activism


Judy Ackerman Protesting at Rio Bosque

EL PASO – A 55-year-old Army veteran hunkered down in front of construction crews who were building the fence along the U.S.-Mexico border Wednesday, halting work for about eight hours before she was arrested.

Judy Ackerman, one of about a dozen people at a peaceful protest east of El Paso on Wednesday, was handcuffed by Texas Department of Public Safety troopers after several hours of figuring out which authority was responsible for removing her. It wasn’t clear what charges she’d face.

Work on the fence resumed immediately after Ms. Ackerman was led away. Before her arrest, the white-haired woman sporting a reflective vest and hard hat cheerfully chatted with authorities. About 20 workers were milling around the site, leaning against heavy equipment and dump trucks and taking pictures of her with their cellphones.

“They have a job to do, but today their job is to take a break,” said Ms. Ackerman, a retired sergeant major who spent 26 years in the Army.

She crossed a canal before workers arrived and took up a position on a levee where large steel poles were being erected. The levee is in a desolate area several miles east of downtown El Paso, near the 370-acre Rio Bosque Wetlands Park.

“They have this wonderful park here, and the wall is messing it up,” Ms. Ackerman said.

She was on land maintained by the International Boundary and Water Commission. Al Riera, the principal engineer for the commission, said officials were notified about her presence early Wednesday and spent several hours trying to figure out what agency should remove her.

The Associated Press

www.vmlaw.us

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Today three judges from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on the rights of Baldomero and Hilaria Muñiz, and Pamela Rivas.  Both families live in Los Ebanos and are refusing DHS access to survey their properties prior to building a border wall.  Those arguments can be heard here.

All three judges are white, and all three were nominated by Republican presidents.  Judge E. Grady Jolly and Judge Edith Brown Clement seemed rather unsympathetic to the arguments of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid lawyer Jerome Wesevich, whose voice was shaky, and seemed off balance throughout his argument.  Judge Clement was the most antagonistic and offensive on the three judge panel.  She scoffed at the concern of the landowners that their properties could be severely damaged.  Although DHS’ own language says the government can destroy buildings in the way of survey equipment, she mocked the property owners’ concerns by saying that DHS “might trim some hedges.”  She also invoked the term “illegal aliens.”  And although Judge Jolly later referenced the landowners’ inability to speak English as a reason to sympathize with regular people being bullied by their government, Judge Clement seemed to think their Spanish language was making it unreasonable for DHS to do it’s job (as if we were here to facilitate our government’s attacking us, rather than the government being here to serve its people).  Judge Priscilla Richman Owen, the lone Texan on the bench, did not question Wesevich.

When his turn arrived, DHS attorney John Arbab was quickly cut off by Judge Jolly because DHS’ position is that the 5th Circuit did not have jurisdiction to hear the cases.  His basic sense of fairness was offended by the government’s claim that they could condemn property without the landowner being able to sue and appeal.  But Arbab seemed to me to successfully parry the judge’s questions and argued calmly and confidently.

Judge Clement appeared most interested to know if the Los Ebanos families were basically alone, or whether other residents along the route of the wall were also suing.  According to DHS’ Arbab, there are 250 cases, 193 “footprint cases” and 57 “right of entry cases.” (This number will increase when the Texas Border Coalition processes the more than 120 affidavits of Brownsville landowners who, thanks to the assistance of Border Ambassadors and C.A.S.A., recently started the legal process of suing DHS.)

Graphiti Artist Banksy

Graphiti Artist Banksy

As for Judge Owen, I would guess that of the three, this George W. Bush appointee is our best ally.  She questioned why the pre-suit offer of DHS to landowners was $0.  She also seemed upset that DHS was suing for access to survey when independent of any survey DHS has determined that a fence is needed and has filed a condemnation lawsuit as well, thus getting the cart before the horse, and assuming the outcome of the case being argued while simultaneously making it appear unnecessary for DHS to survey.

During his time for rebuttal, Wesevich performed much better, arguing much more confidently.  Despite a comfortably closed-minded Clement, Wesevich pushed back.  Still, Judge Jolly ended the session with the statement that the landowners “need lawyers, but they don’t need lawyers,” meaning, they need someone who lets them know that they have a right to negotiate for a price, but not someone who is going to sue.  Hopefully that doesn’t mean Judge Jolly wishes to sweep the rights of border residents under the rug.

