Civil Disobedience in Chicago for Immigrant Justice!

Photo: Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights

photo: Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights

This evening it was my honor to participate in an act of civil disobedience in Chicago in support of immigrant justice – a cause I fervently believe is the civil rights issue of our time. One hundred and sixty strong, a large and diverse coalition of activists, faith leaders, politicians, labor leaders and undocumented immigrants sat down together in the busy intersection of Congress and Clark in the South Loop with two demands: that Speaker of the House John Boehner bring comprehensive immigration reform to a vote, and that President Obama stop the oppressive deportations of undocumented immigrants (which have now grown to 2,000,000 under his administration.)

We gathered at 3:30 pm for a press conference, after which we filed off the sidewalk into the intersection and sat down around a banner reading “Stop Deportations – Give us a Vote.” On all four corners of the intersection, hundreds of supporters unfurled banners and held signs and chanted along with us. Eventually, after three warnings, Chicago police led each of us away one by one.

photo: Jewish Council on Urban Affairs

photo: Jewish Council on Urban Affairs

Our demonstration tonight was but one of a growing numbers of civil disobedience actions currently proflierating across the country. Last month, thousands rallied for immigration reform on the National Mall in Washington DC during the government shutdown – and 200 were led away by police.  A few days earlier, similar rallies were held in Los Angeles, San Diego and Boston and other cities as part of a “National Day of Immigrant Dignity and Respect.”

While politicians in post-shutdown Washington dither on this critical issue in Washington, citizens are literally taking to the streets to demand compassionate immigration reform. There is a very real movement building – trust me, as long our leaders refuse to act, you will be witnessing many more actions such as these in the coming weeks and months.

photo: Tina Escobar

photo: Tina Escobar

It was my honor to be among the speakers at  press conference before the demonstration (above). Here is the full text of my remarks (which was shortened due to time restraints):

My name is Brant Rosen – I’m the rabbi of Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston and I’m a member of this amazing, diverse and growing coalition of activists who are working for the cause of immigrant justice. I am part of the majority of Americans and 80% of Illinoisians who support compassionate immigration reform that provides a path to citizenship.

And I am here to say it is time for our national leaders to lead. It is time for Speaker John Boehner and Republican leader Peter Roskam to give us a vote. It is time for President Barack Obama to end the daily deportatins that are now approaching 2,000,000 and has left 3,000,000 children orphaned.  This is not simply a political issue – and shame on any politician who treats immigration reform as “business as usual.”  Immigration reform is one of the most critical moral and human rights issues facing our country today.

As a Jew, my faith tradition teaches that societies will ultimately be judged by the way they treat their immigrants. My faith tradition teaches that when we label another human being as “illegal,” we diminish God’s presence in our world. When we incarcerate and deport those who come to this country seeking a better life, we diminish God’s presence in our world. And when we create and enforce laws that rip children away from their parents – and parents from their children – we most certainly diminish God’s presence in our world.

My faith tradition also teaches that God stands with the oppressed and demands that we do the same.  And make no mistake: our immigration system constitutes a very real form of oppression against families in our nation.  It is thus our sacred duty to stand here today, in front of US Immigration Customs and Enforcement headquarters, to say: this oppression must end.  The destruction of our families must end. The daily deportations of 1,100 human beings must end.  It is our sacred duty to bring it to an end.

John Boehner and Peter Roskam: It’s time to give us a vote on citizenship.  It’s time to end the oppression of our undocumented brothers and sisters.  President Obama: it’s time to keep your promise to the American people. 2,000,000 deportations is 2,000,000 too many. Stop deportations now!

If our national leaders refuse to lead, then it is time to take to the streets. And tonight, we will take to the streets. Our movement is the new civil rights movement growing in cities across the nation, rising up to demand compassionate immigration reform now. You will hear from us tonight in Chicago – and you will be hearing from us again and again until our oppressive immigration system is no more!

It has been my honor to stand together in this movement with so many people from so many different faiths and ethnicities and histories. It has been a particular honor to stand together with our undocumented sisters and brothers, whose steadfast courage and dignity are an inspiration to us all.

My own grandparents were immigrants to this nation. I know all too well that I am the beneficiary of their decision to come to this country, and of my country’s willingness to provide them with a path to citizenship. For those of us who enjoy the privileges of the courageous decisions of those who came before us, it would be a profound betrayal if we did not stand together here today.

