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“Stop Understanding, Start Feeling”

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From the blog Pax Christi Summit:

by Kathy O’Leary

As I sat down to write this blog post, about our upcoming protest on December 7th in Newark over the for-profit immigration detention contract, I was tempted to lead with statistics about the percentage of foreign born residents in Essex County. Then I remembered a quote from a book on racial justice by Father Bryan Massingale. “We act justly not because we are intellectually convinced, but because we are passionately moved. Compassion moves the will to justice.”

As a movement and as individual activists, there is a tendency toward providing facts, data and statistics that support just immigration policy. There is the belief that if only we could effectively combat the tremendous body of misinformation we would prevail. The problem is that one of the primary tactics of the campaign against immigration reform is an attempt to dehumanize an entire group of people.

However, it becomes obvious, that what is fueling the anti-immigrant movement is anything but rational. The statistics are simply a justification for a deep seated fear of people who are in some way different. It is a deep seated fear that these new people will upset the social order.

I am often asked why I am an advocate for immigration reform. After all, being an advocate for social change of any kind does not win a person any popularity contests, particularly not in New Jersey’s suburbs. I can only describe it as a conversion after encounters with people who were suffering under the injustice of our immigration system. These were moments where, as Catholic and a Christian, I recognized the face of Jesus in the suffering of the people before me and I felt their pain in a deep and profound way. At these times I was able to see that it was merely by luck of my birth and circumstances that I was spared their suffering.

Perhaps that is why I am transfixed by this video. I do not understand the words that Frank uses to describe the plight of immigrants in detention or the injustice of the system that imprisons them for-profit… I feel them.

VIDEO “You Cannot Detain Our Spirit” by Frank López from The Peace Poets

We need to stop pinning our hopes for change to an intellectual exercise where we ascribe economic value to the lives of people who are immigrants. By doing so, we only contribute to their dehumanization. We need to talk about immigrants as people with innate value as human beings. We need to elevate their lives and their stories, flawed and imperfect though they may be.

Until we have the courage to stridently proclaim, not that some are deserving because they can contribute, but that all are entitled to the basic necessities of life because they are human, we will not prevail.

I hope you will watch Frank’s video as I have, over and over, and share it with your friends. I believe with all my heart and I feel in my soul that the very passion and the power of the emotion that he expresses is our path forward as a movement.

We must stop trying to understand and open our hearts. We must start feeling the pain of our brothers and sisters who are immigrants. Our compassion for their suffering is what will motivate us to act in solidarity for justice.

If you can, please join us in Newark on December 7th, beginning at 4:00 pm in Military Park and later at 7:00 pm at the Essex County Freeholders meeting. If not please sign the petition to revoke the ICE contract in Newark and start putting people before profit.

Kathy O. Leary works with Pax Christi Summit, an affiliated group of Pax Christi USA, representing the Catholic Peace Movement in the United States to bring about non-violent social change through prayer, study and action.

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