A Reflection: Saving Moses: It Takes a Village

Saving Moses: It Takes a Village

The story of unaccompanied migrant children is as old as the story of baby Moses in the book of Exodus.

Moses’ story begins – when he is just a baby at a time and context where the enslaved Hebrew peoples had already endured years… decades of slavery. It was wearying and pressure and tensions were rising. The enslaved population was exploding causing the Pharoah to be concerned, because the race of the slaves within Egypt’s borders was the same race as the surrounding nations exerting pressure on Egypt’s borders.

I can’t help but think of the growing undocumented population in this country, now 11 million, who live in a state of uncertainty and fear, second-class citizens. For many it is a kind of slavery. Some were brought here by labor contractors. Some forced to migrate because of dangerous, dire or desperate situations back home. Some shelled out $5,000-$10,000 dollars to pay their safe passage here, and now are working to pay off their debt. Some working several jobs, day after day, – too often at sub-legal wages, sub human conditions, threatened with deportation if they speak up or complain. But they must continue to work, to provide for the most basic of necessities. To support the survival of family members here and back home.

Pharaoh said, that they were “too many” causing great fear and insecurity; a threat to the system of slavery; a threat to the empire. They were “too many” and so the Pharoah enacted laws and commandments to reduce the population. The first, being the law to make sure the babies did not survive in childbirth – that all the male babies should be killed at birth.

And like in the Pharoah’s times, the leaders of this land have said that there are “too many.” The have enacted laws to promote self-deportation, to drive people away, or back home, or further underground. The same fears of overpopulation. Fear of the other. Enacted systems of mass deportation, lucrative industries of detention of parents and children. Broken up families, kept them separated and apart – so that children and families have no chance to thrive.
In the story of baby Moses’ migration to safety, it is the midwives- Puah and Shiprah. It is not clear if they themselves were Hebrew or Egyptian, but they served as midwives to both Hebrew and Egyptian women. They were most likely managers/coordinators of the other midwives in the land with resources, people, institutions under their control. Facing orders, would they submit and accept Pharoah’s law to command their resources for harm? Bravely, the midwives chose God’s law over Pharoah’s law. They chose the protection of life….the preservation of life — over Pharoah’s law – of genocide and death.

When called before the authorities and questioned to give an account for their actions: How is it that the boy babies are living? They give a sly answer. “It is because the Hebrew women give birth so easily. The babies are arriving before we even get there.” It appears they organized a work slow down — so that the midwives would arrive late, after the babies were already born.
When laws, edicts of death and genocide lie before us, what is our personal call to conscience? How ought we to organize for the protection and preservation of life and give account for our actions?
The Pharoah, seeing that the midwives could not be coerced to follow his orders, then orders that all the male children be thrown into the Nile after their birth. Somehow believed, that if we kill all the male babies, there will be no more. No future, no more. A cruel but also shortsighted plan. If Moses’ people were no more, who would do the work? Who would help build the country?
It is hard to imagine a land so violent as to command the killing of babies at birth. Or is it? When you hear the stories of the kind of violence and brutality committed by organized crime and narcotraffickers with impunity. The kind of violence people are living amidst. Girls being raped. People forced to pay“Renta,” thousands of dollars in extortion, or be killed. Boys being mandatorily conscripted into the gangs or be killed. The involvement and corruption of local police forces or their own inability to protect the people. In either case, leaving the populace vulnerable to extraordinary and unimaginable violence. No future, no more.
Enter, Jochebed, mother of Moses and Miriam and Aaron. A women enslaved, living in a land not her own. Being a mother in a world with laws seeking to kill her babies. Like most mothers, and fathers, loved her children and would do everything she could to protect them.
She cannot and will not give up her child to death without trying everything she can. She creates a way out of no way. An act of hope and desperation, she constructs a little basket boat of papyrus so that he can float in the reeds. She sets him in the water to flow upstream wherever the waters will take him- upstream, into the belly of the beast, the seat of power and wealth, where his chances for survival would be better than the certain death if she did nothing. She knows, she hopes, perhaps that someone might see him, see her beautiful baby and choose to let him live.
Is it not the same desperate conditions, the fear of violence and certain death. An act of hope and love that would drive a parent to do the same – giving up her child, so that they might live?
She could not float or hide with the baby herself. It was too risky, too much of a liability. Too dangerous for her and the baby – if she were seen and caught. But of course, she could not send the baby completely alone. He would need a guide an accompanyer. So she sends Miriam, his sister -possibly just 8-10 years old herself- following the basket from the riverbank, to keep him from harm. Not unlike those who travel North- children sent with an uncle, a grandmother, and older brother or sister. But ICE does not recognize them as a family – but separates them at the border, calling them unaccompanied. The story doesn’t say how long the journey was – if it was one day, or even weeks in the moving current. Right under the nose of danger.
Eventually the floating basket crossed the border and was found, lo and behold, by Pharoah’s own daughter. “When she opened up the basket. The baby wept. So she had compassion for him and said this is one of the Hebrews’ children.” She picked the baby up out of the water to save and protect it. Her heart was moved by the preciousness and sacredness of every child – regardless of his status, race or people. Regardless of the edicts and laws and social constructions of the land.

