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Witnessing Cruelty and Compassion on a Dominican Highway

By Stephen Deal

With three traveling companions, we were nearing the end of a long drive from Santo Domingo (the capital of the Dominican Republic) to Dajabon on the Dominican border with Haiti. Our trip had been marked by delays: the morning rush-hour traffic as we left Santo Domingo, a major traffic tie-up at a toll booth where the electronic payment system was down, a herd of cows blocking the highway.

We thought the worst was behind us when we rounded a curve and came upon the scene of a recent truck accident. A large crane was just beginning to lift the container portion of a tractor-trailer out of a ravine. Both lanes of the 2-lane highway were blocked. We had no choice but to wait until the crane finished the job and the highway could be reopened.

Notwithstanding the midday heat and humidity, I decided to get out of our vehicle to stretch my legs. A small group of curious onlookers had already formed to watch as the crane went about its work.

Suddenly, an oddly-shaped white truck drove to the front of the line on our side of the accident site. At first, I only saw three men in the cab of the truck. My first thought was, “What makes them so special that they can go to the front of the line?”

When they got out, all three turned out to be Dominican immigration officials. In that moment, I realized that their vehicle was part of the fleet of vehicles used by Dominican immigration authorities to expel undocumented Haitians, or those suspected of being undocumented migrants, back into Haiti at border crossings such as Dajabon.

I decided to inspect the rear portion of their truck more closely. When I got to the back, I came face-to-face with the anguished, exhausted faces of men, women and children who had been packed into the truck’s cargo space. Inhumane doesn’t begin to describe the conditions in which they were being transported.

No one was seated, not even the children. They were packed in, shoulder to shoulder, so tightly that no one could move (or lose their balance). The only source of ventilation was the cage-like wiring across the rear of the vehicle. The people at the very back of that “mobile cage” could breathe, albeit with difficulty; those packed into the interior of the truck must have been suffering terribly from the heat and lack of oxygen.

Most of the motorists who had gotten out of their vehicles continued to pay more attention to the crane operation than the plight of the “human cargo” in the immigration vehicle, with one notable exception. There was a Dominican woman who was not going to stand idly by; she was determined to do something to alleviate their human suffering. I never got her name but I’m going to call her “Amparo”.

She began going vehicle-to-vehicle, knocking on car windows and asking motorists to donate whatever water they could. I went back to our vehicle and collected all the water bottles we had, full or not. The water bottles that the two of us collected weren’t enough for everyone in the cargo space of that truck but it was enough for those at the very back, including the children. Their parents thanked us.

“And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” (Mt 10:42 – NIV)

It was evident that these detainees were not only dehydrated, but also hungry. “Amparo” and I decided to go back to the motorists in that line of cars to ask for food donations. As quickly as it began, however, this human drama ended. The crane finished its work, the highway was cleared, and traffic began to move again.
The first vehicle that got through was the immigration vehicle. In a half hour, maybe less, that truck would reach the Dominican-Haitian border at Dajabon to unload its human cargo and then return to Santo Domingo for another trip.

As Regional Representative for AMMPARO, there have been many occasions when I have witnessed the inhumane treatment of migrants by immigration authorities – along the U.S. southern border, along Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala, on the Colombian side of the Darien Gap.
Nevertheless, the image of this group of Haitians (and quite possibly the children of Haitian parents born in the Dominican Republic), crowded into the back of that truck, will remain with me for a long time. Thankfully, so will the spontaneous and compassionate response of the Dominican woman who was moved to action.


Transformed by Kindness: My Immigration Experience

By Raed AbuJries

“I was a stranger and you invited me in.” These words, from Matthew 25:35, are normally perceived as a guiding principle that urges us to welcome and embrace those who are different from us. And while it will always apply as a call to kindness and compassion, this verse takes on a new depth when viewed through the lens of a personal experience.

When I immigrated to the United States at the age of 18, I quickly became familiar with the concepts of acceptance and hospitality and the transformative power they can hold. As a child, I was taught this biblical verse as a reminder of the values I should uphold as a Christian, mainly, treating others with the same care we would extend to Jesus himself. However, it wasn’t until I started my own immigration journey that the true meaning of being a stranger came into focus. Suddenly, the vulnerability of being in a new and foreign environment quickly revealed to me the significance of this verse.

Arriving in the United States, I had a simplistic and fragmented knowledge of American culture and society, based mainly on what I’ve seen in movies and on television. And while I had heard stories of racial tensions and political divides, the particulars of these issues remained vague. As I started settling into my new life, I encountered a spectrum of responses from the people I met. Some displayed wonderful kindness the moment I met them, offering an open heart that reflected the teachings of embracing strangers. Others maintained a neutral stance, neither overtly warm nor hostile. And then, there were those who greeted me with suspicion and aggression, revealing more of the complexity of human nature and the wide spectrum of attitudes held by people in America.

