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Kat Liu

Interfaith Day of National Tar Sands Pipeline Protest Is the Biggest Day Yet


143 people were peacefully arrested, more than doubling previous days’ totals; Unitarian Universalists were the highest officially represented faith community of the protest

August 30th, 2011 – Washington, DC – People of faith from across the country converged in Washington, DC yesterday for the Interfaith Day of the two week long peaceful civil disobedience to stop the construction of the Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline. The purpose of the protest is to pressure the Obama Administration, which has the sole authority to decide the fate of the pipeline. 143 people were arrested yesterday bringing the total number arrested to date to 522. It was the largest number of people arrested in one day thus far, more than doubling previous totals.

Of those representing a denomination, Unitarian Universalists were present in the highest numbers. Fourteen Unitarian Universalists were arrested, including two clergy, while an additional eleven served as observers and support, and one chaplain was present for pastoral care. Unitarian Universalists were called to participate by the denomination’s largest environmental organization and the national headquarters. One of those arrested is the Unitarian Universalist Association’s (UUA’s) Witness Ministries Director, Rev. Craig Roshaven.

Unitarian Universalists have historically been committed to environmentalism and racial/economic justice. In recent years these commitments have converged in recognition of the racial and economic dimensions of environmental issues, including our reliance on fossil fuels and the consequences of global climate change. Both nationally and globally, while wealthier communities consume a greater proportion of fossil fuels, the effects of the resulting pollution are disproportionately felt by poorer communities, and these communities tend to be predominantly of color. In the case of the Tar Sands pipeline, the resulting increase in the production of tar sands oil and the construction of the pipeline will devastate Native American/First Nation lands even though these peoples will not benefit from the pipeline and have had no say in its construction. Because of this, Unitarian Universalists see the construction of the pipeline and the nation’s continued commitment to fossil fuels as unjust and immoral.

The Unitarian Universalist Association’s 2006 statement on “The Threat of Global Warming/Climate Change” remains one of the strongest on the moral dimensions of climate change made by a religious denomination.

For more information or to schedule an interview, please contact croshaven @ uua.org.

Lobbying for the Dream Act on Capitol Hill

Cross-posted from the Standing on the Side of Love blog:

Buoyed by the historic passage of DREAM in the House of Representatives on Wednesday evening, and mindful that the prospects for a Senate vote are much more uncertain, several members of the Interfaith Immigration Coalition (IIC), including yours truly representing the UUA, decided to visit some key senators yesterday morning, before what was scheduled to be the 11 am vote on DREAM.

The DREAM Act would provide a pathway for earned citizenship to millions of undocumented young adults who were brought to this country by their parents as children and have since grown up in this country. The U.S. is their country in every way except for legal status.

The senate offices that we visited were those on this target list.

I won’t bore you by describing every office visit. And the few juicy tidbits about who is leaning in what direction, I’m not at liberty to say publicly. But there are two really strong impressions that I would like to share with you.

One was the fact that in every office we visited the phones were ringing off the hooks. As we waited in the seating area of various offices to see if a staffer could/would come out to see us, we could hear that the majority of the calls were about the DREAM Act. The poor folks answering the phones looked like they had been going at this rate for days. I almost felt sorry for them, but at the same time I know that this is democracy in action.

The phone call to your elected official is many times more powerful than the vote you cast in the ballot box in terms of influencing what becomes our national laws.

In the few cases where the receptionist’s ear was not glued to the phone, we asked what direction the calls were going in. ‘50/50’ or ‘pretty even’ was the answer.

With things so tight, every phone call that we make to stand on the side of love counts.

The second impression I had was when we walked into Senator Lugar’s office. As you may or may not know, Sen. Lugar of Indiana was one of the original sponsors of the DREAM Act and had long been a proponent, but in these crazy partisan times, the Republican senator is now threatening to vote against his own bill.

A group of roughly a dozen young adults, many wearing colorful graduation mortar boards made out of construction paper, were gathered in a circle on the office floor, praying. They looked like they had been there for a while. They were so quiet and unobtrusive, and yet so persistent and impossible to ignore. I wish to God I had a camera then and could have shared the image with all of you. Their presence reminded me of why I am doing this work.