She named him Moses– literally, because I drew him out of the water… and took him as her son. Saved his life, provided for him, educated him, and equipped him for the role he would later play in his life: as a leader and a liberator of his people.

It took many people willing to take risks, to cross borders, to transgress orders, to open up their hearts and homes to save baby Moses from danger:

– The Sacrificing Mother willing to do sacrifice and risk for her child’s survival;

– The Protective Sister who stood vigil – stood watch – and accompanied through the dangerous journey;

– The daring and clever Midwives – managers under the system of Empire- finding ways to not implement destructive laws – but to protect life and all children;

– The Pharoah’s daughter… the “Other” – even the daughter of the “enemy,” willing to have her heart moved with compassion; able to see the sacredness and humanity of every child beyond the categories and labels she had been taught. Willing to love another as family.
Who are you in this story? Who are you called to be?

– Rev. Deborah Lee shared with the SF Interfaith Immigration Coalition Sept. 2014 meeting


PRAP Volunteer Orientation and More Information!

The Post Release Accompaniment Program is a new program that offers the safe release of immigrant detainees at the West County Detention Facility by providing short-term housing, in emergency cases, and transportation to airports or bus stations by willing and giving volunteers. This program was created in response to the increasing number of detainees arriving at WCDF from the border, many of whom are asylum seekers fleeing extreme circumstances in their homeland. The program is in collaboration with ICIR-CLUE-CA, CIVIC, and Centro Legal de la Raza, all of which are the leading immigrant rights organizations in the Bay Area. Since the program has started in April, we have helped over 80 releases get home safely. The program is still progressing and it is a learning process for all involved.

On July 24th, community members, activists, and organizers from all over the Bay Area came together for the Post Release Accompaniment Program’s first official volunteer orientation to learn more about the program. Current as well as prospective volunteers were given the opportunity to interact with those from the program as well as gain perspective in to the way things are run and what is expected of volunteers. The volunteers were given a detailed background, highlighting brief history of the issue and more in-depth steps for the volunteers. Please find the attached volunteer orientation packet as well as the forms to sign up.

Volunteer Orientation Packet

Volunteer Driver Sign Up

Volunteer Emergency Housing Sign Up

Support Pack List (if interested in donating)

*artwork by Julio Salgado


Detention Stories: Life Inside California’s New Angel Island

Hello Visitors, Advocates, and Friends,

It is a pleasure to announce the launch of a very exciting project!  Today, we are releasing seven audio recordings and videos, featuring the voices of people in immigration detention across California.  They are part of our multimedia project, “Detention Stories: Life Inside California’s New Angel Island,” which explores the social and cultural world inside California’s immigration detention centers through the stories men and women in immigration detention share.  What we recorded is shocking…

In addition to these films, CIVIC launched a reporting platform for immigrants detained across the globe to share their stories.  We hope you all will contribute to this platform.  It’s simple and easy!

