Wednesday, September 14, 2011


by David J. Schmidt

Before I came down to southern Mexico to volunteer with Fair Trade coffee coops in Chiapas and Oaxaca, I was chatting online with a friend from Russia who praised “all the altruistic work” (her words) that I’m involved in. As her comments became more gushing, I tried to deflect her adulation a bit. “Well…um…you know, Ksyusha,” I said, “not everybody is as well-off as we are. And if we see that we can do something to change things, we should try to help out.”

I kicked myself immediately after making that comment. I realized (a second too late) that it only served to reinforce my own faux-sainthood. And Ksyusha responded in kind: “Well you must be a very giving person, David. Because if I spent all my time thinking about all the people who are suffering in the world, I’d go crazy. I mean, there’s always someone out there who is hungry or sick or suffering, I can’t spend the whole day thinking about them…”

The conversation petered off at that point: Ksyusha went off to work in Russia, and I went to bed in California. I kept thinking about our conversation after I had turned off the lights, though.  Is Ksyusha right? Am I some sort of modern-day saint who has a supernatural capacity to feel compassion for others? The conclusion I reached was: no, I am not a holy person. (I think anyone who has spent an evening with me would agree.)

The work I do is not about sainthood, or even altruism for that matter.

It’s about justice. Setting things right.

Of course, all Christians are called to have compassion on those who suffer, to stand in solidarity with them, to welcome all of the suffering and downtrodden into the loving arms of the human family. But Ksyusha had a point…it is physically, psychologically, spiritually, emotionally and humanly impossible to always keep human suffering at the forefront of our minds.

If you think about it, at any given moment, there is someone out there who is having a hard time. And if you really think about it in a statistical way, during any waking second of our existence someone on this planet is experiencing something truly horrific and unspeakable. If we were to always keep ourselves mindful of all the pestilence, disease, senseless death, car accidents, cancer, rape, inexplicable illnesses, infant mortality and physical pain that exist on this planet, we truly would go crazy.

A good part of the reason we would go crazy is that the vast majority of this suffering is far away, disconnected from us. I call it the evening news mentality. In his excellent book Amusing Ourselves to Death, author Neil Postman writes about how television changed the way we think about “news”, bringing us sound bites and news stories about events taking place in communities disconnected from our own. Someone killed her infant child in Cincinnati. A drunk driver hit someone in Las Vegas. A teenage girl went missing in Orlando.

These are all horrible things that happen…but they have nothing to do with me. I don’t live in Orlando, or Cincinnati, or Las Vegas. I don’t know any of the families affected by these things to be able to offer them comfort. These events aren’t happening to anybody who might be the cousin or friend or grandparent of my neighbors. I once heard an anecdotal story of an elderly church lady who would regularly ask the members of her congregation to pray for the characters on the favorite soap opera. I wonder sometimes, is this so different from our obsession with the “tragic news case of the week”? I have no connection to these people and communities…so what is the point in my losing sleep over them?

But when it comes to issues like the labor rights of women who work in assembly line sweatshops of Tijuana, the coffee farmers of Nicaragua, the children harvesting cocoa in West Africa, or the plight of immigrants living in our country without papers, we are talking about an entirely different sort of beast. These are all plights directly related to our lives.

The children who work as virtual, and often literal, slaves in Ghana are doing so, not because of the cruelty of some distant despot who has nothing to do with us. They are doing this so that we can have cheaper chocolate. Our companies and our economy keep them in that place.

The coffee farmer trying to feed his wife and children and find enough money to send his kids to school and pay the bills is not a case of “random bad luck” in some distant corner of the globe. That coffee farmer who tries to survive when the world market price of coffee is a roller coaster that goes up and down unpredictably, the coffee farmer who never knows how much he will be paid for his harvest—his precarious situation was created by those who control the world coffee market. So that you and I could have predictable access to cheap coffee.

The woman whose working-class suburb of Tijuana was polluted with chemicals that the U.S.-based factories dumped into her neighborhood, whose child was born with birth defects just like most of her neighbors’ children…

…her neighbor who works 12 hour days on the assembly line just to pay rent…

…her other neighbor who lost part of his arm in the factory and was never paid indemnity…

…their lives are no regrettable accident. Those factories set up shop in their neighborhood because it was cheaper to do so. Because they are part of this big, glorious, global economy that brings us the cheap consumer goods that we find in Target, Wal-Mart and K-Mart.

And when people flee these conditions—the world that was created by the soulless corporations and companies that bring us those consumer goods, a union-free, rights-free world that is kept that way by our military when countries challenge it—when people flee and come here in search of a better life, they get treated like criminals.

When people come to the United States following the natural flow of money and profits that are being bled from their homelands into the coffers of Phillip Morris, Nestle and Coca-Cola, when they follow that vast river of wealth flowing out of the South and into the North…they get treated like criminals, because they don’t have immigration papers. Papers which are practically impossible for poor people in their position to ever obtain in the first place.

These people are not strangers. They are not accidents. They are not distant, unfortunate circumstances. They are intimately, directly connected to our prosperity, our lifestyles, our wellbeing. Our opulence is their despair.

