Friday, February 14, 2020

On the Border in Trump's Twilight Zone for Migrants

On the Border in Trump's Twilight Zone for Migrants
Eileen Markey
14 Feb 2020

Thousands who fled war-like conditions now linger on the brink of survival near the banks of the Rio Grande. Neither Mexico nor the U.S. take responsibility.

Published Feb. 14, 2020 4:38AM ET 

Behind barbed wire, within view of Texas, 2,200 migrants live in a netherworld between U.S. and Mexican responsibility. No one's in charge and amateurs are rushing in to help. Desperate conditions and an abiding despair are forcing awful choices. Some people think that's the point. 

MATAMOROS, Mexico—In the year since the Trump Administration instituted the Migrant Protection Protocols, known as the Remain in Mexico policy, a sprawling encampment has grown in Matamoros, just a shout across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas. The people here are under the jurisdiction of the United States, although they sleep at the very edge of a country neither their own nor the one they seek. 

The camp exists between Mexican and U.S. authority and outside international law. It's not an official refugee camp, though it certainly looks like one. Dozens of tents are pitched in rows on the tennis courts and soccer pitch of a city park and covered in black garbage bags to keep out the rain. 

Men lug plastic hardware-store buckets to collect water. They have built tables out of logs and the flat boards of shipping pallets lashed together with rope. Women pat masa into tortillas and cook on grills over wood fires (park trees chopped down for the purpose). 

The camp is a waiting room for the U.S. immigration courts, which operate out of a warren of white tents on the Texas side of the river. But the wait is long. Many have hearings set for March or April, five and six months after they first presented their asylum claims. 

The camp teems with children, young, skinny Central Americans with indigenous faces. On Feb. 1, UNICEF issued a statement saying the agency had begun developing places for the children to play, some basic health screening and organization of water and sanitation services. But these are minimal and belated. Migrants seeking asylum in the United States have been sleeping in Matamoros since July. 

In the absence of official international system management, social service workers, attorneys, activists, crisis junkies, Silicon Valley millionaires and organized and freelance do-gooders have filled the vacuum. Some have experience responding to crisis. Some have no idea what they are doing. No one is in charge. 

An Italian tourist is running a photography class for kids. A self-described redneck anarchist is managing logistics and operations: what to do with 100 camp stoves donated by a philanthropist, where to locate the garbage barrels a charity is buying. An evangelical pastor associated with Franklin Graham who runs a hip-hop church in Matamoros is helping organize a council of camp residents to make joint decisions. A clutch of acupuncturists is extolling the trauma-relieving properties of their art.

There is no vetting. The volunteers who walk into the camp with some idea of doing good receive no screening or training on the risks that the migrants face. Some take pictures and post to social media long accounts filled with details of migrants' asylum claims. A knot of GoFundMe and Kickstarter pages without accounting safeguards collect donations for a mushrooming variety of initiatives, some well-grounded, some not. 

Not that there haven’t been efforts to organize and control the chaos. They just haven’t been effective. Since December, Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, a U.S. group called Angry Tias and Abuela, and others have met weekly with the Mexican immigration authorities. 

Bria Schurke, a physician's assistant from northern Minnesota, is on her fourth stint in a makeshift health clinic run by Global Response Management, a tiny nonprofit that also has clinics in Yemen, Syria, and Iraq. She worked in refugee camps in East Africa, and is alarmed by the rookies, the lack of ethical protocols governing humanitarian relief in Matamoros. 

"Because it's accessible a lot of people are showing up, well intentioned or not," Schurke said. 
Most of the patients Schurke sees in the clinic have respiratory infections or intestinal illnesses, scabies or lice. There is malnutrition, but the most severe malady is fear. The camp inhabitants are popular targets for the drug cartels and human trafficking operations that hold power in Matamoros. Migrants are subject to kidnapping, torture, and rape, according to “A Year of Horrors,”  a new report by Human Rights First. It tallied 201 cases of kidnapping and attempted kidnapping of children under the Migrant Protection Protocols.

