Ruben Garcia to speak at Marquette University


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The Crisis of Moral Integrity

Amid the cacophony of voices vying for ear space on the “immigrant crisis,” few have succeeded in identifying the real crisis–the crisis of moral integrity. Whenever and wherever human beings suffer, it is the moral integrity of those around them–they are called neighbors–that leads people to respond and help. It is the moral fabric of a neighbor that allows him or her to acknowledge the humanity of the one in need and to act out the words, “I am with you.” 201009_Annunciation House_mpr_106

The real crisis has nothing to do with the numbers of immigrants arriving at the border, for the land is vast and the space is welcoming. It has nothing to do with the need for clothing, for the bags of clothing are piled so high as to overwhelm. It has nothing to do with a lack of places to receive and shelter the many, for the churches are empty and in search of an identity of what it means to be a church.

What it does have to do with is our moral integrity as individuals and as a people, for we are in danger. We are in danger of looking inward and discovering only a profound emptiness. For this emptiness all the food in the world, all of the clothing in all of the malls, all of the houses with huge numbers of bedrooms, all of the money and abundance that surrounds us will never fill. For this emptiness can only be filled by the God who comes to us in the distressing disguise of the poor, the immigrant poor.

–Ruben Garcia, director of Annunciation House

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House Democrats call for end to the shame of family detention

In this video, El Paso Representative Beto O’Rourke and other House Democrats speak out to urge our government to end the detention of Central American women and children who have been detained at our southern border. Most of them are seeking (and are eligible for) political asylum. They should be freed and given their day in court, not locked up in shoddy, unhealthy conditions. It’s a long video, but Beto speaks at minute 29 (and gives a nod to the work of Annunciation House).

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2015 Voice of the Voiceless Award Presented in Absentia

This past Saturday evening, April 18, Annunciation House held its twelfth annual Voice of the Voiceless Solidarity Dinner to bring attention to issues surrounding immigration and social justice. Padre Alejandro Solalinde, Mexican Catholic priest and founder of the migrant shelter Hermanos en el Camino in Ixtepec, Oaxaca, was to be present to receive year’s Voice of the Voiceless award. However, two days before the event, Annunciation House learned that urgent events at Padre Solalinde’s shelter would not allow him to travel to El Paso to celebrate with us.

IMG_1392Padre Solalinde had set out from Ixtepec earlier in the week with a group of over 200 Central American migrants. The migrants were on their way to Mexico City walking a Viacrucis, a Way of the Cross, to call attention to the crushing effects of Mexico’s Plan Frontera Sur on migrants traversing Mexico. The group was surrounded, stopped, and threatened by Federal Police and members of INAMI, Mexico’s immigration forces. For several days it was unclear what would happen to them, and Padre Solalinde felt he could not leave his companions in the middle of this crisis. And so, demonstrating once again the conviction for which he was named una Voz de los Sin Voz, he remained in Mexico to see this action through. After interventions from some government officials, the migrants began their Viacrucis de nuevo on Friday, and arrived at the Basilica de Guadalupe on Saturday morning.

Meanwhile, in El Paso, Annunciation House made arrangements to honor Padre Solalinde’s work in his absence. The solidarity dinner proceeded as planned, and videos of Padre Solalinde and Hermanos en el Camino were shown to bring his works to life. Awards were also given to Las Patronas, a group that for twenty years has been providing food to Central American migrants riding the trains through southern Mexico; and to El Paso Congressman Beto O’Rourke, who has been a rare voice pro-immigrant voice in the U.S. House of Representatives of late, calling for reason and compassion in our response to the waves of migrants arriving on our Southern border.

The theme of the evening was THE RIGHT TO MIGRATE: SET MY PEOPLE FREE. Monarch butterflies, beautiful and fragile symbols of migration, decorated the tables and featured prominently in the opening ritual. Some 650 people attended the sold-out dinner. Annunciation House is grateful to the community for its steadfast support. We hope you will join us next year.

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In Memory of Aaron Sean Luoma

Aaron Sean Luoma of Eustis, Florida, died on January 7, 2015, at forty-seven years of age. He died of a genetic heart defect in Falls Church, Virginia, surrounded by his family. Aaron was born on November 9, 1967, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Aaron received a B.A. in 1989 from Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, an M.A. from The School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vermont, in 2005, and a degree from Florida Hospital, Orlando, Florida, in 2013 as a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant.

