About the Author
Lisa Swanson

Join a national week of grassroots action for immigration reform, Feb 13 – 22

The Interfaith Immigration Coalition, a partnership of faith-based organizations committed to enacting fair and humane immigration reform (including the UUA), has announced a national effort to organize prayer vigils and other actions coinciding with the first recess of this session of Congress, February 13-22, when members of Congress will be home in their districts.

Hosting prayer vigils around the country will give people of faith an opportunity to reflect on the scriptural and spiritual roots of our work to support immigrants in this country, highlight the moral aspects of the immigration issue, and to acknowledge the real-life consequences of our failed policies on immigrant families. It will show our representatives in Congress that humane immigration reform is a top priority for people of faith, and demonstrate a growing movement in support of immigration reform.

EVERYONE can be a part of this nation-wide effortfrom the smallest community of faith to large suburban congregations or city-wide coalitions! Check out the following ways you can participate:

1. Plan a public prayer vigil coordinated with other places of worship. This type of vigil could include 50+ participants, your local media, and even your member of Congress. You may also choose to invite members of your broader community and publicize the event through the bulletins or websites of the participating congregations.

2. Plan a public prayer vigil for your community of faith, and if your congregation is already engaged in direct services related to immigrants and immigration, consider inviting an immigrant to share his or her story as part of the event. Even these smaller vigils can be a great opportunity to invite your local press outlets.

3. Add a focus on immigration reform to an existing/on-going community event or activity—voter registration drive, community meal, ESL classes, and/or discussion for your worshipping community. Contact local press to let them know you’re doing it!

4. Encourage your clergy or lay leaders to offer a sermon, litany or other major focus on immigration in worship.

5. Include a prayer petition concerning immigration reform within worship.

Whatever form your event takes, your prayers will be joined with other people of faith around the country praying for protection for immigrants, empowerment of people of faith to speak out more boldly for immigrants, and moral courage for Members of Congress to show leadership in enacting humane immigration reform.

Register Your Event Now

Once your congregation or social action committee has decided on an event, go to http://interfaithimmigration.org to register your event on the Interfaith Immigration Event Calendar. You can also use the calendar to find out who else is planning events in your area.

Registering your event is IMPORTANT—it helps the IIC track how many congregations are participating and provides information so that other immigrant advocates in your town know how to get involved. Even small events, multiplied around the country, will send a powerful message to representatives in Congress. Shortly after you post your event, the coalition’s prayer vigil coordinator will call to check in and see how the coalition can support your efforts.

Getting Started

Check out Getting Organized: A Quick How-To on Planning Your Prayer Event to help you plan and publicize your event. Check the Interfaith Immigration Coalition website later this week for a sample vigil program and press materials you can use at your event.

The Interfaith Immigration Coalition is here to help!

The IIC can provide media support for your event—they can provide a sample press advisory, press release, op-ed and letter to the editor. You can adapt the press advisory and press release to fit your event, and the IIC will send them out to media in your area and make phone calls to pitch the event.

Your UU Contact in the Interfaith Immigration Coalition

Lisa Swanson in the UUA Washington Office for Advocacy represents the UUA in the Interfaith Immigration Coalition. If you have questions or want to know more, send her an email at lswanson [at] uua [dot] org, or give her a call 202-393-2255, ext. 22

Resolve to make a difference this New Year, or, "Hey, that’s my elbow!"

Many of us are excited about changes to come in the New Year, including new opportunities presented by the incoming administration and Congress.

In anticipation, the Unitarian Universalist Association is asking individual Unitarian Universalists to choose one of fourteen Legislative Objectives and pledge their support to take action on that issue.

Click here to see the list of Legislative Objectives for 2009 – 20010 and pledge your support for the upcoming year. When you do, note the photograph on the right-hand side of the page, which is captioned, “Before you get buried in new year’s activities, resolve to make a difference.” That’s my elbow sticking out as I’m slowly crushed by the weight of hundreds of balloons. (Remember when we welcomed Adam as Acting Director by filling his office with balloons?)

Please, don’t be like me: Resolve to support a Legislative Objective now.

Interfaith Action on Worker Justice

If you read our blog on December 2nd, then you already know that Subway recently agreed to work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) in making sure that the tomato pickers of Immokalee, Florida, are paid fair wages.