Our press release is below.  Please share it widely.
Warm regards,

Christina M. Fialho
Co-Executive Director
Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC)
T: 385-21-CIVIC

*Admitted to the California State Bar

Audio Recordings Document Abuse in Immigration Detention

LOS ANGELES – Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) releases seven audio recordings and videos, featuring the voices of people in immigration detention across California.  As video and audio recording generally is not allowed in immigration detention facilities, people in immigration detention requested that CIVIC record their voices to share with a larger audience online.  Through these telephone conversations, CIVIC documented arbitrary use of solitary confinement, sexual assault, physical abuse by ICE officers, prolonged detention, retaliatory transfers, and other aspects of life inside immigration detention.

“I caught one of the officers kissing one of the detainees in the R&D (receiving and departure) room, cause there’s no cameras, there’s no audio. It’s like a black spot in the prison. She (the detention officer) was like scared because they said that if I would open my mouth, she will make sure they would deport me,” explains Victoria Villalba and Yordy Cancino, who were detained at the Otay Detention Center in California.
“ICE officers used their hands to push the hands on my mouth. Told me to shut up. I cannot breathe even. I almost died,” explains Yu Wang, who has been deported to China.

Sylvester Owino was close to obtaining a bond hearing under Rodriguez v. Robbins, after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that immigrants who have been locked up six months or longer in California have a right to a bond hearing to determine whether or not they should continue to be detained.  “Most of us that were fighting our cases were moved to Alabama where we cannot have those kinds of hearings,” says Sylvester Owino.  Owino remains in detention today in Alabama, after spending eight years in immigration detention without a bond hearing.

“Every time that you have something else or something different that you could do to distract your mind, the officers always come and take your options to be free,” says Marcela Castro, who was detained at the James Musick Facility for over six months while seeking asylum. “They don’t let you to be a human being or to think.  They don’t let you to be yourself.”

The videos are part of CIVIC’s multimedia project, “Detention Stories: Life Inside California’s New Angel Island.”  Through a grant from Cal Humanities and in partnership with the National Endowment for the Humanities, CIVIC explored the social and cultural world inside California’s immigration detention centers through the stories men and women in immigration detention share.  While this project was not focused on advocacy, we learned how harmful the daily grinding life of detention is for human beings, and how these extraordinary (although quite common) circumstances of abuse occur too often in secrecy.

“The stories people in immigration detention share in these clips are shocking,” said Christina Fialho, co-executive director of CIVIC.  “It is no wonder that our federal government does not generally allow audio or video recording devices in immigration detention.  If the federal government refuses to be transparent about detention practices, it is our duty to provide people in detention with a platform to tell their stories.”

While the United States debates the large-scale legalization of undocumented immigrants, the issue of adult immigration detention is rarely discussed.  More importantly, the voices of immigrants in detention have not been a part of the discussions. Equality demands that people in detention have a voice in policy discussions affecting their daily lives.

“People in detention can be their own advocates and take steps to make their voices heard,” said Will Coley, the Technical Director for the project and founder of Aquifer Media. “We’re only facilitating that with current technology.”

In addition to these films, CIVIC launched a reporting platform for immigrants detained across the globe to share their stories.  To date, no comparable project has documented adult immigration detention stories in a systematic way.  Over the next few years, CIVIC will be working with people in detention, their families, and NGOs across the globe to create a larger audio/visual map of the global immigration detention landscape through the stories people in immigration detention desire to share.

“Although their bodies may be locked up,” said Fialho, “their voices remain free.”

The videos, released today, are available at:

The reporting platform is available here:


CIVIC is a national nonprofit working to end the isolation and abuse of people in immigration detention through visitation, storytelling, detention monitoring, and other targeted campaigns.  You can learn more at

Detention Stories: Life Inside California’s New Angel Island was made possible with support from Cal Humanities, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed here do not necessarily represent those of Cal Humanities or NEH. Experience more at