No Human Being is Illegal: A Letter from the Border

El Paso was in the news this week, with crowds attending Beto O’Rourke’s March for Truth to counter a Trump Rally across the street. .The El Paso Times reported big crowds for both but untruths for Trump and toned down crime talk in light of a new Congressional deal. Annunciation House volunteer Jo Romano’s letter back home  cuts to the heart of matters.

El Paso was in the news this week, with crowds attending Beto O’Rourke’s March for Truth to counter a Trump Rally across the street. .The El Paso Times reported big crowds for both but untruths for Trump and toned down crime talk in light of a new Congressional deal. Annunciation House volunteer Jo Romano’s letter back home cuts to the heart of matters.

On Friday, Sally, Abby and I arrive in El Paso to see the city’s sights, and also to volunteer.  Our goal is to welcome, feed, clothe and help refugees, arriving daily with their next destination somewhere in the United States.  On Sunday we begin orientation with Annunciation House. Because a new site to receive immigrants has just opened at a hotel, Annunciation House asks us to travel Sunday morning to Las Cruces, New Mexico. We three are up for the trip, 45 minutes away from El Paso.

 We arrive shortly before 50 immigrants do, mostly from Guatemala, some from Honduras and El Salvador. There’s no time for our orientation! Fifty people arrived by bus and sit outside on sidewalks and curbs in the hotel parking lot, mostly small, young families, usually pairs, a mother or father with a child.

 We learned about their journey. They cross over the bridge from Mexico to El Paso. They are taken to a detention center to be registered. They are given a thin metallic blanket and must sleep on a cold hard concrete floor, one blanket for two of them. The air conditioning is turned up high, the people kept very cold, not what they’re used to. Adults are given one frozen burrito three times a day.  The children are given a juice box and animal crackers, three times a day. When each adult and child is registered, they are given a date for legal action.

 A thick, heavy, black ankle monitor is put on the adult, programmed with the address of their sponsor, while they wait for the immigration court proceedings to unfold. It is a stark and frightening experience for them, on purpose, we are told.  The officials at the holding center are directed to make the stay very unpleasant in hopes they will decide to ‘self deport’.  A fair number of these people develop sickness, colds, fevers, and upset stomachs during their 2-5 day stays.

 You may have read about this in the news. Currently there are 30 people in one detention center in El Paso that are on hunger strike because of the conditions.  They are force-fed by a tube that is put through the nose and down their throats. The government officials at the detention centers refer to the immigrants as “bodies,” and when it is time for them to eat, they say, “It is feeding time,” as if they were animals on farms, not human.

 I am furious and very disturbed, hearing the experiences confirmed. Often a new site needs to be opened at a hotel to meet the need, as happened in Las Cruces when we arrived. There are 300-400 people arriving daily in El Paso seeking asylum from poverty and violence in their home countries.  The Detention Centers call Annunciation House Director Ruben Garcia daily to say how many they are releasing from detention. There is a tremendous amount of coordination going on to make this system flow daily. Thus the need for local and faraway volunteers like us.

Nearly all the refugees have someone in the US who will sponsor them.  The destinations of those I’ve worked with so far included Chicago, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Mississippi, Missouri, Atlanta, Washington D.C., upstate New York and New York City, Philadelphia, North and South Carolina, Florida, California, Oregon, Washington, Texas, Colorado, Arizona, and even Vermont.  The receiving family member, friend or sponsor pays for a plane or bus ticket, trips that take one to three more days of travel.

 What do we do as volunteers? Each mother and child, or father and child (sometimes there are 2 or 3 children per adult) is welcomed by the site coordinator, and told they are safe, there will be food to eat, and enough water to drink, and medicine for those that need it. They will be warm here, respected and supported to complete their journey to their sponsor. 

 Volunteers are introduced, so families know who can help or answer questions. They then are escorted, family by family, into “the central office,” really two hotel rooms, where four Spanish-speaking volunteers complete intakes. One volunteer writes down the full name of the mom or dad, the name and age of the child(ren), where they are from, and where they need to get to next.