But I learned something new about the agreement a few days later, when I met up with some members of the CIW as they passed through DC on a tour to promote their campaign for fair food. They told me that a Unitarian Universalist minister had been present at the Subway-CIW agreement! Take a look at the photo below:

The woman in the blue flower print dress on the left is UU minister Rev. Lucy Hitchcock Seck, Board Member of Unitarian Universalists for a Just Economic Community as well as South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice.

Rev. Hitchcock Seck became involved with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers through her work with South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice, and also through the CIW’s outreach to faith groups.

The CIW relies on the support of faith groups not just in Florida, but across the country, who care about workers rights and ethical eating. Visit the CIW’s website or email info [at] interfaithact.org for information about how your congregation can get involved. Participate in their postcard campaign as they urge Chipotle to follow Subway’s lead.

“The Coalition of Immokalee Workers is to be commended for its persistent and inspired work to improve the labor rights, restore the dignity and livelihood of the farm workers who pick our crops, and eliminate farm slavery. The delegation pictured, which included workers, CIW organizers, clergy and laity from South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice and other supporters, is representative of the many who helped to convince the corporate executives of Subway to be part of this growing fast-food industry support of justice for those who supply their tomatoes. Please join our coalition of supporters of fair food! This is a deeply religious issue of compassion and justice. “

–Rev. Lucy Hitchcock Seck

Rev. Hitchcock Seck is also on the taskforce for one of the UUA’s current Congregational Study Action Issues, Ethical Eating. For more information, see the UUA’s page on Ethical Eating.

Help the UU churches of New Orleans rebuild – Give to GNOUU

In August of 2005, flood waters from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita filled the homes and worship spaces of hundreds of Unitarian Universalists in the New Orleans area.

Three years later, repairs to First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans are still incomplete.

North Shore Unitarian Universalist Society needs funding to minister to affected members and re-grow their membership.

And in August, Community Church of New Orleans was forced to raze the remnants of their building due to revised FEMA regulations. Now the Community Church will have to rebuild their worship space from the ground up.

These three congregations have joined together to form Greater New Orleans Unitarian Universalists, GNOUU–pronounced “guh-new”). GNOUU’s goal is to raise 2.7 million dollars over the next three years to support the rebuilding of their churches and ministries. Currently, they are over 200,000 dollars short of reaching the first million.

This holiday season, please remember our extended UU family in the Gulf Coast, and show the kind of support that you would like to receive if your congregation was struck by disaster.

Make a donation to GNOUU in honor of a family member or a church friend, or challenge yourself to donate a certain amount each month and set up a recurring donation.

If you can’t afford to give a financial gift, consider participating in a service trip with The Rebirth Center, a volunteer service project stewarded by GNOUU.

Photo from http://communitychurchuu.org

Breaking News: Subway agrees to work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers

Just this morning, Subway agreed to work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) to provide fair wages for the tomato pickers of Immokalee, Florida! Check out the CIW website to see a photo of Subway and CIW delegations reaching an agreement.

Subway, the biggest fast-food buyer of Florida tomatoes, was the target of a successful postcard campaign coordinated by the CIW to urge them to pay just wages. But the postcard campaign’s second target, Chipotle, is still holding out. Take a look at our November post for instructions on how to participate in the postcard campaign to urge Chipotle to join with Burger King, Yum! Brands, McDonald’s, Whole Foods, and now Subway in supporting tomato pickers.

Congratulations, CIW!

Photo credit to Kevin Saff, Creative Commons.

Share your vision for change with President-Elect Obama

Raise your voice for justice! Obama’s transition team is preparing for the new administration in January, and they want you to share your vision with them.

On the official transition team website, you can submit your ideas about issues the Obama-Biden administration should tackle and how to solve them. You can even upload a photo or a video.

Click here to tell Obama what changes you’d like to see in the upcoming administration. Consider mentioning that you’re a Unitarian Universalist, a person of faith.

Need ideas? Check out the UUA Washington Office for Advocacy’s Legislative Objectives for the 111th Congress: 2009 – 2010.

Need an example? Here’s my first comment to Obama:

I am thrilled about the upcoming Obama-Biden administration, but I am deeply disappointed to see no mention of BGLT rights in the transition team webpages. Especially after the devastating blows dealt to the BGLT community by ballot measures in California, Florida, Arkansas, and Arizona, it is more important than ever to express firm support for the rights of same-sex couples to marry and to adopt children. I urge you to make supporting the rights of BGLT people a prominent feature of your agenda and your administration. Thank you, and congratulations!

