Looking ahead…

April 27, 2010, 6:24 pm | Posted by

The anti-immigrant bill signed by Arizona governor Jan Brewer is spurring faith leaders and grassroots advocates to action nationwide. In communities across the country this weekend – from New York to Kansas to California – thousands of people of faith will attend marches and vigils calling for immediate action in Arizona and Washington. Among these events is a march in Dallas that’s expected to draw up to 100,000 supporters of immigration reform promoting the theme “We Are All Arizona.”

That’s not just a slogan. Similar legislation is being drafted in Utah, and opportunistic politicians elsewhere could follow suit. But the nationwide faith-based movement for practical, moral immigration reform is as energized as ever, and Congress will have no choice but to address their concerns.

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“If you are Hispanic in Arizona, you just became a suspect and open to police harassment.”

April 23, 2010, 5:15 pm | Posted by

Moments ago Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed Senate bill 1070, the most virulently anti-immigration law in the country. It tasks the state’s local law enforcement with checking the citizenship status of anyone suspected of being an illegal immigrant (while doing nothing to ensure that Hispanic descent is not grounds for suspicion), criminalizes assisting undocumented immigrants in such basic ways as giving them rides, and authorizes private citizens to file lawsuits against law enforcement agencies for not enforcing the bill with sufficient vigor. This law will lead to racial profiling, outlaw many forms of ministry to undocumented immigrants, and create a climate of division, suspicion and fear in communities across the state.

Diverse faith leaders in Arizona and across the country have condemned the law in no uncertain terms. Their statements are after the jump.

Rev. Jan Flaaten, Executive Director, Arizona Ecumenical Council

“All the religious leaders of Arizona know and understand that this law will not solve the issue of crime along the border or in our state, but it will demonize anyone who looks suspiciously like an undocumented person leading to inevitable racial profiling. Our religious traditions ask us to treat people with dignity and respect, and we look for a more enlightened and hopeful way of working with the undocumented people who live along side us.”

Bishop Minerva Carcaño, United Methodist Church, Desert Southwest Conference

“This bill does nothing to address any border security concerns. At our borders and in our congregations, schools, workplaces and service programs, we witness the human consequences of an inadequate, outdated system. The passage of SB1070 demonstrates why America needs Comprehensive Immigration Reform: frustration with our broken immigration system is driving Arizona to make inappropriate and self-defeating efforts in this area. We want our broken immigration system to be healed through a just transformation of the law at the appropriate federal level of jurisdiction, which makes it possible to meet the labor needs of American business while making our border secure.”

Peg Chemberlin, President, National Council of Churches

“Our current immigration system serves no one well: not those of us worried about our jobs and the future of our children, nor the businesses that need labor that complements our own skills, nor those who want a better life for themselves and for their children. But this Arizona law changes none of that, instead it heightens tensions, crosses constitutional boundaries, and will be intolerably costly. Comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level has never been more needed.”

Rev. Jim Wallis, President and CEO, Sojourners

“The law signed today by Arizona Gov. Brewer is a social and racial sin, and should be denounced as such by people of faith and conscience across the nation. It is not just about Arizona, but about all of us, and about what kind of country we want to be. It is not only mean-spirited – it will be ineffective and will only serve to further divide communities in Arizona, making everyone more fearful and less safe. This radical new measure, which crosses many moral and legal lines, is a clear demonstration of the fundamental mistake of separating enforcement from comprehensive immigration reform. Enforcement without reform of the system is merely cruel. Enforcement without compassion is immoral. Enforcement that breaks up families is unacceptable. This law will make it illegal to love your neighbor in Arizona, and will force us to disobey Jesus and his gospel. We will not comply.”

Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, President, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference

“Today, Arizona stands as the state with the most xenophobic and nativist laws in the country. We need a multi-ethnic firewall against the extremists in our nation who desire to separate us rather than bring us together. Shame on you Arizona Republicans and shame on you Senator John McCain for endorsing the legislation.

We call upon RNC Chairman Michael Steele to condemn this new law or Hispanic Americans will read the silence as a de facto endorsement and a preview of what will come if the GOP takes over Congress in 2010. Second, we call upon Attorney General Eric Holder to review this legislation since it’s clearly a violation of constitutionally protected civil rights. If you are Hispanic in Arizona, you just became a suspect and open to police harassment. We call upon all Latinos and immigrants who are citizens in Arizona to defend their constitutionally protected rights.”

Noel Castellanos, CEO, Christian Community Development Association

“The perfect storm of harsh economic need and poor immigration policy have worked together to create our current situation that threatens to not only devastate families who already live in fear of being deported, but the moral authority of our great nation.

