Brace your dopamine-related brain bits folks, because boy have I got an encouraging blog post for you today.
About two weeks ago, I had a meeting at the mayor’s office. I know what you’re thinking- “Jonathan. You’ve only been in Indy for ten months and you’re already having meetings with the mayor’s officials?” Yes. I really Veni Vidi Vici’d this town.
But in all honesty, this meeting wasn’t about my meteoric rise to prominence, nor fortunate lack thereof. In fact, I wasn’t even aware the meeting was taking place, or that I would be invited to attend, until the evening before. My role was to be another warm body, present in support of an important cause. It was a minor role, but not an unimportant one, and I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to play it.
Avid readers of this blog (my parents) are already familiar with my frustration at the political and cultural trajectory of this nation over the past year or so. As a result, I’ve been eager for chances to make positive impacts in whatever small ways I can, and during my time here as a YAV, one of those chances has been my involvement with the organization IndyCAN (Indianapolis Congregation Action Network). IndyCAN is a “catalyst for marginalized peoples and faith communities to act collectively for racial and economic equity in Indiana,” to quote their mission statement. Most recently, a lot of their efforts have been focused on ending city compliance with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detention requests.
For those unfamiliar with ICE, or unsure why we would want to prevent our elected officials from letting ICE use our public funds and facilities, this may seem like a quabble over a relatively unimportant issue. After all, it is ICE’s job to detain undocumented immigrants. Why should we interfere with federal agencies who are just trying to keep us safe? We should just let them do their work, and focus on being good citizens in our own right. Right?
Allow me to begin to answer that question via a somewhat lengthy anecdote from my personal archive.
Toward the end of my semester studying abroad in Germany a few years ago, I went on a solo trip to a village in Austria. On the way back when my trip was over, our train got stopped at the Germany-Austria border so the Grenzpolizei (border police) could check the documents of the passengers. I opened my backpack to retrieve my passport and German student visa, but quickly started panicking when I realized I couldn’t find them. As the Grenzpolizei neared my seat, I wondered what I would do if they detained me for being undocumented. I hadn’t had the chance to say goodbye to any of my friends in Germany yet. I wouldn’t be allowed to finish my semester and earn the credits I’d worked so hard for. On top of that, I was already dreading the shame and embarrassment I would undergo if I had to explain to people why I got deported.
While I was wondering all this, I noticed the Grenzpolizei had actually stopped a few rows behind me, and were talking to a woman and her family, who seemed to be of middle-eastern ancestry. I couldn’t tell what they were saying, but it looked like she had already handed them her document, and for whatever reason they were still talking to her for quite a while. The woman looked panicked, and her children looked frightened. After about ten minutes, they escorted them all off the train. When that was done, one of the officers came up to my row, glanced at my face, and, in German, told me I was fine.
Though I had no documents at the time to prove that I belonged (which I did fortunately find later, smooshed in the bottom of my backpack), they determined solely by the way that I looked that I was no threat to Germany. They even assumed I spoke German, even though I was an American, unbeknownst to them.
I don’t know what happened to the family, but I know that because they had darker skin than I, they were not allowed to come to Germany. And I know that they were afraid.
I have friends here in the US who are afraid for the exact same reason. ICE does not detain people because they are a threat to our society; they detain people because they look different. Twice already, in the short time I’ve been involved with IndyCAN’s Rapid Response program, I’ve been asked to help organize support for one of our neighbors who has been taken from their family by ICE, and threatened with deportation. Neither of these people had any criminal record. Neither of them were doing anything wrong when they were detained. They had families who needed them, and communities who valued their talents. But they were detained because of the color of their skin and where they were from. There is a real and valid fear being experienced by may of our neighbors in this nation, and its being perpetuated harshly and unjustly by our federal government. That’s why we struggle to limit ICE’s interference in our city.
At this point, you might be more than a little perturbed by the fact that I promised a post of good news in regards to some mayoral meeting and then took a sharp nosedive into the pestilential state of affairs in our nation. Well, here comes the good bit:
The meeting we had with the mayor’s office was the latest in a series of meetings wherein we discussed the importance of our efforts to remove ICE’s influence in our communities. At the end of that meeting, it was unclear what actions would actually be taken by the city. However, about two weeks ago (which was only a day ago when I first started writing this post- sorry), I got a call from a friend of mine/the up-and-coming hero of this city, Sister Tracey Horan, saying that the meetings had worked, and the city of Indianapolis had filed an injunction to end unconstitutional practice of holding people in our jails without probable cause on behalf of ICE.
It’s not the end of all federal corruption and social injustice in our nation. I’m sure it’s not even the end of ICE action in Indianapolis. But it is a real and major step towards removing the heavy air of xenophobia and racism in our communities. It is a small turn toward a more hopeful future for our nation and our world, and a it is foothold gained for the Kingdom of God.
“The arc of the moral universe is long. But it bends toward justice.”
-Martin Luther King Jr.