In truth, I was originally against the DREAM Act, having the same reservations that many Unitarian Universalists and other progressive people of faith have. From the provisions, it’s clear that one of the motivations for DREAM was to attract more recruits to the military. What changed my mind was the DREAM Act activists (or DREAMers, as they are called). These young women and men are publicly stating their undocumented status and going directly to elected officials to ask them to support their dream of being productive U.S. citizens.

They are willing to risk everything. How could I not support that?

In one of the last offices that we visited, we learned from the television tuned to C-SPAN that the Senate had tabled the vote on the DREAM Act scheduled for yesterday morning. The reason why Sen. Reid tabled his own bill is because there weren’t enough ‘YES’ votes in the senate to pass it.

The good news is that this gives us more time to change some senators’ minds.

So I am asking you to take action.

Based on what I saw yesterday – the calls coming into the Senate offices are so close, and the DREAMers need our help.

Call your senators – both of them – and urge them to support the DREAM Act. The Capitol switchboard number is (202) 224-3121.

NAFTA and Immigration

A Tidal Wave of Migration

We know that people have been migrating freely across the U.S-Mexico border since there was a border, and they continued to do so even after the border was created. In fact, the U.S. has a long history of relying on Mexican migrant labor. It officially started with the Bracero program of the mid-1940s, where Mexican farm workers were “invited” in to work on U.S. farms that were short-handed due to the war, but migrant farm work had been going on unofficially well before that. Migration across the border to look for work is nothing new. However, it is also true that the influx of Mexicans into the U.S. looking for work has jumped dramatically in the last couple of decades. Pundits are actually not exaggerating when they describe a relative tidal wave of immigration that is stressing public services and changing the demographics of many U.S. states. In the early 1990s, Mexican migration to the United States was less than 400,000 a year. By 2007 it was 500,000 a year. As Alejandro Portes wrote for ssrc.org in 2006 (http://borderbattles.ssrc.org/Portes/):


What Part of “Illegal” Don’t You Understand?

It sounds very simple but there is actually a great deal of confusion around the term “illegal immigrant.” Being in the country without documentation is illegal but not criminal. It is a civil offense, much like exceeding the speed limit while driving. If you’re going 50 mph in an 35 mph zone, you are breaking the law, but does that make you an “illegal driver”?

Due to the dysfunction of the current U.S. immigration system, family members face years of separation and those seeking work face years of waiting before they can find legal employment to support their families. In both cases, the situation is untenable, especially when there are young, dependant children involved. For that reason, many people choose to enter or remain in the country without documentation.


“Go Back to Where You Came From!”

Ever since April when Governor Brewer signed SB1070 into law in Arizona, I have been following developments down there with rapt attention – checking the updates of various facebook groups, scanning online news headlines, reading analyses… With each new day the news seemed to get worse and worse. First, there was the passage and signing of SB1070 itself. Before the worst parts of the legislation were suspended in July, SB1070 directed officers of the law to investigate the legal status of people “where there is reasonable suspicion” that they may be undocumented. Then came the news that the state of Arizona had also banned public schools from offering ethnic studies – classes designed to give students of color, predominantly Latin@/Hispanic and Native American students – a sense of self worth in this Euro-dominated culture. At the same time, teachers with noticeable accents were barred from teaching English. Arizona Republican Senate candidate J.D. Hayworth called for a moratorium on LEGAL immigration from Mexico.  And finally, the AZ state senator behind SB1070, Russell Pearce, intends to introduce legislation that ends birthright citizenship, in clear contradiction of the 14th amendment. Taken altogether, it seems obvious that the state of Arizona has declared war on immigrants in general and Latin@/indigenous people in particular.

