On Wednesday, July 19, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing to discuss a public policy that intersects two issues important to people of faith. Guest worker programs implicate both immigration and the dignity of labor. Programs already in existence add 1,400,000 legal guest workers to the U.S. labor force. Many believe that an expansion of these programs is not only ethical but necessary to just immigration reform.
For more on immigration and labor beyond this blog entry, check out Faith in Public Life’s Resource Pages on Immigration and Just Wages. Also available in our Media Speakers Bureau are relevant faith leaders able to comment on immigration and labor issues.
Rep. “Buck” McKeon (R-CA), Chair of the Committee, called the hearing one of many Republican-called hearings to openly reconcile differences between the House-passed immigration reform bill and its counterpart from the Senate, which McKeon identified as the “Reid-Kennedy Bill”. Rep. Robert Andrews (D-NJ) pointed out that the House bill lacked any mention of guest workers and the Senate bill — which he asserted would be better identified as the “Bush-McCain-Reid-Kennedy Bill” because of its bipartisan support — did contain an expansion of guest worker programs.
Since Republican leadership has ceded that a reform bill is unlikely to be passed before November, it is hard to believe that these hearings are an effort to constructively reconcile the two bills. They came off as more of a partisan side-show staged to divide the electorate on a wedge issue before midterm elections.
The hearing included testimony from Elizabeth Dickson on behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Luawanna Hallstrom of Harry Singh and Sons, one of America’s largest tomato producers. Both affirmed the necessity of immigrant workers in the American economy. Ms. Hallstrom stated that despite heavy recruitment to American-born workers, her company was unable to attract enough and has no choice but to hire guest workers. Labor shortages in several other sectors and industries are predicted.
Rep. George Miller (D-CA), the committee’s senior ranking Democrat, shared his own concerns about the effect of guest workers on the livelihood of middle and lower class Americans. Economics would predict that increasing the number of industrial and agricultural workers would lower the wage for American workers, many of whom are already receiving sub-poverty wages.
Miller’s apprehension is understandable considering the increasing gap between the rich and poor in America, but it was addressed by Rebecca Smith of the National Employment Law Project and Immigrant Worker Project. While in support of expanded guest worker programs, she contended that such expansions must be coupled with stronger enforcement of labor protections, which have ebbed over the past 30 years. More federal investigators and higher penalties to violators are needed to discourage the use of intimidation tactics to prevent unionization, incorrect classification of workers as independent contractors who receive less benefits, and other forms of exploitation. According to Ms. Smith, the dignity of guest workers will be best protected if the dignity of all workers are protected.
A minimum wage for American and foreign-born workers above $5.15 an hour wouldn’t hurt either.
The Book of Deuteronomy states, “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land’” (15:11) As Rep. McKeon pointed out during his own statement, people are hiding themselves in automobile gas tanks to come to America. They come out of desperation from their current bleak situation in hope of something better. If we focus solely on border enforcement and close our hands, these people will only continue to find new and far more dangerous means to come to America.
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The New Jersey Jewish News writes:
“Jews and Christians, Buddhists and Muslims, and at least one self-proclaimed pagan will gather to continue in person the kinds of conversations they wage on-line as authors of blogs, the Web diaries that range from the queasily personal to the politically influential.”
And the Times Union of Albany, New York points out that, “Because faith and politics have the capacity to both divide and connect the progressive faith blogging community, as evidenced by Obama’s editorial, organizers hope this conference will be a chance for bloggers of faith to unite and learn from collective perspectives.”
For me, two successes stand out from the first Progressive Faith Blog Conference: the four interfaith worship services and the conversations concerning the most productive ways to mix personal faith and prophetic politics.
Everyone present participated in a Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, and Christian worship service. Each service was hosted by a person of that faith. During the closing circle several people pointed out that while interfaith dialogue gets a lot of talk, the actual practice of sharing individual worship is rarely attempted. Throughout the weekend, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Baptists, Buddhists and a Pagan mediated, chanted, shared the Eucharist, and knelt for Islamic prayers. And judging by the blog posts, folks are still thinking and talking about the significant experience.
The panel leaders and the audience discussed emerging technology, the nature of our community, and the path to political engagement. With thirty-seven of the most prominent bloggers in the community, attendees worked to define the parameters of progressive religion and how best to work with the secular left. Defending the separation of church and state emerged as a point of common ground. In addition, several small committees were organized to set up a roving blog carnival, to plan a conference for next year, and design an aggregated feed that compiles, organizes, and sends out a bundle of progressive faith blog posts. Perhaps the conference will emerge as a central event as the progressive faith blogging community unites?
I am off to sign up at Street Prophets.
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The conference concluded on Sunday and the bloggers (aka, friendly people) reflect on the experience. The North New Jersey Jewish News pre-covered the event.
The Jewish, Buddhist, Islamic, and Christian interfaith services made a big impression on many attendees including Mata H. at Time’s Fool. Discussions continue over how best to communicate with our secular progressive friends and how to integrate spiritual practice into blogging. Here is Hoarded Ordanaries mediating on the experience.
Velveteen Rabbi provides thirteen categorized posts from her live-blogging of the event.
Both Talk to Action and Bruce Prescott posting on Christian Alliance for Progress push for action over the Indian River Incident, a case of religious discrimination that came up often during discussions over separation of church and state.
“The highpoint of Saturday was the roundtable with Bruce Prescott, Pastor Dan, and Arthur Waskow (sorry, Arthur, I almost called you “Rabbi” again). To them fell the task of trying to define “Progressive faith”. Arthur said that he doesn’t like the term and prefers prophetic – which I pointed out to him would, in the church of my youth, earn him a burning at the stake. He rightly pointed out that it is our job to reclaim that term and, when used it its proper context, is a much more powerful stance than “progressive”, which is, at its heart, a political term.”
Hussein Rashid at Islamicate posts his thanks here. And he shouts out to Andrew at Semitism.net who gives props right back. A little Islamic-Jewish dialogue of our own.
Also, read Hussein’s summary of the Blogging Faith and Politics panel.
For more blog con thoughts, and to get information from the Talking Tech panel, visit the conference blog here.
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To read and join in the live updates on the panel discussions go to the Progressive Faith Blog Con web site.
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Rachel Barenblat, Emily Tessone, Hussein Rashid are currently speaking about Roots and Branches, the Nature of Our Community.
Emily Tessone works at the Pluralism Project at Harvard College.
Are we one community, are we several communities?
No one in the room only reads blogs from their own faith tradition.
What is beneath our diversity?
Tim Simpson from Christian Alliance for Progress points out that it is easier for him to talk to progressive Muslims or Jews than traditionalist folks of his own Presbyterian faith.
Mik Moore jspot points out that blogging tends to attract folks who come to argue. He wonders what in blogging that can promote dialogue.
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