'the least of these' than I can imagine. It is a perversion to call this right, or just, or humane. Policies like Arizona's SB1070, that grant local police forces the ability to pretend they are federal immigration agents, or the Federal 'Secure Communities' Program of max detention and deportation, harm the fabric of the American Dream. They say that the US is not big enough to dream any longer.

My great-grandparents came to the US when there was no 'documentation' necessary to make them legal. In that age, the US believed that anyone who was willing to work hard to make a better life for their children was welcome. Now we've shifted to a belief that our own economic failures are because of strangers. "They're stealing our jobs." It's factually inaccurate, it's dismissive of "their" humanity, and it's a too easy way to wash our hands of our own responsibility in the financial welfare of our nation.

Economics aside, the US can not support the inhumane treatment of fellow people on our own soil. Even if your politics tell you that immigration reform means "less immigrants" I urge you to take a hard look at the atrocities being committed in Arizona. Maybe our government will decide to continue to maintain harsh restrictions on immigration, but if it does so, it must come up with ways to enforce those laws in a manner that is in accordance with our conscience and values.

On Saturday evening, I joined with thousands holding witness at the 'Tent City' in Arizona as part of the Standing on the Side of Love faith movement. This evening of candlelit vigil, song, and spoken testimonials sought to bring attention to this human atrocity. We also hoped to sing loud enough that the victims held in the tents knew they were not alone; that part of America honored their dignity. We heard the names of 122 detainees who have died in US detention centers this past year - none of whom have ever gone to trial for a crime.

We heard speakers from the Unitarian Universalist Association, UU Service Committee, Rev. Geoffrey Black - President of the United Church of Christ, and our partner groups Puente and NDLON (National Day Laborers Organizing Network.) Pastor Warren Stewart of First Institutional Baptist Church in Phoenix (and chair of the Board of the National Immigration Forum) led us in a chant, "Tear down this tent city!" Local activist Dulce Juarez (of Puente) passionately witnessed, "Tonight I stand for love, and love stands for me."

This is not a liberal issue. This is a human issue. I personally have faith in the soul of our country. I believe that we are still big enough to dream. I believe we are still human enough to accept difference; to welcome the stranger; to introduce our children to the beauty of others. But even if you don't, these prison camps are not the American way. You can stand for restricting immigration and still oppose the brutal treatment of families. In the Christian faith, God commands it of us.