This past Monday December 10, on Human Rights Day, I joined over 400 clergy from various faith traditions at the San Diego/Tijuana border to denounce the militarization of the border and calling for human rights and dignity for all people seeking asylum and refuge.
We were there as an act of resistance against the current administration’s inhumane immigration policies and in solidarity with migrants, who have a right under international law to seek asylum, but who are stuck at the Mexico border and not allowed to enter the U.S.
UUA President, Susan Frederick-Gray stated that “The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) condemns the Trump administration’s appalling assault on vulnerable families seeking asylum in the United States.The policy of this administration to separate children from their parents at the border is immoral, inhumane and indefensible…[T]hese families arrive desperate for safe-haven, seeking asylum having fled violence and disruption in their own homeland – and instead of safety, they are further traumatized, victimized and criminalized at the hands of the U.S. government…[A]s people whose religious tradition calls us to seek justice, we will continue to side with those most in need and most vulnerable, building on our decades of commitments to support the dignity of immigrants and displaced people.”
We gathered at the Quaker Center and boarded buses that took us to Border Field Park where a press conference was held. We then embarked on a pilgrimage towards the border. I had the blessing of walking along side Father Perry, a Catholic priest from Texas, with the Sisters of St. Joseph, with a group of Jewish Rabbis, with representatives from the Poor People’s Campaign, with our dear friend Rev. Deborah Lee, Executive Director of the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, based in Oakland, and our own UUA President, Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, among many others.
After a few miles of walking on muddy ground, we came to a beautiful beach with water that sparkled and reflected light onto the sand and our tired feet. Upon arriving on the beach, we gathered in a circle to receive a blessing and anointment. But as I looked to the left, the beauty of the water dissolved as I watched the waves crash against the rusty metal fence. How absurd to pretend to control the waves by dividing them! The sand pipers doing their little dance crossing the fence back and forth and the seagulls flying overhead seemed to agree with me and take pleasure in defying this monstrosity of a wall over and over again. Above us, there were three or four military helicopters and in front of us, the Border Patrol guards in full riot gear waiting for us. I remember thinking that we the people, as a movement, are like the water and the birds: we were born for freedom and we will keep resisting efforts to divide us.
I had not signed up to get arrested, so I stood behind the barbed wire and held out my arms towards the people getting arrested. I was bearing witness and sending blessings to all who put their bodies at risk. I was also praying for the guards, many of whom looked just like the people leaning against the fence on the Tijuana side…Praying for compassion, for a spark of awareness that would enter their hearts, and at least treat the people being arrested with some measure of respect and dignity. The people getting arrested lined up in fours and linked arms. Then came as close to the guards as they could without making contact and then fell to their knees with their arms up. At one point one of the young men lost his balance and landed too close to the guard who then used this to justify grabbing the young men and throwing him on the sand face down. In total, 32 people were arrested. I tried to make eye contact with them as they were being handcuffed, sending waves of love and gratitude.
Rev. Sarah Gibb Millspaugh reflected: “On the other side of the fence on the part of the beach that belongs to Mexico, a small crowd watched and even a few musicians played. It really is the same beach: same birds, same seal swimming back and forth across the border. And on both sides, we really are all one people. While the despicable concertina wire-covered fence was hit over and over again by perfectly curled ocean waves, I reflected: the ocean speaks the deep spiritual truth. It announces it, by its very presence: we are all one, profoundly interconnected and interdependent on this blue planet. Our fates our bound up with one another’s. We *need* one another to survive. The razor-covered fence speaks a spiritual lie. This lie is asserted by loud and prominent voices of people. And though the ocean’s voice is quiet, it is persistent. The ocean will eventually overcome the fence. And truth will prevail.”
Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, Co-Chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, held a sign that read: “El Amor No Conoce Fronteras,” Spanish for “Love Knows No Borders” and declared: “We can do better. Our sacred texts tell us to tear down walls, to welcome the immigrant and to treat everyone as if they are God’s children.”
While people were being arrested, they knelt before the border agents and prayed for the migrants in the caravan while singing a choir that went “we will walk with you, and sing your spirit home.”
Beloveds, it was blessing to participate in this action and to bring your love with me to the border. I made a special solidarity stole on which I wrote many names and the name of our Beloved Starr King congregation, so I would feel you close to my heart as I marched. That stole touched the water, the mud, the barbed wire, and absorbed the prayers, music, and the love that touched my heart.
My deep gratitude for your ongoing solidarity and generosity of spirit. Some of you baked cookies for me to bring on the trip, some of you came to see me to give me a special blessing before I left, and some of you even slipped me some cash “just in case.”
Thank you! Gracias! Indeed, Love Knows No Borders!
Reverend Maria Cristina Vlassidis Burgoa