Truth or Dare

Daniel Romero November 11, 2018

Scripture Philippians 1:9–14


•       Immigrant detainee
•       Immigration Judge
•       Court Translator

The congregants are seated after the doxology, and the immigrant detainee shuffles to the front of the sanctuary. The immigration judge’s and court translator’s voices are heard, but they cannot be seen.

Immigration judge: Today is November 11, 2018, and we are at immigration court at Ft. Snelling Minnesota. I am immigration Judge Bob O’Malley and this is case number A 201-227.

Court translator: Hoy es 11 de noviembre de 2018, y estamos en corte de inmigración en Ft. Snelling Minnesota. Soy el juez de inmigración Bob O’Malley y este es el caso número A 201-227.

Immigration judge: What is your name?

Court translator: ¿Que es tu nombre?

Immigrant detainee: Daniel Romero.

Court translator: Ana Romero.

Immigration judge: Ms. Romero, this is your final court date. Today, I must decide whether you will be allowed to stay in the United States or be deported. Do you understand?

Court translator: Sra. Romero, esta es su fecha final en la corte. Hoy debo decidir si le permitirán permanecer en los Estados Unidos o ser deportados. ¿Lo entiendes?

Immigrant detainee: Si.

Court translator: Yes.

Immigration judge: In past court hearings, I gave you an application for asylum; have you completed that application?

Court translator: En anteriores audiencias judiciales, le entregué una aplicación de asilo, ¿ha completado esa aplicación?

Immigrant detainee: No.

Court translator: No.

Immigration judge: Why not?

Court translator: ¿Porqué no?

Immigrant detainee: Me das un montón de papeles y no pudo leyer inglés.

Court translator: You gave me a mountain of papers and I can’t read English.

Immigration judge: Did you hire a lawyer?

Court translator: ¿Contrataste a un abogado?

Immigrant detainee: No.

Court translator: No.

Immigration judge: Why not?

Court translator: ¿Porqué no?

Immigrant detainee: Los abogados son caros y no pudo pagarlos.

Court translator: Lawyers are expensive and I can’t afford to pay them.

Immigration judge: Have you asked anyone in the jail for help?

Court translator: ¿Le has pedido ayuda a alguien en la cárcel?

Immigrant detainee: No.

Court translator: No.

Immigration judge: Why not?

Court translator: ¿Porqué no?

Immigrant detainee: Los otros en la cárcel no pueden leer inglés tampoco.

Court translator: The others in jail can’t read English either.


Immigration judge: Ms. Romero, I order you to be deported.

Court translator: Señora Romero, ordeno que sea deportado.

The End

*             *             *

Buenos días. Good morning. Por favor, oremos todos juntos. Please, let’s pray together.

Eloheem, Adonai, Yahweh, Allah, Creator, Divine, Dios . . . God of many names, you who are God of all that ever was and of all that ever will be . . . we pray that our words this morning will be inspired by you. Amen.

The reenactment you’ve just heard is a retelling of the story of Franci, a Honduran man, and every word you heard is true. Franci’s story is replayed several times a week just a 15-minute car ride from where we are now, at the Bishop Whipple Federal Building at Ft. Snelling, where the immigration courts are held.

The “montón de papeles” he referred to is a Department of Homeland Security document called an I-589, “Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal.” It is 19 pages long and it’s all in English. Versions of the I-589 in other languages are not given out by the court.

Sitting in immigration court as an observer is often gut wrenching. At 9 a.m. each day, a steady stream of detainees shuffles into the court room in orange jumpsuits and shackled at the ankles, wrists and waist. The first cases that are heard each day—maybe 8 or 10 of them—are the cases of detainees who have hired lawyers. But for the remainder of the day, cases of the 75 percent of detained immigrants who don’t have a lawyer are heard.

If you can’t read the English forms, you’re out of luck. If you can’t hire a lawyer, your chances of avoiding deportation are nearly zero. If you can hire a lawyer, you are 12 times more likely to win your deportation case. This means that the overwhelming majority of those who are deported are being deported because they’re poor.

If you do win your case, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement lawyer generally appeals, meaning more legal expenses and often a longer jail stay. This gives Removal Officers more time to go to the jail and meet with the detainees. You want out of jail? Sign right here. Those detainees who do sign will be on the next deportation flight, whether they understood what they signed or not.

In the first 6 months of this year at Whipple, 1,095 deportation orders have been issued, 80 percent given to people with no criminal history or to people whose infractions would be a small fine and a citation—if you or I were cited for the same reason. Dr. King defined an unjust law as one that applies to me but does not apply to you or one that applies differently to me and to you. As the headquarters of the deportation machine, the Whipple Building is the House of Pontius Pilate.

Franci’s story is made all the more tragic because he has a $10,000 bond, meaning that he can be released as soon as the bond is paid. But he can’t afford it.

You may have heard that the immigration system is broken, but that is not the case. I am here to tell you that, on the contrary, the deportation machine is operating smoothly, and running exactly as it was designed.