From our founding, the United States has been a land of opportunity comprised of immigrants from every corner of the earth. While the transition from immigrant to resident to citizen has never come without trial and hardship, we have consistently welcomed the immigrant, knowing that their eventual integration into the fabric of our country would make our entire nation stronger, more vibrant, and a place of hope for the entire world.

I fear that all we aspire to be as a nation is in jeopardy with the today’s passing of SB1070 by Governor Brewer in Arizona. On behalf of millions of Christians throughout our nation, we lament the passing of this legislation and will do all we can to stand on the side of families effected by this divisive new law.”

Jesuit Refugee Service and the Kino Border Initiative, Nogales, AZ

“At the Kino Border Initiative’s Center for Deported Migrants in Nogales, Sonora, we are seeing increasing numbers of repatriated migrants each day. Hundreds of people come to us with blistered feet and with broken spirits. Drug violence and abuses against migrants also plague the border region of Ambos Nogales, and discourage us deeply as we respond to the great needs of deportees. Finally, to add insult to injury, the Arizona state government has passed a law that empowers local police officers to verify a person’s immigration status if they simply suspect he or she is undocumented.

We feel very strongly that this legislation encourages racial profiling and will make our communities less safe, by making people reluctant to report criminal activity to local police. We continue to support efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level, which would include a path to legalization for undocumented people, as well as reform of the visa system. Such policy changes would facilitate family reunification and provide employment opportunities where labor needs exist. These steps will obviate the misguided efforts of Arizona and other states to enforce immigration law, which should continue to fall under the purview of the federal government.”

New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good

“Throughout the Bible, God commands us in no uncertain terms to show kindness and hospitality to the foreigner and the stranger. The deplorable anti-immigrant legislation signed by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer flouts these commandments by mandating racial profiling, criminalizing ministry to undocumented immigrants, separating immigrant families, and exacerbating a climate of fear and suspicion that pits neighbor against neighbor. We join with Evangelicals and people of conscience everywhere in denouncing this wholly unbiblical and immoral law.”

Gideon Aronoff, President and CEO, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society

“The Jewish community has long called on our national leaders to reform our immigration laws to ‘welcome the stranger’ and to create an effective federal immigration system characterized by the rule of law and the humane treatment of newcomers. In the meantime, Arizonans are now living in a world where police may impound vehicles transporting anyone found to be an undocumented immigrant, which means that Arizonans who don’t check the papers of the kids they drive to Sunday school may now be engaging in illegal activity. Arizona has taken itself out of the mainstream of American life and has betrayed the proud history of a nation built by immigrants.”

John L. McCullough, Executive Director and CEO, Church World Service

“We are deeply concerned about the enactment of SB 1070 as it goes beyond anti-immigrant sentiments and supports racial profiling. This legislation feels reactionary and hateful. It is a clear representation of the politics of division and exclusion. Gov. Brewer has ignored the advice of the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police and the Mesa Fraternal of Police to veto the bill. By this action, she has actively institutionalized racial profiling and will make Arizona less safe.

As a 63-year-old faith-based humanitarian organization working with 34 refugee resettlement affiliates across the United States, Church World Service understands first-hand the impact this legislation will have on communities. We do take heart that President Obama has strongly condemned this legislation, and urge his administration to do everything in its power to prevent its implementation and the consequences it will have for human rights.

This legislation is an urgent reminder of the necessity of enacting comprehensive immigration reform. Federal legislation fixing our broken immigration system is the way to heal our communities, reunite families, and create an effective and humane immigration system. We thus urge all members of Congress and President Obama to enact comprehensive immigration reform into law, and to rise above the politics of division and to embrace real solutions.

Rev. Jerry Dykstra, Executive Director, Christian Reformed Church

“I am deeply concerned with the direction this legislation has taken Arizona — and for the way it will affect immigrants, impede the church’s ability to do ministry, and unjustly target Latinos. Increased enforcement of our borders makes sense only within a comprehensive reform to our broken immigration system.”

Rev. Peter Morales, President of the Unitarian Universalist Association

“Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070 undermines everything our nation stands for. Under the provisions of this law, members of my own extended family could be targeted and detained, even though we have been American citizens for generations. Thousands of peaceful, law-abiding residents will be subject to the most invasive and discriminatory abuses of state power.