A Feb. 12 report called "No Way Out,from Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières, is equally dire. In October 2019, the report notes, of the patients MSF cared for in one border town, 75 percent had been kidnapped recently.

An MSF psychologist and two other workers have been serving migrants in the city of Matamoros since September. At the beginning of February they began working inside the migrant camp with a doctor two days a week. In addition to infections and injuries from exposure, hunger and walking hundreds of miles, MSF staff see truama from abuse suffered along the migrant root and also inside U.S. detention centers.

The report called the levels of violence that migrants are fleeing in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras “comparable to that in war zones where MSF has been working for decades” and “a major factor fueling migration north to Mexico and the U.S.”

But admittance into the United States may never come. Returning home is not an option.  Conditions are desperate enough that some parents have sent their children across the bridge into the U.S. alone, deciding they are better off in detention centers than the precarity of camp.

These are choices parents shouldn't be compelled to contemplate, said Jennifer Nagda, policy director for the Young Center for Immigrant Children's Rights, who visited the camp in January. “There shouldn't be a camp,” Nadga said, punching each word. “This is a completely new and unprecedented effort—in contravention of international treaties and obligations. It's an explicit effort to make it impossible for people to exercise their legal rights.”
On the Brownsville side of the river, a clutch of protestors sits in a small park in vigil. They will stay, they say, until their country recants its crimes. They believe the camp and the desperation it breeds are intentional designs of a government intent on dehumanizing a hated population.

Drawing comparisons to the treatment of Jews in the years before the Holocaust, Joshua Rubin, a retired computer programmer from Brooklyn, who is Jewish, says he feels compelled to be a witness, to not look away when his country is doing something wrong. He organized the protest called Vigil at the Border. He and the others will remain, he said, holding their "Let Them In" and "History is Watching" signs until the U.S. reverses the Remain in Mexico policy. "I don't have a lot of hope that that will happen, but I don’t have much choice," Rubin said. "You can't close your eyes and make it go away."

Back in Matamoros on a Friday afternoon in late January a hundred people walked into a tent—large and white like something for a wedding except this was about separation not union—sat themselves in rows and listened as two attorneys from the Young Center gave a briefing:

Here is the process that will confront your children if you send them over the bridge by themselves. They will be collected. They will be sent to a prison-like detention center. They will be assigned a case number. They will get a calendar date. They will be under the authority of federal agents. They may spend months or years in this facility. They may be sent to foster care. The people with whom they live may or may not speak Spanish. They may be able to connect to your brother, your aunt, your cousin in New York, in Michigan, in California. They may not. You might never see them again.

The Hondurans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Nicaraguans listened in weary attention. In the front row, a toddler breast-fed luxuriantly, in the way of toddlers, full, entitled, the fingers of his hand splayed proprietarily on his mother’s side. She wiped her eyes repeatedly and blinked hard.
Leaning forward, heads inclined and faces stoic, the migrants listened to the lawyers' words. They were not hopeful.

Gladis Molina Alt, director of the Young Center's Child Advocacy Program, was herself once a migrant. Her father fled Morazán, El Salvador in the early years of that country’s war, swam the river and got himself to Los Angeles. He sent for her and her brothers and mother later. She arrived in the U.S. at age 10. Became a citizen at 27. Went to law school and now, pulled by history, works as a legal advocate for other migrant children.

Today is different though.  

Ordinarily she works the hard cases of children in detention. Today she is at the other end of the story, speaking to parents in the camp who may have received some very bad advice.

An American woman visiting the camp has told families she can get their children into the United States, that within a week they will be with those family members waiting in Maryland or Iowa or Oregon.

