Since the beginning of human history, populations have moved from place to place, fleeing conflict, seeking opportunity or simply to explore new territory. And although immigration and migration are concepts as old as humanity itself, so are the tensions that arise as people travel from one homeland to another. What is often ignored, however, in policy discussions and campaign speeches about immigration, is the essential humanity of those who cross borders in search of a better life.
As part of October's focus on the Fundamental Principle of humanity, International Services will host a Lunch and Learn event at noon Wednesday, Oct. 21, with a focus on the humanitarian concerns around migration in the Americas. The event will feature speakers Tim Bothe, of Red Cross International Services, and Gwen Murphy of Casa de Paz, which works closely with Colorado's immigrant population.
Tim Bothe, International Services specialist with the Red Cross, says that the Red Cross takes a neutral stance on the politics of migration, but nevertheless aims to maintain the humanity and safety of those who migrate in order to flee conflict and poverty in their homelands. Through services like Restoring Family Links and the provision of health care resources to migrant populations, the Red Cross works to keep alleviate the suffering and difficulty of the migrant experience.
"In its 2007 conference, the Red Cross recognized the humanitarian concerns generated by migration as one of the greatest challenges the world faces," he said. "The Red Cross does not encourage or discourage migration, rather, within its humanitarian principles, it seeks to reduce the factors that contribute to the vulnerability and sufferings of the migrant population, regardless of any status."
Immigration and migration in the Americas have become politically charged topics, but to Gwen Murphy, detention and deportation have humanitarian, not political, consequences. In her work with the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), and Casa de Paz, an organization that provides housing and basic services for people with loved ones at the Aurora immigrant detention center, Murphy sees firsthand families who are affected most severely by deportation and detention. She says it reminds her of the humanitarian crises of the World War II era.
“What I know about the key humanitarian issues relates to what happens to families as a result of our immigration policies. ‘Stop Separating Families’ is the slogan [of the AFSC],” she said. “As someone who is old enough to remember Ed Herlihy on the news, back in the day when the news was shown in movie theaters as a preview to the main feature, and through that medium to have learned about the events having just transpired in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s (I was born in 1947), there is a vague, haunting sense of recollection I experience as a sort-of bystander to what is a common occurrence among nonwhite populations in the U.S.”
One thing that sets migration in the Americas apart is sheer numbers. According to Bothe, immigration impacts 62 million people annually in the Americas. Populations from Central American states like Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador flee crushing poverty and violence and risk personal danger in their travels. Migrants face economic difficulties and emotional trauma, as well as the threat of detention and deportation if they don't fully naturalize as citizens. But despite the size and complexity of the issue, both Murphy and Bothe say that there are simple ways that everyday people can help to preserve the humanity and dignity of migrants in their community.
"The human dignity of migrants can be upheld by respecting diversity and social inclusion," Bothe said. "The Red Cross encourages supporters to visit www.ifrc.org/protecthumanity and add their signature to an online petition that calls for the humane treatment of all individuals migrating."
For Murphy, small steps in awareness and education are an important way to help those impacted by immigration in the community.
"I hope people will go away from the event with a whole lot more understanding of a particular flavor of suffering happening in our communities: families being separated, people being imprisoned, our justice system broken and irrational, and that there abound concrete, specific actions folks can take," she said. "There's no reason or excuse to be bored, no lack of wholesome activities in which to engage."
The Lunch & Learn lecture will be presented Wednesday, Oct. 21, from noon to 1 p.m. at the American Red Cross, 444 Sherman St. RSVPs are requested by 12 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 20, by clicking here. Webinar options are also available for remote audiences. For more information, contact Tim Bothe.