Guest commentary by Adan A. Mairena
In the basement of a North Philadelphia Roman Catholic church, there’s a stack of wooden tables, a cement floor so shiny any solo pastor would be proud of it and a circle of old fold-up chairs, which (thank God!) still work although they may squeak a little. The smell was that of all church basements no matter Roman Catholic or Protestant. If injustice and discrimination and oppression and struggle had a smell, that was it. No matter how much Fabuloso or Windex or Pine Sol, it’s still the smell of pain and anguish.
An Indonesian, some Hondurans, Guatemalans, Mexicans and Ecuadorianos — presentes! Other Americans, from this side of the Rio Grande, were also there on September 5.
Blanca, herself always risking deportation, was there too. Blanca is the director of Philadelphia’s New Sanctuary Movement (NSM). Like a composer, she lead us through exercises that brought out the tears and desperation we were feeling.
Maria, the mother of Angela Navarro who stayed at West Kensington Ministry a few years ago for 58 days with her family in Sanctuary, is now an organizer at NSM and gave us some facts about DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals):
- Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that DACA would end in six months, on March 5, 2018.
- Congress now has six months to pass alternative legislation for DACA recipients.
- Current DACA beneficiaries will be able to keep their benefits until their permits expire.
- The door is currently closed to all new applicants.
- Those whose DACA permits expire between now and March 5 can renew them for another two years, but they must apply before October 5.
We closed the night with Blanca reminding us that DACA was not something that was freely given. DACA was something that immigrant groups fought hard for and demanded. I was reminded that all rights (including independence from foreign powers, a women’s right to vote, civil rights voting acts, same-sex marriages) were demands and issues people fought for before they became “rights.” We were reminded of the collective power of togetherness and unity – and especially standing with and not for those being oppressed.
As a good Presbyterian minister, I had to leave before the meeting was over because I had to attend yet another meeting. As I was leaving, Blanca and Maria were gently laying white candles in small glasses on the cold, shiny floor. I’m sure they ended the night as they opened it, with prayer. That night, the smell of hope and strength permeated the room. I should’ve stayed.
ADAN A. MAIRENA serves as the pastor of the West Kensington Ministry and the Yeadon Presbyterian Church in the Presbytery of Philadelphia. He is also a member of the PC(USA) Urban Ministry Team and serves on presbytery committees, local nonprofit boards and collaborates with city government, law enforcement and other agencies to address quality of life issues in Philadelphia.