As the impact of COVID-19 becomes more clear, we ask: what does it mean to live with human integrity each day? COVID-19 is proving how deeply our lives are interconnected with everyone on the planet. The health of one affects the health of us all.
The Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity is supporting the people who are most vulnerable to the catastrophic changes rocking all of our lives: immigrants, incarcerated people, low income people, and people of color. We are helping people facing the immigration and criminal justice systems tell their powerful frontline stories, and increasing the ability of the faith community to be a moral voice through concrete acts of solidarity for the most vulnerable and excluded.
In the face of the crisis, we are acting:
1. To protect the health of detained immigrants and vulnerable prisoners.
A major public health disaster awaits California immigrants who are detained in ICE detention centers. These facilities are notorious for abuse, inadequate health care, and abysmal conditions. When the virus sweeps through places like Adelanto ICE Processing Center in San Bernardino County or Mesa Verde in Bakersfield, as it surely will, if it hasn’t arrived already, it will endanger the health and survival of thousands of people who are already vulnerable. (There are over 5,000 people currently in detention in California.) Many are suffering from underlying health conditions exacerbated by months of poor food and medical neglect. Like cruise ships, these processing centers will concentrate and spread the virus to people who are detained, guards, and staff. These for-profit detention centers are incapable of preventing and responding to an outbreak of disease. In Mesa Verde, inmates are housed in large rooms of one hundred men or women. Staff are not subjected to medical screening before potentially exposing hundreds of people. In Yuba, detainees must buy their soap from the commissary.
We are mobilizing the faith community to get people released as rapidly as possible, starting with those who are over 65 or have other medical conditions. Our coalitions of congregations meet monthly in counties across the state; since the arrival of the coronavirus, we have begun convening them virtually and are engaging them in advocacy actions from their homes. We’re redirecting the activities of these churches, mosques, and synagogues and encouraging their clergy and congregation members to call, write, or email decision-makers and demand immediate action to release people who are detained. We are also helping some congregations prepare to be sites of reception and house immigrants who gain release if they lack a place to be immediately housed.
We are amplifying the voices of those detained. The video Detention into Death Sentence, which we produced in collaboration with detained immigrants, has received more than 45,000 views and generated calls and pressure on decision-makers during our now-regular #Faithful Fridays Advocacy Days.
We organized a public interfaith memorial service on May 12 to speak for the 17 people who have died of COVID-19 in California prisons, jails, and detention centers.
2. To provide information and resources to vulnerable immigrants.
Since 2015, our organization has trained and mobilized hundreds of faith volunteers to welcome and ease the transition of asylum seekers and newly arrived immigrants fleeing violence and hardship. We are in close touch with the 75 extended families we have supported during that time, many of whom are still in the midst of unresolved immigration legal proceedings and living in a state of limbo. We are hearing stories of extreme human need. A newly arrived father has been laid off from the restaurant job he just acquired and doesn’t know how he can support and feed his child. A house cleaner wants to know where to be tested for the virus, because her employer (whose house she cleans regularly) has tested positive for COVID-19. A worker who was using a borrowed social security number has been let go from her job because of COVID-19 and wants to know if filing for unemployment will trigger an ICE arrest. Two people have injuries and need medical assistance. Most of the vulnerable immigrants we have supported are no longer working and need immediate help to feed their children, pay the rent, and keep the lights on. In our partner congregations across the state, the worries of these 75 families are multiplied a hundredfold.
All low-wage workers are vulnerable right now, but the situation is far more frightening for individuals without legal status, newly arrived immigrants, and asylum seekers fighting their deportation. They lived in the shadows before COVID-19 and now feel even greater fear. Many don’t know where to go for help, while others are afraid to turn to public institutions, though their lives may depend on it. The people in need include inspirational community leaders our organization has trained, who have spoken bravely about their experiences to journalists, elected officials, and the faith community. We are committed to them, their families, and their communities. We are finding that there are many barriers and exclusions in the safety net that prohibit accessing resources, and we raising funds to cover emergency needs and gaps.
Our congregations are stepping forward to provide temporary housing needed for people to be released from ICE detention.
3. Educate the public.
Our member clergy to educate their congregations and invite people to take action. We consider it our mission to help vulnerable people tell their story. We are using earned and social media to share the challenges hitting undocumented people, particularly those in detention. Starting March 2020, our monthly public prayer vigil at ICE headquarters in San Francisco and at the Adelanto detention facility is continuing online.
In good times and bad, our organization shares a message of inclusion and belonging. We are all interconnected. We are all worthy of respect. And we all thrive when the least of us thrives. Never has this been clearer than it is today, when a fatal virus demonstrates just how much we share and how much we depend on one another.
Faithful Fridays actions
- IM4HI Faithful Fridays, March 20 onward: see the latest Toolkit
- Apr 9 – Inclusive language reminders from Comm/Unity for those working at the intersection of mass deportation and mass incarceration.