 Then the family moves to another table where another Spanish-speaking volunteer begins to make transportation plans.  They call the receiving sponsor in the US, and the sponsor and volunteer arrange for plane or bus tickets. Usually the parent and sponsor talk on the phone to ensure both parties understand the plan. Forms are filled out and pinned to complex whiteboards, delineating next steps by date—today, tomorrow, or the next day, by bus, plane, or pickup, if very local. 

 On those occasions when the destination address changes from the one programmed into the government’s ankle bracelet, it’s a real problem. Then arrangements have to be made to take the adult back to the detention center to get permission, and to reprogram the ankle monitor!  

 (Editor’s note: The Associated Press reports that early in 2018, immigrant families were separated as part of a “zero tolerance” program. But after a presidential executive order reversed that, families are often detained, then issued ankle monitors and released while they go through sometimes lengthy court proceedings. Inquiries into costs and suppliers and whether these monitors are effective remain unanswered by ICE—but that they associate immigration with criminality is clear.)

 After intake, the family goes to Annunciation’s next station, where I am serving as a volunteer who coordinates and assigns a hotel room number. That sounds simple, but keeping track of the rooms, and where everyone is assigned, is a feat.  There’s a large matrix on the wall, filling in who is where, with colored sticky notes, color depending on the day they arrived, and making sure that parent roommates are matched by gender, and by children with a matching age and gender. Yes, it is complicated!

 I give families their room number and escort them to the next station where Sally is volunteering, and they get a small packet of toiletries (soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, comb). Sally takes them to meet a “runner.” Abby is serving as a “runner,” taking the adult and child(ren) to their assigned room, and speaking enough Spanish to help them get settled in their room.

 She tells them how to open and close the door, how to work the shower, makes sure they know to flush toilet paper inside the toilet, rather than put it in the trash can, as they did back home. She explains they cannot use the hotel phone and only have one key for two families, shares the schedule for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and explains that while they are free to come down to the lobby, they must not leave the building, and can come to the office any time with any questions or medical needs.

 Families then can relax—or sometimes not!  Rooms are limited.  I often have to reassign a family to another room at a moment’s notice.  Abby then goes to them, and asks them to relocate to the room I reassign.  Abby says they are all so accommodating— “Sure no problem, and thank you.”

 Other Spanish-speaking volunteers work on transportation plans, time and flight, and find and assign a volunteer “transporter” to take the family to the airport or the bus station. I took one family to the local bus station in Las Cruces and made sure they got on the bus, but people are being transported to buses or planes throughout the day, morning or night, every day. I am amazed at the coordination it takes for all these volunteers and all this responsibility—and then there are the missed buses or connecting flights that have to be solved.

 There is a room assigned for medical help and supplies.  Today, there was a mom and three-year-old daughter, who had a rash. The nurse practitioner was called in to look at it and he determined it was scabies. So a prescription was called in, and a volunteer had to go to pharmacy in El Paso to pick it up, etc.

 At any time during their short stay, families may choose to go to the “clothing room” where Sally, Abby and I also volunteer, organizing and sorting donated clothing.  Each person is provided one new pair of socks, one new pair of underpants, a pair of pants, a blouse or shirt, and a winter coat if needed for a cold destination. 

 Local churches volunteer to provide lunches and dinners for our hundred people, which consists of rice, pinto beans, corn tortillas, sometimes shredded chicken, and when there is a lack of volunteering, pizza is brought in. When the moms and dads and children leave, they are provided with a bag filled with food.  If leaving on a bus, a family of two traveling on a three-day bus trip requires 18 sandwiches. 

Sally, Abby and I are pretty busy from 7:00 AM into the evening, making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and packing destination bags with fruit and snacks. We smile and comfort these folks, many of whom are frightened. It is our honor to greet our neighbors from abroad with empathy, compassion and a smile.  As the mission of my home Unitarian Church says, we welcome all, as we build a loving community, to honor each person’s spiritual journey, to serve human need and protect the earth, our home.