Every interaction was like a roll of the dice, keeping me always on my toes. Each person’s perception of me seemed to be influenced by their own experiences and biases. And for a new immigrant, those biases were not easy to predict. I was struck by those who went out of their way to make me feel at home, displaying a hospitality that went far beyond being polite. Their acts of kindness, having known nothing of my story or background, ignited a spark within me. They inspired me to strive to meet their expectations and validate their goodwill, by becoming an active and positive contributor to my new community.

These positive experiences highlighted the transformative power of acceptance and hospitality. Acts of kindness, especially extended to strangers, possess the potential to shape their lives and foster a sense of belonging. The kindness I encountered from individuals who embraced me without reservation or prejudice prompted me to channel their goodwill into personal growth and positive engagement with my new environment. Their actions taught me that an accepting community can be a catalyst for self-improvement and meaningful contributions.

On the other hand, it was inevitable to be occasionally met with hostility and suspicion, reminding me of past experiences I endured in the country I came from. Having lived under a military occupation, I was no stranger to prejudice and aggression. I was familiar with the dynamics of being treated as an outsider. Such treatment had taught me that the judgment and aggression of others often arise from ignorance or misguided fear.

But unlike the experiences of acceptance, these negative encounters did not inspire within me a desire to prove myself to those who couldn’t see beyond their biases. Instead, I became more convinced that through acts of kindness and a willingness to extend a hand, we can shape an inclusive society where differences are welcomed. I have personally seen the profound impact of “inviting people in”, not only on individuals seeking refuge in a new land but also on the communities that welcome them. Embracing strangers isn’t just about following a religious mandate—it’s about enriching lives, dismantling barriers, and creating a harmonious community where everyone’s potential can flourish. As I continue to integrate into my adopted home, I am driven to embody the spirit of acceptance that was extended to me, ensuring that others who follow in my footsteps find the same warmth and hospitality that I experienced.

Raed AbuJries is the Program Manager for Education and Communications for the AMMPARO US Network.
Born and raised in Bethlehem, Palestine and immigrated to the US in 2001.

With Anti-Immigration Sentiments Rising, More Action is Needed

By David Atkinson


For those closely following immigration issues and debates, every day can seem to be a bad news day.  The diatribes by anti-immigration officials and commentators become numbing with their angry repetition.  But the ingrained perspectives of the voting public can be even more troubling.

We now enter the season when many organizations, on the far ends and in the middle of the political spectrum, are conducting polling to test 2024 themes and discover what might most motivate large blocs of voters.  Some of these surveys square with preconceived notions or confirm what we largely suspect.  Yet, there is always the prospect of a finding or two that stand out from conventional thinking or feed into our hopes for a turn for the better.

Such is not the case with this recent example, unfortunately.  A new YouGov poll, part of a study by the Center for Working-Class Politics, takes a look at how Democrats are connecting with working-class people and where the president connects or misfires.  Without doubt, this is an evaluation from the progressive side of the political landscape.

Here is the key painful finding: “The single most effective message in the poll was a vow to ‘protect the border’; decriminalization of the border was very unpopular.”  Ouch.  Reading that seems like the slap in the face from the old Skin Bracer ads, except there is nothing refreshing about it.  The accepted terminology is heavily skewed.  There is a border wall for considerable stretches of territory.  That comes with checkpoints, surveillance, and enforcement by vehicle and horseback.  To say that the border is wide open is a statement of partisan malice.  To hope for a border that is fully secure is to yearn for something that never was and never will be.  Just look how people have found ways to get through and over the former president’s big and beautiful wall.

When we look at the many ways large and small the so-called immigration system penalizes border crossers, the notion that there is something called decriminalization afoot is gross misrepresentation.  Declining to forcibly separate families is hardly the equivalent of rolling out the welcome wagon for one and all.  No ceasefire has been called on deportations.

How do advocates hope to bring about more humane immigration laws and policies when strident immigration opposition is a sure-fire applause line and vote-getter?  The efforts by advocacy groups such as ELCA, LIRS, and LAMPa to remind everyone what the Bible, especially the gospels, has to say about how to receive and treat the other lays a firm foundation.  But opponents are expert at cherry picking or distorting verses to justify their policies.  Remember how southern preachers two centuries ago were somehow able to divine biblical sanction for slavery?

It is always a herculean effort to get the attention of those who do not care about seeing beyond rhetoric or doing the difficult work of sorting fact from fiction.  And leadership that builds careers on habitually shortchanging the basic needs of citizens on subjects ranging from food security to health care to education is not going to be suddenly sympathetic to the woes of refugees, whether legal or illegal.

That is why it is so important for people of faith to support immigration advocacy, not just with hearts and minds, but with hands and wallets.  To keep abreast of issues, to document discrimination, to support a growing array of resettlement services, to connect individuals and families with vital assistance of legal, language, and living needs, to give tolerance a place in the policy marketplace, these things require a great deal of resource.  Striving to do that which is right and righteous is the charge we hear every time we read the Bible and reflect on its meaning.