- Apr 3 – Detention Into a Death Sentence
Justice Not Jails
April 7: IM4HI Executive Director Rev. Deborah Lee spoke at a San Francisco Foundation-hosted webinar to discuss how to support people in the community who are most affected by COVID-19.
Spiritual Resources: Prayers, Meditations, Reflections
- Taking Time by Rev. Deborah Lee (IM4HI Executive Director)
- Psalm 14: Line in the Sand by Rabbi Brant Rosen, Chicago (IM4HI Root Causes participant)
- Solidarity Sutra by Rev. Duncan Ryuken Williams (IM4HI vigil participant)
- Passover Reflection by Starhawk (ecofeminist activist)
by Rev. Deborah Lee, Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity
Time for tears & time for fears.
We place on that altar all
those who are ill.
All our economic anxiety.
Deep concern for family, neighbor.
Racism and inequality
Not sure what is to come.
Holding close all vulnerability.
Time for openings. Crevices in the crisis.
Time for stillness.
Spiritual exercises for embracing the unknown and unpredictable.
For being in the present.
In China, the sky is blue once again.
Nitrogen dioxide from burning fossil fuels down 30%.
People can see the sun. Birds have been heard singing again.
In Italy, people are singing across their balconies to each other
and applauding all health workers at 10 pm.
The earth is getting a rest.
The homeless sick in San Francisco are getting RV’s or hotel rooms.
The 141,000 families in Detroit shut off from running water since 2014 are getting their water turned back on— so they can wash their hands!
The LA police department is diverting new people arrested into alternative programs not cages.
Ohio is releasing hundreds of people in jail for drug addiction and crimes of poverty on bond, probation, community service or time served.
San Francisco is looking to release those with less than six months left on their sentence.
An early Jubilee.
On walks in the neighborhood now, people are smiling. Greeting when we pass on the sidewalk, six feet apart.
The pounding sounds of construction and gentrification have gone quiet.
Melissa Etheridge is doing a free living room concert on facebook every day at 3 pm.
We pray for more miracles.
A moratorium on street sweeps. Evictions. Deportations.
We pray for those endangered and in harm’s way from prison and detention conditions.
We pray that they, and all people, are treated like full human beings.
Worthy of soap. Worthy of family. Worthy of care.
Psalm 14: Line in the Sand
by Rabbi Brant Rosen, Chicago (IM4HI Root Causes participant)
In my weaker moments I imagine
that you sent this plague
as punishment for our iniquity,
but deep down in my heart I know
that’s not your way.
In fleeting moments of clarity,
I picture you gazing out at us ruefully,
asking out loud to no one in particular:
Don’t they know that I really don’t need
to inflict punishments on them?
Can’t they see they’re doing a pretty good job
inflicting punishments on themselves?
Even now I’m astonished that
this terrible moment hasn’t taught them
the most basic of lessons:
no matter how hard they try
they cannot hide from one another.
Even now they cannot see
that the borders they’ve drawn
will not protect them,
that viruses care nothing for national borders,
that pandemics do not stop at walls
checkpoints and security fences.
I look on in wonder as the powerful,
their so-called leaders,
close the gates even tighter,
warning citizens not to congregate
even as they increasingly herd humanity
in prisons, detention centers
and refugee camps.
Even now I’m astonished
by the rampant ignorance of those
who still believe the absurd lines
they’ve drawn in the sand will
somehow keep them safe.
And now it has come to this:
they must sit closed up in their homes
keeping their distance from one another
that their communities might survive.
I can only hope that
in this moment of separation,
they will finally see
how connected they truly are –
for this may well be their final chance
to grasp the most basic of lessons:
that in the end,
they only have each other.
by Rev. Duncan Ryuken Williams
Soto Zen Priest
Zenshuji Soto Zen Mission, Los Angeles
Tsuru for Solidarity
Thus have we heard
At a time when physical distancing is required, yet social solidarity is so needed
The Great Physician Buddha offers medicine to alleviate the hurts of our world:
A net of jewels
each a precious being
an infinite mirror to see ourselves
Interlinked is the rising wall of suffering
interlinked are the efforts to surmount walls
interlinked we turn the wheel of the Dharma
Turning views to see things clearly
turning hearts to know that we are not alone
Like a lotus flower blossoms above muddy water
drawing nutrients from darkest despair
discovering freedom in the midst of constraints
Solidarity bodhisattvas recite the mantra:
SHUJŌ MUHEN SEIGAN DO
“Beings are innumerable/we vow to liberate all”
BONNŌ MUJIN SEIGAN DAN
“Delusions are inexhaustible/we vow to eliminate them all”
HŌMON MURYŌ SEIGAN GAKU
“Dharma gates are boundless/we vow to study them all.”
BUTSUDŌ MUJŌ SEIGAN JŌ
“Buddha’s path is unsurpassable/we vow to actualize it.”