Love, Jo Romano

Interested in helping? Find more about Annunciation House and volunteering here: https://annunciationhouse.org/volunteer/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 On Friday, Sally, Abby and I arrive in El Paso to see the city’s sights, and also to volunteer.  Our goal is to welcome, feed, clothe and help refugees, arriving daily with their next destination somewhere in the United States.  On Sunday we begin orientation with Annunciation House. Because a new site to receive immigrants has just opened at a hotel, Annunciation House asks us to travel Sunday morning to Las Cruces, New Mexico. We three are up for the trip, 45 minutes away from El Paso.

 

We arrive shortly before 50 immigrants do, mostly from Guatemala, some from Honduras and El Salvador. There’s no time for our orientation! Fifty people arrived by bus and sit outside on sidewalks and curbs in the hotel parking lot, mostly small, young families, usually pairs, a mother or father with a child.

 

We learned about their journey. They cross over the bridge from Mexico to El Paso. They are taken to a detention center to be registered. They are given a thin metallic blanket and must sleep on a cold hard concrete floor, one blanket for two of them. The air conditioning is turned up high, the people kept very cold, not what they’re used to. Adults are given one frozen burrito three times a day.  The children are given a juice box and animal crackers, three times a day. When each adult and child is registered, they are given a date for legal action.

 

A thick, heavy, black ankle monitor is put on the adult, programmed with the address of their sponsor, while they wait for the immigration court proceedings to unfold. It is a stark and frightening experience for them, on purpose, we are told.  The officials at the holding center are directed to make the stay very unpleasant in hopes they will decide to ‘self deport’.  A fair number of these people develop sickness, colds, fevers, and upset stomachs during their 2-5 day stays.

 

You may have read about this in the news. Currently there are 30 people in one detention center in El Paso that are on hunger strike because of the conditions.  They are force-fed by a tube that is put through the nose and down their throats.

The government officials at the detention centers refer to the immigrants as “bodies,” and when it is time for them to eat, they say, “It is feeding time,” as if they were animals on farms, not fellow humans.

 

I am furious and very disturbed, hearing the experiences confirmed. Often a new site needs to be opened at a hotel to meet the need, as happened in Las Cruces when we arrived. There are 300-400 people arriving daily in El Paso seeking asylum from poverty and violence in their home countries.  The Detention Centers call Annunciation House Director Ruben Garcia daily to say how many they are releasing from detention. There is a tremendous amount of coordination going on to make this system flow daily. Thus the need for local and faraway volunteers like us.

 

Nearly all the refugees have someone in the US who will sponsor them.  The destinations of those I’ve worked with so far included Chicago, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Mississippi, Missouri, Atlanta, Washington D.C., upstate New York and New York City, Philadelphia, North and South Carolina, Florida, California, Oregon, Washington, Texas, Colorado, Arizona, and even Vermont.  The receiving family member, friend or sponsor pays for a plane or bus ticket, trips that take one to three more days of travel.

 

What do we do as volunteers? Each mother and child, or father and child (sometimes there are 2 or 3 children per adult) is welcomed by the site coordinator, and told they are safe, there will be food to eat, and enough water to drink, and medicine for those that need it. They will be warm here, respected and supported to complete their journey to their sponsor. 

 

Volunteers are introduced, so families know who can help or answer questions. They then are escorted, family by family, into “the central office,” really two hotel rooms, where four Spanish-speaking volunteers complete intakes. One volunteer writes down the full name of the mom or dad, the name and age of the child(ren), where they are from, and where they need to get to next.

 

Then the family moves to another table where another Spanish-speaking volunteer begins to make transportation plans.  They call the receiving sponsor in the US, and the sponsor and volunteer arrange for plane or bus tickets. Usually the parent and sponsor talk on the phone to ensure both parties understand the plan. Forms are filled out and pinned to complex whiteboards, delineating next steps by date—today, tomorrow, or the next day, by bus, plane, or pickup, if very local. 