To be sure, there is plenty of suffering on this earth that is random, unpredictable, uncontrollable and senseless. And yes, the Church is called to heal that suffering and bring comfort to our sisters and brothers who are afflicted by it.

But let us not mistake immigrants’ rights, fair trade and social justice for such charity. These movements are about righting the wrongs committed by those who went before us. If we fail to do so, we run the risk of jumping into bed with Pharaoh, Caesar, Baal and Babylon. We engage in complicity with the empires of our broken world. Challenging the exploitative systems that dehumanize our fellow humans is not saintly compassion or altruism…

…it’s the least we could do.

David Schmidt is a freelance writer and multi-lingual translator in San Diego, CA. He is a proponent of immigrants' rights and fair trade, and works with worker-owned coops in Mexico to help them develop alternative, fair sources of income.”

We append the following disclaimer on all posts: “Please note that the views expressed by guest bloggers represent their own personal views, and not necessarily those of everyone associated with Loving the Stranger or any institutions with which the blogger may be affiliated.”

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Bernard's Story

The first time I heard about Bernard Pastor and his story was from Troy Jackson, a pastor in Cincinnati, Ohio. Bernard was in custody at that time and there were very few precedents of these stories turning out well. The narrative did turn out well in this situation. But the whole story has not has not yet played out. I share this because of its similarity to hundreds of youth who I have known in the last 20 years. It illustrates the need for justice, compassion, the DREAM Act, and Comprehensive Immigration Reform.

This is the story of how one community changed a young man's life. You can learn more about what happened with Bernard, his faith community and his larger community at this website and video. What follows here is a short introduction.

Bernard's Story from Bernard's Story on Vimeo.

We append the following disclaimer on all posts: “Please note that the views expressed by guest bloggers represent their own personal views, and not necessarily those of everyone associated with Loving the Stranger or any institutions with which the blogger may be affiliated.”

Monday, September 12, 2011


Dear State Senator Steve Smith,

I realize you have a lot on your plate, and I’m sorry to bother you with this little matter. But you see, it appears that you have access to some exclusive information that could really help out some of my friends, so I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind sharing some of this insider’s info with us.

I heard your interview on NPR a couple months ago, and you sure seem to know a lot about how privileged immigrants are in the United States. More so, in fact, than many immigrants themselves. See, I have quite a few friends who are immigrants from Mexico and other countries, and apparently they have never been told about the great amenities and services available to them!

First things first—could you please direct my attention to the  open door in the U.S.-Mexico border through which people are able to walk through with ease and convenience, with or without papers? You see, a lot of folks I know were unlucky enough to make the cut for the Green Card lottery, and not patient enough to wait the average 182 years that it takes for a working class person to get any kind of permit. They couldn’t survive in their hometowns, thanks to all the U.S. companies that bled them of their wealth, and thanks to treaties like NAFTA that stack the cards against Mexico’s poor.

So they came here without papers.

Thing is, everyone I know was foolish enough to risk their lives crossing through the desert! Can you imagine that? Now apparently there is an open door somewhere in the border, but for whatever reason, none of my friends have heard of it. Could you help a brother out and let me know where this door is located? It would really help people avoid a life-endangering trek.

In addition, you refer to large groups of immigrants who “don’t want to change” and are forcing Americans to change and accommodate them instead. Now, my buddy José works 12 hours a day, busting his ass to earn a little money for his family, and on top of that he’s been taking night classes to learn English. This is because he lives in a part of the U.S. where most people speak English, and he doesn’t have access to a lot of services because of his limited ability with the language. In fact, he was having trouble ordering at McDonald’s the other day, and somebody behind him shouted, “It’s America, learn English or go home”.

Evidently, José is not aware that everybody in this country has secretly gone to the trouble of learning Spanish! Why have you all been holding out on him for so long? No seas sangrón, compa.

You also refer to enormous groups of people who “don’t want to change”. Could you tell my friend Wang Liu that? He’s been studying hard to take the driver’s test and learn the rules of the road here in the States. But apparently he doesn’t have to, according to you! Could you please direct him to the neighborhood where people are allowed to drive according to China’s laws without getting pulled over? I think it would really save him some time.

In fact, I’d love to put my friends in touch with these groups of anti-American immigrants who are taking from this country without giving anything back. See, my friends have foolishly been paying more in taxes than any services they can hope to benefit from! They pay sales tax, gas tax, property tax, rental tax, and the folks who use a false Social Security number have been paying thousands into our Social Security system without ever using any of this money! In addition, they’ve been wasting their time stimulating the U.S. economy by pumping cheap labor into our companies—the very companies that made a mess out of the job market in their own countries of origin! Man, are they going to be disappointed when they find out that they could have avoided pouring all this money into U.S. corporate and government coffers.

