Give Me Your Tired . . . Your Desperate

Jose is a fresh-faced 23-year-old with a shy smile that sometimes breaks through. When word slipped out that he is gay, he began getting death threats from members of his extended family who consider homosexuality a sin and his existence a blot on the family. After one particularly scary near-miss attempt on his life, Jose left his native Colombia for the long and treacherous journey to the U.S.

Maria fled an abusive husband whose beatings had twice landed her in the hospital. Both times (and other times) she had sought refuge with family, but he had quickly found her. She said he was a member of the gang that controlled their area. After one final night of terror, she left El Salvador with little more than the clothes she was wearing to begin the perilous trek to a country where she thought she could find safety.

These are the only two asylum-seekers I personally (although only remotely) know. I would not be surprised, though, if they were in multiple ways representative of the hundreds of asylum seekers now held (many of them separated from their children) in a federal detention facility in Tacoma, Washington, or waiting under pretty terrible conditions in Mexico for the slim chance of being granted asylum in the U.S.

Our government isn’t making their path any easier, but Jose and Maria and other desperate asylum seekers do have allies. If you simply think the U.S. should get out of the asylum-granting business, don’t waste your time reading any further. But if you feel a modicum of sympathy for people like these, read on.  

In case you missed this, Virtual Advocacy Days for Asylum happened July 14-16. In brief, it was a group effort, on the part of a number of individuals – I think there were thousands of us, but I’ve not seen a final report – to do something to help the countless, nameless people seeking asylum in these United States. Something about that ‘Give me your tired, your poor – and maybe your desperate too’ idea. The effort was to advocate “for restoring life-saving asylum protections and defunding harmful asylum policies,” the website explained. “Our goal is to ensure that Members of Congress are educated about the administration’s systematic attacks on the asylum system that has resulted in a complex web of harm against asylum seekers.” Virtual Advocacy Days for Asylum were sponsored by the Interfaith Immigration Coalition, a partnership of faith-based organizations “committed to enacting fair and humane immigration reform that reflects our mandate to welcome the stranger and treat all human beings with dignity and respect.”

Immediate disclosure! My part in this was so teeny as to be invisible (a few calls and letters to Members of Congress.) It just feels infinitely warmer to write “us” rather than “them.” But my remarkable friend Ally McKinney Timm, Executive Director of DC-based Justice Revival, was out there on the front lines meeting with congressional staffers and “influencers,” distributing materials, and alerting people like me that there are ways to help. There still are.

How? Lovely of you to ask. There are currently four pieces of pro-asylum legislation being considered by the House and Senate. There are also anti-asylum policies in place that you might want to help change. I do not pretend to understand all the nuances of U.S, policies or immigration laws – or even to have carefully read through the four bills. But I know innocent people are suffering. The Virtual Advocacy Days are past, but the ways to advocate remain, explained in one clear and simple page, for anyone interested.

This essay appeared earlier on Medium.com, a good site for ideas and information where I’ve been happy to write in recent months. You might want to check it out.

A New Year’s wish: Human Rights for all

UN emblemBelated Human Rights Day greetings to all. In case you missed it, Human Rights Day was celebrated around the globe on December 10. It was the 69th anniversary of the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris, 1948.

Admittedly, some of us have done a little better than others with this. But before we Americans get to feeling righteous, it’s worth noting that the U.S. is among a handful of countries (Russia, Palau . . .) which have not ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW.) We’re okay with the Convention Against Torture, but not with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It’s complicated.

Are women’s rights human rights? What about immigrant rights? Or the rights of workers (tech geniuses, janitors, whomever) to good working conditions? Or the rights of Yemeni refugees to food and shelter?

Fran & Ally McKinney 12.10.17
The author with Ally Timm

One person who believes human rights apply to all of us is Allyson McKinney Timm. Timm spoke recently at Calvary Presbyterian Church, trying to explain the UDHR (and a lot of complicated UN acronyms) and why human rights are basic to Christianity – as well as other religions. “Human rights,” she explains, “are inherent, apply to every individual based solely on the fact of being human. The only requirement is being a member of the human race.”

In the Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (a document worth reading) “Member States…pledged themselves to achieve, in cooperation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,”

We wish.

Ally McKinney Timm was a successful attorney with a high-powered San Francisco law firm, advocating for justice in the juvenile prison system, when she left that comfortable life to move to Uganda and establish a field office of the International Justice Mission, defending widows and children there. She previously worked with the Rwandan genocide trials. Eventually she returned to Yale, first teaching human rights in the law school and then earning a Master of Divinity degree. All of those credentials and experiences led Timm to found Justice Revival, which she now serves as Director. Having witnessed the worst of what happens when human rights are denied, she has a determined passion for Justice Revival and its mission: to inspire, educate, and mobilize Christian communities to defend human rights for all. (Some conservative Christian organizations have been at the forefront of successful efforts to keep the U.S. from ratifying CEDAW, which is designed to eliminate discrimination against women.)

Eleanor Roosevelt UN monumentAnother woman with a passion for human rights was Eleanor Roosevelt. Wife of Depression-era President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the country’s longest-serving first lady was among many other things, the first U.S. representative to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. Her pivotal work on creating – and securing near-unanimous support for – the Universal Declaration of Human Rights won Mrs. Roosevelt an accolade never seen before, or since: a standing ovation for one of its members by the entire United Nations Assembly.

About that Declaration, and what it proclaims? Just a few of the basic rights to which every human on the planet is entitled include:

Life, liberty, security and equality

Freedom from discrimination

Freedom from torture and cruel or degrading punishment

Privacy: freedom from interference with home, family

Freedom of religion, conscience, belief

We wish.

You can read the entire document here. If there were ever a better roadmap to peace on earth, it would be hard to find.

Happy New Year, wherever on earth you may be. And God bless us every one.