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Web Letter

It is always more interesting to be written about rather than written with. As a fan of the slogan, "Don't do for me without me," which is popular in the access movements of disabled people, and as a fan of participatory democracy, I wonder why leaders in the New Sanctuary Movement in New York City were overlooked as part of this story--which gave lengthy quotes to our next door neighbor at the NYU Law School, Muzaffar Chishti. I don't remember seeing him at any of our tables. Nor do I remember a call from the author of this long story about our table.

Chishti is typical of those who do not understand progressive religion. Because the New Sanctuary movement engages in politics--like the religious punishmentalists do with abandon-- he paints us with a church-violating-state brush. He compares our political activity to that of the New Right and clearly thinks we should all pay for our belief in God by keeping quiet in public. This is unfair. Very few progressive people of faith have any intention of enforcing their viewpoints in the way that punishmentalists do. Instead, we believe we have a right to be at the table, making our viewpoint known. Chishti's misunderstanding of our right to be at the table shows up in his moral confusion. We are either not supposed to be at the political table with our point of view because it is Constitution- threatening (which it is not) or because it might get us into "harboring" trouble (which it does not.)

Religious congregations of all faiths are represented in the New York City Sanctuary movement. We have a perfect right to enter the debate about 12 million about to be detained or deported people. We also are not harboring by entering the debate. Things are bad for free speech but they are not that bad.

If the strategy we use is both immoral and dangerous, as Chishti argues, let him say so. Instead he blurs his argument against us as both--acting as though the only morality possible is a safe one. Let him tell that to the slaves in the Underground Railroad or the first women to use contraception before it was legal.

Religious people--and moral people--have every right to argue against unjust laws, which the current deportation laws are, with all the voice our constitution and faith can muster. Because we might get into trouble for "harboring" is a secondary issue, not a primary one. Harboring, like Haven, like Amnesty, are decent words. They got polluted by unjust laws and even more unjust political commentators. We have a right to use decent words, religiously, on behalf of people in public.

The fact that the right has abused their religious voice is one thing. Not all religious people do. The New Sanctuary Movement is careful not to abuse its religious voice. It remains tolerant of other viewpoints, including those on the secular left that seem to be tone deaf when it comes to religion.

The second argument proposed against the New Sanctuary Movement by those not at our table have to do with the very small numbers of families who are in sanctuary. Indeed, the number is small. Worse, according to Abramsky, it is "symbolic," as though symbols didn't matter, the way individuals apparently don't matter either. The New Sanctuary Movement uses individual cases to highlight the abuses of the system, with the full permission of all people involved.

Thoughtful people will understand that it is the rare undocumented immigrant who wants to be "used" by the New Sanctuary Movement. Check out our YouTube video on Bill O'Reilly to see how we "use" one story to tell the larger story of the injustice of these laws. You will see a media strategy of integrity, participation and possibility.

The next time The Nation writes a story about New Sanctuary, I hope they will talk to more members of the movement and members of a sanctuary family. That would be helpful in the way the finally balanced but flawed Abramsky story is not. I have no problem with the other sources used; they were many and interesting. Nor do I think the New York Sanctuary Movement "had" to be consulted.

The Sanctuary movement is large and national. I do think that a mature and theologically sophisticated movement was characterized as innocent, and that a conversation with neighbors, at the table, would have helped to avoid that problem.

Donna Schaper

New York , NY

Feb 29 2008 - 8:53am

Web Letter

I can understand the concern over criminal immigration cases, but that said, who cares where the help comes from as far as the civil cases are concerned? It's a hell of a lot more than what most of us are doing. More power to those people.

John Nava

Chula Vista, CA

Feb 8 2008 - 3:52pm

Web Letter

During the slavery period, the Underground Railroad sent escaped slaves into Canada. While slightly larger then the US in landmass, it has a population smaller than California. They need people and have fairly liberal immigration laws. "Undocumented workers" are accepted up there and helped by the government. Canada has a high standard of living, and Canadians are very nice people. It might be an option?

I don't see this as a first Amendment issue! Whatever the churches do, they are like any individual citizen subject to the law and can be prosecuted for violating the law. They have no standing as a government body. I would call it civil disobedience, which is not unknown in this country.

Pervis J. Casey

Riverside, CA

Feb 8 2008 - 12:54pm

Web Letter

It's a shame that some progressives are objecting to the sancutaries because of concerns about the separation of church and state. As a liberal, I find absolutely no problem with protecting these immigrants in churches. The important thing is that they're getting shelter somehow. As a Christian, I find it absolutely necessary to help those in danger from a hypocritical, cruel state.

We need to all get on board to help the "illegals" situations improve in this country, and if it comes through a church, an ACLU meeting, or by an act of God, who cares as long as it gets done?

Shame on the so called progressives who are ignoring the good work being done here for the sake of constantly bickering with the right and the religious.

Tim Weaver

Chicago, IL

Feb 7 2008 - 4:44pm

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