Asylees, Advocacy, Assistance
Tucson, Arizona Jan. 26-30, 2020
After last year’s Building Bridges trip to Germany and Poland, and learning first hand the results of unchecked hatred during the Holocaust, the sisters knew what they had to do. They vowed to organize a trip to the U.S./Mexican Border.
This year’s journey On January 26th, 48 Muslim and Jewish women from all over the US, including New Hampshire, Massachusetts, NY/NJ, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Texas, and California set off for Tuscon, Arizona.
Trip Mission and Goals
To bring Muslim and Jewish women to the Tucson sector of the U.S. border to learn about the situation on the ground including the laws and policies governing entry for asylees and migrants and to develop the knowledge needed to advocate for those seeking refuge when we return to our respective U.S. cities.
To . . .
- learn about the plight of asylees and migrants seeking refuge in the U.S.
- be trained on how to advocate on behalf of asylees, refugees, and migrants to U.S. local, state, and federal authorities
- empower a corps of women leaders to take future positive action on behalf of asylees, refugees and migrants in their respective cities
- learn Islamic and Jewish texts relevant to welcoming the stranger
- volunteer at area institutions that help migrants
- bring the Muslim and Jewish communities together, to meet one another, and dialogue
- build relationships with leaders in Tucson
- connect and develop relationships with each other as trip participants
Travel participants will implement learned strategies to advocate and assist migrants coming to the U.S.
The women got an early start with a visit to the Jewish History Museum. Museum executive director, Bryan Davis, donated space for immigration training with Borderlinks followed by text study, which helped frame why helping people seek refuge is an obligation in both of our religions.
We learned both Islamic and Jewish text with trip participants.
Rabbi Amy Eilberg and Atiya Aftab
“You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the soul of the stranger,
for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus, 23:9)
“The Messenger of Allah said: ‘Beware of oppression,
for oppression will be darkness on the Day of Resurrection.’” (Muslim 2578)
After text study, Borderlinks took us to the federal courthouse to witness Operation Streamline.
Operation Streamline began in Tucson in January, 2008. It is a zero-tolerance program targeting and apprehending people who do not enter through a designated port of entry along the Arizona border with Mexico. It aims to process and deport 100 migrants a day, and to jail repeat offenders.
It was important for the Sisterhood to serve as witnesses, to hold the judge accountable and show compassion for those arraigned. We noticed a couple of men who were waiting to go before the judge. They looked back at us in the gallery. Many of us smiled or put our hands on our hearts. They smiled back. We hope they knew we were there to show we cared.
Some of the young men apologized to the judge for coming into the U.S. without using an official port of entry. Some even blessed the judge and wished her well. The sisters were amazed that these men, in shackles, with nothing but the clothes they were wearing, would respond in this gracious way.
Federal court: Men and women shackled at wrists, ankles, waists shuffling in,
pleading guilty to crossing the border.—Amy S., NY
I found the inhumanity of our judicial and immigration system shocking and was horrified to learn that the undocumented are being detained to make money for private prisons.— Debbie W., NJ
On a brighter note, we hurried to get ready for an
Interfaith Evening at the Islamic Center of Tucson
Muslim women helping Jewish women put on headscarves.
The interfaith dinner was organized by the Muslim sisters of the local Tucson Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom chapter. The mosque welcomed 80 sisters and community members for a delicious Middle Eastern meal.
The dinner took place on January 27th, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and the day designated by the UN as Holocaust Memorial Day. The keynote speaker, Barry Kirshner, President of the Jewish History Museum, reminded us how important it is to fight injustice wherever we encounter it.
The sisters waded streams and climbed harsh terrain
to leave necessities at specific drops.
Because it’s impossible for migrants to carry enough water to sustain themselves, water, snacks and feminine hygiene products are left in the desert.
It was heartbreaking to realize that the walk we were taking—in broad daylight in good walking shoes and with a guide we trusted—was the same journey migrants take at night in old shoes led by strangers.
—Marion H., DE
The Border and the Wall
También de este lado hay sueños. There are dreams on this side, too.
This saying was found on the Mexican side of the Wall and it is a powerful reminder that refugees who cross the border are our neighbors. Their lives, spirits and courageous dreams are just as precious as ours.
—Deborah D., NJ
The desert walk was followed by a visit to the Border Wall. The construction of the wall in Nogales, AZ began in 1994. The wall continues to grow and is enhanced by advanced surveillance technology. Sisters met with Manuel Morales, who lives on the Mexican side of the border. He spoke about the difficulties of daily life on both sides of Nogales due to the wall.
“Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Sonora, have always been like siblings—without caring about this division, we always considered ourselves one Nogales. These types of walls divides families and it separates flora and fauna, as well. But when they put this style of wall at least the wind can go through the wall and we can also see each other face to face. I showed my children that when you meet a migrant, don’t treat them as an enemy or as a bad person.” – Manuel Morales
Volunteering at Casa Alitas
Trip participants volunteered in different ways at Casa Alitas, a beautiful and welcoming shelter in Tuscon run by Catholic Community Services in a space donated by Pima County. Although the number of migrants reaching Tucson dropped sharply when we were there due to the administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols, or MPP, “Remain in Mexico” policy—there were still some guests at the shelter.
Sarah Reed, Casa Alitas Program Coordinator, gives our group a tour and information about the shelter.
Before coming on the trip, participants collected donations from their chapter members, family and friends in the form of gift cards. Here, one of our sisters is presenting the gift cards so that Casa Alitas can use them to purchase medicines and other items asylees and the shelter need.
When people enter the U.S. and are taken to a detention center, almost everything is taken away from them, even their shoelaces. When families are deported, the cartels and traffickers on the Mexican side of the border know that people without shoelaces don’t have local connections, and therefore, the migrants become prey. Casa Alitas gives every person a new set of shoelaces so they don’t have to feel vulnerable more than they already do.
When families come to Casa Alitas, they can pick out clothing and shoes.
We delivered little scrolls with inspirations written in Spanish, which were made and donated by Blessings Abound. Casa Alitas will be able to hand these to migrants when they arrive or leave the shelter.
The shelter also has toys, books, and games the children can use while there.
Planting new flowers to make an inviting entrance.
We cleaned, interpreted, interacted, and provided food and hydration. We were witness to people longing for safety. All were holy acts.—Sheila S., KS
Training and Learning
On day three, Rebecca Kirzner and Meggie Weiler from HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), the Jewish refugee agency, provided intensive advocacy training so that we can make the case for refugees and asylees with our local, state, and national legislators. Important takeaways from the training were that those coming across the border are not refugees, but people seeking asylum.
Among the basics of the U.S. asylum system is that it is a human right to seek asylum from danger in the U.S. Speaking in personal terms is the most effective way to cultivate empathy among legislators. It is always best to have a specific “ask” of the legislator.
It is not illegal to seek asylum.—Meggie Weiler, HIAS trainer
One of our Sisterhood regional coordinators, Sarah Haider (on left), with Rebecca Kirzner, one of our HIAS trainers.
Later in the day, we met with Rev. Alison Harrington, a pastor at Southside Presbyterian Church. She traced the history of the U.S Sanctuary Movement, which started at her church in the early 1980s and spoke about the needs of migrants in the 21st century. http://www.southsidepresbyterian.org/the-sanctuary-movement.html
Sisterhood Co-founders Atiya Aftab (left) and Sheryl Olitzky (right) with Rev. Alison Harrington. The sisters were riveted by Rev. Harrington’s talk and inspired by her and the Movement’s work.
Iskashitaa Refugee Network
We then heard from Dr. Barbara Eisworth, Iskashitaa Director, who founded the organization to help refugees learn how to glean, harvest, and grow food. They also learn how to make jellies and jams from some of their organic produce.
Our sisters were buying up a storm from Barbara, in yellow. The funds will go to the refugees for their hard work and to sustain the organization
to teach people how to grow food and create a business that will help their families.
On the evening of the last day, the 48 sisters were split into groups of 6 – 12 people. They went to dinner together at local restaurants to learn each others’ stories and to debrief about their experience in Tucson.
Two groups having fun together!
Some groups talked about walls from metaphorical walls in their own lives to the U.S. border wall to the wall that sits between Israel and Palestine.
When sisters break bread together, they are able to dive deeper into their similarities, their differences, and strengthen their bonds of friendships.
- Get involved with an organization that serves people seeking refuge in your area.
- Contact your local legislators about pending issues that impact this population.
- Attend local and national marches, protests, and vigils that support migrants and people seeking asylum.
- Continue to educate others in your communities about how to improve public perceptions and attitudes towards asylees and migrants.
- Share information and articles with your book club members and other groups you work or socialize with. Newspaper articles are a very good source of information.
- Make use of available information through webinars and media.
- Register to vote in both the primary and national elections in your community. Encourage friends and family to do the same.
- Report hate crimes. There is a federal law against hate crimes. If it is a serious crime in progress, call 911. If it is not a serious crime, call your local precinct.
- Help protect your community from ICE raids. The Immigrant Defense Project has a comprehensive booklet about how to protect yourself and your community from ICE raids.
“National borders are human-made and we humans, who are on the ‘right’ side of the border, must help those who are fleeing desperate conditions on the other side.” —SOSS Co-founder Atiya Aftab, NJ