I’m not a lawyer yet, but I’d guess that these Los Ebanos families will lose their right of access cases, but that the 5th Circuit will claim jurisdiction, ensuring each landowner the opportunity to appeal.

 

The Border Ambassadors, led by Jay Johnson-Castro, passed out fliers for TRLA in Los Ebanos during the Warch Against the Border Wall from March 8 – 16, 2008.  TRLA had already announced their information session to the residents of Los Ebanos before we arrived, and it is impossible to know whether we helped encourage the members of the Rivas or Muñiz families, but I’d like to think we didn’t hurt.  I vividly remember hobbling up to Mike Johnson with his wife Cindy in the distance, also with tired legs and sore feet, handing  out our last TRLA information fliers.  We worked not until we were tired or in pain (we were tired and in pain before we started), but until we were out of fliers.

Jeanette Ruiz and other activists marching against the Border Wall

Jeanette Ruiz and her family marching against the Border Wall

Those are the kinds of selfless acts, passing out fliers after already marching all day in the hot sun, that drive this movement and make me proud of those I work alongside.  The weekend before the Brownsville City Commission met to vote on whether to give city land to DHS to build a wall, another Border Ambassador and I, Jeanette Ruiz, working in conjunction with C.A.S.A., met a tattooed and pierced young man who lives along the fence’s route.  Although he had to work until after the start of the city meeting, he said that he would pick up his mother and come late.  And thank heaven they did.  His witty humor kept me from becoming angry, and his mother, pleading in Spanish for help maintaining the home (not just the house) where she raised her family, broke the hearts of all those in attendance.  She was the heroine of the night. The courageous Dr. Tamez calmly and eloquently conveyed her conviction. Mr. Paz from Sabal Palms also provided necessary support. Mr. and Mrs. Lucio from Ft. Brown made their persuasive and thoughtful argument. Michelle Taylor and her husband were at their courageous best.  Others of us less prominent Brownsvillians made valuable input, speaking truth to power. And we will never know who influenced whom, or what the outcome of the vote would have been without all of these people acting together. But like the widow and her mites in Jesus’ parable, by finding the courage to plead with the commissioners, this humble woman from La Moria cast in more than us all.

For the sake of that woman, for the sake of the Muñiz and Rivas families, for the sake of our beloved borderlands where integration, multiculturalism and bilingualism flourish, please join with Border Ambassadors, No Border Wall Coalition, C.A.S.A., or any other organization you feel comfortable working with (and if that doesn’t work, just find a friend), and go door-to-door along the fence route, in whatever town you live, collecting signatures on the Texas Border Coalition’s Affidavit.  We need your help.

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I gave this speech at last night’s City Commission meeting.

John Bruciak isn’t the only one “caught in the crossfire,” to quote Commissioner Atkinson.  All of Brownsville is ducking for cover as racism, xenophobia, and hatred, spit from the lips of Tom Tancredo and Lou Dobbs are aimed at our beloved borderlands.  Even our city commission has become wounded with rancor.  Who among us will have the courage to stand up amidst the fray and fight for our land and our way of life?  I will tell you who: over 98% of the residents along the border wall route, that’s who.

 

This week, members of Border Ambassadors, CASA, and the No Border Wall Coalition have met with 123 landowners along the route of the fence and 121 of them (over 98%) signed the Mayor’s declaration, deciding they aren’t going to act scared anymore.  Given the will of the people, will this commission continue to capitulate, or will it stand up and fight for what it claims it wants: No Border Wall!?

 

And who among us will be the peacemakers, for as Jesus said, they will be called the children of God?  This wall was started by those who think the United States and Mexico are enemies, and it will be stopped by the peacemakers who recognize the brotherhood of mankind.  This wall is motivated out of fear, but as John said, “Perfect love casts out all fear.”  Who here is willing to love this country enough to stop it from building its own Berlin Wall?

 

I urge this commission to find the love, forgiveness, and courage to join the people of Brownsville.  Put aside your animosity and unite in our common fight.

