My Turn: A festival, a checkpoint and ongoing injustice

  • Batulo Mahamed (left) and her son Mahamad and her daugh Sangabo at their booth on Capitol Street at the Multicultural Festival on Sunday, September 22, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER

For the Monitor
Published: 9/28/2019 8:00:10 AM

Life experiences these days can sometimes be disorienting. Consider two recent events here in New Hampshire.

Last Sunday, Concord hosted the 13th annual Multicultural Festival on the State House grounds. The adjoining Capitol Street was filled with citizens and visitors mingling elbow to elbow among ethnic craft and food venders.

Scattered through the crowd were people in traditional clothing from their countries of origin. The State House grounds were filled with hundreds of joyful people listening to music and watching dancers representing the international community among us.

It was a time for the generations to gather for conversation and expand understanding of our cultural roots. The uniformed police present appeared relaxed and enjoying the festivities with the cheerful multitude.

In contrast, I experienced a profound disconnect when I read in the Monitor that the U.S. Border Patrol had set up a checkpoint on southbound Interstate 89 between Lebanon and Concord, stopping every vehicle. (I had just missed it, traveling only as far as New London from Concord on that day.)

I later learned that a family of first-generation U. S. citizens, who frequently travel on the interstate, also missed the checkpoint that day. However, upon learning about it, they became fearful and filled with anxiety. They kept their family at home for the next week. They have all the legal papers but in fear of losing them, do not carry them. (It is illegal to copy them.)

These two opposing experiences prompt the question, “In which country do we live: a country where neighbors and local police celebrate their rich cultural diversity or a country where people are terrorized by government law enforcement, infringing on the freedom of its citizens and challenging legal immigrant people’s right to be in the United States?”

Unfortunately, evidence of the latter is too often demonstrated.

One of my colleagues, the Rev. Kaji Spellman Dousa, a citizen of the United States and senior pastor of Park Avenue Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ in New York City, has had her global entry authorization revoked and her passport liberties restricted.

For nearly a decade, Dousa has advocated for migrants and refugees, both within the United States and across the border in Tijuana, Mexico. “Her pastoral work includes ministering to migrants, officiating weddings for migrant communities, and organizing prayerful vigils that are sometimes critical of U.S. immigration law and policy, all of which are clearly protected by the Constitution and federal civil-rights law” (Protect Democracy).

In January of this year, federal immigration officials detained Dousa for six hours of secondary screening, subjected her to extended interrogation of her ministry, and revealed disturbingly deep knowledge of her personally and her pastoral work with migrants.

Local ICE officials have placed her on a list of “anti-Trump protesters” targeted for surveillance. And the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in response to Dousa’s ministry, has targeted her for heightened surveillance, detention at the border and revocation of her clearance (SENTRI) for expedited border crossing. She is one of 59 people – journalists, lawyers and advocates – targeted by DHS Operation Secure Line. Their only shared connection is their work to aid, counsel, minister to and provide information about migrants.

These actions by U.S. government agencies reveal unconstitutional and antidemocratic conduct against U.S. citizens.

On July 8, Dousa filed a lawsuit against DHS, Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the people leading these agencies to stop their unlawful retaliation against her for providing pastoral services to migrants and refugees – a central calling of her Christian faith.

The lawsuit asks the court to declare the actions targeting First Amendment rights as unlawful and asks for a permanent injunction against the government to stop surveilling, detaining, interrogating or acting unlawfully against Dousa, both immediately and in the future, in retaliation for how, when and where she exercises her religion.

The Rev. John Dorhauer, general minister and president, and the executive ministers of the United Church of Christ have written: “We … affirm our unflinching support of our colleague, the Rev. Kaji Dousa, who has been unjustly targeted by this current administration. … We issue this strong statement of condemnation of our current administration’s infringement upon the ability of United Church of Christ clergy ‘speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves, and defending the rights of the poor and needy’ (Proverbs 31:8-9) both within and across borders intended to impede people. … We also call upon our national membership to contact your federal representatives and demand the restoration of the liberties of those legally serving the needs of families across the southern border. Humanitarian service should never be politicized for partisan gain.”

In New Hampshire our representatives to contact are Sens. Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen, Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster and Congressman Chris Pappas. Ask them to use their influence to stop unlawful retaliation of DCS, CBP and ICE against Rev. Kaji Dousa for providing aid and pastoral services to migrants and refugees. Tell them we seek their support to live in a country where immigrants can live free from fear, where citizens can give aid and counsel to people in great need, and where neighbors and local police can gather together in multicultural festivals of food, music, dance and cultural understanding.

(The Rev. John Buttrick, United Church of Christ, lives in Concord.)

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