Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: undocumented migrants

friendly inhumanity

not large but small things
echo in hollow chambers
the sound of life denied
drips from human souls
into ground saturated
with the life-blood of refugees
halted at the border
of the promised land
of plenty caught in webs
of grief and disbelief
the latest casualties
of friendly inhumanity

Yes, I’m still at it. Why? Because our national inability to govern wisely is breaking down in front of our eyes. Most of us have to get up and go to work. I don’t.

This is my work: to keep in front of my eyes the tragedy of national leaders who seem to have lost the will to govern wisely and solely on behalf of the most needy among us. From the ground up, not from the heights of make-believe trickle down theory.

When I was working at the seminary, I experienced up close the chaos one ill-placed leader could wreak within a community. The scramble was on, not just among staff who desperately needed their jobs, but within the hearts of every member of the organization.

What do we do now? Do we shut up and pretend we’re doing business as usual? To what extent do we voice our concerns? And how?

Things that were straightforward, or at least manageable, became fraught with nuances and consequences to be avoided. Telling the truth was dangerous, even when supported by clear data and research.

And yet we stayed on. Not because we were cowards, but because we believed in the greater good of our students and of each other as trusted colleagues. We did what we could, and watched the rest being taken over by the hands of others. Not a fun way to work.

It wasn’t always that way, for which I’m grateful. Nonetheless, the last years of my tenure were fraught with conflict, uncertainty, promises that turned into something else, scoldings from time to time, and the breakdown of good will among people of good will. In the end, I chose to leave what had become punishing for my body and spirit.

Why this strange link between refugees and my work at the seminary? Because in each case a leader (dean or president) chooses to govern by creating chaos. The chaos at the seminary was somewhat controlled by those who governed differently. In the end, however, even that couldn’t save us from being exploited and taken over as an institution.

Mr. Trump governs by creating chaos within the White House and within our nation. This won’t save us from ourselves or others. Sadly, there isn’t much business ‘as usual’ anymore. Instead, we’re invited to witness and experience chaos every day.

My hope and my prayer is that I’ll be a grounded, hope-filled, prayerful neighbor, doing what I can to offer hospitality to strangers. Especially those unable to speak freely for themselves.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 July 2018

Small things fall to the ground

Small things
Fall to the ground
Combs and toy cars
Toothpaste and tuna
Rosaries and animal crackers
The sound of life denied
Drops into ground
With dashed hopes of migrants
Halted at the border
Of the promised land
Caught in webs of fear
And red tape
Studiously practiced
Perfected and delivered
By bureaucratic officials
Carrying in their pockets
Items deemed unnecessary
For human life from
The south side
Of the border

It might be easier if this were an isolated event or period of in our history. However….

In one way or another, the USA has practiced the fine art of dehumanizing perceived threats from the day the fathers and mothers of this nation set foot on its soil. The trail of destruction runs wide and deep like a river of blood through the Grand Canyon of our collective history.

Like an evil tide, forces of greed, pride and fear have overtaken and eroded the beaches of our shared life, fashioning mansions of sand and wreaking environmental havoc along our eastern and western coasts, and in our interior.

So now we’ve turned our attention to the southern border. As though sealing this up will remedy what we helped break into isolated bits and pieces now destined to remain fixed in concrete for the foreseeable future.

Thankfully, unnumbered children, women and men of good will, including courageous politicians, have stepped up to help ease the wounds. Not just those we perpetrate on migrants, but on each other. These human angels have been here from the beginning. They deserve our thanks and our support, especially now.

Here’s a link to Charity Navigator with  lists of trust-worthy groups that help immigrants and refugees. Take a look. They’ve done their homework.

Praying you have a life-renewing weekend and Sabbath rest.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 July 2018
Photo found at

The art of the deal goes South

I’m not against deal-making. It can be wonderful. I also know that fruitful deal-making takes time, patience, compromise, and loads of good will and transparency between all parties involved.

It could also be good that we now have in the White House a President who claims expertise in the art of the deal. I would also guess every President I’ve had since I was born knew how to make deals. It comes with the territory.

And yet there’s more than one way to make a deal. Though I’m not an expert on this, it seems Mr. Trump believes in one kind only. That would be the kind in which the winner takes all or most of the ‘loot.’ So that, in the end, he or she can say “I won!” And the other party will know that she or he lost, or came out with less than they had going in.