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I gave this speech at the Brownsville City Commission meeting last Tuesday.  The city was honoring my students for their recognition as part of the Princeton University Martin Luther King Essay Contest.  One student, the one who had spent the most time on her essay, gave a great speech to the Commission, advising them to fight the fence and support increasing the legal ability to immigrate.  So during the public comment’s section, I gave this speech.
Jesus often called the young people to him by saying, “Suffer the little children to come unto me for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”  He also quoted Psalms 8:2 which states, “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings, thou hast perfected praise.”
Although I can’t quote these lines to my students while teaching, they have helped guide my thinking as a teacher.  Among other things, they alert me to listen to the wisdom and insight that children often have naturally, some of which, we as adults miss.  These children here today have taught me so much about tenacity, faith and life, and for that I thank them.
My only admonition for the City Commission is that you fully consider, and not disregard, the “perfected praise” that has come to you “out of the mouth of babes.”  “Let no man despise [their] youth.”
Furthermore, knowing these students as I know them, I believe that we as adults must do everything we can to be as courageous, active, and tenacious as we can, just to keep up with them.  In light of that, I ask the members of the Commission to join The Border Ambassadors, LUPE, CASA, Proyecto Azteca, Southwest Workers Union, and most importantly the students, by supporting the March Against the Wall and any other peaceful, grassroots, direct-action event supporting the preservation of La Frontera and preventing Segregation.

Today, I gave this speech to the Brownsville City Council Meeting during the public comment portion.  The Brownsville Herald ran an article on Sunday that said that the Mayor was betrayed by the City Council who went behind closed doors to allow the Army Corps of Engineers onto city land to survey for the wall.  It is in response to that that I wrote this speech-on the back, and in the margins of the agenda.   

Yesterday, Princeton University recognized five of my 8th grade students for essays they wrote on the topic “What would Martin Luther King say and do about immigration?”  Princeton opened this year’s essay contest to my students because they used my blog, nonviolent migration, as a resource for their contest.  These five students, Melissa Guerra, Yessenia Martinez, Abigail Cabrera, Vanessa Trevino, and Blanca Gonzalez were the only five students who had the faith to submit an essay and all were recognized by Princeton. 

I asked the rest of my 121 students to speak honestly about why they had decided not to write for the contest.  The overwhelming number of students responded that it wasn’t worth trying because they felt that because Princeton is in the North, they would prejudge their work since they live on the border.  This experience reminded me once again just how excluded these children feel.   Even though this wall will be South of most of my students, my students are smart enough to know that the same motive behind this wall is also shouting at them, saying, “You are not us; keep out!” 

These students, who started with such enthusiasm when the contest was announced, lost hope and they let their fears overcome their faith.  This broke my heart because I love my students, but your capitulation is something other than heartbreaking because you are no longer 8th graders.  We expect you to hold out hope.  We expect you to keep the faith.  We expect you to work for us, and let us fight this fight. 

At this time, we want to express our love… and forgiveness… to all the members of the commission.  However, as a result of your action, we must now find a legal way to undo what you’ve done so that my 8th graders don’t come to learn that you prejudged them too. 

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Once again, I have to point you in the direction of a friend of mine who wrote an excellent article entitled, “Duty Free.”

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Stop the wall this spring break. 

A year and a half ago, Border Ambassador Jay Johnson-Castro went on a 15 day walk through the Texas communities that will be affected if the Secure Fence Act of 2006—already federal law—becomes a reality.  His walk, which he undertook basically alone, was covered by the BBC[1] and other international media, as well as multiple articles in the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express News.[2]  Hearing of the walk, Republican Governor Rick Perry (a proponent of the wall) held a press conference about border security in the tiny community of Rio Grande City while Jay was walking through town.

Why would one man require a response from such a powerful person?  Why would Governor Perry even care about one Don Quixote-like figure plodding through the long stretches of nothingness?  Why would the Houston Chronicle give its front page as a pulpit for a solitary nobody doing something so crazy?  These questions have elusive answers, but those familiar with the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 60s are better equipped to make sense of them than most.  Two clues are found in familiar phrases from that generation.  “Unearned suffering is redemptive,” which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. often said, and “You got to move,” a favorite phrase of the Highlander Folk School—who trained Rosa Parks and others—have oriented my understanding of why a walk can be so powerful.