The woman has no way of ensuring this. No expertise or authority. But families have trusted a heart-sick gringa. They sent their children to stand on a small bridge across the Rio Grande and throw themselves on the anemic mercy of Customs and Border Patrol. It is difficult to learn where those children are today. The federal detention, supervision and child management system is vast and anything but transparent. Still, after the briefing a quiet line forms, then encircles the attorneys, women and men wanting more information.
The breast-feeding mother is among them. The next day, climbing out of the tent she shares with her husband and children, holding the happy toddler on her hip while her older child plays soccer in the dust, she explains. The little one is too small to send, but she is worried for the fate of her nine-year-old son in the camp. The kind of people they fled El Salvador to avoid are active here. She knows they'll prey on the boy.

It feels like psychological war being kept here, she says: the waiting, the uncertainty. Yet if they return to El Salvador she is sure they will be killed. "I have to think of sending him," she says, crying now. "There is no life here."    

She and her family are among tens of thousands of Central Americans who’ve fled north in the past decade: 35,000 people from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras sought asylum at the U.S. border in 2017, the last year for which Department of Homeland Security data was readily available. An additional 75,000 people from those three nations sought asylum when faced with deportation the same year. Asylum claims from the northern triangle of Central America jumped 800 percent between 2012 and 2017 according to DHS’ Annual Flow Report on Refugees and Asylees from March 2019.

The migrants are driven from nations deformed by brutality, where the social and psychological wounds of wars committed a generation ago festered into drug, gang and government violence today that leaves few families safe. Last week Human Rights Watch released a report documenting cases of 138 Salvadorans who were killed after being deported back into their country.

The parents who circled the lawyers after the briefing in Matamoros had similar fears and questions: How long, really, before they get out of detention? My children are gone, how will I find them? What if their claim of asylum has already been rejected? Does that count against them? How will it affect my own case? Is there a way to do something to make it more possible that I might see them again? There is no life here. I cannot take them back to Honduras/El Salvador/Guatemala. We will be killed.

"It's Sophie's Choice, but you don't get to keep one of them," another lawyer with long experience and red eyes said after she stepped away from a conference you might call a sidewalk conference, but for the fact there was no sidewalk.

Only cracked, very dry ground. 

Friday, January 31, 2020

Support Asylum Seekers

(with deep thanks to Cynthia Pompa for creating this):
Friends, it’s been one year since the Trump administration began the policy “Remain in Mexico” (or MPP). Today, over 60,000 asylum seekers have been forcefully returned to Mexico to wait there for their U.S. immigration hearings.

Many migrant families are living for months in shelters or tent camps facing endless hurdles, and struggling to get basic necessities.

We can’t accept this as the norm. Since people are pushed out of the country and are “out of sight”, it is easier to forget we are complicit in the violence they experience.

Continue to demand an end to this policy and support those people who are stuck in Mexico waiting.

These wish lists are full of of needed items that will be going directly to the shelters/ tent camps where these families are at. It takes only a few minutes to buy an item!
*lists are only open for a week*

🔸Angry Tias and Abuelas in Matamoros:
🔸Red de Albergues “Somos Uno X Juárez” in Cd. Juarez:
🔸Kino Border Initiative in Nogales:

Photo: tent camps in Matamoros, Tamaulipas by Mike Seifert

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Ports and Courts Supplemental Material

Michael Seifert
ACLU of Texas Border Advocacy Strategist
Brownsville Office
956 459 6827

With occasional commentary at

Michael Seifert
ACLU of Texas Border Advocacy Strategist
Brownsville Office
956 459 6827
With occasional commentary at

The Communities of the Rio Grande Valley, Texas

·         1.5 million people live in the four counties that make up what is known as the Rio Grande Valley.
·         300,000 of the residents live in unincorporated communities known as “colonias”
·         “Mixed-status” families (the same family with US citizens, or legal permanent residents sharing life with unauthorized people), form a part of the heart and soul of our Valley.
·         The poorest region in the USA has no public hospital.
·         Border Patrol checkpoints on the two highways leading out of the region restrict access to needed medical care for families of mixed immigration status. A potentially fatal chokepoint in case of hurricane evacuation.
·         According to FBI statistics, the area is one of the safest (in terms of violent crime). Despite this, it is a militarized zone with:
ü  More than 3,000 Border Patrol Agents (a workload of roughly three (3) arrests per agent per month).
ü  230 State Troopers
ü  1000 National Guardsmen
ü  Local police under the strictures of SB 4 (Texas’ anti “sanctuary cities (sic)” law)