Aaron considered himself a citizen of the world. He worked for the Armed Forces Recreational Services in Garmisch, Germany, spent seven years in Japan teaching English as a second language at an adult language school and at Kansei Gakuin Junior High School, served as a volunteer coordinator for the Border Servant Corps in El Paso, Texas, worked for the Democracy Center in Cochabamba, Bolivia, and was a case worker in Virginia for immigrants and refugees. He traveled to over forty countries and in the process became fluent in Japanese and Spanish, became an amateur photographer, selling many of his photos, and a published author.

Aaron was known as a giving person, giving of himself in many volunteer capacities: as a volunteer on several Habitat projects, most notably, The Jimmy Carter International Habitat Program in the Philippines, and as an election observer in Sri Lanka. Aaron served locally as a Hospice volunteer. He literally gave himself away at the end of life by offering his organs for transplant and use in scientific research.

Aaron is survived by his parents Pastor John and Gracia Luoma of Leesburg, Florida., his brother Dr. Jason Luoma of Portland, Oregon, and his wife, Anabel Landa of Fairfax, Virginia.

His memorial service will be held on Saturday, February 14, 11 a.m. at Hope Lutheran Church, 250 Avenida Los Angelos, The Villages, Florida , Pastor Jon-Marc MacLean presiding. Donations in his memory may be made to Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas.

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Who will defend us from the self-defenders?

An officer spots a young man with brown skin on the street. The young man is immediately believed to have committed a crime, although there is little to implicate him in the moment except for his skin color. When confronted by law enforcement, he does not cooperate. Angry words are exchanged; the situation escalates rapidly out of control. Suddenly an officer feels threatened. He reaches for the weapon closest to hand. Shots are fired. Later the officer, claiming he acted in self-defense, will face no penalty. The young man lies dead on the pavement.

His name is Juan Patricio Peraza Quijada.

Over a decade before a young black man named Michael Brown put the suburb of Ferguson on the map of history, Juan Patricio crossed the southern border as an undocumented migrant from Mexico. Twelve years ago this February, he was taking out the trash one morning behind Annunciation House when he was stopped and questioned by members of Border Patrol. He panicked and ran. Five Border Patrol agents chased him, called in reinforcements, got him surrounded. Then a sixth agent arrived on the scene. This officer would later testify that he shouted at Juan Patricio, who then ran at him in a threatening manner, forcing the officer to shoot to protect himself. The other Border Patrol agents who were present agreed with this account in court; other eyewitnesses disputed it. What is certain is that within six seconds of this agent’s arrival, Juan Patricio had been shot dead. What is certain is that neither the agent himself, nor the organization that trained him and put a gun in his hand, faced any sanctions whatsoever for causing the death of this nineteen-year-old youth.

I never met Juan Patricio; I became a volunteer at Annunciation House the year after he was killed. But years later, I attended the civil trial in which the Border Patrol was charged with (and acquitted of) negligence in its training of the officer who fired the fatal shots. I sat with Juan Patricio’s parents as they listened to hour after hour of testimony about the day their son died—from the route he ran through backyards and between houses in an effort to evade la migra, to the precise way he fell after the bullets hit. I heard the whole chain of events that culminated in Juan’s death: how Border Patrol agents staked out Annunciation House that morning, in violation of an official policy against casual patrolling of homeless shelters; how Juan had been struck on the head during the ensuing chase, and had picked up a piece of pipe; how the final officer had arrived on the scene in a squeal of tires, and ran up shouting; and with what blinding speed the situation changed from a foot chase to a fatal shooting.

This summer, when I read of Michael Brown’s death at the hands of police officer Darren Wilson, I thought of Juan Patricio. The details were different, but crucial elements remained the same. There was the young man of color; the officer ratcheting up the tension in a difficult situation; the use of lethal force out of all proportion to the victim’s actions; and afterwards, the way that those magic words, “self-defense,” dissolved any attempt to scrutinize the shooter’s actions, to hold him accountable.