 

On those occasions when the destination address changes from the one programmed into the government’s ankle bracelet, it’s a real problem. Then arrangements have to be made to take the adult back to the detention center to get permission, and to reprogram the ankle monitor!  

 

(Editor’s note: The Associated Press reports that early in 2018, immigrant families were separated as part of a “zero tolerance” program. But after a presidential executive order reversed that, families are often detained, then issued ankle monitors and released while they go through sometimes lengthy court proceedings. Inquiries into costs and suppliers and whether these monitors are effective remain unanswered by ICE—but that they associate immigration with criminality is clear.)

 

After intake, the family goes to Annunciation’s next station, where I am serving as a volunteer who coordinates and assigns a hotel room number. That sounds simple, but keeping track of the rooms, and where everyone is assigned, is a feat.  There’s a large matrix on the wall, filling in who is where, with colored sticky notes, color depending on the day they arrived, and making sure that parent roommates are matched by gender, and by children with a matching age and gender. Yes, it is complicated!

 

I give families their room number and escort them to the next station where Sally is volunteering, and they get a small packet of toiletries (soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, comb). Sally takes them to meet a “runner.” Abby is serving as a “runner,” taking the adult and child(ren) to their assigned room, and speaking enough Spanish to help them get settled in their room.

 

 She tells them how to open and close the door, how to work the shower, makes sure they know to flush toilet paper inside the toilet, rather than put it in the trash can, as they did back home. She explains they cannot use the hotel phone and only have one key for two families, shares the schedule for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and explains that while they are free to come down to the lobby, they must not leave the building, and can come to the office any time with any questions or medical needs.

 

Families then can relax—or sometimes not!  Rooms are limited.  I often have to reassign a family to another room at a moment’s notice.  Abby then goes to them, and asks them to relocate to the room I reassign.  Abby says they are all so accommodating— “Sure no problem, and thank you.”  

 

Other Spanish-speaking volunteers work on transportation plans, time and flight, and find and assign a volunteer “transporter” to take the family to the airport or the bus station. I took one family to the local bus station in Las Cruces and made sure they got on the bus, but people are being transported to buses or planes throughout the day, morning or night, every day. I am amazed at the coordination it takes for all these volunteers and all this responsibility—and then there are the missed buses or connecting flights that have to be solved.

 

There is a room assigned for medical help and supplies.  Today, there was a mom and three-year-old daughter, who had a rash. The nurse practitioner was called in to look at it and he determined it was scabies. So a prescription was called in, and a volunteer had to go to pharmacy in El Paso to pick it up, etc.

 

At any time during their short stay, families may choose to go to the “clothing room” where Sally, Abby and I also volunteer, organizing and sorting donated clothing.  Each person is provided one new pair of socks, one new pair of underpants, a pair of pants, a blouse or shirt, and a winter coat if needed for a cold destination. 

 

Local churches volunteer to provide lunches and dinners for our hundred people, which consists of rice, pinto beans, corn tortillas, sometimes shredded chicken, and when there is a lack of volunteering, pizza is brought in. When the moms and dads and children leave, they are provided with a bag filled with food.  If leaving on a bus, a family of two travelling on a three-day bus trip requires 18 sandwiches. 

 

Sally, Abby and I are pretty busy from 7:00 AM into the evening, making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and packing destination bags with fruit and snacks. We smile and comfort these folks, many of whom are frightened. It is our honor to greet our neighbors from abroad with empathy, compassion and a smile.  As the mission of my home Unitarian Church says, we welcome all, as we build a loving community, to honor each person’s spiritual journey, to serve human need and protect the earth, our home.

