Over 200 rally at Lights for Liberty event in Cedar Rapids

Beloved Community was a proud sponsor with other community partners of the Cedar Rapids Lights for Liberty event.

The text from Rev. Meg Wagner’s speech that night:

Grace and peace to you all this evening. My name is Meg Wagner, and I am an Episcopal priest. As a Christian, I seek to follow the teachings of Holy Scripture to welcome the stranger and love my neighbors. And those neighbors certainly include all those who are seeking protection and asylum in the United States.

The message of God in the Hebrew Scriptures is clear, “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” (Lev. 19:33-34).

The message in the Gospels is equally clear – in Mark (12:31) Jesus says the greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, mind, and strength and the second greatest is to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. And again, in Matthew (25: 31-40) “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” “Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.”

I am also a mother. And along with people across our country and around the world, I am heartbroken and angry that children and families who are coming to our country looking for safety and protection are becoming sick and dying while in government detention centers. I grieve the tragic deaths of Carlos, a 16-year-old from Guatemala, who died May 20th in the custody of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Wilmer, a 2-year-old, who died May 14th, who had been in the custody of CBP. They were preceded in death by Jackelin, Felipe, Juan and a 10-year-old girl from El Salvador whose death in September 2018 has recently been disclosed. We remember them, and all the adults who have died in detention centers and on the journey to get to this country, we remember them before God tonight, and pray for their grieving families and friends.

I am angry that on behalf of my country, governmental lawyers are arguing that children do not need to be provided toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, or bedding in order to be called “safe and secure” in a detention center. I am heartbroken that children are being held in inhumane conditions, being made to sleep on concrete floors, cannot wash themselves regularly, and are themselves having to take care of the youngest among them, without even the supplies to do so.

Last year I joined with over 1,000 members of my denomination to hold a vigil in TX at the site of the Hutto Detention Center which holds roughly 500 asylum-seeking women, At the time many of them were mothers who had been separated from their children. The site sits right next to a community baseball field, where the mothers inside have to listen to American families enjoying one of our country’s favorite pastimes while they are locked up and separated from their children. After mounting public pressure and multiple allegations of sexual abuse in the facility, the county ended the contract with the Hutto Center and its operator CoreCivic. And yet, the center remains open, run now through a direct contract between ICE and CoreCivic, just one of so many across our country.

As a priest and as mom, I know I will have to be able to look my children and grandchildren in the eye and answer to them and to God for my actions in this time. My faith, my family, and my very humanity call me to speak out against the detention practices of my government that are not only morally indefensible but also are in violation of our obligations under domestic and international law to provide protection to those who come here seeking asylum.

It is time, long past time, to end the detention of children, families, and those seeking asylum at our borders and to stop criminalizing what should be a civil process. Period. Are you with me?

Instead of continuing to spend billions of dollars on enforcement and detention, let’s demand that our legislators fund community-based support services and proven, humane alternatives to detention.

Let’s also demand that our legislators address the root causes of forced migration, and work on meaningful immigration reform that provides a reasonable pathway to citizenship.

Let’s reject fear-based rhetoric that targets people who are fleeing violence and seeking safety and a chance to live and work in peace.

I’m not here tonight because I hate my country - I love my country AND I am clear that she has not yet lived up to the promises she has espoused since the beginning. I want her to be better than this. AND I believe it is possible, with God’s help and through our actions. May God help us all to love our neighbors better, and to take action that is motivated by love, and empowered by the source of love itself, to help this nation truly become the land of the free and the home of the brave. Amen.

Photos courtesy of Travis Joel Mitchell

Take a look at the Media Articles from the Lights for Liberty Vigil in Cedar Rapids on July 12: https://cbs2iowa.com/news/local/hundreds-gather-to-protest-border-child-detentions-and-mass-deportation



Meg WagnerComment