Updated material will be at the foot of this document


A guide to understand some of those most common misperceptions around immigration:
Since January 2018
A scholar sets out how the Trump anti-immigrant machine got set into place:
The Fresh Air interview with the author is excellent:

Immigration and the Rio Grande Valley
How the federal government came to adopt the notion that it is ok for people to die trying to save their lives:

State troopers use a sniper who kills two immigrants just outside of McAllen:

State troopers roam our neighborhoods, hunting human beings:

In Court: The Government Does Not Want You to See This

A sketch artist goes to immigration court (be sure to watch her video at this site):

A volunteer lawyer goes to try and observe court in the famous “tent courts” recently set up to block public access to the lack of due process and justice for asylum seekers now a part of our national pastime:

The Border Wall

Bottom line: Residents of the Rio Grande Valley are overwhelmingly against the construction of a border wall. We already have an existing border wall which has been unnecessary (the amount of immigration is at an all-time low; terrorists, drugs and other threats to our nation's well-being come through the border across bridges (smuggled in) or through our northern border.

There are currently more than sixty miles of border presently in place. This construction causes flooding, pushes immigrants into more dangerous crossing areas (remember that most immigrants are young families seeking to surrender to Border Patrol), and benefits human smugglers and government contractors.

For a comprehensive explanation of the wall:

Our New Friends:  Immigrants fleeing violence

Samantha Bee offers an irreverent, but accurate overview of what asylum seekers experience crossing into the Rio Grande Valley:

A moment of great shame was the release of the audio of the screams and tears of children separated from their parents:

Local attorney Jodi Goodwin helps reunite a mother and her child.

Ports of Entry:

On April 6, 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions notified all U.S. Attorney’s Offices along the Southwest Border of a new “zero-tolerance policy” for offenses under 8 U.S.C. § 1325(a), which prohibits both attempted illegal entry and illegal entry into the United States by an alien. A person who entered the United States, but avoided inspection by a Customs and Border Protection agent could be charged with this crime. In the past, Border Patrol used their discretion whether or not to enforce this offense.  With this announcement, the discretion was removed from CBP and all people who were apprehended were charged with this violation.

Why this matters:
1.      Adults who were in CBP detention centers would be brought to federal magistrate’s court for the hearing on this charge. During their absence, federal agents would remove children from the facility and place them with the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). More than 2800 children were separated during this time.
2.      This action was one more in a series of moves by the federal government designed to criminalize and humiliate asylum seekers.

Starting June 15, 2018, Customs and Border Patrol agents (CBP) began refusing to allow people seeking asylum their right to a timely entrance into the USA. Before this, asylum seekers would typically cross the international bridge, go inside the Customs and Border Protection offices, present themselves to an officer, and tell the official that they were seeking asylum. After June 15, CBP stationed two or three armed agents at the International Boundary Line on the bridges, stopping asylum seekers for setting foot into the United States.

Why this matters:
1.       There is now no “right way” to enter into the United States. Even is an individual wanted to follow the rules, the US blocks this process from the beginning

Asylum-seeking families were made to wait on the international bridges without access to food, water or restroom facilities. The US would admit only two or three individuals a day, a process that authorities have quietly acknowledged came “from above.”  After the Mexican election (July 1, 2018), Mexican immigration agents began to inspect refugees at the bridge, refusing entry to those without travel documents, detaining and deporting many. During this time, immigrants created a self-organized “list” of those awaiting entry. The list was taken over by the Mexican immigration authorities on the Gateway bridge, demanding bribes of up to $500 for people to jump line on the list.

