Hearts & Minds BookNotes

annotations, blurbs and ruminations

to enlarge the heart & stimulate the mind

and to happily generate mail order business for Hearts & Minds bookstore

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Location: Dallastown, PA

My lovely wife Beth and I own and operate--proprietors makes us sound more classy than we really are--a cluttered, diverse and independent bookstore in Central Pennsylvania. After well over 20 years, we are still not sure what to say when people ask if our shop is a "Christian bookstore." I do a monthly book review column over at our website; we hope that these new blogged bits will afford friends and customers the chance to see other books I happen to be reading, wishing to read, pretending that I read or at least believe that others should, if not read, know about. We have three children, attend a Presbyterian church in York, PA and have no hobbies.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Golden Vision documentary

Most of my readers do not know about the five-year campaign that we helped with, a local campaign here in York, PA, that became the largest pro bono case in the history of American law. It was an effort to get political asylum for a group of Chinese dissidents who had been arrested when their ship, the famed Golden Venture, ran aground in New York harbor in 1993. (The link offered is brief but informative. Check it out.)

Some of the immigrants died in the rough and cold June surf; others were arrested and put in detention in York Country Prison. A handful of us started a weekly prayer and protest vigil while a flanx of lawyers and paralegals appealed case after case trying to get a fair trial for the detainees, many who were seeking legitimate political asylum; many were fleeing forced abortions and mandatory sterilization in the Fujian province in China. (China, of course, has a brutal one-child only policy and is known to do forced abortions, even late-term Cesarean sections.) Some of these brave immigrants were distantly related to Tiananmen Square dissidents. Some were Christians under persecution while others were not, but longed for freedom, drawn here by the dreams of American democracy. As we attempted to obtain their legal, political asylum, we were ignored, rebuffed, harrassed, and lied to by our own government...the INS was especially terrible in their corruption and mistreatment. We prayed and did politics, we got on the cover of national magazines, made contact with everyone from Pope John Paul to Oprah; evangelical leaders helped out, pro-lifers and Amnesty International folk joined together to work for asylum (or at least parole) to these friends who remained locked up for year after year after year.

As the weekly vigils continued--through blazing heat and winter blizzards--- and our international efforts increased, some of us visited the poor guys in jail---teaching English or doing Bible studies--- while others got legislation drafted or worked with the press; the lawyers, of course, did the court work. I preached, mostly, and served as unofficial cheerleader. It was hard, exhausting work and perhaps the most important political work I've ever done. Nearly 13 years later, I am still reeling from it all. And, even now it isn't fully over for the Chinese (some were deported to be forcibly sterilized and beaten, others to disappear while others obtained asylum in other countries, and others are out on parole, here and around the country, living now on pins and needles, fearing deportation without due process.)

Meanwhile, the York County Prison reeled in the dough from the feds, expanded the prison, and now detains persecuted asylum-seekers from all over the world. Some local saints keep the heat on, hoping that they will not be mistreated and perhaps will recieve asylum. We sometimes feel like the guy in Schindler's List literally saving lives where we can. Some, if deported, will be killed back in the homeland from which they fled.

Now, years later, in the midst of a new national debate on immigration, a major documentary has been made (it actually isn't the first, but the first done by an award winning screenwriter.) Peter Cohn's film, The Golden Venture (narrated by Tim Robbins) was entered into the prestigious Tribeca film festival and has been written up in The New Yorker and other such important journals. Please click on that link! We hosted the worldwide theatrical premiere showing (outside of the film festival) at the lovely Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center in downtownYork, complete with conversations with film-maker Cohn and some of his assistants. It was a wonderful weekend with old colleagues re-connecting, some national-level leaders in asylum detention reform and immigration law joining us, all providing new energy for the Golden Vision Foundation, a nonprofit here which sponsors a half-way house (The International Friendship House) to offer hospitality for those who do get out of prison, now that York is one of the largest holding facilities for those seeking asylum. As I noted, we now have in prison all kinds of heros, martyrs and political dissidents from Africa, Central America, the middle East, South- Central Asia and China. Another local advocacy group which does the actual pro bono legal work has sprung up, PIRC (The Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center) and it would worthwhile to visit their site. This stuff will give a unique and human face to the current discussions about immigration reform.

I know we need reasonable immigration law, and I watched with interest the President's speech last night. I also know the Bible says numerous times that it was God's will for aliens and sojourners to live wherever they pleased and for ancient Israel to be a land of utter hospitality, welcoming the stranger. God's grace is shown in concrete policies of care and justice., innovative policies like the Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25.)

But all that aside, this legitimate policy of seeking political asylum for those that can prove they are dangerously persecuted, is rather different than the current debate about undocumented workers along our borders. It is related to the broader questions of immigration, but it is, yet, something simpler. Many who come through our prison here in York are fleeing for their lives, for religious or civic freedom, and may be killed if they are deported. If we do not grant asylum to those who have been tortured, we are breaking the law. Sadly, our government is not very good about keeping our own policies and procedures about asylum for deserving asylees.

We here at Hearts & Minds have books on refugee resettlement, bunches on the persecution of the church in China, some on this question of asylum. There are theological studies of immigration and all kinds of books about God's concern for the poor and oppressed. We've got memoirs of those who have worked in this field. I have written enough, though, and won't bore you with titles. Call if you want more information. Click on the above links if you'd like to make a donation to this project that is very, very close to our hearts.

And if you could arrange a screening of this informative and fair-minded documentary, email the producers at info@goldenventuremovie.com and tell 'em I sent ya. Watch the trailer here. Thanks.