 

Love, Jo Romano

 

Interested in helping? Find more about Annunciation House and volunteering here:

https://annunciationhouse.org/volunteer/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Trouble with THE Truth

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Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, gathered by 17 federal agencies, reported to Congress on Jan. 22, about our national security in 2019.  He said our American goal must be seeking the truth and speaking the truth, which was embraced by newscasters as a hopeful development, given Trump’s flip relationship with facts. Yet I couldn’t help but notice the security team was mostly male, as were the intelligence system’s creators. All seem resigned to a world under threat and guarding against inevitable war with more and bigger guns.

The inclusion of Gina Haspel, the first woman to ever head the CIA, hardly put me at ease. She’s the one who destroyed tapes of waterboarding that would hold the CIA responsible for using terror—a cherry on top of a banana-split history of political disruption and foreign violence. It was close enough to Martin Luther King Day that you’d think they might be mulling over why he said America had three big problems: race, poverty, and militarism. He left out gender, but back in his day, most everyone did.  Did I mention our top intelligence team is as white as I am?

 So why give us old news from the same old crew who says their mission is THE truth, the seeker and speaker of a single truth? Who exactly runs the distillery of their truthiness, and what rum-recipe are they using?

In our post-colonial time, we have learned there are many truths, and different ways to see matters. History is a war tale written by “victors,” and most updates of our time have come from the victims, not so much from the perps. When entrenched power speaks of change or apologies, it’s most often unconvincing—as with Guliani’s spins, the Virginia governor’s recent black-face moonwalk, or those priestly and corporate settlements out of court to avoid public exposure.

 While the public is pretty accepting of lies and half-truths after a century of advertising—the traditional funder of our journalism—lately the lies slip closer to ceaseless nuttiness. A masculine market logic of bloodless numbers, and impersonal facts of profitable threats undermine trust and solutions. A more genuine security report would surly include more girls, more color and difference, and more freedom to feel more than fear. Check out the link above.!

 The mid-term election of more diverse voices showed us a majority of Americans already know this. Unless we cherish all the life on our one green earth and begin to plot collaboration and peace, we may not survive, much less prosper. That requires a truth spoken by diverse bodies using all five senses: a shared feeling and hearing and touching of genuine thoughts, experiences, and emotions to discover what we hold in common.

 Then we might speak a more unified and inclusive truth—not THE truth, which can only be imposed by those with the biggest guns.  

—Rickey Gard Diamond

Gillette's Best Men: Will it Influence SuperBowl Ads?

It’ll be interesting to see how Super Bowl advertisers react to Gillette’s bold move, switching its slogan, “the best men can GET,” to “the best men can BE.” Their short film with their logo has gotten 747 K Thumbs Up on YouTube, and 1.3 Million Thumbs Down, notes Forbes, and they’ve been criticized for hiring a female director for the shoot, and for showing a “toxic masculinity” without any blame falling on women. Aren’t there “mean girls,” too? Don’t men have toxic mothers as well as toxic dads? Sure! We’re all toxic by those standards. Stand by for a backlash! One step forward….but hey, it’s better than being ignored!

Who Has the Biggest, Costliest Button?

Ray Acheson delivers a TedX talk well worth listening to as President Trump and VP Pence and Bolton and Pompeo consider “military options” for Venezuela, fake us out with another North Korea “show” that removes not a single bit of fire and fury, and threaten us with another government shutdown to divert attention from their rampant corruption.

Women's Bodies Are Citizens' Bodies

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It was six degrees outside, but about 1000 bundled-up citizens, women and men, many in pink pussy hats, turned out for the third Women’s March on Jan. 19, 2019 in Montpelier, Vermont. The signs they carried showed no evidence that women are resigned to being quiet about a Presidential pussy-grabber. The opposite!

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The group pictured above, draped in American flags (oops, one slipped!) are part of a campaign called #GrabThemByTheBallot, anticipating 2020. They could hardly be ignored!

Other speakers included MacKenzie Murdoch, a youth activist and host for the event, who shared a poem she wrote about her rape on a Vermont campus and its investigation. She reported one of every three women experiences sexual violence of some kind, the reason for #MeToo.

