By Jennifer Piper, Interfaith Organizing Director, AFSC Colorado Immigrant Rights Program

Denver Justice and Peace Center invited me to present and facilitate a workshop discussing how US foreign and domestic policies encourage immigration but punish immigrants with more drastic and inhumane enforcement. Fifty people attended the workshop and brainstormed together the root causes which compel people to leave their birth country. We examined the US government’s impact on trade policies, wars and discrimination abroad.

I guided the group through a review of immigration laws passed since 1986, illustrating that we have passed dozens of exclusive laws at the federal level which criminalize immigrants, retroactively taking away people’s status and narrowing the paths to the US and to citizenship; yet the US has not passed one inclusive immigration law. I also drew a diagram describing the structure of enforcement, the way our tax money is given to private corporations to imprison and detain people, and how those corporations then influence policy to marginalize immigrants further. 

The group then watched two of AFSC Colorado’s digital stories to begin to understand what immigrants face once they arrive here in the US. I asked the group to take a moment of silence and pay attention to what they were feeling both emotionally and physically. The moment to get centered seemed to really help people bring all of themselves to the conversation.

At their tables people worked in small groups to share what they were feeling, to discuss what surprised them and what they could identify with in the stories. Several people had tears in their eyes as they struggled to articulate their thoughts and feelings to others at their table, who listened intently.

Finally, I gave each group the written testimony of an immigrant trapped by our enforcement regime. I asked the groups to consider the person who wrote the testimony their close friend and to brainstorm ways to intervene, to support the person, or to challenge the system.  I was surprised by the dozens of ways the groups thought of to be in allyship with the person: from English classes and Know Your Rights presentations, from food banks and extra bedrooms at their house, to protests and letters.

I was able to connect people to some existing organizations as people began to connect to what was possible. Many of the people at the presentation attended AFSC’s February vigil and came back again in March.