A report from Charley Lerrigo to God’s people at Epworth UMC and to all who agree that
The Love of God knows no borders.
The call went out - to get 200 “faith leaders” to come to San Diego on Dec. 10 and join a prophetic witness at the US-Mexico border.
An estimated 400-500 people came.
That’s according to Joyce Ajlouny, the Palestinian-American general secretary of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), who flew from Philadelphia to join the march.
They came from all over the U.S. A large delegation was there from Colorado. There were persons from New York, from North Carolina, from other states. And California. They came from a wide range of faith traditions, including a strong contingent of United Methodists. There were leaders from the Poor People’s Campaign and the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity – organizations with whom Epworth has connections.
The AFSC witness specifically called on the U.S. government:
To respect the human right to migrate and seek asylum.
To end border militarization.
To end immigrant detention and deportation and defund Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
Tens of thousands of people are held each night in deadly and sometimes indefinite detention by CBP and ICE. Hundreds of thousands are deported each year. Families are separated. Communities are destroyed.
Those who came spent Sunday Dec. 9 preparing themselves practically and spiritually. There was a spirit filled hours-long interfaith worship. On Monday morning, we filled five buses and headed to the border crossing where we would make our witness.
Our action was not at the San Ysidro border crossing. That’s where our government decided to greet immigrants (including women and children) with tear gas as they tried to cross the border. We drove from San Diego to Border Field State Park, which brought us to the ocean, and a beautiful long beach leading to a point where the government has built a border wall into the ocean, and decorated it with razor wire.
Of those who came, 180 of us (I was one of them) agreed that should we meet with armed resistance, we would make our stand knowing that what we did could lead to arrest. We became the “arrestables.”
More than once before we started to march, we were reminded that whatever might happen to us was nothing compared to brothers and sisters who had come before us, seeking safety, jobs, or asylum. Some of them remain literally at risk of their lives. Families are ripped apart. Their dream of a more just world for them is dimmed by our government’s lack of compassion and humanity.
For our part, we agreed to principles of nonviolent civil disobedience. We agreed “to protect everyone around us from insult or attack, even those who may oppose or disagree with us.” (Translate: Don’t try to argue with the Border Patrol.)
We agreed not to go limp, or to turn back from arrest once we crossed the line. We raised our hands to show we had no weapons, and we stood, side by side, approaching in groups of four to a line the government had drawn in the sand.
We agreed to remember that irresponsible actions on our part could endanger others or lead to the arrest of people who do not want to go to jail. We agreed to make no threatening motions toward anyone.
We were warned that if we even inadvertently touched a law enforcement agent we might face felony “assault” charges. We linked arms, joined our minds and hearts to become one in the spirit.
“Walk with your head up,” we were encouraged. “Take care of yourself and others around you. Ground yourself in why you are here and why we are here together.”
The 180 “arrestables” marched ahead of the 300-plus others. We walked through the park and across the beach. The Border Patrol lined up in riot gear to stop us from crossing a line in the sand which kept us from crossing to the border wall, where AFSC had organized a group to meet us from the Mexico side.
We did not get to meet our Latinx friends. We sang to each other, over the heads of the armed police. There was a lot of singing. We sang, “We shall not be moved.” And we stepped across the line, inches away from the heavily armed police. The Border Patrol physically moved us back across the line with their sticks and bodies.
After each successful pushback, they would step back. There would be a pause. And we would inch our line of bodies across the line in the sand, being very careful not to initiate contact. Another pause. Again more pushing by the federal agents.
At one point, some of us tried to wade through the water to reach the wall. Our bishop, Minerva Carcaño was one of those who removed her stole and attempted that crossing, but was repelled.
It was a standoff of sorts. How long it lasted I forget. I wasn’t looking at my watch. I was watching the police do their job. Watching them yank people from our front line of witnesses. The first one I saw go was an older woman, who was yanked away to be cuffed and arrested. I wondered why they had started with an older woman.
But each time a few were taken, the front line of our witnesses was quickly filled. After all, we had 180 persons to create a new front line. And there were only about 20 or so federal agents on their front line.
And behind us, also on the beach, were hundreds of others making their witness, praying, singing, and supporting those who would meet the police face to face. It was an empowering support. I was strengthened knowing that Epworth’s Pat Bruce-Lerrigo and Maria Gallo were among those giving that strength. In front of me as we marched: faith leaders. Behind me, as we marched: faith leaders.
As the arrests continued, however, the police seemed to intensify their behavior, throwing people face down in the ground and cuffing hands behind their back. At one point (I was at that time one step away from becoming a new front line) the action organizers declared that we had made our point, and we slowly backed away from the imaginary line in the sand, formed into prayer groups, and prepared to go home.
When it was over, they had arrested a total of 32 of us. All but one of them, an AFSC organizer who was charged with assaulting an officer (a charge we expect to be proven false) were cited for such offenses as “refusing to disperse” and later released without fine to return to the buses.
I came home to the privileges that I have. Somewhat embarrassed that the confrontation ended before it got to where I was standing. Annoyed but not destroyed by the actions of our government which I believe do not create the kind of just and inclusive world God calls us all to share – a world where love can declare there are no borders.
I am convinced that God is at work in many ways – some of which I – and others – may be impatient or even angry with. So I think about Jesus and what he did and encountered. I think about what it means to be a Christ for someone else or encounter the Christ in others. I think of my brothers and sisters who are still in danger. And I think of the countless others who have shown up to bring God’s kin-dom on earth - as it is in heaven!
I believe there is a better world to come. But this story – this journey - is not yet finished. The Bible tells me that’s the way it’s been for a long time. And that gives me hope in this time of Advent.