At the very least, you could be a champ and point them in the direction of the immigrant-friendly gangs that you referred to. The only gangs my friends have encountered are U.S.-based gangs made up of mostly U.S. citizens who rob them every now and then. In addition, some of these immigrants have had the bad luck of running into white supremacist gangs who beat them up (or worse) because of the way they look. Could you please shoot off an email to the 800-plus white supremacist organizations in the U.S. and let them know that “gang warfare” is for people from other countries? They seem not to have gotten the memo.

Last but not least, I can’t help but notice that you claim to be a devout Christian. Now this poses a problem for many of my friends who have come here from Latin America, because most of them consider themselves devout Christians as well, of both Catholic and Evangelical Protestant varieties. Evidently, however, there is no room in your Church for these people who do not share your cultural background. Could you please recommend a different religion for them to join? Do you know if Neo-Paganism or Zoroastrianism are still accepting new applicants?

Of course, I hate to ask my friends to change religions, since many of them are very attached to their faith in Jesus Christ. But evidently, this is the faith of xenophobia, bigotry and a U.S.-centric world view. So I’m afraid these folks will just have no choice. (You know what, on second thought, never mind the last part. Assuming that this vast apparatus exists that gives preferential treatment to undocumented immigrants, I’m sure there must be a program out there that helps folks get out of your church and into something more comfortable.)

Thanks for all your help!

Confused in California

Friday, September 9, 2011

"TRUST Act 2.0" to be unveiled in January as Ammiano urges State officials to step up leadership

For immediate release: September 8, 2011

As ICE shreds state contracts, Ammiano bill to protect California from failed S-Comm program moves forward

Sacramento - As the controversy surrounding the "Secure" Communities or S-Comm deportation program reaches a national boiling point, Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (D - SF) announced today that after a 4-month process of consultation with community leaders and legal experts, the TRUST Act (AB 1081) will be re-tooled in early January and then continue to move through the State Senate.

“Regardless of the Obama Administration’s blatant on-going deception about S-Comm, every day Californians are being unfairly deported leading to tragic consequences for communities both here and across the country.  Now more than ever we need to restore trust and I urge that our state leaders take a more active role on this critical issue as we continue to work towards suspending this damaging program. Together we need to do what is right for California," said Assemblymember Ammiano.

AB 1081 passed the Assembly (47-26) and the Senate Public Safety Committee (5-2) earlier this year before the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) stunned the public and legislators by shredding all S-Comm agreements <>  on August 5. DHS and ICE then declared by fiat the program would be "mandatory" without any mechanism for local oversight. ICE provided no sound legal basis for the move, which California leaders slammed as "an affront to democratic governance" and "a stunning display of bad faith."

The bill's goal is to reform California's participation in the troubled S-Comm program, which has come under fire from law enforcement leaders and civil rights advocates for deporting large numbers of innocent community members, including victims of domestic violence and street vendors arrested for nothing more than selling food without a permit. Originally, the bill would have ensured Californians were protected from the program by amending the state’s Memorandum of Agreement with ICE that the agency has now unilaterally shredded.

The bad faith move to take away state’s role in the process and conscript local police into the federal scheme is just one more legally dubious maneuver by ICE. We’re exploring every legal option available to hold the agency accountable and continue to protect California residents,” said Angela Chan of the Asian Law Caucus.

Chan and a team of attorneys are currently conducting a new, in-depth analysis, to be released in the coming days, of internal ICE documents unearthed earlier this year through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. The new analysis will provide documented proof that ICE repeatedly conveyed to state officials that California's approval was required for fingerprints to be shared with ICE under S-Comm. A preview of the analysis is available by contacting Chan.

The recent doubling down by the White House in defense of the program has only inflamed nationwide opposition with walk outs and peaceful civil disobedience occurring at S-Comm hearings across the country and localities passing new legislation in protest of the program and to protect the community policing initiatives which S-Comm threatens.  Just yesterday, in a decision with national implications, Cook County, IL (where Chicago is located) voted to refuse to comply <> with ICE requests to hold immigrants needlessly in jail unless the county receives full reimbursement from the Federal Government.

Chris Newman, Legal Director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network added, “The need for the TRUST Act is greater now more than ever. Californians are stronger and more united in our determination to keep our communities safe, prevent the destruction of civil liberties, and end the dragnet separation of families.”


We append the following disclaimer on all posts: “Please note that the views expressed by guest bloggers represent their own personal views, and not necessarily those of everyone associated with Loving the Stranger or any institutions with which the blogger may be affiliated.”

Thursday, September 1, 2011

What's so wrong about "Secure Communities?"

By Robert Chao Romero

Since the horrific terrorist attacks of 9/11, the United States government has continually criminalized undocumented immigrants as scapegoats for the "war on terror."  ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) was created in 2003 through a merger of the Immigration and Naturalization Service and sections of the U.S. Customs Service, and it's stated mission is to "promote homeland security and public safety through the criminal and civil enforcement of federal laws governing border control, customs, trade, and immigration."  Even though none of the perpetrators of 9/11 were undocumented, ICE has systematically targeted undocumented immigrants and their families for deportation over the past decade.  In the past two years alone, nearly 800,000 undocumented immigrants have been deported.  Latino, Asian, and other immigrant groups have become scapegoats in the war on terror.