Walking the Walk


"They may deport her," reported a disheartened accompaniment volunteer who had emerged from the building. She described how an enforcement officer had spoken harshly to an immigrant petitioner in the presence of the family's frightened and confused children. As those who had gathered outside the building surrounded the veteran volunteer in a wordless hug, she was able to find some release in tears.

And then we began to walk.


Every Thursday for more than an hour, immigrant advocates and supporters participate in a Jericho Walk: seven silent circuits around the main ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) field office and court building in lower Manhattan. After each circuit, open hands are raised toward the building and a silent prayer is offered. At the end of the seventh circuit, the prayer is recited aloud in English and Spanish. Then we raise our voices for a collective shout and scream. "For me, it's a cry of pain," shared the accompaniment volunteer after that week's culminating outcry. 


Some weeks there are a few people; other weeks there are many more. Ravi Ragbir, the director of the New Sanctuary Coalition (NSC) of New York — who has walked alone as well as with hundreds who have supported his personal struggle against deportation — believes that the weekly walks are an essential component of the renewed sanctuary effort. The walks are usually led by Father Fabian Arias, an Argentinian-born priest who also "walks the walk" far beyond these weekly circuits by providing legal guardianship to dozens of young Latinx immigrants in danger of deportation. 


In times of growing polarization, hatred and violence, it is tempting to view retaliation as a form of righteousness. The Jericho Walk offers a way to transform pain, despair, and rage into a recommitment to bearing witness in love and hope. Even the name "Jericho Walk" involves the transformation of an originally violent narrative into a contemporary nonviolent action — a reminder that our first step is to "Do no harm." As reflected in a parallel Buddhist commitment in Oregon, this holds interfaith implications beyond the biblical metaphor.

Park Paths DivergeWe also have daily opportunities to "walk the walk" through our financial choices — and game-changing opportunities have recently emerged around the world in this regard . RAICES, a front-line immigrant rights network on the U.S./Mexico border, politely declined a six-figure grant from Salesforce, a corporation that indirectly profits from the separation of immigrant families.


"We will not be a beneficiary of your effort to buy your way out of ethical responsibility. We ask you to commit to ending your contract with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and we hope that we will be able to accept your donation under these terms," wrote RAICES in a private letter that was publicized after the corporation demurred. RAICES was able to do this, in part, because of the democratic just-giving of more than a half-million people who have nearly tripled RAICES' original operating budget in less than six weeks.


As  financial journalist Felix Salmon explains, "When you give to a bail fund, your money doesn’t just get used to bail someone out once. It gets recycled with repayment, and used over and over again to help out the most neglected people in the justice system....A permanent bond fund, which has the resources to bail out every detained parent, and ideally every wrongfully detained immigrant, is a fantastic public good, and once it’s seeded with enough money, it can operate almost indefinitely."

Across the ocean, as conditions remain untenable for tens of thousands of African asylum seekers in Israel, a coalition of immigrant advocates and supporters has launched the Kibbutz Resettlement initiative. Under the fiscal sponsorship of ATZUM-Justice Works, a veteran social justice organization, international support is sought to move vulnerable asylum-seeking families out of urban poverty into welcoming kibbutz communities.


Violence — whether verbal or physical — often springs from a sense of helplessness, and it is extremely contagious. The good news is that nonviolent action is also contagious, opening our eyes and hearts to the range of daily possibilities for hopeful, effective action in these painful times.


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Accompanying Each Other


"Who here has ever accompanied anyone in any way?" Accompaniment training facilitator Sara Gozalo posed this question last week to a capacity crowd of volunteers, eliciting examples of accompaniment to schools, doctors' offices, hospitals, courts, and beyond. These experiences were connected to ground rules for how to accompany those facing possible deportation — simply, respectfully, nonprofessionally. We were called to bear witness, with a paramount commitment to "Do no harm."


Our trainer also shared a cautionary tale within the framework of "Do no harm": certain polarizing actions and words may inadvertently increase the suffering of those we seek to protect. Immigrant accompaniment involves advocacy without confrontation — mainly through the emotional support of our presence. "Just being there lets ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement], security, immigration clerks and judges know that your friend is part of a community, and that community is watching. There is nothing more you need to do."


img-handsThe Hebrew word levayah is usually associated with accompanying the dead — but levayah actually includes the full range of ways we are called to show up and accompany each other throughout life's transitions. Jewish laws of levayah emphasize the importance of escorting the living on their journeys: "Whoever does not accompany [wayfarers], it is as if one sheds blood." This same power of witness and protective presence undergirds vigil-keeping and our related practices of ultimate kindness at the end of life.


We have just entered a collective mourning period in the traditional rhythms of the Jewish calendar: three weeks that commemorate the breaching of protective walls and the destruction of our biblical House of Sanctuary. Echoing through this annual commemoration are the current devastations of extremism, political divisiveness, and painful impasse.


"Let them make for Me a sanctuary, and I will dwell in their midst" (Exodus 25:8). A sanctuary does not actually "contain" God; it expands the sacredness of the spaces we share. Today's immigrant accompanists agree: "Sanctuary is not a physical entity but the spaces wherein all of us can breath freely and in dignity." The ultimate challenge is how to expand our sanctuaries for the widest possible inclusion of those among us.

While crises of violence and polarization may be endemic to this season, it is always possible to respond with ways of peace. No matter how heartbreaking the situation, there are always real, practical options for bringing people together across differences to affirm our shared humanity.


Now as in times past, accompanying each other and bearing witness may be among the most healing and effective recourses available to us. WAYS OF PEACE will continue to highlight and model such recourses in the challenging weeks to come.


WAYS OF PEACE donates at least 10 percent of net staff compensation to other organizations that uphold our core mandates of promoting justice and kindness across lines of diversity. PLEASE SUPPORT OUR WORK TODAY!