Luckily, it is my job to keep track of legislation and other developments around immigration or else my obsession with the issue these last few months would have severely affected my work. It was more than just passion, more than compassion, more than the fact that my parents, paternal grandparents and uncle, maternal cousin, and many of the non-biological “aunts” and “uncles” from my childhood are all immigrants. This was personal to me to the point where I felt like it was me who was being attacked.  The reason why became clear one afternoon in May as I sat at home, reading developments as usual, and saw the story of Juan Varela, a third-generation Mexican-American who was shot and killed by a neighbor as he yelled “go back to Mexico!”


It Takes A Village To Hold A Protest

Let me start by saying that I am not a “protest” kind of person.  My experience with numerous protests is that a lot of people assemble, shout angry slogans, maybe sing a few songs, and then go home, leaving piles of garbage in their wake.  No matter how much I cared about an issue it always seemed to part of me like protests were something that we “attend” the way that one might attend a rock concert, and that they were geared more towards letting the participants feel good about having “done something” than actually effecting change.  For that reason, I approached the Day of Non-Compliance (July 29th) in Phoenix with some personal apprehension.  Since I knew that I was not planning on getting arrested, I wondered then what exactly it was that I would be doing.  Was I flying two-thirds of the way across the country just to attend a protest?  But I tried to approach the coming days with an open heart – letting the Spirit guide me.


A Very Brief Primer on U.S.-Mexican History

In the early 1800s, U.S.Americans started settling into a territory of Mexico known as Texas.  Alarmed by the fact that the immigration rate was so high that U.S. settlers were starting to outnumber Mexicans, Mexico closed the territory to further legal immigration.  But U.S. settlers continued to pour in illegally.  Rather than attempting to learn the language and culture of the country to which they had immigrated, U.S.American immigrants in Texas declared independence from Mexico in 1836.  (One has to wonder what the Mexicans whose families had already been living in Texas thought about that.)

In 1845, the Republic of Texas was annexed as the 28th state, and President Polk was eyeing Mexico’s territories west of TX, all the way to the Pacific Ocean.  The annexation of Texas, which Mexico continued to think of as a rebellious territory, caused Mexico to break diplomatic ties with the U.S., but it did not declare war.  Polk needed Mexico to be the first to engage in hostilities so that he could frame his expansionist intentions as defensive.  He sent Gen. Zachary Taylor to Texas to push its southern boundary from the Nueces river (the border that Mexico recognized) 150 miles southward to the Rio Grande (the border that the U.S. wanted).  The ploy worked; in April of 1846, a Mexican detachment attacked a U.S. patrol in the disputed area, killing 16 U.S. solders.  The U.S.-Mexican War was on.


A Split Decision Only Serves to Split Our Communities

On the day before SB1070 was to go into effect, Unitarian Universalists from across the country converged in Phoenix.  We came by air, car, bus, and some already lived here.  About 150 of us met at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Phoenix in preparation for the National Day of Non-Compliance that was to take place the next day, Thursday, July 29th, 2010.  As you can imagine it was chaotic fun to have that many UUs in one place – people greeting old friends and making new ones.  But an air of uncertainty hung over us.  What would the next few days bring?  What would we do if the federal judge did not act and left SB1070 to go into effect?  What would we do if the federal judge did act?  From following the news, we knew to expect a partial ruling.  And we knew that regardless of the ruling we would do “something” but what that something was might vary depending on what kind of law went into effect at midnight.


On Borders

It was a family tradition when I was growing up that almost every summer we would pack the car and drive from San Francisco where we lived, to Yosemite National Park, then Lake Tahoe, then Reno. The city of Lake Tahoe is bisected by the border between California and Nevada. The first time I saw the Cali/Nevada border, I was disappointed and confused over the lack of a big black line, as I had seen on the map. Instead, there was only a small sign on an otherwise normal looking street. As an adult, I can now see that one direction has casinos and the other only the cheesey tourist shops, but as a kid I would look down the road in one direction and then the other, and it would pretty much all look the same to me. If the little sign were not there pointing it out, I would not have known that there was a border at all. But since there was a sign, I would hop one step to the left and say I was in California, and hop one step to the right and say I was in Nevada.   Looking back on it I see now that my child brain was trying to understand what a “border” actually meant. Yet try as hard as I might, I could not feel a real difference in the land.