We are here today. We will be here tomorrow. And we will stand together every day until compassionate immigration reform is finally a reality in our country.  Ken Yehi Ratzon – as it is God’s will, so my it be ours.

Amen and thank you all for coming out tonight.


En Español (Gracias a Gonzalo Escobar):

Mi nombre es Brant Rosen – Soy el rabino de la Congregación Judía Reconstruccionista en Evanston y soy un miembro de esta increíble y diversa y creciente coalición de activistas que trabajan por la causa de la justicia para los inmigrantes. Yo soy parte de la mayoría de los estadounidenses y el 80 % de Illinoisians que apoyan la reforma migratoria compasiva que proporcione un camino a la ciudadanía.

Y yo estoy aquí para decir que es hora de que nuestros líderes nacionales para hagan su trabajo de legislar. Es hora de que los Representantes, John Boehner, y el líder republicano Peter Roskam nos den un voto. Es hora de que el presidente Barack Obama ponga fin a las deportaciones diarias que se están acercando a 2 millones y han dejado a 3 millones de niños y niñas huérfanos. Esto no es simplemente una cuestión política y es una vergüenza que un político trate la reforma migratoria como “como si no pasara nada”, la reforma de inmigración es uno de los temas de derechos humanos y morales más importantes que enfrenta nuestro país hoy en día.

Como judío, mi tradición de fe nos enseña que las sociedades en última instancia, serán juzgadas por la forma en que tratan a sus inmigrantes. Mi tradición de fe nos enseña que cuando etiquetamos a otro ser humano como “ilegal”, disminuimos la presencia de Dios en nuestro mundo. Cuando encarcelamos y deportamos a los que vienen a este país en busca de una vida mejor, disminuimos la presencia de Dios en nuestro mundo. Y cuando creamos y hacemos cumplir las leyes que separan a los niños de sus padres – y a los padres de sus hijos – ciertamente estamos disminuyendo la presencia de Dios en nuestro mundo.

Mi tradición de fe también enseña que Dios está con los oprimidos y demanda que hagamos lo mismo. Y no nos engañemos: nuestro sistema de inmigración constituye una forma muy real de la opresión contra las familias en nuestro país. Por tanto, es nuestro deber sagrado de estar aquí hoy, frente a la sede de inmigración y aduanas de EE.UU. para decir: la opresión debe terminar. La destrucción de nuestras familias debe terminar. Las deportaciones diarias de 1.100 seres humanos deben terminar. Es nuestro sagrado deber de ponerle fin.

John Boehner y Peter Roskam : Es hora de que nos den un voto para la ciudadanía . Es hora de poner fin a la opresión de nuestros hermanos y hermanas indocumentados. Presidente Obama: es el momento de mantener su promesa al pueblo estadounidense. 2 millones de deportaciones y 2 millones es demasiado. ¡Detengan las deportaciones ahora!

Si nuestros líderes nacionales se niegan a legislar, entonces es el momento de salir a la calle. Y esta noche, vamos a salir a las calles. Nuestro movimiento es el nuevo movimiento de derechos civiles que crece en las ciudades de todo el país, para exigir una reforma migratoria compasiva ahora. Ustedes nos escucharán esta noche en Chicago -¡y ustedes nos escucharan a nosotros una y otra vez hasta que nuestro sistema de inmigración opresivo no exista más!

Ha sido un honor para mí estar juntos en este movimiento con tantas personas de tantas religiones y etnias e historias diferentes. Ha sido un gran honor particular, estar junto a nuestras hermanas y hermanos indocumentados, cuyo valor y dignidad inquebrantable son una inspiración para todos nosotros.

Mis abuelos eran inmigrantes de esta nación. Sé muy bien que soy el beneficiario de su decisión de venir a este país, y de la voluntad de mi país para proporcionarle un camino a la ciudadanía. Para aquellos de nosotros que disfrutamos de los privilegios de las decisiones valientes de los que vinieron antes que nosotros, sería una traición profunda si no nos mantenemos unidos hoy aquí.

Estamos aquí hoy. Vamos a estar aquí mañana. Y vamos a estar juntos todos los días hasta que la reforma migratoria compasiva sea finalmente una realidad en nuestro país. Como se dice en Hebreo “Ken Yehi Ratzon” – ya que es la voluntad de Dios, y será la nuestra.

