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| 5 min read | by Lonnie Huhman, lhuhman@thesuntimesnews.com |

It’s a familiar sight in downtown Dexter every Christmas season to see the Nativity Scene in Monument Park.

Set up next to the gazebo, there’s the baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the animals and wise men in a stable setting. This scene can be found in many places around Christmas time, and it’s a way to demonstrate one’s faith and what this time of year truly means for some.

However, just days before Christmas on Dec. 22, the scene in Dexter had another scene set up near it and this one had different verses from the Bible as part of an art display.

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This may have had some people driving or walking by and wondering what it was all about. The display will again be up Saturday, Dec. 28.

The art piece was put on by the Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights and it displayed paintings along the sidewalk in the park leading to the Nativity scene. In front of the Nativity they set up a sign asking: “Would you separate this family and put this child in a cage?”  

“We hoped this would catch the eye of the public and encourage people to stop and read the scriptures, and talk with us about the issue,” said Laura Sanders, co-founder of the Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights.

Laura Sanders, co-founder of the Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights, standing near one of the art panels on display in Monument Park in Dexter on Dec. 22.

She said their mission with this, “action was to raise community awareness about immigrant families in our local community, immigration issues and policies, and to share information about our organization, which is an all-volunteer organization that invites concerned folks to get involved in assisting the immigrant community as they face increasing, inhumane immigration enforcement in our area.”

Sanders said the display was just up for three hours in the public park that day, but they will do it again on Dec. 28 to give people a chance to come and see it and maybe have a discussion about it.

She said they support faithful and political action through community art.

“As the Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights, we are interested in questions of faith and politics in relation to the humane treatment and rights of immigrants in the United States and locally,” Sanders said. 

She’s a resident of Dexter Township and said every year she notices the nativity scene that is placed in the park and sponsored by the local Firefighters Association. 

“As residents of the community and co-founders of WICIR, my spouse, Ramiro Martinez and I support inclusive demonstrations of faith in our midst including the nativity, however, we believe there is a more detailed conversation to be had about the holy family and what the Christian bible actually teaches us about the treatment of immigrants, foreigners, strangers, people fleeing persecution and danger, and other marginalized people,” she said. “Given the current hostile social-political climate in relation to immigrants and immigration enforcement policy, we at WICIR, feel it is important to expand on the conversation through an artistic exhibit displaying Bible verses that actually address specifically the treatment of immigrants.”

So are they against the Nativity? 

“No, we are not against the Nativity, however we would welcome a diversity of faith represented in the park as there are numerous and diverse religious, winter holidays among people of faith – Christmas, Hanukkah, Solstice, Kwanzaa, Diwali – to name just a few,” Sanders said. “We invite people of all faiths into our community and organization. We also believe that if we are going to highlight and celebrate the Nativity which symbolizes the birth of the Jesus Christ, we ought to also be informed about what he teaches us about the treatment of ‘others’.”

The WICIR is an all-volunteer organization of socially-conscious people, many of faith, who has come together in concern for the maltreatment of our immigrant community members, Sanders said. 

She said their membership represents people from diverse faith communities, peace and justice organizations, students, academic groups, business people, concerned Washtenaw and surrounding county residents, immigrants and native-born folks. It has entertained hundreds of supporters and volunteers over the past 11 years.  

Its mission “is to provide a culturally sensitive and supportive urgent response to undocumented people and their families, to educate the targeted and allied communities, to impact local governmental policies, to empower and protect immigrant community members, and to work toward humane national immigration reform that provides a pathway to citizenship for all undocumented workers and people.”

Sanders, who is an artist, said the inspiration for the piece came to her on Dec. 19 and then it took her two more days to paint 11 of her favorite Bible verses on the topic of the treatment of immigrants on very large pieces of plywood, using colorful acrylic paints. 

“As the artist and an activist, I was personally inspired by an action by the Claremont United Methodist Church in Los Angeles that addresses different social justice theme with their Nativity display every year,” she said. “This year they displayed the baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph separated in cages with barbed-wire on the top, to make a provocative statement about how we are treating immigrants at the border.” 

She said, “Since the Nativity scene was already provided by the Firefighter’s Association, I thought we could just add to the conversation of what the Christian Bible actually teaches about the treatment of immigrants and other people who may be “strangers” in some way. It turned out to be an incredible experience to paint and publicize these important words.”

Overall, she said the action was successful, “in that numerous curious people, including families with children stopped to witness the colorful and prophetic verses and talk about the issues.”

“We only wish we could have had more time to organize and advertise the event, but there are still many opportunities to put the artwork on display for the community again,” she said.

In answering the question what she and the WICIR would like the community to know, Sanders said, “People often think that immigration policy only really affects undocumented immigrants crossing the southern U.S. border, but people are less informed about how many local families, who have been residing and working in, and contributing to our community for decades are being affected by increased immigration enforcement since 9/11, and worsening with the current political administration.” 

“Especially in Washtenaw County, we fall within 100 miles of the northern U.S. border, and the Department of Homeland Security has greatly increased their Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) presence, which has had a destructive effect on many of our immigrant neighbors,” Sanders said. 

She said since the inception of WICIR in March of 2008, they have answered well over 1,000 calls for help from immigrant families and their data reveals that hundreds of adult immigrants have been detained and/or deported in the past 11 years and, thousands of Washtenaw County children have lost parents and other providing family members. 

“WICIR is always interested in raising awareness as to our local condition,” she said. 

For those interested, the art display will again be on display starting at 1 p.m. and will be there to around 4 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 28, at the park in downtown Dexter, across from Aubree’s and near the Baker Road and Main Street/Ann Arbor Street intersection.

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