Over the year, the number of people waiting in Matamoros grew to a thousand people, half of them children. Volunteers from Brownsville and from across the United States responded, offering basic necessities (food, water and other basic needs). There was no access to public restrooms or showers. Many people decided to cross the Rio Grande to enter; most people coming to the northern border were not given the option by their smugglers of even going to the bridge.

On June 10th, 2019, the US threatened Mexico with tariffs if they failed to cooperate with the US in preventing Central Americans from coming to the border with the United States. The president of Mexico created a special national guard charged with enforcing Mexican (read, “American”) immigration law.

On July 19, 2019, the United States implemented the Migrant Protection Protocols in Laredo and the Rio Grande Valley. Asylum seekers who managed to cross into the United States were processed, and then returned to Mexico where they were to await their court date. Several large “soft-sided” structures were set up next to the Gateway International Bridge in Brownsville. These were intentionally constructed on federal land so as to more easily block access to these courts that are supposed to be open to the public.

Asylum seekers who have been given a hearing date are to report to CBP officers on the bridge at 4a.m. where they are inspected for lice and other skin diseases. If one passes this inspection, the hearing takes place with a judge on a video camera. There is no public access to these hearings (in the actual tent court). One can witness the hearing from an immigration court from which the judge is presiding (in Harlingen), although this access is limited as well if the judge is broadcasting from the Port Isabel Processing Center.

Detention Facilities:

The Customs Border Protection operates a number of processing/detention centers in the Rio Grande Valley. These were the sites of the infamous “iceboxes” and “dog kennels.” The ACLU of Texas staff interviewed hundreds of people who were detained in these facilities. The testimonies were horrific evidence of wide-spread abuse of children, of adults, and of our law.

The facilities:

Recently released reports from the internal review of Customs and Border Protection’s detention practices:

New additions to this document:

Ports and Courts opinion piece published:

Immigration as deterrance does not work

Interesting podcast episode attempts to keep Latin American migrants out of the US have had the opposite impact

We built a wall to keep Mexican migrants out. In fact, the wall has kept them in. People who would otherwise have gone home stayed so long they've put down roots. In March of 2016, Douglas Massey, along with Jorge Durand and Karen Pren, published a brilliant paper in the American Journal of Sociology, Why Border Enforcement Backfired, in which they ask a hypothetical question. What would have happened if the United States had done nothing over the past 30 years, frozen the budget and staff of the border patrol at 1986 levels, allowed for some circular migration?
The researchers estimate the undocumented Mexican population of the US would be about a third lower, a third lower than it is now. This is according to the people who know more than anyone else about Mexican migration, who have access to one of the biggest immigration databases in the world, and what is their conclusion? That the attempt to solve the problem of illegal Mexican migrants is what has caused the problem of illegal Mexican migrants. You can just hear the frustration in Douglas Massey's voice.
For me, I've been watching this train wreck in real time for the past two decades, really. And I kept trying to tell people that when it comes to border enforcement, less is more and if you militarize the border, you're going to produce a larger undocumented population. I said this before the House Judiciary Committee, the Senate Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Immigration.
And what happens after Massey testifies? The same thing happens every time. Nothing.
And then the ranking minority member, who's Representative King from Texas, gets up and basically says, "Take your lying data and go home because we know what the truth is. We're being invaded and we've got to stop this."
Massey says we need to do the exact opposite of what we're doing now. When we raised the cost of crossing the border, that shut down circulation. If you want to restore circulation, then you should make the border easier to cross, reduce the size of the Border Patrol; don't increase it. Make it easier for migrants to get legal status; not harder.
If you want to lower the number of Mexicans living in the United States, give them green cards and a lot of them will go home. The US is not that nice of a place for people, for Mexicans these days, but they have families here. They've got US-born kids and, if they know they can come back, they'll go home.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Redistricting field hearings

A huge opportunity for us to directly impact our electoral history is coming up in a couple of weeks. The House of Representatives will hold field hearings in Edinburg on Friday, December 13, 2019 at 3:00 PM (Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance, Conference Halls A & B located at 118 Paseo Del Prado, Edinburg, TX 78539) and in Harlingen on Saturday, December 14, 2019 – 11:00 AM at Texas State Technical College Cultural Arts Center located at 1825 N. Loop 499, Harlingen, Texas 78550.

