What We Accomplished in Phoenix

By Susan Leslie, Congregational Advocacy & Witness Director

Monday, July 26th: After arriving in Phoenix and meeting up with the UU Congregation of Phoenix (UUCP) Immigration Task Force, Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, the congregation’s minister, invited me to accompany her to Puente’s Monday Assembly meeting.  The open air meeting in front of the bright blue Tonatierra building where Puente is housed had over 100 people seated on folding chairs out in the parking lot surrounded by pink sky and palm trees.  Sal Reza, with his signature grey ponytail was talking to the majority Latino crowd about the political situation heading into the upcoming Day of Non-Compliance on Thursday, July 29th, when the legislation was scheduled to go into affect.  Whatever the ruling, and he said they expected it to be mixed and to not completely overturn SB1070, the day would go forward in order to protest the criminalization and repression of the immigrant community.  There was simultaneous translation provided for us English speakers in one section of the crowd near where a documentary film crew was taping.


Some Background on UUA Immigration Campaign & Relationship with Puente and NDLON

By Susan Leslie, UUA Congregational Advocacy & Witness Director

UUA Immigration Reform Campaign and Our Partners

The UUA’s current immigration reform campaign really took off in 2007, in response to the immigrant rights upsurge in 2006, when we signed on as the first denomination to join the New Sanctuary Movement (NSM).  The New Sanctuary Movement was initiated by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) and then taken up by Interfaith Worker Justice (whose board I serve on for the UUA) and others. The UU Church of Long Beach CA was the first congregation to join the New Sanctuary Movement and did so before the UUA.  The UU Church of Phoenix Social Action Committee signed the NSM pledge a year later after Puente participated in their May 3, 2008 worship service and led a workshop.  UUCP’s partnership with Puente has since grown and flourished.

Today the United Church of Christ, the United Methodists, the Disciples, and hundreds of congregations from several denominations are working with NSM and a joint effort is underway with NDLON and others to organize a White House Summit on immigration to advocate for an executive order suspending state and local enforcement of federal immigration law, a moratorium on ICE (Immigrant Custom Enforcement) raids that separate families and deport students, and immigration reform.

In addition to working with other on-the-ground partners, including Immigration Equality, the UUA has been represented by our Washington Office in the Interfaith Immigration Coalition, advocating for the DREAM Act, the Child Citizen Protection Act, and immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship, family unification, and humane enforcement at the border.  On June 10th UUA staff attended a Congressional hearing on the impact of SB1070 on women and children that was organized by NDLON, Puente, and the Domestic Workers Alliance.

Congregational Engagement & Standing on the Side of Love

In the past four years we have seen the number of UU congregations engaged with this issue increase steadily.  Advocacy & Witness has a database of over 200 UU congregations engaged in education, advocacy, and organizing. (We haven’t documented all those providing ESL classes and others services yet.)  Additionally, there are 130 UU congregations in congregation-based community organizations.  Almost all of these organizations include immigrant communities and their national networks–PICO, IAF, Gamaliel, IVP–are focusing on immigration reform.

The Standing on the Side of Love Campaign has had as a major focus standing on the side of love with immigrant families.  UU ministers and leaders have sent in blogs and news coverage of their efforts, and 5,000 cards calling for immigration reform were delivered to Congress in April.  UUs have helped Haitian refugees apply for Temporary Protected Status, worked to free Jean Montrevil–a Haitian leader who was almost deported, welcomed the Trail of Dreams walkers, and came in the hundreds to the Capitol on March 21st with thousands of immigrants marching for justice.  The UU Church of Tucson is this year’s UUA Social Justice Award winner for their No More Deaths border ministry and advocacy with the Arizona Advocacy Network.  Last year’s recipient was the UU Church of Phoenix for their work with Puente and NDLON to stop Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

UUA Public Witness for Immigration Reform & the Morales Administration

UUA President Rev. Peter Morales has made immigration reform a top UUA public witness priority.  He and Moderator Gini Courter arranged for the Board of Trustees to meet with undocumented immigrants, community organizers, and the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF) at their January 2010 meeting in San Antonio.  President Morales visited several Senate Offices on Capitol Hill this spring to advocate for Rep. Luis Gutierrez’s CIR ASAP legislation.  He has reached out to Latino evangelicals to join forces.

When SB1070 was passed and the Boycott Arizona movement began, the UUA Board drafted a resolution recommending that the General Assembly scheduled for Phoenix in 2012 be relocated.  DRUUMM, LUUNA, and ARE supported their recommendation  Moderator Gini Courter put out a call, along with Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, Minister, UU Church of Phoenix, for UUs to join the May 29th march in Phoenix organized by Alto Arizona (two of the main organizers of Alto Arizona are Puente and NDLON).  Rev. Morales, Moderator Courter, fifty UU clergy, and 500 UUs were there.  Lots of conversations were carried on along the march, in the speakers’ staging area, and with UUCP and their partners.

How the idea of transforming GA to witness in Phoenix 2012 came about:

Following the march, Puente and NDLON, part of Somos America–the coalition leading this new civil rights movement in Arizona and nationally– asked the UUA and Standing on the Side of Love to endorse and organize for the July 29th Day of Non-Compliance in Arizona and Human Rights Summer.  We have and are!  They asked us to support the Boycott Arizona Movement and we do.   (See Boycott Arizona for actions and targets.)  They asked us to call on President Obama to issue an executive order and we have. And they asked us to come to Phoenix in 2012 and transform our General Assembly into a convergence for human rights so that we are part of supporting the movement, not breaking the boycott, and coming in to work with them for justice.  They envision an interfaith service on the capitol steps, UU lawyers and paralegals at legal clinics, UU teams registering voters, visits to the barrios, tours to the border, Arizona clergy delegations to representatives, education and worship on immigrant rights, civil disobedience, and more.  They see transforming GA as a great opportunity to involve more UUs and other people of faith in organizing for immigrant rights and justice.