Sidebar: Mr. Trump’s imposing of tariffs on countries that don’t please him for various reasons seems to be backfiring. Witness their refusal to cave in and give him the victory he seeks.

Now I’m going to make a leap here and suggest that the pattern of Mr. Trump’s most recent tariff pronouncements look like the I win/You lose logic that’s driving our treatment of migrants along the Southern border. It may also help us understand our current treatment of immigrants who are not citizens of the USA.

Think of a tug-of-war. Clear winner; clear loser. I’m great! You’re not.

Yet there’s more than one way of making a deal. The best deals often end up with winners on all sides. We may not get everything we thought we wanted or needed. Nonetheless, we may get some beneficial things we’d never anticipated.

The Chinese Exclusion Act is a sad and sorry example of the I win/You lose style of making a deal. So are housing and employment laws and processes put in place or twisted around to keep certain groups of people in their places. Not overrunning ‘our’ protected places. We win/You lose.

I’m no historian and I’m not a financial expert. I just know that what I see isn’t adding up to success on the Southern border OR success for our country. Not here and not abroad.

The images I posted yesterday suggest an ill-conceived I win/You lose setup for migrants and for all of us. The first moves have already been made at the border. Appropriate quality of life and family supports have all but vanished. Plans for what comes next are vague or nonexistent. And there’s an air of secrecy about what’s happening now with migrants, and what will happen next.

Tom Kiefer’s remarkable photographs have given my eyes something else to look at and ponder, without looking away. Which is another way of saying I’ll be doing at least one more post on this topic.

What about you? Have you found ways to engage?

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 July 2018
Photo of toy cars found at the New York Times and on Tom Kiefer’s website
Toy cars are sometimes carried as mementos or gifts for loved ones; considered non-essential and discarded at the border

Images I can’t get out of my mind

It’s July 4th. Our nation’s great big birthday party day. Yet as much as there is to love about our nation, right now there’s way too much of the other stuff happening. Whatever happened to the American dream?

On 2 July 2018, The New York Times featured an article by Laura M. Holson about Tom Kiefer and his collection of photographs, “El Sueño Americano” (The American Dream). Now retired, Mr. Kiefer worked as a janitor at a border crossing between Mexico and the USA. Holson writes,

There, he collected tens of thousands of items that were confiscated and thrown in the trash by Border Patrol agents from undocumented migrants crossing the border from Mexico into the United States. He began photographing the items in 2007.

“I couldn’t leave them,” he said.

Below is a small selection from his collection of over 600 photographs. Each photo includes Kiefer’s explanation about why these items were routinely confiscated. On one level, they document the stripping away of life-sustaining items from women, children and men crossing the border. They also say something (what is it?) about our nation’s ongoing obsession about ‘them’ and ‘us.’

You can find scores more at Tom Kiefer’s website. I find his contribution to our current conversation about immigrants seeking asylum invaluable. Worth more than written commentaries or debates about the fine points of the law. If you live in Michigan, over 100 of Mr. Kiefer’s photos will go on exhibit in October at the Saugatuck Center for the Arts.

Each photo includes Kiefer’s brief explanation about why these items were confiscated. The small toothpaste tubes and toothbrushes at the top were considered potentially lethal non-essential personal property, and disposed of during intake. Mr. Kiefer notes that “while in custody, most migrants will not have access to toothpaste and toothbrushes.”

Here are four other examples. The first two were considered personal items and non-essential. In addition, the combs and brushes were considered potentially lethal.

Next we have cans of tuna. Along with other food items confiscated such as beef jerky, granola bars, dehydrated soup and powdered milk, they were considered contraband and disposed of during intake. Mr. Kiefer notes that tuna is an efficient, compact source of protein, and that this particular brand had a pull-top lid.

Next we have heavy-duty gloves used for many purposes. However, given the desert and mountain terrain of the border, plus sometimes below-freezing winter temperatures, they were invaluable. Yet they, too, were considered non-essential personal property and discarded at intake.

Finally, a photo of an item migrants carried in their bandanas. Non-essential personal property. Discarded.

What’s going on here? I don’t know. But I’ll make my comments in another post, and would love to hear from you as well.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 4 July 2018
Photos found at the New York Times and on Tom Kiefer’s website (see links above)

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