This is a chance to directly address issues around the manner in which voting districts are drawn.

To that end, the ACLU of Texas, the League of Women Voters and others are offering a workshop (to help prepare comments) in Brownsville, this coming Saturday from 2:30-4:30pm at the Brownsville Public Library, 2600 Central Blvd, Brownsville, TX 78520

Please preregister here
Below is information about field hearing as well as some resources from the League of Women Voters of Texas on how to develop your testimony. In the field hearing link, you can find resources for parking as well as a map of the building. Please arrive at least 30 minutes early so you can register to testify. There should be either an iPad kiosk or a form to register. If you aren’t able to make it to the hearing to testify, you can email, call, or write letters to the lawmakers on the House Redistricting Committee: Redistricting Committee. (Important links below)

Information about the hearings happening in Edinburg and Harlingen.
               WHATEdinburg redistricting field hearing
WHEN: Friday, December 13, 2019 – 3:00 PM
WHERE: Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance, Conference Halls A & B located at 118 Paseo Del Prado, Edinburg, TX 78539

WHEN: Saturday, December 14, 2019 – 11:00 AM
WHERE: Texas State Technical College Cultural Arts Center located at 1825 N. Loop 499, Harlingen, Texas 78550
 If you can't make the training sessions, here are some helpful resources to help you with writing your testimony:
 Important LINKS:

Friday, November 15, 2019

The Stranger as Threat

The Threat of the Outsider

For our purpose of understanding "the stranger" in biblical terms, it is important to acknowledge the likely connection between the general sociological term "habiru" and the odd, nameless hovering mass of unnamed humanity  mentioned often in the texts of the "insiders" as being at various times an inconvenience, a worry, and a serious threat.

The habiru are the large mass of people who can find no right "place" in the system, perhaps because they do not sufficiently conform, and perhaps because the community needs some outsiders for the menial functions of society. In the texts, the habiru are marginal people who in good times did menial work, in war times might have been hired cannon fodder, and in bad times lived by raids and terrorism, because they did not have any approved modes of access to land, power, or even food.

While at times useful to the established social system of the empire, the habiru were generally a threat. The empires used great energy to contain, administer, resist, and when possible nullify and eliminate them. It is in the character of the empire to want to include everyone on its own terms, everyone who will accept the dominant norms, who will perform according to approved expectations, and who will accept a system of benefits which may be unequal but is nonetheless less normative.

While wanting to include everyone, however, it is also the case that the empire exists for and by the uneven distribution of goods. The necessary and inevitable social stratification dictates that some will have more, some much less, and perhaps some will have nothing.'

That disproportion is what a socio-economic political monopoly is all about. The monopoly is not an accidental by-product, but the point of such power. Those who do not benefit from that disproportion are inherently a threat, because sooner or later, they notice the disproportion and want it adjusted. As they become a threat, the outsiders must be kept at a distance. One way of maintaining such social distance is by labeling as "stranger" the ones who do not conform enough to be included "in."

For our purpose of understanding "the stranger" in biblical terms, it is important to acknowledge the likely connection between the general sociological term "habiru"and the biblical term "Hebrew," which most scholars believe is simply an alternative rendering.

"Hebrew" apparently comes from the verb 'abar, to "cross over." Thus the Hebrew is one who crosses over boundaries, who has no respect for imperial boundaries, is not confined by such boundaries, and crosses them in desperate quest of the necessities of life. The Hebrew is driven by the urgent issue of survival. Note that the term "Hebrew" is not, in this reading, an ethnic term but a sociological category referring to those who are not contained in or sustained by the social system but who must live outside the system and its resources and benefits. Thus we can conclude that the people who finally become the "people of God" in the Old Testament are some among those whom the empire had declared "strangers," "outsiders," "threat."

