Sunday, July 10, 2016

An Example of Moral Courage: Kimberly Rivera

Kimberly Rivera with the late Canadian leader, Jack Layton, 
who fully supported her desire to remain as a refugee in Canada

Kimberly, a U.S. Army reservist, and a mother of two, was assigned to a field artillery unit in August 2006 which was deployed to Baghdad, Iraq that same year. While in Iraq, Kimberly realized the truth about the war. She says she woke up to the reality of the war "in the lives of the civilians who don't get to escape the trauma, or the pain and the loss of people they love. I was seeing the truth and it wasn't pretty." 

People, she said, were "losing their lives for the greed of a nation, and still some people can't see the lies behind the media." 

Kimberly decided to seek a better future for her children. In her own words, "The most important thing was for us to live as a happy, safe family with both parents in the picture."

While on a two-week leave, in January 2007, she and her family left their home in Mesquite, Texas and drove to Canada. They crossed the Rainbow Bridge at Niagara Falls into Canada on February 18, 2007. Kimberly became the first woman war resister to ever seek refuge in Canada. Her original claim for refugee status in Canada was denied by the Immigration and Refugee Board in 2007, but she remained here while her claim was appealed.

She applied for refuge on Humanitarian & Compassionate grounds, but she was denied status as a refugee and ordered to leave the country by January 27th, 2009 or be forcibly removed. On that very day, in an 11th hour reprieve, Kimberly was granted a temporary stay of removal by the Federal Court of Canada. 

In August, 2009, she won another victory against the government when the Federal Court granted her a new Pre-Removal Risk Assessment (PRRA) because of improprieties in her first review, probably (I believe) the result of the Immigration Minister Jason Kenney's sustained attacks on U.S. war deserters seeking refuge in Canada. 

During the five years Kimberly lived as a refugee in Canada, her third and fourth children were born. It wasn't easy for her to remain here in Canada, and she fought hard against the Harper government's attempts to deport her. She received a lot of support from Canadians who stood with her in her struggle. 

Sometimes courage means simply refusing to take the path of least resistance. Sometimes it means making a difficult decision to be in control of one's own destiny; rather than to simply accept one's fate, as a "victim of circumstances." That's always a decision with long-term consequences, and it is the hardest one for most people to make; to choose a path of uncertainty because of what they believe is right. It's far easier to simply let events take their course; and accept a passive role in them. 

After five years as a refugee in Canada, on August 2012, Kimberly received a second deportation order, this one ordering her to return to the United States by September 20, 2012. On that day, she presented herself at the U.S. border. She was immediately arrested and transferred to military custody. At a sentencing hearing held on April 29, 2013 at Fort Carson, Colorado, she pleaded guilty and was sentenced to ten months' imprisonment and given a bad-conduct discharge. She was imprisoned at Fort Carson. 

On November 26, 2013, Kimberly Rivera gave birth to her 5th child, Matthew Kaden, in a military hospital in San Diego. Kimberly was taken back into custody when her hospital stay ended, her request for clemency (45 days early release in order to care for her newborne), was rejected by the US Army, which chose to separate this mother from her newborn child, her husband, and her four other children. 

Ironically, after denying her that early release in order to bond with her newborn, Kimberly was freed due to good behavior and extra work duties 18 days after giving birth. What were those extra work duties? She crocheted blankets for wounded veterans. 

I find the actions of the military officers who made this decision to force Kimberly Rivera back to prison after having her baby very disturbing because I personally, even trying to understand their actions, and their reasons for what they did, cannot conceive of any circumstance in which I’d do the same. I simply cannot imagine acting as callously as they have for any reason at all. Not for money, power, or patriotism. Nothing. 

Kimberly and Mario and their five children are now living with Mario's mother in Texas. Mario is unable to work due to chronic health problems. His mother is disabled and dependent on her own brothers for support, so that residence is temporary for them. They are close to being homeless. 

And I have this personal note to add to Kimberly's story: it is far harder to struggle against the system in a new country, and a new culture, without the support of family and friends. 

Kimberly Rivera is my hero because she put her family above her allegiance to a military she saw running amok in Iraq. She chose a path of uncertainty. She made the choice any responsible mother would've made. 

"This might be merely delaying the inevitable," Kimberly said, "but at least no one chose the path for me. Regardless of the outcome, I chose the path.

On 15 February 2012, my wife, my daughter and I became Citizens of Canada, something we are very proud of. This is our permanent home, and that completely by choice. I fully support anyone, anywhere, who through no other reason than personal conviction, makes that same bold and sacrificial choice. Kimberly Rivera is such a person. 

We have continued to work for and support all the other war resisters who have chosen to remain here in Canada. They remind us of what Canada once stood for, and can stand for again. They are an example to us of what we can be, if we can be equally courageous. That is the role of heroes. Not blind unquestioning allegiance to leaders and institutions. Live your life courageously.

"I'm so happy. Like the other war resisters, I just want to stay in Canada. Our families shouldn't be broken up, with a mother or father thrown in jail because they stood up for what's right." 

– Kimberly Rivera

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