Following that motto, “You got to move,” this spring break—from March 8th to the 16th—local educators and students, along with religious and civic leaders will walk 115 miles (13 miles each day for 9 days) from Roma to Brownsville as a form of nonviolent direct action.  We invite you to partner with us in an alternative spring break, by following this link.  http://www.mysignup.com/noborderwallwalk  There you will make a commitment to participate and input your information.  We will then contact you with the necessary details.

The purpose of this walk is to show support for local landowners who do not want to give the Army Corps of Engineers access to their property.  These landowners are facing litigation by the U.S. Government, and are acting very courageously in spite of this threat.  Many more landowners would resist the government if they knew they were supported.  A second purpose is to gain the attention of the nation, especially during this election year.

Through today’s New York Times,[3] land owner Eloisa Tamez’s plan for resistance was shared with a national audience.  Eloisa works closely with Jay Johnson-Castro in the fight to prevent this wall from segregating our community, but she isn’t the only land owner along the proposed fence route.  Now is the time to share her story, Jay’s story, and spread the message of our collective struggle.  Please join us and invite your friends, family, and neighbors to do the same.

Late last week, one of my students told me about the “mojaditos” being arrested in her neighborhood, still wet from the Rio Grande.  She is a popular girl, is on the dance team, and earns straight A’s.  She is writing an essay for the Princeton University Martin Luther King Essay Contest about Martin Luther King and immigration, and her use of the word “mojaditos,” sounding in my ears, created an ambivalent emotion. 

In Spanish, Mojado means wet.  Like the dehumanizing use of the English adjective “illegal” as a noun, mojado, when used as a noun, means “wet-back.”  Mojado is the word Antonio tells me he hears spit from the angry lips of Border Patrol officers.  This is the word I hear a few students use to ridicule their classmates who, fresh from Mexico, speak so little English.  Like the words joto and stupid, mojado is one of the many ways that my adolescent students, trapped in an age desperate for acceptance, exclude each other.

Mojadito, however, is a different kind of word.  The suffix –ito means little, and often is used with fondness.  While living in Monterrey, my darling Mari would affectionately call me her guerito (little white boy).  Pobrecito is a fond way of saying, “my poor little baby.”  Mojadito, while derived from a racial slur, was being used by my student in a tender way.   Her language and even her thoughts were confined by racial segregation, but at least her emotions were freely empathetic. 

*          *          *

 

Before being thrown into Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King made the hard decision to break a city law in order to be imprisoned.   He wrote about that decision in the chapter “A New Day in Birmingham”:

 

“I intended to be one of the first to set the example of civil disobedience.  Ten days after the demonstrations began, between four and five hundred people had gone to jail; some had been released on bail, but about three hundred remained.  Now that the job of unifying the Negro community had been accomplished, my time had come.  We decided that Good Friday, because of its symbolic significance, would be the day that Ralph Abernathy and I would present our bodies as personal witnesses to this crusade.

“Soon after we announced our intention to lead a demonstration on April 12 and submit to arrest, we received a message so distressing that it threatened to ruin the movement.  Late Thursday night, the bondsman who had been furnishing bail for the demonstrators notified us that he would be unable to continue.  The city had notified him that his financial assets were insufficient.  Obviously, this was another move on the part of the city to hurt our cause.

“It was a serious blow.  We had used up all the money we had on hand for cash bonds.  There were our people in jail, for whom we had a moral responsibility.  Fifty more were to go in with Ralph and me.  This would be the largest single group to be arrested to date.  Without bail facilities, how could we guarantee their eventual release?

“Good Friday morning, early, I sat in Room 30 of the Gaston Motel discussing this crisis with twenty-four key people.  As we talked, a sense of doom began to pervade the room.  I looked about me and sat that, for the first time, our most dedicated and devoted leaders were overwhelmed by a feeling of hopelessness.  No one knew what to say, for no one knew what to do.  Finally someone spoke up and, as he spoke, I could see that he was giving voice to what was on everyone’s mind.

