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 and tell ’em I sent ya. Watch the trailer here. Thanks.

4 thoughts on “Golden Vision documentary

  1. Byron,What a most excellent post. I so wish I were at that showing there in York. I’m grateful for the work that you and others are doing in this area. I never knew you had a history with this sort of thing. I have to admit, I’ve been ignorant in this arena, but hope to grow in education here. Thanks for opening my eyes to something I just haven’t thought much about.God’s peace,Michele

  2. Oh, Michele, you are such an encouragement, and I really mean it—you brighten my spirit and lighten our load nearly every time you open your mouth (or tap the keyboard.) Hope you are recovering well…Hey: I’d love to talk further about this—I have been known to do on for hours and hours, though. From uniting anti-racist coalitions with conservative anti-communists, quaint multi-cultural educators with hard political activists (think West Wing types)we worked full steam for years. These guys saw the most evil stuff—and when we’d finally would win a case, the prison would release them (wearing no coats and flip flops) in the middle of the night, in the snow. Pure evil. The INS and the local prison were part of the principalities and powers that we resist, and learning to do that (again, after years of similiar stuff in other arenas)was daunting.We had fun connecting with people, talking with Oprah’s team(long story) getting Campolo to hand deliever my notes to Clinton, working with China activitists (Hillary was promoting women’s rights, there, in a world-class speech while the women of the Golden Vision were being sexually exploited in a prison in New Orleans.) We had Nightline on it, ended up on the cover of Life, had oodles of stories in the Times, doing anything to publicize our plight. Trying to create a movement to save the lives of a hundred illegals created a back-lash, too, and to this day the York community is divided. Although our xenophobic rural community has rallied in remarkable ways, and I’m proud of how many folk cared and worked for justice for these detainees. (The prison took in millions—no exxageration!–to feed these guys and saved so much cash from those payments that they expanded the prison. We are now one of, if not the, largest detention centers for asylum seekers in the country. African’s these days have the most horrific stories, and we’ve met Muslims, followers of Buddah, persecuted Christians, Marxists, pro-democracy leaders, from all over, all persecuted and running for their lives.Sorry to post all over again…thanks for your interest. Pray for us. More later…THANKS.Byron

  3. Byron – Pretty amazing stuff. I’m so insulated here in my West Michigan bunker. Thanks again for the meeting last friday morning. It is an encouragement to me to see what you are doing with Hearts and Minds. Check out my blog when you have time. I will be in touch soon with more information from the big “Z”.

  4. Byron, thank you thank you thank you, Beth and your staff for all that you do. Like most of your friends, I remember talking with you about those events at the time, but I was free to ask and then go back to my life. (I remember quoting some articles you sent me in a graduate paper on Intercultural Relations, about human rights vs. “relativity.” My professors had not heard of the situation, at that time. Seems like a lifetime ago.)I wonder if the best thing we have to offer, interculturally, is hospitality to the sojourner, providing as much “home” as we can, listening to the sorrowful. But I haven’t gone out of my way to look for those in need. Thanks for your good work and dedication to justice. I am looking forward to reading the next post and links. From the trenches of social justice to Dan Brown in one fell swoop! What a good life, eh?

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