Women’s bodies were also the centerpiece of Vermont’s Nutty Steph’s efforts. The chocolatier brought a basket of specially made chocolate vulvas, with proceeds going to Planned Parenthood, and they stood by a huge fabric vulva, inviting attendees to step through and be reborn as they entered the public space.

Former Bennington Representative Kiah Morris, who in the face of racial threats resigned her position to much national attention, urged attendants to do the real work of “peaceful revolution,” avoiding “narrow identity thinking.”

A theme that threaded through all the speakers’ exhortations, cheered by women and men, was the broad inclusion in government policies of all of us born of women, and living on our Mother Earth—especially in the face of dramatic changes, including racial, gendered and environmental ones.

Divisions had emerged nationally this month, with one organizer citing Louis Farrakhan as a GOAT (Greatest of All Time), and some important organizations, including Planned Parenthood, stepping back from national sponsorship as a result. But the Vermont organizers set up their own Vermont website to declare their principles of nonviolent resistance and inclusion.

The spirit of the event was capped by Patty Casey’s song, whose chorus, sung by all the crowd, really should become a movement hymn:

“We are better than that, we are kinder than that; we are going forward and we’re not going back.”  Yes, even when it’s freezing cold and a huge snow storm is on the way!

One image opposite is an amazing quilt made of tiny pieces of fabric! (quilt photo and #GrabThemByThe Ballot photo by Meg Kuhner)

What's that you say, Mr. Wall Street Banker?

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I’m feeling more hopeful today despite bizarro-freak news that does not appear to be fake, only stupid. The great white hope, our president, is possibly a Putin “asset,” which in economic terms means he is owned. In today’s politics the thing that makes this sleazy is the alleged owner is a foreign billionaire, not an American one.

 So why am I hopeful? Business Insider has focused on the House committee assignment of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She’s the woman who yesterday walked to the Senate to hand-deliver a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, urging him to bring bills he’s sitting on to the Senate floor for a vote. Why isn’t the Senate doing its job, and keeping government open? And who passed a law that says “essential” government workers must work for no pay?

 It’s rare for a House member to do such a bold thing. But no, that’s not the best news. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has placed this daring woman on the elite House Committee on Financial Services. Years ago, it used to be called the banking committee, and traditionally sat only elite white guy “assets,” who had rich white guy owners on Wall Street. It’s no wonder the media focuses on Ocasio-Cortez—she’s so fearless and beautiful. But the news is better than that.

 Rep. Maxine Waters is chair of that committee now. She’s served her time and learned the Wall Street players; she’s the first woman chair, and the first African American. I counted the sixteen members of the committee she just announced and found other formidable newcomers like Rep. Rashida Tiabi of Michigan, and tough veterans like Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii. All told they’re a majority female, another first.

 There are 540 mostly-male billionaires in the US and nearly 15 million millionaires, half of them multi-millionaires. The rest of us tend to come up short because the American political system for the past 40 years has enabled 1 percent of our population to hoard 40 percent of our national wealth and its assets, and the top 20 percent, fully 90 percent. That’ll buy a lot of politicians.

 That means the rest of us have to split the remaining 10 percent of our wealth. Picture it this way: Jeff Bezos gets 40 front row seats in a 100-seat theater for the “show” of our American life. His slightly less rich friend reserves 50 more seats for himself and his 9 guy friends. As a result, 80 people like you and me will have to share the remaining ten seats. The median chair-reservation is about $60,000 a year in income, enough for one butt-cheek. But the bottom 20 of us own nothing but debt. Go sit in that hole in the floor.

 About 49 million people in 19 million households are now below the poverty line, in the hole, on average with around $18,000 a year per household. A bunch of these are women and children. But when women no longer are tokens, they’re harder to silence. The new House Financial Services Committee might just put their pretty little heads together to call out billionaire owners of political assets—and make some real change in who gets a decent seat.

 —Rickey Gard Diamond