“‘Martin,’ he said, ‘this means you can’t go to jail.  We need money.  We need a lot of money.  We need it now.  You are the only one who has the contacts to get it.  If you go to jail, we are lost.  The battle of Birmingham is lost.’

“I sat there, conscious of twenty-four pairs of eyes.  I thought about the people in jail.  I thought about the Birmingham Negroes already lining the streets of the city, waiting to see me put into practice what I had so passionately preached.  How could my failure now to submit to arrest be explained to the local community?  What would be the verdict of the country about a man who had encouraged hundreds of people to make a stunning sacrifice and then excused himself?

“Then my mind began to race in the opposite direction.  Suppose I went to jail?  What would happen to the three hundred?  Where would the money come from to assure their release?  What would happen to our campaign?  Who would be willing to follow us into jail, not knowing when or whether he would ever walk out once more into the Birmingham sunshine?

“I sat in the midst of the deepest quiet I have ever felt, with two dozen others in the room.  There comes a time in the atmosphere of leadership when a man surrounded by loyal friends and allies realizes he has come face to face with himself.  I was alone in that crowded room.

“I walked to another room in the back of the suite, and stood in the center of the floor.  I think I was standing also at the center of all that my life had brought me to be.  I thought of the twenty-four people, waiting in the next room.  I thought of the three hundred, waiting in prison.  I thought of the Birmingham Negro community, waiting.  Then my mind leaped beyond the Gaston Motel, past the city jail, past city lines and state lines, and I thought of twenty million black people who dreamed that someday they might be able to cross the Red Sea of injustice and find their way to the Promised Land of integration and freedom.  There was no more room for doubt.

“I pulled off my shirt and pants, got into work clothes and went back to the other room to tell them I had decided to go to jail.

“‘I don’t know what will happen; I don’t know where the money will come from.  But I have to make a faith act.’”

  *          *          *  

Today I received a news alert with the question, “Who will be the immigration movement’s Martin Luther King?”  I really think hundreds of people have asked themselves this exact question in the past two years.  I don’t have an answer, but the passage I just quoted highlights, for me, the qualities as well as the quandary.  Princeton University is asking a very similar question to middle and high school students right now. They essentially ask the question, “What would Martin Luther King say if he were to attend an immigration rally today?”  (http://www.princeton.edu/mlk/essay).

When Dr. King faced himself in an instant of introspection instigated by the loneliness of leadership, he realized that his life led him to the decision he was making.  And he realized that he could make no other decision than to trust in God, in his sense of history and morality, and choose to act in faith. 

What made this decision so difficult for Dr. King was the fact that no bail could be provided for the three hundred in jail and that unless he stayed out of jail and tried to secure funding, they would likely remain in jail for a significant period of time.  This is perfectly applicable to our situation with unjust immigration restrictions because arrested immigrants are not given bail.  Not only that, but they aren’t often given jail sentences; they are most often deported. 

Undoubtedly, the act of turning oneself in to an ICE agent as an unauthorized immigrant in an act of nonviolent civil disobedience requires a greater courage and a greater conviction than even the greatest generation of Americans—the civil rights activists struggling nonviolently against segregation—faced.  Will my thirteen-year-old student, newly empathetic for the mojaditos, find the kind of courage that Dr. King found?  Will any of my students?  Will their lives lead them to a similarly defining moment where they even have the tools to ask the questions Dr. King did? 

While writing this, I see, for the first time, the potential for the level of heroism of my friend, Marlene Flowers, in my students.  She was about the same age as my 8th graders when she was first arrested for violating a city bus segregation statute.  I met Marlene as an energetic grandmother with a résumé that included fifty-four such arrests.  Her powerful presence makes it difficult to imagine that first arrest.  Even harder for me is to imagine her before that first arrest, before the idea of nonviolent civil disobedience first germinated in her brain and resonated in her soul.  But I now wonder if she looked a little unsure, excitable, and even scared, like so many of my students.  Resolving to civilly disobey an unjust law is certainly distinct from changing the way we feel about some other law-breaker, but moving our hearts from mojado to mojadito might mean a heart agape enough to eventually find morality and courage and charity (agapé) enough to bring about a new era of human rights in the United States.  Today my hope is that it represents a new day in Brownsville, for at least that one student.

