Guest Columns

Ossining Church Provides a Christmas Lesson to Two Governors

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By Michael Gold

The governors of Texas and Florida decided to give themselves early Christmas presents by shipping thousands of immigrants from Latin America to New York, Massachusetts and Washington D.C. earlier this year.

Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas claimed in September that he had sent 10,000 migrants on buses to the Northeast. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis put 50 immigrants on a plane to Martha’s Vineyard in September.

These Christmas-in-September gifts are exceptional in that they are among the cruelest pieces of political theater we’ve ever seen because Governors Abbott and DeSantis shipped people rich only in desperation more than 1,000 miles across state lines, by bus and plane, as if they were cargo, using them to score political points and thrill the governors’ supporters.

Did their tactics work in helping solve the immigration crisis on our border, an enormously complicated problem that a series of U.S. Presidents have been unable to solve (including one who promised in 2016 to build a big, beautiful wall that would keep them all out)? Not at all. But it did help them get lots of publicity.

Ossining Pastor Jeniffer Rodriguez condemned the governors’ small-minded stunts, as part of the Presbyterian Church’s Synod of the Northeast’s Hispanic/Latino Ministry. The caucus agreed on a resolution in October in reaction to the migrant shipments that cited the Bible’s admonition to “love the stranger as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

The Synod plans to send the letter to all Presbyterian churches, as well as the two governors, “stating what they’re doing is unjust and unfair,” Rodriguez said.

The Synod’s resolution was an effort to reclaim the humanity of the immigrants from the prejudicial stereotypes that Gov. Abbott tagged them with – in his mind, equating them with drug traffickers and weapons smugglers, instead of terribly poor people who are hungry and terrified of the violence being visited upon them and their communities in their home countries, often by armed drug gangs. It’s easier to treat the immigrants badly if you see them all as criminals, I guess.

I recently visited Rodriguez at the First Presbyterian Church of Ossining, to talk about immigration, along with two other members of her congregation.

I asked the pastor what she wanted to say to immigrants during the Christmas season.

“Even though society sees you as invisible, you are visible to the eyes of God,” she said. “They are loved by God. There is a community here that supports them and will always be there for them.”

One of the members of the church, named Adrian, is of Greek heritage. Her parents left Greece in the 1950s and came to America. Her father worked for General Motors in Tarrytown and held down two other jobs. Her mother worked for Reader’s Digest. She said that she and her brother were snubbed in school for a few years before being accepted.

Her parents saved their money and bought a building to rent out. Adrian went to college and worked as a schoolteacher in the Bronx for 30 years. It’s a classic story of immigration success.

Now, Adrian says, it’s much harder for immigrants to settle in America. She told me about some Greek friends of hers who had doctorates in computer science and came to New York to do project work for a major technology company. They couldn’t get citizenship when their visas expired, and they had to return to Greece.

“We have an extremely nativist attitude these days,” Adrian said. “Most immigrants work very hard, harder than most Americans, to get ahead.”

Another church member, Mickey, was born in Puerto Rico and is the son of Lutheran ministers. His father was Puerto Rican, and his mother was German and Jamaican. He has been employed as a musician, manual laborer and attendance officer and class aide at a local school.

One time in Mickey’s school job, “two teachers said the Spanish kids were not as smart as the white kids. There’s a mentality that an immigrant is different,” he said.

Mickey’s mother was not allowed to join a sorority at the Midwestern Lutheran college she attended, but she persevered in her career.

“My mother didn’t listen to people who discriminated against her,” he said.

Many years later, the girls in the sorority sent his mother an apology.

“You put a title on a group, you see them as a herd. I can’t categorize anybody,” Mickey explained. “We have to look at people as people from God.”

The pastor pointed out, “We need to follow God’s light and open hearts so we can see the reason why we are here on Earth. Jesus himself was an immigrant. We’re all part of this world because we are children of God. We’re part of creation.”

That’s a Christmas lesson Gov. Abbott and Gov. DeSantis would do well to absorb.

Pleasantville-based writer Michael Gold has had articles published in the New York Daily News, the Albany Times Union, The Virginian-Pilot, The Palm Beach Post, other newspapers, and The Hardy Society Journal, a British literary journal.

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