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A Discussion with J.D. Klippenstein, New Leader of ACTIONN

By Ty O'Neil
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J.D. Klippenstein

J.D. Klippenstein speaks at a recent event. Photo: Ty O’Neil

Acting in Community Together in Organizing Northern Nevada (ACTIONN), a Reno multi-faith nonprofit, has welcomed J.D. Klippenstein as new executive director. I recently spoke with him about his new role, the efforts ACTIONN is taking with an immigrant’s sanctuary status, and his ideas for the future of ACTIONN.

Klippenstein takes over as executive director of ACTIONN for Mike Thornton, who has taken an opportunity in northern California. Thornton and others suggested Klippenstein for the role, as he has been an active contributor with ACTIONN. He also holds a Master of Arts in Social Justice and Community Development from Loyola University in Chicago and worked as a community organizer for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

A Reno native, Klippenstein noted that he and his family have no plans of leaving the area. For the time being he is officially the interim executive director, and in a few months there will be a review. However, with the sponsorship of his predecessor and his enthusiasm for the job it is fairly certain it will become a permanent position for him.

One of Klippenstein’s goals is to bring the community together more in face-to-face ways rather than relying solely on social media activism. Part of this effort is a prayer potluck planned for June 28 as part of ACTIONN’s efforts to help David Chavez-Macias, a local immigrant living in sanctuary at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Northern Nevada. The aim is to have people meet Mr. Chavez-Macias and each other to build a network of active community members.

He also spoke about changing people’s perspectives on immigration and other matters, asking them to look at topics of debate first through the lens of their religion or other moral guidance, rather than solely through a political ideology. Speaking on immigration, he noted that ACTIONN is not advocating for open borders; ACTIONN’s position is that countries have the right to borders and to protect themselves. That being said, he lamented the deep level at which US immigration policy was broken.

David Chavez-Macias in his room at Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Northern Nevada.

David Chavez-Macias in his room at Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Northern Nevada. Image: Ty O’Neil

This brought us to the topic of Chavez-Macias, who has now been in sanctuary to avoid deportation for nearly three months and is a living example of the broken immigration system. Klippenstein explained that Chavez-Macias has a worker permit card valid until August, which was issued to him while he was also facing deportation. This, seemingly reasonably, led Chavez-Macias to believe he was following the proper steps to remain in the country.

Chavez-Macias suffers from Marfan syndrome, and if deported to Mexico his main health care practitioner has said that it would likely become fatal due to lack of access to the appropriate care.

Official paperwork asking for a stay of deportation for Chavez-Macias will be filled in the near future, and Klippenstein praised a local attorney who has offered their legal services pro-bono.

I asked Klippenstein if US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had made any efforts to either remove Chavez-Macias or simply leave him alone. He said the current perception is that ICE is willing to wait it out, likely fearing the public relations nightmare of raiding a place of worship and simply being able to outlast most people who take sanctuary.

It is only through the financial support and efforts of Chavez-Macias’s adult children that he has been able to stay in sanctuary.

Klippenstein’s perspective on the Reno community’s reaction to Chavez-Macias’ situation is that most people agree that the immigration system is greatly flawed and also that Chavez-Macias was not an example of someone that needed to be deported. Some, though, do oppose his sanctuary.

This led to a discussion of following the rules, regardless of their effect on people. Despite the efforts of both presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama during their tenures, immigration laws have not been changed in over 50 years.

“Think about how the world has changed in the past 50 years,” Klippenstien said. “Jesus wasn’t crucified by the Romans for feeding the hungry.”

His sentiment is that people have a moral obligation to break unjust and immoral laws. How this translates to Chavez-Macias’ situation is that, yes, if you strictly follow the rules he would legally be deported. This legality however is not morality. Taking a man away from his home of 30 years and away from his family, and sending him to a place where he is likely to die may be legal, but Klippenstein asserts it is so immoral that people must take action even if the rules are broken.

He also praised the willingness of the UUFNN to take in David Chavez-Macias, as sanctuary relies on social pressure and does not have legal protections.

If you would like to learn more, Klippenstien suggested attending the prayer potluck on June 28. Get details at https://actionn.org/

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