The Skinny on SB1070

In the wake of SB1070, the Arizona law that directs local law officials to apprehend undocumented workers, there has been a lot of confusion over what the law does and does not do.  One such point of confusion is racial profiling.   According to the law,  “where reasonable suspicion exists” that a person is undocumented, law enforcement officials are instructed to ascertain his/her status.   To many, the phrase suggests that officers will selectively target Latin@s/Hispanics and possibly other people of color.  We wonder what other basis the framers of the legislation think would cause “reasonable suspicion” that someone is not here “legally.”   In an attempt to address  this criticism, lawmakers amended the language with a clause that specifically prohibits the use of perceived race in making their determinations.   And that, they said, guaranteed that there would be no racial profiling in the enforcement of SB1070.  This has convinced some and not others.

So what does the law actually say?   Not long ago I found this site that contains the full text of the bill with interactive annotations.  (It’s really cool!)

And this is what the pertinent text actually says:

Section 2.b.
For any lawful stop, detention or arrest made by a law enforcement official or agency of this state or a county, city, town or other political subdivision of this state in the enforcement of any other law or ordinance of a county, city or town of this state where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien and is unlawfully present in the United States, a reasonable attempt shall be made, when practicable, to determine the immigration status of the person. The person’s immigration status shall be verified with the federal government pursuant to United States Code Section 1373(c).

A law enforcement official or agency of this state or a county, city, town or other political subdivision of this state may not consider race, color or national origin in implementing the requirements of this subsection except to the extent permitted by the United States or Arizona Constitution.

A person is presumed to not be an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States if the person provides to the law enforcement officer or agency any of the following:
1. A valid Arizona driver license.
2. A valid Arizona nonoperating identification license.
3. A valid tribal enrollment card or other form of tribal identification.
4. If the entity requires proof of legal presence in the United States before issuance, any valid United States federal, state or local government issued identification.

There are several things to point out about this language:

1. “where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien and is unlawfully present in the United States, a reasonable attempt shall be made, when practicable, to determine the immigration status of the person”

As the notations point out, where there is “reasonable suspicion,” the law directs law enforcement officials to attempt to determine the person’s status, but it does not place limits on what the officer can do while making such an attempt.  That there are no stated restrictions is reason for concern, as it places people at the mercy of the predilections of the officers with whom they happen to come into contact.

2. “A law enforcement official or agency of this state or a county, city, town or other political subdivision of this state may not consider race, color or national origin in implementing the requirements of this subsection EXCEPT to the extent permitted by the United States or Arizona Constitution.

From the annotations:

According to the Supreme Court, the U.S. Constitution allows race to be considered in immigration enforcement: “The likelihood that any given person of Mexican ancestry is an alien is high enough to make Mexican appearance a relevant factor.” United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873, 886… See More-87 (1975).

The Arizona Supreme Court agrees that “enforcement of immigration laws often involves a relevant consideration of ethnic factors.” State v. Graciano, 653 P.2d 683, 687 n.7 (Ariz. 1982) (citing State v. Becerra, 534 P.2d 743 (1975)).

The author of the annotations goes on to say that if they had really wanted to prohibit racial profiling they would not have added the “except” clause.  As it is written, what the law basically says is go ahead and harass people based on their skin color and we’ll leave it up to the courts to decide, on a case by case basis, whether or not what was done exceeded what is allowed in the Constitution.

3. “A person is presumed to not be an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States if the person provides to the law enforcement officer or agency any of the following:… IF the entity requires proof of legal presence in the United States before issuance, any valid United States federal, state or local government issued identification.”

On a different site, the author argues that since several states do not require proof of legal residence before issuing a drivers license,  if you are from one of those states, your license is not sufficient to prove your legal status.  I was unable to find a list of states and whether they require proof of legal residence before issuing licenses, but it seems like this would be a serious concern for non-Arizonan Latin@s/Hispanics traveling in the state.

Based on the language within the law, it seems safe to say that not only does SB1070 promote racial profiling but there are other civil rights concerns as well.