Last week, the Biden Administration announced immigration policies that would make it virtually impossible for migrants at the southern border to seek asylum in the United States. Among the new — and unlawful — policies is the requirement that asylum-seekers show they have applied for asylum in one of the countries they have traveled through. But, according to international law, applying for asylum in one country disqualifies a refugee from seeking asylum in a second country, such as the United States. Places like Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua are not safe for refugees, and processing asylum claims can take years. The Administration’s cruel Catch 22 will cost many lives and require Central America and Mexico to assume even more responsibility for problems created by the United States itself.
I arrived in Athens Saturday on my way home from Corfu. I lived in the city for several months in 2016 and 2017, helping refugees who were navigating the traumatic changes in their lives. The experience changed me, and I left with a deep feeling of connection to the city. This visit, I only had one full day and I planned to enjoy it as an anonymous tourist. That didn’t happen!
The drama unfolding in Afghanistan is a humanitarian crisis and it’s not going to get better. There is little doubt that the execution of the withdrawal after 20 years of war and corruption has been a disaster. Politicians talk about getting our “friends” out. But, even if that’s possible, our “friends” apparently don’t include the tens of thousands of people who aligned themselves with the US in unofficial ways. The families of my refugee friends in Europe have relatives in Kabul who have almost no chance of getting help from the US, even those who worked for US contractors or government agencies. Like so many others, they are in grave danger.
“There is Always Hope,” a mural by Banksy, London, England
This afternoon, I called a friend from my days as an 18-year old hippie living in the Oregon countryside. Back then, her name was Sue. Now she is Rabbi Me’Irah. Every time I have what seems to be a casual conversation with Me’irah, I come away with more meaning in my life. “Today is a special day,” she announced (I already knew this because every day is special for Me’irah). It is the time between Passover and Shavuout, she said. Passover is a celebration of liberation — the Jews’ exodus from enslavement. And today is a day of constraints to acknowledge the Jews’ harrowing journey from Egypt to Mt. Sinai, where they would receive the Torah. Me’irah says we survive this time of constraint and our isolation by celebrating the bounty and blessings in our lives. And that celebration, I thought, gives us hope.
This simple idea reminded me of the many times friends and family have asked me to describe my “volunteer work” with the refugees in Greece or the Caravan in Mexico. I never have a good answer. I say the people I met were kind and grateful in spite of their physical and emotional challenges. I say they were running from persecution created by the neo-liberal world order and forever wars, that some of them played cards on a blanket under a tree.
After two nights in Juchitan, the Caravan members woke before dawn yesterday to clean up the garbage at their encampment and then headed north at 6am. They had originally planned to take the route to Oaxaca City but at the last minute decided to trek through Veracruz — less mountainous but more dangerous because of the cartel criminals. Some will hop the freight train, also dangerous.
It has been more than two years since I first arrived on the Greek island of Lesvos where overloaded boats brought refugees to the island’s windy beaches. The people in the boats were mostly young and many were children — wet, cold and hungry, escaping war and persecution in their home countries. Continue reading →