Everything I hold sacred as an American and as a person of faith is repulsed by this legislation. We cannot stand by while those charged to protect us instead subject us to racial profiling, unwarranted searches, and unjust arrests. We must not let fear and ignorance cause our neighbors to be treated as lesser beings. We must not allow Senate Bill 1070 to violate our national constitution or America’s moral conscience.”

Mennonite Church, USA

“As Christians, we believe we are called to welcome these sojourners in our congregations and communities, especially as our government creates increasingly harsh immigration laws in the name of fighting terrorism. Assumptions about identity make some people more vulnerable to political biases and discrimination than others. Our concerns about the status of immigrants in this country relate to how people are treated based on race, nationality, ethnicity, and religious identity. We reject our country’s mistreatment of immigrants, repent of our silence, and commit ourselves to act with and on behalf of our immigrant brothers and sisters, regardless of their legal status.”

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“A moral imperative” to pass immigration reform

April 21, 2010, 6:32 pm | Posted by

All year clergy and faith groups nationwide have been stepping up their advocacy for just, humane immigration reform in a variety of ways: organizing more than 100 events nationwide such as prayer vigils and public demonstrations, meeting with White House officials and key Members of Congress, and taking part in the March For America on March 21, which brought 200,000 people to the Nation Mall in DC.

Now it looks like their efforts have spurred Congress to action. Roll Call reported this afternoon that “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) agreed during a Tuesday afternoon meeting that a ‘moral imperative’ exists to move immigration reform in 2010 [ emphasis added].” There will be no shortage of commentary on the political motivation for taking up the issue right now, but it’s noteworthy that the moral argument – which the faith community has made with consistency and passion across the country – resonated on Capitol Hill. There’s plenty of work left to be done to reform our broken immigration system (for example, defeating the brutal and discriminatory immigration enforcement bill passed by Arizona’s state legislature this week), but it’s worth pausing for a moment to recognize that the faith community has already made a difference.

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A sin, plain and simple

March 31, 2010, 6:17 pm | Posted by

A story in yesterday’s New York Times exposed a chilling cruelty our immigration system inflicts upon undocumented immigrants:

For lawyers offering free legal information at large immigration detention centers in remote parts of Texas, the task is difficult enough: coaching hundreds of detainees on how to represent themselves at assembly-line deportation hearings. But the lawyers soon discover a more daunting problem: many detainees are too mentally ill or mentally disabled to understand anything.

The detainees, mostly apprehended in New York and other Northeastern cities, some right from mental hospitals, have often been moved to Texas without medication or medical records, far from relatives and mental health workers who know their histories. Their mental incompetence is routinely ignored by immigration judges and deportation officers, who are under pressure to handle rising caseloads and meet government quotas.

For people who have never dealt with mental illness, it’s probably hard to fathom just how wrong this is. Denying severely mentally ill people their medication breaks their tenuous grasp on stability and sanity and plunges them into worlds of unrelenting horror. Shipping these patients to jails halfway across the continent from their doctors and families takes them away from their only links to safety. Kicking them out of the country to fend for themselves puts their lives at serious risk. This is punishment at its cruelest and most unusual.

When I think of the least, the last and the lost, the first people who come to mind are the severely mentally ill. Taking away their lifelines and kicking them out of the country is a sin, plain and simple. Comprehensive immigration might take a while, but we can stop these deportations now.

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Inspiration and heartbreak — A view from the ground at the March For America

March 23, 2010, 1:46 pm | Posted by

The March For America was an inspiring experience. Although FPL and many partners had been preparing for the event for months, the sheer magnitude of it didn’t hit home until I actually stood among the hundreds of thousands of people watching powerful speakers call on Congress and the White House to keep their promises on immigration reform.

But the essence of what we were rallying for didn’t become clear until midway through the afternoon, when a volunteer carried a wailing five-year-old boy into the press area. Amid this massive crowd, he had lost his parents. He was terrified, inconsolable, sobbing uncontrollably. The young volunteer swayed gently as she held him. We all watched closely, thinking about how we could help. I gave him an apple cinnamon cereal bar. Another volunteer went to the main stage and asked a speaker to make an announcement. Armed SWAT officers spoke into their radios, no doubt alerting others to look for the boy’s family.

Then It hit me all of a sudden- the terror, the separation – this is what our immigration system inflicts on immigrant families every day. Except in communities across the country, when little children are separated from their parents, no announcements are made. No army of volunteers fans out to find them. The men with guns come to pull the family apart, instead of bringing them back together.

I wish every intransigent politician could see that five-year-old boy’s face. If they understood the suffering that inaction on immigration enables, they would take it up immediately. Practical solutions are on the table, and the moral imperative is clear.

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