JOEY GOES TO POSTVILLE
1400 Miles (2200 km) by Bicycle from NYC
That’s how it is in the modern world. Bad things push, good things pull. Animals and plants, ideas and money, plush toys and people are on the move.
For 20 years, I’ve helped promote human rights in the United States and the wider world. When Jeffrey Heller teaches American lawyers how to win asylum for refugees, I have pride of place on the podium.
It’s sad that lawyers still need Jeffrey’s lectures. It means that human rights are not respected abroad, and that for foreigners, we have a narrow, grudging view of human rights at home.
Our laws draw meaningless distinctions. We allow relief of some categories of suffering and abuse, but not of others that are just as cruel. Desperate human needs – for food, to support families, to be useful, to live – are brushed aside by rules we invented.
Thousands of innocents seeking refuge here are jailed, sometimes for years. Our government dictates who is allowed to work, and who may hire them. Border controls and the impossibility of getting visas trap people in the U.S. when they’d prefer to come and go. Our laws break up families, deprive businesses of customers, and ban noncitizens (even your mother!) from your home without Federal permission.
We hear loud talk of “crackdowns” and the hardening of a system that already violates the religious laws, ethical imperatives and constitutional principles in which we pretend to believe.
The “crackdown” crowd wants us to think the sky is falling. I won’t believe that until I see it for myself.
To that end, on April 26, 2011, Jeffrey and I are embarking on a trip to the American heartland. We want to see if it’s true that immigrants are “tearing down our borders,” “hijacking our way of life” and “taking our jobs.”
OVER THE HANDLEBARS
An in-depth study might take years. We don’t have years. So we’ll do the next best thing. We’ll go by bicycle. Ernest Hemingway wrote, “[Y]ou have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.” Maybe seeing, hearing, and smelling America in a way impossible to those who drive through or fly over, will shed a little light.
Our plan is to bicycle from New York City – where more than 1/3 of the residents are foreign born – through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. We’ll end the trip in Postville, Iowa – a town changed by mass deportations (watch the trailer for abUSed – The Postville Raid).
Jeffrey is a good companion for this adventure.
A graduate of Duke (public policy), UChicago Law, Union County College and Excelsior College (nursing), Jeffrey has helped Human Rights First since 1983. Alone – and when on the Brooklyn and Seton Hall law faculties, with his students – he has defended hundreds of refugees against deportation. He has counseled people from more than 100 countries, visited them in their homes and in jails, shared their troubles and triumphs. Jeffrey and his family housed and fed refugees released from “detention.” He knows what “everyone” says about immigration and human rights. A country boy who moved to the city, he recognizes that he doesn’t have all the answers.
Our vehicle, a 1998 BikeE AT with Zzip Designs fairing and a boat seat, hung with lights, a tractor triangle and the Stars & Stripes, will give me a safe and comfortable ride. Here it is by the Little Red Lighthouse, under the George Washington Bridge.
And there’s a role for you!
HUMAN RIGHTS FIRST
Some just talk. Human Rights First talks – and acts. It fights for human rights in the U.S. and abroad. Meanwhile, Human Rights First trains and supports thousands of volunteer asylum lawyers who work to make our flawed American system yield humane results.
Yet Human Rights First does not lose sight of the real threat of terror to the world’s (imperfect) democracies, including our own. It recognizes that terror’s biggest threat may be to our freedoms and the rule of law. We need Human Rights First to remind us that when “homeland security” trumps our Constitution, terror has won.
Jeffrey and I support Human Rights First. You can too. Here’s how:
Come join the adventure! If you can’t bike with us, please pledge even a few cents per mile to support Human Rights First.