The truth is, though, that I find it very hard to feel like a peacemaker these days. I find it hard to understand what it means to make peace during these times of war. And I do feel that we are at war right now—we are at war over ideas, values, and meaning. And maybe we always have been. A few years ago, Ai-Jen Poo, of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, said that “we are in the fight of our lives for the soul of this country.” I believed that then and I believe it even more strongly today.
In my work with AKIN, I wake up every day and bear witness to this war. Not as someone directly affected, because I am one of the privileged few who through no fault or doing of my own happened to be born in the United States. No, I bear witness as a bystander to the chaos of our immigration system, to its indifference to pain and suffering, and to the injustices of a global system built on vulnerability, exploitation, and racism.
In February 2018, the Traditionalist Worker Party (TWP) kicked off a multi-state campus tour, entitled “National Socialism or Death,” at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK). Thus, Tennessee’s flagship campus became the latest in a long line of universities recently targeted by white nationalist and white supremacist groups. These organizations want to recruit and build a following on campuses across the United States. They also seek to undermine the credibility of institutions of higher education. This article outlines TWP’s recent incursion into Knoxville and the community’s responses.
The Traditionalist Worker Party (TWP), co-founded by Matthew Heimbach, is a white nationalist organization. It advocates for the creation of an independent whites-only nation-state. Core to white nationalist belief is the notion that the United States was built by and for white people. Notably, this idea has purchase even in academic circles, albeit thinly veiled under the guise of Western European culture and values. TWP also believes that white people—defined as “the descendants of indigenous Europeans”—should dominate the nation’s political, economic, and social spheres.
AKIN affirms that immigrants of all countries are welcome and vital members of our communities.
Yesterday, the President cast doubt on this by referring to Haiti, El Salvador, and African countries as “shithole countries,” and by expressing his preference for immigrants from Norway. As abhorrent as these comments are, they are just the latest in this administration’s stream of remarks premised on the idea of white racial supremacy.
We cannot allow the President’s racist comments to distract attention from the actual immigration policies that result from this line of thinking. The termination of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and TPS (Temporary Protected Status), combined with the President’s push to end family-based migration and to criminalize immigrant residents, produces real harm in our communities.
Elected officials who pursue immigration policies in keeping with this administration are complicit in facilitating a racist agenda that tears families and communities apart, and harms our democracy. Many of our representatives – including Knox County Sheriff Jimmy “JJ” Jones, other local elected officials, and some members of the Tennessee General Assembly and the US Congress – fail to stand up for more just and reasonable approaches.
We call upon our local, state, and federal officials to do all in their power to support equitable immigration policies. In the short run, officials should terminate the Knox County 287(g) program and address the crisis facing DACA recipients and those stripped of TPS. In the long run, we need immigration reform that addresses the root causes of migration and ensures the security and dignity of all people.
The Trump administration’s cowardly decision to rescind DACA is a disgrace. This is an issue of basic morality. This is basic, kindergarten spirituality for any Christian, any person of faith, heck, any decent human being: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. Love your neighbor as yourself. It’s that simple… and that clear.
For years, many conservative Republicans and now this administration have used fear mongering and their version of the rule of law (which only seems to apply to the most vulnerable) to block any kind of reasonable immigration reform. Now, we see the truth of their intentions. These young people did not come into the country illegally. They were brought here. They are not a danger to society. They are the epitome of the American Dream. They represent the best of what we hope to see in our young people, and they ARE our young people with 8,000 in Tennessee alone! To force them to leave, even to threaten to force them to leave, the country that is their home is un-American, uncaring, and un-Christian.
I think it’s extremely important for all Americans to pay attention to what is becoming very clear right now. This Administration and other conservative Republicans who support this kind of action have abandoned any notion of compassionate conservatism. In case after case, they are seeking to undermine programs designed to uplift the most vulnerable among us. You have to wonder: Do they even believe in the American dream anymore? Do they even understand Christian ethics? It’s almost as if they are taking the time to consider “What would Jesus do?”, then doing just the opposite.
Where is the vision? Where is the courage of faith in actions like these? As a nation, we can be prosperous – and generous! We can be just – and fair! We can be safe – and welcoming toward all who seek a better life in our country. We can – and we should! I urge Congressman Duncan, and Senators Alexander and Corker to show courage, as well as basic human compassion, by taking the lead on legislation to welcome these young dreamers home, legally, with no political strings attached. It is the American thing to do. It’s also the Christian thing to do. And it’s the right thing to do.
The Rev. John Gill is pastor of Church of the Savior UCC in Knoxville.
Following up on John Stewart’s guest column on 287(g) in the online News Sentinel of July 3, I would like to pose the question to Sheriff Jones: Why the urgency to deputize the Knox County Sheriff’s Office personnel to carry out federal responsibilities? As a citizen and taxpayer of the county I just can’t see the need for it.
I was one of a group of residents of Knox county who recently attempted to get some answers to troubling questions about the program 287(g) that, according to the ICE web site, has been approved for the county. Neither the sheriff nor his assistant was available to meet with us. Why is all this going on behind closed doors?
Here we are, just a group of Knoxvillians rolling into the July 4th weekend. It’s June 30th at 9:30 am. Rain patters and dampens the Scruffy City. We stand across the street from the City County Building in the thick ambiance of Knoxville. Trains whistle forlorn on a gray morning, cars and city trucks hustle and bustle about while church bells chime in the background. There are 18 of us from all different walks of life. We stand in an inter-generational meeting, some of us people of faith, university professors, community college professors, Knox County school teachers, retirees, lawyers, laborers and even a young one donning a “Change the World” t-shirt. We have gathered on this humid and weepy morning out of collective concern for our great city and neighbors.
What a coincidence. Here we are, on July Fourth, celebrating the signing of our Declaration of Independence from a tyrannical British monarch who denied our colonial forebears their basic democratic rights and, at the same time, we discover that Knox County Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones has signed a secret agreement with U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) that places at severe risk the democratic rights of thousands of our Knox County neighbors.
Granted, Jones is a bad reincarnation of King George III, but the denial of democratic rights we have witnessed in how he has gone about arranging for Knox County’s acceptance of the so-called 287(g) authority is a case-book example of arbitrary and non-democratic decision-making. Our founders declared they had had enough of the King’s “ … repeated injuries and usurpations.”
Knox County 287(g) Memorandum of Agreement Appears on ICE Website
Knoxville, TN—We are disappointed to learn that a 287(g) memorandum of agreement (MOA), signed by both ICE and Knox County Sheriff Jimmy “JJ” Jones, has appeared on ICE’s website. The MOA was signed by Sheriff Jones on June 13, 2017 and by Matthew Albence, Executive Associate Director of ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations, on June 15, 2017. The MOA is available here: https://www.ice.gov/doclib/foia/memorandumsofAgreementUnderstanding/KnoxCounty.pdf.
Sheriff Jones has not publicly acknowledged Knox County’s approval for 287(g). The lack of transparency surrounding the program’s approval and timeline for implementation mirrors the Sheriff’s ongoing refusal to meet with Knox County residents to hear concerns about the program.