Will We Have the Courage to be Sanctuary Citizens?

Becky O'Malley
Friday March 02, 2018 - 05:24:00 PM

So it’s finally raining, and we can’t complain, because we need the rain.

On the other hand, an errant branch poked a couple of big holes in our roof last week, so I’m complaining. What to do?

First, I called the big old-line locally owned roofing company that put the new roof on maybe a decade ago. It’s well-Yelped, recommended on Next Door, etc. But…

Fully Booked, first appointment not until mid-April, and then just for the estimate, work schedule TBD, they said. What could be done?

Then I remembered what we’d done in the last roofing crisis, when either a raccoon or a grizzly bear scraped a long line of shingles off of the garage roof. (Yes, this happens more often than you’d think. And we live in urban central Berkeley, not in the hills.)

A damaged garage roof in the summer is less serious than a hole in the roof above your bedroom in the rainy season, but still…so we asked around, and a friend recommended…let’s just call him Jose.

He’s the owner-operator of a small roofing business. He came right away, did a quick professional fix at what seemed to be a fair price, without insisting on a signed contract even before going up on a ladder to take a look as the big guys do, for a price.

So we called him again and left a message on his cell phone (no receptionist, in fact probably no office).

When he called back on Wednesday, he apologized profusely for not being able to come over until Friday at 9. He showed up on the dot this morning with another guy and a big ladder, and fixed it right up, just in time before the rain started again.

Why am I telling you all this? Because, of course, “Jose” speaks good English but with a Spanish (probably Mexican Spanish) accent. And no, we didn’t ask about his immigration status.

Don’t tell ICE. The immigration police have been busy raiding employers suspected of hiring undocumented workers. They’ve evidently concentrated on convenience stores, but who knows when they might go after homeowners getting roofs repaired?

If the Trump administration’s crazy campaign to rid the United States of willing competent workers continues, there will be serious consequences in many sectors of society.

Already, a favorite Farmer’s Market vendor told us recently that they didn’t have spinach because although they grew it they couldn’t find pickers—there’s a 25% agricultural labor shortage in Santa Cruz County.

And the immigration insanity is not just about Latino workers from the Americas. 

A friend who teaches at San Jose State called me to express her extreme frustration because a favorite restaurant near campus, Café Pomegranate, had suddenly closed, with rumors that the owners had gone back to Kuwait because of visa problems. 

The next day, the San Jose Mercury News had the story: Immigration Visa Quagmire forces owner to Self-Deport.

The founder had an L1 visa, the kind that’s designed to encourage immigrants to invest in businesses, and according to my source the family had done just that, to great success. But the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services hadn’t been able (or perhaps willing) to process their documentation, and they’ve finally just decided to give up and go back to Kuwait. Another Trump triumph. 

Roof, spinach, lunch…not biggies, right? But collectively all of these minor outrages add up to a huge sea change in how this country will get along without the immigrants who have made our economy work for many decades. 

And here we’ve just focused on how the native-born rest of us will make out. For the full horror stories of how the migrants themselves are suffering, I refer you to any daily newspaper. The recent worst is the one about the mother being locked up in a Texas warehouse while her seven-year-old is incarcerated far away in the Northeast. Have we come to this? 

This week I had a chat with a Jewish neighbor, now 88, who was hidden during World War II from the age of 13 in a Holland home. He’s gone to periodic reunions of these hidden children and their descendants in Israel over the years. I have another friend, a bit younger, who was taken in by a French family during the war at 4 or 5 years old and didn’t learn who she really was, or even that she was Jewish, until she was grown. 

Do we have the same courage, to take in fleeing refugees? 

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf has gotten a lot of guff for simply passing along general information she’d received about the threat of a big ICE roundup last weekend. The San Francisco Chronicle had a snarky editorial the next day, when only 150 or so were reported to have been arrested: Editorial: Schaaf’s ICE alert came with great risks

“The … risk she took was to her credibility. Was this tip real or just a rumor? If it’s the latter, it should not have been spread with the mayor’s imprimatur.” 

Really? What should she have done, then? Just kept it to herself? 

The arrest totals over the weekend have now gotten up to more than 350 by some accounts, and various comments attributed to ICE suggested that more than 800 people had gotten away. In their lame attempts to justify themselves, some ICE official has claimed that about half of those arrested had charges or convictions pending—but doesn’t that mean that the other half did not? 

This morning’s Chronicle, front page, profiled an old guy whose “crimes” were a DUI more than a decade ago and driving without a license, proably at a time when getting a license if you were undocumented was risky. Chances are that many of the so-called “criminals” were no more dangerous than he is. 

And is this policy? In the Trump era, how can we know what’s policy and what’s just enthusiastic personal sadism? 

Today’s email brought an offer from Jewish Voice for Peace for a Mezuzah, in this case a ceramic piece to hang on a door which says “sanctuary” in Arabic, Spanish, Hebrew and English. 

This is what they say it means: 

“With this symbol on our doors, we mark our homes as a sanctuary. Likewise the space outside our door frame. Who might be standing at the threshold, in the holy space outside our front door? Is it a neighbor facing deportation? A person who is hungry or underhoused? A person fleeing a violent home or workspace? Our own tired, troubled soul? Or that of the beloveds who live with us? 

“The mezuzah says that we are welcome in our vulnerability and need. It says that we can breathe in kedusha, holiness, sanctity. And we can breathe it back out into the world. Both directions. The traditional text of the mezuzah reminds us to love God ‘with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our resources [one interpretation of me’odecha]. May this mezuzah remind us to act justly with all of the love in our hearts, with the strength of our souls, with whatever resources we can muster, to provide sanctuary to those who are oppressed in our world. 

“JVP’s Jewish values are about working towards a safe, free, and just world— for us and everyone. And that means standing up against Israeli occupation and apartheid, and for the right of Palestinians to live in freedom and dignity. It also means standing up against ICE deportations, and policies that tear immigrant and refugee families apart. It teaches that when we say “Never again,” we mean “to anyone.” It teaches that it’s on us to stand up for what’s right, and that the time to stand up is now.” 

Even if you’re not Jewish, there’s some good advice here. Mayor Schaaf has set an example that we might just have to follow.