In his letter to the Philippians that we heard earlier, Paul begins by saying,

This is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you can discern what is best and . . . be filled with righteousness.

“Discern” is a word we use a lot in our tradition. And Paul likely has some very specific ideas about his view of “what is best” for the Philippians. Yet, we too tend to see “what is best” in terms of our own self-interests and through our own worldview. The Greek translations, however, suggest that discernment is a dynamic process that involves scrutiny, testing and, above all, honesty.

This principle of discernment calls us to take the necessary time and make the necessary effort to become knowledgeable, not just opinionated, and listen to the views of immigrants and refugees in a way that leads to deeper understanding.

Over and over again, immigrants tell us that they want what you and I want: a safe place to live; good schools for their children; living-wage jobs; workplace safety; not to have to live on the margins of society; to be accepted; to be liberated from poverty, violence and intimidation in their own countries. 5,000 people in the migrant caravan that will arrive at our southern border in the coming days are saying this with each step they take.

It is clear that we can’t rely on our national political leadership to join with immigrants and with those of us seeking to achieve these goals. This makes it all the more important that we work locally to advance the cause of immigrant justice statewide, in our county and in Minneapolis.

We are fortunate that, by working with city leaders, community organizations like the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee (MIRAC) and the Interfaith Coalition on Immigration (ICOM) have made important gains in our city in the past year.

  • We passed a U-visa certification ordinance for immigrant victims of violent crime, which enables the undocumented to be protected from deportation, and it can even provide a path to citizenship. This is one of the only ways that an immigrant can get legal status.
  • We opened the new Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, which works with immigrant communities to promote integration and a wide variety of services to immigrants and refugees.
  • Minneapolis police squad cars now have “know your rights” placards in them that tell immigrants that they have a right to remain silent when being questioned by any law enforcement authority. This is especially important because the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office has operated as an arm of ICE. We hope that the election of a new Sheriff will help to change that dynamic.
  • And soon, we hope that the City Council will vote to implement a city ID card, which would allow any city resident—including the undocumented, the homeless, people in LGBTQ communities and others existing on the margins—to get an ID card that will empower them to participate more fully in our society.

These are progressive immigrants’ rights advances, but we can’t lose sight of important work that remains to be done. Mayor Frey has thus far refused to discipline eight Minneapolis police officers who broke city law last August by standing in uniform with Tim Pawlenty and delivering a racist, anti-immigrant political ad. And the mayor is now seeking to cut city funds for immigrant legal services by 53 percent in the city budget that will be voted on in the coming weeks.

In the Philippians text, Paul says, “I am in chains for Christ.” You may remember that the man who would become Paul the Apostle knew a little something about oppression and captivity. Paul had been a Roman soldier who tried to destroy those who followed God, but during his conversion experience on the road to Damascus, Jesus told him that by persecuting others, Paul was persecuting Jesus himself. In that encounter, Jesus taught Paul God’s highest law: to love God and love your neighbor as you love yourself.

After he became a follower of Jesus, Paul was jailed twice before he was executed. He came to believe that his sacrifices would advance the Jesus movement and thereby advance God’s realm and God’s justice. Archbishop Oscar Romero had a similar belief, saying this shortly before he was assassinated:

I have often been threatened with death; if they kill me, I shall arise in the Salvadoran people. If the threats come to be fulfilled, from this moment I offer myself to God for the redemption and resurrection of El Salvador. Let my blood be a seed of freedom and the sign that hope will soon be reality.

This is a bold statement, and that is exactly what Paul calls us to do when he says in today’s text:

Because of my chains, my brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.

Do you remember the game “Truth or Dare?” A group of people get together, and you ask each other the question, “truth or dare?” You can choose to tell the truth or perform a dare.

Proclaiming the Gospel without fear is both.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, is a government agency whose very existence is contrary to Christian values. It was created with an original mission largely directed at eliminating human trafficking, but it has become a paramilitary police force that sows fear in our communities and is completely unaccountable to the public it professes to serve.

We are grateful that Pastor Wolpert spoke bravely and eloquently at a prayer vigil at Whipple a few months ago, and during our prayers, a deportation van drove right through the middle of the crowd.

Truth and dare—proclaim the Gospel without fear! Eighteen of us were arrested at Whipple in May calling for the abolition of ICE and disrupting business as usual, some were nearly run over by Department of Transportation cement trucks and by people in military uniform speeding through the protest. There are likely more civil disobedience arrests to come.

The day before he died, Archbishop Romero issued to the Salvadoran military and to the United States government, which funded the Salvadoran army, one of the greatest appeals for peace and disarmament in church history. He said:

The church of God, of human dignity, cannot remain silent. In the name of God, and in the name of this suffering people whose laments rise to heaven each day more tumultuously, I beg you, I ask you, I order you in the name of God: Stop the repression!”

At the end of the first chapter of the book of Philippians the text says this:

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. I know that you will stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you.

So it is with Franci.

So it was with Archbishop Oscar Romero.

And so it may be with us.


Rev. Romero is Minister for Faith Formation at First Congregational Church of Minnesota.