 

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“The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin [read disobedience] increased, grace increased all the more.” Romans 5:20 NIV

With the advent of a nation-based quota system in 1924, many immigrants found themselves found themselves on the wrong side of a new law. Because of the quota system, it became illegal for many Mexicans to cross a border which was less than 80 years old. As the popular slogan states, “We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us.” Many immigrants who had been pouring in legally were obstructed, and these quotas failed to take into account the growing and dynamic needs of our country and the globalizing world. With the creation of more laws, there will inevitably be more criminals, not necessarily more peace.

The United States of America must soon decide whether it wants to continue waging the costly and ultimately self-defeating war it has been waging against immigration. The border wall, estimated at $4-8 billion dollars, and the President’s proposed $13 billion for Border Security are huge costs to stave off a necessary immigrant pool. Just yesterday, the first Baby Boomer cashed her Social Security check; at a time like this, we should be encouraging young, qualified immigrants. Who else will foot the bill for our millions of retirees?

Immigrants have always been the lifeblood of our economy, and that is no different in today’s world. In fact, immigrants are even more important in today’s economy. Immigrants bring the world economy and global competition within our borders. At a time when America is ceding its position to China and the EU as the world’s prime economic regulator, our nation must realize that it is far better to bring people into our country than to export business outside our country. For years, our production companies have been sending jobs and values overseas. Immigrants are the main reason many key “American” industries are still profitable and still centered in the continental U.S. To continue criminalizing immigrants is to ignore the rough lessons of globalization and to accept a position as an economy in decline.

Our nation is bogged down with the expense and legislation of fighting a battle that we must not and should not wish to win. China is just now re-emerging as a true world power after years of shutting its doors and walling in its borders. With its new legislation, the United States appears to be turning back the clock and starting down that same path of isolationism and xenophobia.

These are the economic and legislative reasons our nation must opt against the continued criminalization of immigrants. What follows are ideas for ways in which to nonviolently voice opposition to this philosophy. As Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in “New Day in Birmingham” from his book Why We Can’t Wait, “It is terribly difficult to wage such a battle without the moral support of the national press to counteract the hostility of local editors.” (53) This tenet still holds true. Save for a few feature stories and the publicity surrounding the May Day protests 2 years ago, the media has been largely silent or silenced on this subject. It is the duty of the active citizenry, both legal and criminalized, to inform our nation’s media sources about the true heart of the immigration issue. If every informed reader would take genuine concern and write an OP-ED piece to his local newspaper or her college newspaper, this issue would again become the conversation piece it was before it was voted down in our nation’s lawmakers. If concerned citizens in our nation’s borderlands and cities would write articles or suggest immigrant stories to editors, newspapers and magazines would cover these stories because their readership demands it.

As I write, Mayor Ahumada in Brownsville, TX, is seeking to impose a court injunction against the construction of an unsightly, ineffective, and retrogressive border fence. Whereas in the times of Martin Luther King, Jr., the court injunctions were resisting positive changes in the realm of civil rights, this court injunction and others like it are seeking to use legal means to stop our country from continuing to make an unwise decision. Support for his efforts, and the efforts of all politicians and attorneys who are fighting for immigrant rights, is much needed at this time of dire urgency.

It is time for all God’s people to echo with one voice that anti-immigrant laws and quotas are immoral and retrogressive. It is time to say “Basta! Quotas were a bad idea in the 20s, and they are just as bad now.” We cannot afford to put this off until the next election. We must not just “sit” on this issue, because it is the backbone of our nation’s future. While 12 million illegal immigrants work and reside in this country without rights or legitimacy, none of us can rest assured of our inalienable rights. While 12 million “illegal” immigrants remain unjailed, unprosecuted, unprotected and disrespected, we must ask ourselves and our politicians if our nation can long endure with this many working citizens on the wrong side of such a law. If illegal aliens can be alienated because of an unjust quota system, then the very rights of citizenship itself are unjust. We must work in every facet and every means to nonviolently inform, persuade, and insist on true immigration reform. Our country desperately needs to rediscover grace.

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