Would You Harbor Me? Thoughts On Sanctuary and Immigration
by Rev. Alicia R. Forde, Out Boulder County Board Member
“Would you harbor me? Would I harbor you?” So asks Sweet Honey In The Rock in their song of the same title. It is a genuine question of the individual, yes, but also of a nation. Would you, the United States, harbor, provide safe haven, refuge, sanctuary for those “yearning to breathe free?”
As a queer, cisgender woman of African descent – an immigrant living in the U.S. – I locate myself on the spectrum of people for whom sanctuary is a salient, if not urgent, question. This is not to deny the privileges I sometimes embody. But it is to recognize that pervasive structures of white supremacy conspire ceaselessly to oppress anyone who does not embody a white, cisgender male, able-bodied, middle/upper class identity. With this in mind, my liberation, and perhaps yours as well, is bound up in actively seeking to dismantle white supremacy in the many guises that it frequently adopts.
The conversation regarding the need for sanctuary is not new. It is centuries old; one of those ancient stories tangled up in the history of a nation deeply committed to colonization and imperialism. In most recent decades, we have witnessed the rise of anti-immigrant sentiments wrapped up in concerns for safety, security, and jobs. We’ve witnessed a rise in deportations alongside programs that aim to offer sanctuary to a few. We tell ourselves, repeatedly, that we are a nation of immigrants. A partial truth that muddies far more than it illuminates.
Consider this: do not say “we are a nation of immigrants,” because it erases another, more accurate reality, which is: we are a nation whose prevailing origins stem from displacing the Indian nations already on this land. It erases that we are a nation who, in the 1800’s, subsumed massive portions of Mexico, causing the shrinkage of vital resources for those already living, breathing, and thriving, on this land. It erases urgent truths about the necessity of immigrating, for many – that it is not a matter of luxury, but a matter of survival and that survival is linked to the U.S.’s quest for power. It erases the political construction of borders and the undergirding tenet that it is destiny that the U.S. exercise power and dominion over.
Knowing this, we have responsibilities. Seeking to create sanctuary is but one. To do this, it is imperative that we hear the stories of those – who today – are impacted by strident policies of deportation that only serve to terrorize already vulnerable populations. Policies that specifically target brown and black community members here in the U.S., criminalizing our bodies while obfuscating the historical and current day realities that have given rise to immigration.
We have responsibilities. Let us advocate for open borders, knowing that basic human rights should be conveyed to everyone, everywhere, at all times. Use our voices to decry the current border wall and militarized zone between the U.S. and Mexico as well as resisting the increase of physical barriers and security in that area. Within our communities, we have the capacity to denounce the passage of the thinly veiled racist and xenophobic “Muslim ban” as well as increased vetting of those seeking to enter the U.S. We can insist that our communities be Sanctuary communities, with law enforcement refusing to cooperate with ICE agents AND being trained to recognize their own biases especially against brown and black community members. We can denounce war and increase pressure to make safe passage for refugees, as well as lobbying for a diplomatic solution to our neighbors in Syria.
It is imperative that we keep working for a world in which the question of “harbor,” or “sanctuary” is moot. Until then, may our response to the question “will you, will we harbor” be “yes.” May we use our hands, hearts, funds, voices, actions and more to keep working for the creation of such a world; for the building of sanctuary with those in our midst who are targeted and terrorized by policies and actions that dehumanize. Our collective liberation depends on it.
Stay active in the conversation. For lasting change to occur, all of us need all of us to answer yes to working for harbor, for sanctuary.