I posted a Facebook status the other day, suggesting that ICE roundups have a lot in common with pre-war Nazi activity. I was referring to the practice of seeking out undocumented residents and putting them into detention facilities with no charges, no explanation, and no clear plan forward. Boy, I triggered some people. I haven't even found time to read all the comments, let alone respond. The post, very specific I thought, started conversation about the entire border crisis, immigration reform, political infighting, human decency and lack of it, prison and detention center conditions, and a lot more.
That's my main gripe about Facebook -- there's no sorting or moderating to keep a debate on a specific track. That's OK. I love social media for the access to volunteers and food recovery it provides, and Facebook is among the best.
The point, though, wasn't national policy or political idealism or immigrants themselves. It's the issue of taking action without respect for the problem it's trying to solve and without a long-term goal. I understand the rationale for deporting criminals who don't have legal status. If it were that simple, I'm all in. But with the current border crisis, wouldn't ICE's resources be better spent trying to accommodate and sort out all the people clamoring at the gates?
Here's the thing -- undocumented immigrants who commit violent crimes should be deported rather than tried in the US justice system. It just makes sense to save taxpayers the cost of prosecuting and detaining those trouble-makers. But a majority of the arrests in my area have been folks who failed to appear at a hearing. Of course we want immigrants to get to their hearings and proceed through the steps of acquiring legal status, but isn't tracking them down and deporting them a little too extreme? Many of them don't speak English or don't understand the process or don't have access to transportation or mail or a calendar. Failure to appear at a hearing is an honest mistake, not a violent crime, and not, in my opinion, deportation-worthy.
Because the detention system is so overloaded, partly due to the increase of arrests because of the political climate, people are locked up in unsafe, unhealthy, and unconstitutional conditions. Crossing the border without documentation is a misdemeanor, not a jail-able offense. Missing a hearing automatically results in an arrest warrant, no matter what the hearing is for/about. Immigrants who don't understand this are being locked up without access to adequate food, water, shelter, medical attention, or even explanation of their circumstances. They are offered no recourse. Often their families have no idea where they are, where they're being sent, or how to contact them. Children being separated from parents and then lost is a whole other problem.
My point, in posting a challenge to protect our neighbors if ICE comes for them, and in comparing that to pre-war Germany, is that the law seems secondary to the politics right now. Human rights violations are rampant. Our ability to meet the basic needs of people we detain is severely lacking, and if we can't keep them humanely, we shouldn't be picking them up in the first place.
Save the prisons and detention centers for violent offenders. Once we get those under control, we can have a conversation about whether crossing the border or missing a hearing warrants the abhorrent conditions of the current facilities.
I heated up some donated leftovers yesterday. The freezer was pretty full when I saw one of my Facebook groups asking for help providing food for a regular meal they serve every weeknight in downtown Portland. I responded, pulled out a bunch of bags that worked well together, and dumped them in foil pans. It took me maybe 10 minutes.
I often wonder whether anything I'm doing is making a difference. Is the food really needed? Isn't it harder to find drivers and servers and people with funds to buy supplies? Couldn't a large-scale food business provide meals much more efficiently? I have to remind myself that it's not about efficiency or simplicity. It's about community.
It takes at least a dozen people every day of the week to put together these meals for about 100 people in the park. The diners may or may not be homeless, hungry, discouraged, lonely. It doesn't matter -- everybody is welcome, no questions asked. We've been doing this for a few years now, and a distinct community has developed. The guests know one another and have opportunities to visit, make new friends, ask for help, share resources. These are some of the kindest and most generous people I know, even though they have very little. They recognize that the community itself has great value.
It's not just the diners who benefit. None of us could do this alone, and it's scary sometimes. We've experienced the decline of supportive communities. The more crowded our neighborhoods get, the less we know our neighbors. It's easy to feel alone among a mass of humanity. I can't lift much or stand very long and I often don't have the car. Others may not have money for gas or a container big enough or refrigerator space. But somehow, together, this meal happens, every night M-F, 6:00, rain or shine, mostly in one location but moving if that's what it takes. Whatever it takes, this group works, gathers, improvises, cares.
It happens because a few people recognized a need -- not for food so much, but for community. It started with one guy who took a pot of hot soup to an under-the-bridge camp during an ice storm. I think he got beat up that first time, but he didn't quit. A few friends were inspired, then a few hundred. Now it's a network of thousands, providing those downtown dinners and picnics in other parks and delivering food and necessities to camps throughout four counties. A few other cities have started their own groups.
It's called Free Hot Soup. Not a charity or club or business, just a Facebook group. Guidelines have developed, moderators have stepped up. One great man dedicated his whole truck to mobile beverage service to support the meals. The group's tool is food, but its product is community. In a world where almost everyone feels marginalized one way or another, where we've had to harden our hearts to protect them from despair, where we feel helpless against the need we see all around us, this group empowers. It finds solutions where there was impossibility. It lends a hand when all hands are already full. It stretches when need has already forced too much stretching.
Community can do these things, things that individuals can't, that businesses won't, things that charities fail at, because they focus on the wrong end result. It's not food. It's care. Courage. Determination. Those human qualities that inspire and change us, that push us to accomplish greatness. The human spirit is brought alive with energy, hope, love, because people witness one another in acts of stupid, impractical, illogical, magical kindness.
Humankind has reached an important turning point. As all the graphs of population, development, and waste are now showing nearly vertical growth lines, we have to take a look at our priorities. In early human history it was simple. Our purpose was to survive. We sought food, water, and shelter, we raised children, and we joined forces to defend ourselves against nature, predators, and unknown tribes.
As society became more complex, the answer to "What is our purpose?" also evolved. It's mostly qualified with "You mean besides survival?" We still acknowledge, barely, that surviving is important to us as a species, but we expect a whole lot more from ourselves and one another. This is a good thing. It inspires heroes and public servants and philosophical thought. But it also feeds our desire to do more, have more, be more, contributing to the upward slope of all those aforementioned graphs.
Is it time to do less, have less, be less? Maybe. At least it's time to accept that many people are choosing that direction, and that's a valid choice. Many more are forced into simpler goals by lack of access to fundamental needs. In America, one of every eight people is food insecure, meaning they have to choose which fundamentals of survival to fight for. Do they work overtime to pay rent? Buy food and lose electricity? Search for free food and financial aid, cutting into time available for work? They certainly aren't pursuing higher education, entering politics, starting new businesses, or evaluating their purpose. They're surviving.
Why do we look down on people who are surviving? Knowing there are limited resources, who are we to think that those who have more are better? If we're willing to look a little deeper, we'll find a massive subculture of hard-working, generous, intelligent people who have chosen not to participate in the more-is-better game. People who give away what they don't need, who abhor waste, who walk gently among us and on our planet.
I admire people who live with less, whether by choice or circumstances. These people are connected to the true sources of life, happiness, and meaning. Each day presents an opportunity to meet their own and their neighbors' needs. There's no greed or ego or power games. There's cooperation, understanding, courage.
Those of us who still over-consume, over-achieve, over-spend and over-waste can learn a lot from the poor among us. All we have to do is meet their eyes and start a conversation.
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Susie Snortum is passionate about improving society's compassion for meeting basic human needs -- food, shelter, clean water, and dignity.