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An Afternoon in Jail

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This afternoon I will block traffic in New York City, risking arrest, arm in arm with my colleagues in the immigrant rights movement. I am doing this because my joy that binational couples are finally getting green cards is tempered by my frustration that so many other future Americans, queer and straight, are still not free. We are waiting for the House of Representatives to act, and we cannot wait any longer.

As the executive director of Immigration Equality for the last eight years, I have had the great privilege of fighting for the equal treatment of LGBT immigrants. Some of you know that I am also an observant Jew – I keep the Sabbath, I keep kosher. The Hebrew Bible repeatedly and clearly directs the treatment of immigrants: “There should be one law for you and for the resident stranger; it is a law for all time throughout the ages.” (Numbers 15:15)

I was brought to this country by my great-grandparents, Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. I am participating in today’s civil disobedience in downtown Manhattan because my faith does not allow me to stand by and say nothing while people are held in immigration detention — truly in jail — not for an afternoon, but for months on end, though a civil immigration violation is not a crime.

For LGBT people in particular, those jails can be places of degradation: of humiliation, harassment, and much worse. At Immigration Equality, we hear these tragic stories directly from our own clients: a gay man from Jamaica taunted by guards for being effeminate, transgender women from Mexico stuck in solitary confinement 23 hours a day because male facilities cannot keep them safe.

It is unacceptable to me as a Jew to deny refuge to someone who has fled persecution, and it is vexing to me as a lawyer that so many LGBT people seeking protection have strong cases, but cannot win asylum because they have missed an arbitrary filing deadline.

Now is the time for immigration reform. That is why I am joining a nationwide act of civil disobedience today and plan to risk arrest alongside my fellow protesters. It’s time for our Representatives to fulfill their compact with the American people to govern rather than obstruct, to lead rather than follow, to act rather than delay.

4 Responses to An Afternoon in Jail

  1. Angelo says:

    Amen. As a Christian-Jew, I wish my best and I will be praying for all of you.

  2. Kathy says:

    Way to go Rachael. You have my full support. Congress needs to stop all this obstruction and do what the American people put them there to do or they can go home and find a do nothing job there.

  3. Anonymous says:

    As always, Whole heartedly I wish you a very Good Luck!! You are really a true ‘Inspiration’

  4. Lee Dorsey says:

    NOTE from email: Today, Executive Director Rachel B. Tiven and other #ImmigrationEquality staffers joined a nationwide act of civil disobedience. Together with activists and faith leaders, they locked arms to block the entrance of Varick Street Detention Center to protest the House of Representatives’ inaction on #immigration reform. These groups stood with us in the spring to demand #LGBT inclusion – now we stand with them to say our work isn’t done.

    A few minutes ago, Rachel and paralegal Christina were arrested. While Rachel’s in jail, let’s make sure her voice gets heard.

    Dial the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121, let them know where you live, and ask to speak to your House Representative. The message is: I am waiting for you to take action and pass immigration reform.

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