Amén y gracias a todos por venir esta noche.

10 thoughts on “Civil Disobedience in Chicago for Immigrant Justice!

  1. abunaalgodon

    Interesting to read your blog this morning, following an evening (over ice cream and sweets) with Mazin Qumsiyeh who had interrupted his day at Bethlehem University to join a demonstration “honoring” Mr. Kerry’s meeting with Abu Mazen in Bethlehem. Your struggle there support their struggle here. Thanks for faithful witness by all of you. Cotton

  2. Ilene Carson

    although I was not able to be there I to am part of this wonderful cooalition fighting for Immigrant Justice I to as A Jew and meber of the J.R.C. feel it is my given right and obligation to stand up for the rights of all Imigrants.My hope as well as for many to see no Family broken up and to see a fair and just reform given along with a pathway to citizenship to all who are here with no vioce to speak..I am proud of you Brant and all others that to part in theis act of civl diobedience to bring light to all in Washington.

  3. David Bebb Jones

    Thank you for another prophetic witness for justice, expanding your visionary work for Israeli and Palestian justice. Your words were strong. I live in Peter Roskam’s district and will convey them to him in written form. I attended the Chicago Religious Leaders Network banquet yesterday, signed the petitions for this cause and will do what I can locally, with an Immigration Reform meeting at our retirement community in Downers Grove next month.

  4. grandmothersays

    Thank you for speaking for those who cannot speak! People are people; it seems that the idea of “other” creeps into life without notice. I notice. My prayers and support go with you in this movement .

  5. Vicky

    I am currently reading ‘Jews and Other Foreigners’, a book about immigrant and refugee experiences in Manchester during World War Two, which was written by an elderly local historian, Bill Williams. He points out that the city’s past involvement in migrant welcome and refugee welfare has been highly romanticised, with people now believing that the place was a haven for anyone who wanted to come, when the truth was much bleaker. Reading the descriptions of the difficulties and prejudices that these migrants and refugees encountered, on both a local and official level, I thought of the way that opponents of immigration and asylum in Britain often refer to Second World War refugees as example of the ‘good kind’ of foreigner, the kind they wouldn’t mind letting in, not like ‘these ones we have now’. But the rhetoric has not changed with time: once Oswald Mosley was ranting about ‘Jewish foreigners taking British jobs’ in the East End, and today in the British tabloid press you can read the exact same sentiment levelled against Eastern Europeans generally. Meanwhile refugees from conflict zones are painted as suspicious characters who could probably have gone somewhere else if they were really suffering that badly. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

    Williams gave an interview to the University of Manchester’s student newspaper when his book came out. The ending is very simple and it has stayed with me. I know the political landscape is different in the US but I think the basic sentiment holds true:

    “In the 1930s there were reservations, and anti-semitism. Today there is a lot more anger. The immigration debate now is focused on restrictions. Restricting benefits, restricting the numbers allowed into the country. All the major parties are in favour of more restrictive policies. Underlying the way immigrants are treated today is a lack of compassion. What we should be doing when we look at migrants, is not asking what they can do or what they can offer, but rather what they need, and how can we help them. I didn’t set out to write an explicitly political book, but I am an explicitly political person; and if there is a message I’d like people to take away from this book it’s that one: the need to offer compassion to immigrants.”

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  7. Roz

    Immigration is a complicated issue, as most of us feel it should be done legally. Not because immigrants “steal” our jobs, but background checks are important. You can’t trust everyone; certainly not all those sneaking in. I understand your concern, and during WW2 many Jewish lives could have been saved had our country taken in the unfilled quota of European Jews. We all know how our govt. did everything to stop Jews from coming in, and they were murdered as a result. Immigrants’ children generally get an education and do well; I see this from our business in a largely Hispanic neighborhood (and no, we aren’t making millions and taking advantage of anyone), and it’s amazing how many of these children pursue college and even graduate degrees. But there’s got to be a middle ground between unbridled, illegal immigration of virtually anyone (let’s face it, some criminals sneak over our borders) to making the lives of perfectly decent, hard working “foreigners” miserable. And we know a Jewish family that’s been stuck in limbo for over 5 years without a green card, and they’re not in a position to return to what was once home for them. Having several legal family members here hasn’t helped one iota.


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