Michael Brown had just committed a robbery, I’ve heard people argue. He was combative with a police officer. These infractions are offered as justification for what happened to him next. To Juan Patricio, too, people applied the words criminal, lawbreaker, illegal, implying that he got no more than he deserved. Now, I believe in the rule of law as much as the next person; I believe we must face consequences for our actions. I acknowledge that immigration violations and petty theft are crimes—but when did they become capital offenses?

In the closing statements of the trial I attended, the Border Patrol’s lawyer argued that Juan Patricio was entirely responsible for his own death. He likened Juan to a drunk driver who gets into a crash and then says, That other car should have gotten out of my way. Our lawyer, who represented Juan Patricio’s parents, offered a different perspective. “I struggle to see how the example of the drunk driver applies here,” he said. “Perhaps a better analogy would be if a police officer pulled over a drunk driver…and shot him.”

* * * * *

I wasn’t present when Juan Patricio was killed—or Michael Brown, or for that matter any of the many other young men of color who have died at the hands of law enforcement under the banner of self-defense. And I will not presume to pass judgment on those crucial moments when the shots were fired. Police officers and Border Patrol agents face risks in the line of duty that I have never encountered, and to some extent, I can give them the benefit of the doubt. I can believe that each of these shooters reacted out of genuine fear, that they reached for their guns because they couldn’t envision an alternative at that point in time—because the situation already seemed completely out of their control, and this seemed to be the one way to bring themselves safely through it. I will grant them honesty in that moment.

What I cannot grant, to either them or the systems that train them, is absolution for the countless decisions, big and small, that preceded the moments the shots were fired. There must have been a hundred little choices, each reversible and insignificant on its own, that culminated in the final, undoable action—that made it seem inevitable, when it never had to be. I’m talking about the decision to rush into a standoff and shout at a cornered teen, without sparing a moment to size up the situation; or the decision to stop two black men on the street, without reinforcements, in a neighborhood where mistrust of the police runs deep. I’m talking about the daily decision, about which Darren Wilson testified to the grand jury, not to wear a taser because of its awkward bulk. I’m talking about Wilson’s placement of his gun within easy reach on the right side of his belt, and his placement of pepper spray on the left, where it was harder to access.

More broadly, more devastatingly, I’m talking about the culture of disregard for the human rights of undocumented migrants, and about the racial profiling that paints all black men as criminals and thugs, all Latino men as gang members and narcotraficantes. There is fear at the heart of these deadly encounters between our cops and our young men of color—fear of these young men. It’s a fear that will remain unaddressed, unexamined, unchallenged, as long as our justice system continues to absolve every officer of any wrongdoing, provided he claims he was shooting in self-defense. In refusing to even indict these officers, the courts remove every incentive for them to even hesitate before using deadly force. An officer in a tight spot need make no calculations as to whether the punishment fits the crime, whether the decision to shoot can be defended or justified. He knows the courts will accept his version of what happened—and that a dead man never gets to tell his side of the story.

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Petition for Concrete and Specific Action on Immigration

Please join us in demanding real immigration reforms now. Our petition can be downloaded by clicking here, or signed online at this link. The text of the petition is below:
06558_134_134bThe arrival of thousands of families and unaccompanied minors from Central America to the South Texas border has pushed the immigration issue to the forefront of debate in the national discourse. News stories of arriving mothers with children alongside tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors have triggered off a fierce national debate. How the U.S. deals with the immigration issue will enduringly brand the character of the nation for generations to come and it is the defining civil rights issue of the day. Calls for immigration reform have been incessant and they have come from churches, human rights organizations, professionals and academics, Chambers of Commerce, elected officials, labor unions, and voters all across the nation. Legislative inaction, a relentless and myopic focus on enforcement only, the criminalization of immigration, and dramatic increases in funding for “boots on the ground” have created an intolerable reality for refugees and immigrants and adversely affected the nation’s economy, security, and especially its human rights record and stature among the community of nations.

When thousands of Central American families, mostly mothers with their small children, were flown from South Texas to El Paso, scores of volunteers from the El Paso-Las Cruces border community stepped forward to assist them and a flood of donations poured in to meet their needs. The experience of witnessing what refugees and immigrants are facing has compelled this border community to raise its voice to say that the wait for reform is unbearable, the suffering unjust, and the time for action is now.

