AJC Los Angeles Leads Distinguished Interfaith Delegation To Tour U.S. – Mexico Border

Study Tour Unites Faiths with “One Voice For Comprehensive Immigration Reform”

March 8, 2013 – LOS ANGELES – A distinguished delegation of more than 25 Los Angeles faith leaders, led by Rabbi Mark Diamond, Regional Director of AJC Los Angeles, visited the U.S. – Mexico border at San Diego–Tijuana last week, to survey the border environment in order to better understand the complexities and challenges on the groundthat relate to the issue of immigration reform. In Mexico, the delegation met with immigration reform advocates, public policy experts, immigration attorneys and heard personal testimony from persons adversely affected by American immigration laws, particularly those displaced from family members still living in the United States, as part of The Los Angeles Council of Religious Leader’s (LACRL) “One Voice For Comprehensive Immigration Reform” initiative. Rabbi Diamond also serves as President of LACRL.

The journey united six major faiths. Participating community leaders included the Right Rev. Mary D. Glasspool, bishop suffragan of the Episcopal Diocese, Father Alexei Smith of the Catholic Archdiocese, Rev. Linda Culbertson of the Presbytery of the Pacific, Rev. Gary Keene of the United Methodist Church Rev. Linda Jaramillo, Executive Minster of Justice & Witness Ministries, the United Church of Christ (UCC) and Rev. Felix C. Villanueva,Conference Minister of the UCC.

“According to biblical tradition, strangers are to be welcomed and valued,’” said Rabbi Diamond. “This notion is not limited to any one faith or ethnic community—it is a shared multi-faith obligation to those who flee persecution, wish to reunite with their families, or simply seek the freedom and opportunity that we cherish in America," continued Rabbi Diamond. “Our immigration system is badly broken and action is urgent. In addition to shining a light on the harsh realities of this problem, the study tour provided our interfaith delegation an invaluable opportunity to witness firsthand how severely broken our system has become and explore the complexities of this issue, including national security concerns and the plight of immigrant communities.”

The delegation crossed the U.S. – Mexico border at the San Ysidro, the world’s busiest land border crossing, where U.S. Interstate 5, just south of San Diego, crosses into Mexico at Tijuana. In Mexico, the delegation visited a number of significant locations including the community of Chilpancingo, an extremely impoverished area home to high numbers of U.S. Deportees, many of whom are children. Under the cover of night, deportees are routinely dropped in Tijuana with no resources or connection to the area. Many wind up in the destitute shantytown of Chilpancingo, a community that does not exist on any map, but will be forever etched in the hearts of members of the delegation, who felt the anguish of thousands who hope for nothing more than to reunite with their families in America.

The delegation met many deportees at Casa de Los Pobres (House of the Poor), a social welfare center run by four devoted nuns who serve many thousands of meals each month and provide healthcare for anyone seeking aid, including countless children who somehow, still smile and strum broken guitars, eager to share their dreams of someday returning to, for some, the only home they have ever known.

“Of all the memorable experiences we shared, one stands most vividly in my memory: while at Casa del los Pobres, Sister and I spoke privately in Spanish, and she shared with me that what she and the others Sisters there offer most to those who come to Casa for assistance issimply a 'listening ear' – the opportunity for one human being to respect the dignity of another human being who happens to be in great need by looking them in the eye and listening to them,” said Father Alexei. “In this whole quest for immigration reform, perhaps we can all learn something from these wonderfulnuns.”

In the group’s final moments in Mexico, they toured “No Longer Friendship Park,” an area directly on the border, adjacent to the ocean, once known for bringing together Americans and Mexicans for festivals and weekend celebrations.  Today, the park is a place of great despair as the “border fence” or “Wall” stands as an obstacle to movement and stretches clear into the sea. The delegation approached a man there as he stared through the wall and paced. Just shy of 30 years old, he came to the United States as an infant and lived in Los Angeles his entire life. He told us of his wife and two young children still in Los Angeles and described the sudden nightmare that began for his family the day he was cited for driving without a license. Several days later he was arrested by immigration officials at his place of business, placed in a detention facility and eventually deported to Tijuana. He has nothing in Mexico. His deportation marked the first time he ever visited the country of his birth. He plans torisk his life and soon illegally attempt the journey back, to be reunited with his family and once again live in the shadows of America.

“It is a powerful witness to the world at large when leaders of different faiths join together to explore the issues and corporately call on our government for extensive immigration reform,” said Bishop Glasspool. “Our interfaith pilgrimage across the border into Tijuana, Mexico left me with an incredible range of emotions—outrage, shame, compassion, love, deep sorrow, and beyond the feelings, the determination to do all that I can to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform,” Bishop Glasspool continued. “As a person of faith, I am bound to share with others what I experienced first-hand, and to work hard to help all people live their lives with the dignity and respect due to a Child of God, which is to say, every human being.

From its founding in 1906, AJC has been a strong voice in support of fair and generous treatment of immigrants, participating actively in many of the major immigration debates of our time. AJC continues to reaffirm its commitment to fair and generous immigration policies, as fundamentally good for the United States and consistent with Jewish values. AJC is clear that its commitment to appropriate immigration policies is not only about the Jewish community, which today constitutes only a small portion of the immigration flow. It is fundamentally about what AJC sees as in the best interests of our country overall, as well as assuring that our nation acts in accord with its highest values. AJC Los Angeles furthers this policy by engaging interfaith involvement and dialogue regarding bi-partisan comprehensive immigration reform.

For more information about our interfaith trip to the border please contact Sanaz Meshkinfam, Assistant Director, Interfaith & Intergroup Relations at meshkinfams@ajc.org. To find out more about how you can become more involved with AJC-LA's Immigration work contact either Sanaz Meshkinfam or Michael Aurit, Assistant Director, Communications and Advocacy at auritm@ajc.org.

Date: 3/5/2013

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