Words Matter

Like so many of you, we were devastated to learn of the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas. It felt as if the “war on immigrants” was leaving the territory of hyperbole and moving into actual reality.

We are currently in the planning process of opening a new JFON site in El Paso. While we know our friends there have been greatly traumatized by this horrific event, we also know that they are—as we all are—more determined than ever to carry on with our mission and our ministry.

We provide life-changing immigration legal aid to our most vulnerable immigrant, refugee, and asylum-seeking neighbors, without regard to race, religion, ethnicity, ideology, gender identity, or sexual orientation.

This is what we do.  This is what we will continue to do. You have our word on it.


Words are everywhere in our nation’s capital. Words that line the walls of public buildings, museums, and a colossal library; words that are inscribed on monuments to our country’s founders and venerated leaders; words that are in documents so essential to the national identity that we built a mighty edifice and created a shrine to protect them for all posterity.

These are words that come to us in snatches of memory of lessons learned long ago; words we turn to when we falter and need guidance; words that have inspired and continue to inspire millions of people in every corner of the world.

There are other words, too. Words full of sound and fury, words we hope to never see inscribed in marble.

There are people who tell you that these words don’t matter.

It’s just politics. It’s just a campaign. Oh, but he doesn’t really mean that.

No. Words—good or bad—have power. They have meaning.

Whether they are thoughtlessly cruel, deliberately provocative, or dog whistles to let loose the hounds of bigotry, these are words that matter.

On Saturday, August 3, a young white nationalist drove nearly ten hours to El Paso, Texas. Spurred by words of hatred and armed with a military-style assault rifle, he walked into a Walmart and started shooting.

He wanted to kill Hispanic people—parents, grandparents, teenagers, children. He blamed them for the “invasion” of the United States.

The toll from this terrible massacre now stands at 22 fatalities, with over two dozen injured.

Words matter.

Our words matter, too.

Let us resolve to reject the easy, the petty, and the base impulses that reside within each of us.  Let us instead turn, with those mystic chords of memory that Abraham Lincoln evoked during another bitterly tumultuous era, to the better angels of our nature.

Let us also pledge to ensure that our immigrant neighbors know that they are welcome, that they belong, and that we will remain by their side in the struggle against racism, intolerance, and injustice.

And when we do speak out against these evils, let it not be in anger, but with anxiety and sorrow in our hearts, and above all, in the words of Martin Luther King Jr., inscribed on his memorial in Washington, D.C., “with a passionate desire to see our beloved country stand as a moral example of the world.”

Rob Rutland-Brown
Executive Director,
National Justice for Our Neighbors


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