While the position of the outsider is often rooted in political and economic matters, there is a different distinction between insider and outsider in Gen. 43:32. In the midst of the Joseph narrative, it is written of Joseph:

They served him by himself, and them by themselves, because the Egyptians might not eat bread with the Hebrews, for that is an abomination to the Egyptians.

The distinction between Joseph and the Egyptians is not ethnic but sociological. The Egyptians in the narrative are an embodiment of the Egyptian empire, the classic insiders. Joseph is a Hebrew, an outsider who does not qualify to eat with the imperial insiders. This verse provides important clues for our understanding of the stranger:

1. The text contrasts Egyptians and habiru, those in the empire who control the monopoly and those who are disqualified outsiders.

2. The contrast concerns access to food and, therefore, to life, worth, security, and dignity. "Food" refers to the means of life. But it also concerns the most intimate of social transactions, where social distinctions are likely to be most rigorously observed.

3. The contrast concerns the issue of social power, but the matter of power is articulated as a religious-moral matter. The word "abomination" (to'eveh) suggests that the Hebrews are morally inferior socially dangerous, and ritually impure. It is remarkable how sociological distinctions become reflected in ritual categories.

4. The biblical narrative notices the oddity of this arrangement of eating and therefore of social power. The narrator makes no explicit comment, but the fact that the eating arrangement is mentioned at all means that full notice is taken by the narrator of the discrimination.

The biblical narrative is restless with this social arrangement of discrimination that the empire had come to regard as routine. Creating outsiders is initially done to have a means of monopoly from which some are excluded. This monopoly of power is readily translated into a monopoly of sanctity and virtue, of holiness and righteousness.

In the Old Testament, this ritualizing of social distinction is carefully articulated in terms of laws of purity that concern food, the priesthood, and sexuality. In Leviticus and Ezekiel especially, we find an intense sorting out of what is acceptable and unacceptable, the unacceptable being categories treated as morally inferior, socially dangerous, and ritually impure. But these "religious" categories are never far removed from the realities of social power and access to social goods. In the New Testament, this way of identifying, categorizing, processing, and administering strangers shows up in Jesus' legal disputes with the advocates of the laws of holiness and righteousness (cf. Mark 7).

The practice of defilement and uncleanness turns out to be a labeling process with enormous social implications.

Landless and Not Belonging

I suggest now a third dimension of generating strangers that is intimately tied to the first two and may in fact be more foundational: strangers are those who do not have land, who are not judged as entitled to it, and who have no chance of acquiring any of the land." Thus the "Hebrews" are those who "cross over" (abar), trespass, pass, do not respect the property or property rights of others because they are so desperate or resentful that they will not finally acknowledge edge present social settlements.

It is not accidental that strangers in our society are often experienced as dis-placed persons, that is, people without a place. They have no place (or have lost it) because the social system, with its capacity for inclusion and exclusion, has in fact assigned their place to another and so denied them any safe place of their own.'

Strangers are often those who are cut out of the history of the land, denied the fruit of the land, and therefore denied social power, social security, or social worth. Every society, including eventually the Israelite community itself,  has clear rules about who may own land, how to acquire land, and how to retain it. But the rules governing possession are made by those who have and know how to get land, so whenever those rules are made, some end up without land. When some are excluded from the land, they do not belong, do not have voice or vote, do not know how to penetrate the closed systems of legislation and the courts) Finally, they drop from view and no longer exist.  

Very often those denied land will settle for such a fate decreed by the landed. They become passive, docile, and hopeless; even then, however, they continue to be an unsettling presence, worrisome, and embarrassing. On occasion, those consigned to "nonexistence" refuse to accept their fate. They want in; they push, insist, and become a threat. Either way, in docile despair or hope-filled insistence,  the outsider is always a threat to those who own, control, and administer land, goods, power, sanctity, and virtue.

Walter Brueggemann. Interpretation and Obedience