It was my first Red State protest demonstration. The fact that about 120 people showed up on the streets of bustling Bluffton, SC was truly a m’chayah — truly life enhancing. We gathered together, religious and community leaders and activists, to protest a decision that the Sheriff of Beaufort County made by applying to the Department of Homeland Security to designate a portion of his police force with the authority to act as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. This designation and the cost of it which will be borne by the citizens of Beaufort County and would enable such a force to arrest and detain undocumented residents for deportation. The sheriff maintains that he is doing this to keep the community safe from the “worst of the worst” undocumented criminals. A small and growing number of community residents see it differently.
What is unusual about this experience is that there exists a perception that because our state and community are solidly red that defending those without voices would have no support or resonance with the community. There is a fear of the fear syndrome because it is the south and we fear that such a protest to defend against what appears to be a power grab by the county sheriff could have led to violence. The truth was that we gathered together peacefully, people gave speeches, cheers lifted our spirits knowing that we were speaking on behalf of undocumented workers who are frightened to attend such rallies and who work, caring for our tailored landscapes, our restaurants, and many other small businesses in the community.
My sense is that the immigration issue which divides many in our nation plays out similarly in Bluffton or Hilton Head as it does anywhere else in America. The greatest challenge in this issue is activating the citizenry to care about and stop demonizing undocumented residents who are law abiding. The ultimate solution is for Congress and the president to fix this issue but that is for another discussion.
What has changed in my red state community like, I suppose, in many others is that the influx of people like myself are slowly changing the political climate. The attendees to this demonstration came from liberal communities up north or in larger metropolitan communities in the midwest. So pockets of progressive activism exist in South Carolina where they never did before and that is what gives me hope.
Progressive voices are still a slight glimmer compared to the overall community, but, the fact that such a glimmer exists now and is clear to behold reminds us that the voting public is slowly becoming diverse. As always, Jews are in the forefront of such progressive politics. Yet, there are also increasing number of Jews from all age groups who reflect conservative viewpoints on immigration and all the rest of the issues of the day. Like everywhere else Jews must try harder to find a way to talk to each other and establish common ground.
I received a letter right before the demonstration from a congregant of mine whose wife is from Ecuador. Their two children have been raised Jewish and are comfortable also in their Latino cultural heritage. In fact the daughter, a high school student, won the Miss Isla contest. Their father wrote to me saying, “ I am kindly asking you on my wife’s behalf, my children’s behalf and my behalf to stand up for those people of our community who work so hard to have a decent life and contribute to our society, to speak for us in this time of need. We want to continue to have productive lives and take care of our children.”
This family is part of the new demographic of Jewish life in America. Families who walk comfortably in more than one culture. The decision to arrest and deport the undocumented community even though they are law abiding residents sends shivers down the backs of many more than illegal and undocumented residents of our community.
This campaign to give folks a voice with law enforcement is just getting started in our community. The healthy part about it is that alternative voices exist and they will not be silenced from the fear of fear by living in a red state.