Therefore, we, the undersigned, submit the following demands:

  • That Congress legislates just and humane immigration reform, with a pathway to citizenship for all undocumented persons living in the U.S.
  • That in the absence of Congressional action, the president of the U.S. use executive authority to provide legal relief to undocumented persons to the extent permitted by law.
  • That the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) end the practice of detaining individuals and families, especially mothers with children, who have expressed fear of being returned to their home countries, but pose no risk to communities or national security.
  • That due process for refugees and immigrants in detention be guaranteed so as to prevent summary deportations, especially the deportation of individuals and families who fear being returned to their home countries.
  • That detained unaccompanied minors who lack the sponsors required for release be provided with legal representation by DHS.
  • That individuals and families from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala who are fleeing the violence in their home countries be granted refugee status and accorded the protections called for under the U.N. Convention on Refugees, of which the U.S. is a signatory.
  • That church communities, civic organizations, pro bono legal services, and human rights agencies respond to and assist refugees and immigrants so as to constitute a viable and credible alternative to the detention of refugees and immigrants.

In the face of policies affecting refugees and immigrants in the U.S. that force 11 million people to live in fear and hiding, that have led to massive deportations ripping families apart, that cause the detention of mothers with children and asylum petitioners who fear for their lives, that leave unaccompanied minors without legal representation, and that treat refugees and immigrants as criminals, we the undersigned organizations and individuals, issue these demands with a sense of urgency and in an effort to bring about action on immigration.

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Convocation: Standing With the Refugee and Immigrant

2014_Convocation1 2014_convocation2Please share these fliers! You can download them here and here. Hope to see you on October 11.

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Update on STIR: the South Texas Immigrant Response

Emergency shelters. Nearly every week this summer, one or two planeloads full of Central American migrants arrived in El Paso, were processed at the detention facility there, and then were released on their own recognizance. This amounted to up to 1000 people each week. Most were Honduran, and most were families with children. They were hungry, tired, and had not showered in weeks. Working with other community leaders from multiple faith traditions, we organized several emergency shelter sites to greet the migrants after they were released. They were brought to the shelters on buses. Upon arrival, they could sleep, shower, get a change of clothes, eat a hot meal, and receive assistance in making travel arrangements (with legal permission). Most stayed only a day or two before venturing onward to join friends or family elsewhere in the U.S.

201009_Annunciation House_mpr_033 Hands-on help. Around 5000 volunteers stepped forward to help with these efforts at half a dozen sites throughout the community—an astounding show of support. These volunteers welcomed new arrivals, cooked meals, did laundry, helped with travel arrangements, kept a round-the-clock presence at each shelter, assembled care packages to send with people on their bus or plane rides, and drove people to the airport and bus station.

Your donations put to use. Mil gracias to those who donated money and supplies! Here are some of the things we bought with the donated funds:

  • perishable foods (milk, fruit, lunch meat, etc)
  • phone minutes to connect guests with friends and relatives
  • cleaning supplies
  • toilet paper
  • gas for vehicles used to transport guests to bus station and airport
  • car seats to safely transport young children
  • plane and bus tickets for those whose families couldn’t afford the fare
  • over-the-counter medications like Tylenol
  • diapers and formula
  • plumbing services for the emergency shelters
  • doctors’ visits
  • laundry supplies
  • specific clothing items that were not donated, like certain sizes of underwear
  • utility costs

The work continues. As of September, ICE is no longer flying migrants to El Paso to be released. This is due both to decreased numbers of people being apprehended in south Texas, and increase in the numbers of people that are being detained rather than released on recognizance. However, Annunciation House is still providing hospitality for a significant number of people who have been apprehended in the El Paso area, processed at the detention facility here, and then released. The numbers vary from a dozen to 60-70 new people arriving every few days. This is beyond the capacity of our two permanent houses, and so our emergency shelter remains open. We continue to appreciate help from local volunteers in staffing this shelter, as well as donations of money and supplies to defray the many extra costs of welcoming these guests.

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The Myth of the Border Crisis

Read this New York Times Editorial in which Veronica Escobar, the El Paso County Judge, tries to provide a counterpoint to the hysteria we’re hearing from politicians–Democrat and Republican–about immigration, enforcement, and the current refugee situation on our Southern Border.

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