I’m planning to submit more comments asking for support of the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act, increased visibility of American Indian justice issues, green jobs, a compassionate path to legalization for undocumented immigrants, and an expansion of visas that allow unskilled workers to legally immigrate to the United Stated permanently.

We may not get everything we propose–but it can’t hurt to ask. And now, more than ever, is the moment to dream big.

Send a postcard to Subway and Chipotle on behalf of Florida farmworkers

Send an email to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers at workers [at] ciw-online [dot] org to request postcards to mail to the CEOs of Subway and Chipotle!

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) has been fighting for justice for the tomato pickers of Florida since 1993. They have achieved enormous victories in forging partnerships with Taco Bell and Burger King, which have agreed to pay tomato pickers a penny more per pound of tomatoes.

A penny more per pound isn’t much for a giant fast food corporation, but to a Florida tomato picker, it can make the difference between exploitation and dignity.

Unfortunately, both Subway and Chipotle have so far refused to cooperate with the CIW. If you would like to add your voice to the call for these companies to pay a just wage, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers will send you postcards free of charge to mail to the company CEOs.

We requested a dozen postcards for the UUA Washington Office, and they arrived just a few days later. Alex, Grace, Kat, Adam and I have added our signatures, addresses, and personal messages, and are planning to drop them in the mail this afternoon.

Below is an excerpt from the printed message on the postcard to Mr. Fred Deluca, CEO of Subway:

Tomato pickers are among this country’s most exploited workers: they earn sub-poverty wages, have no right to form unions or to benefits of any kind, and have not received a significant raise in 30 years. At the current rate, tomato pickers must harvest over TWO AND A HALF TONS of tomatoes just to earn the equivalent of minimum wage for a 10-hour workday. In the most extreme cases, workers are held in modern-day slavery and forced to work against their will.

. . . After eight years of the CIW’s campaign–and the very public commitment of four leading food retailers to the principles of Fair Food–Subway can no longer claim ignorance of these problems, nor say that their solution is not possible.

To request your own postcards to send, send an email to workers [at] ciw-online [dot] org. Remember to include your address and how many copies of each postcard (Subway and/or Chipotle) you would like to receive.

(If you email photos of your postcards to la_racialjustice [at] uua [dot] org, we’ll post them! Be sure to cover up your home address if you send us photos).

Planning for Justice in 2009: UUA advocacy dates and campaigns

Yesterday, we shared social justice-oriented organizers and calendars to help plan the upcoming year. Today, we’re reminding you about the UUA Advocacy & Witness staff group’s schedule for social justice campaigns in 2009.

UUA Social Justice Calendar 2008 – 2009

The 2008-2009 UUA social justice calendar is available at http://uua.org/documents/aw/08-09_calendar.pdf. This calendar includes holidays and observances, as well as the schedule for upcoming Actions of the Month through August 2009.

See http://uua.org/socialjustice/calendar/index.shtml for worship resources, advocacy campaigns, and educational materials related to specific holidays. These resources will be updated throughout the year.

Sexuality Education Advocacy Training
March 21 – 24th, 2009

If you are interested in participating in this year’s Sexuality Education Advocacy Training (SEAT), in Washington, DC, mark your calendars for March 21 – 24th. SEAT brings together Unitarian Universalist, United Church of Christ, and Reform Judaism youth, young adults and adult allies to discuss sex-ed as a religious issue, its impact on young people, queer people and people of color. The three and a half day training includes advocacy skill-building and lobby visits with Congressional staff. Click here for more information.

Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office Intergenerational Spring Seminar
April 16 – 18th, 2009
Youth program will begin on the 15th of April.

The theme of this year’s seminar is All in the Name of Faith: Rights, Religion, and Responsibility. The seminar will be held in New York City, and registration will begin in November, 2008. Click here for more information.

Ecumenical Advocacy Days
March 13 – 16, 2009

For Christians (and Christian-identified UUs?), the Ecumenical Advocacy Days are a powerful opportunity to witness to politicians in power. Held in Washington, DC, Ecumenical Advocacy Days will include advocacy training and lobby visits. This year’s theme is Enough for All Creation. Click here for more information.

Those are all the dates we have for now, but keep your eye on our calendars (the static version for posting and dynamic version with links and activities ) and this blog for updates about advocacy campaigns and events.

Planning for Justice in 2009: Planners and Calendars

With autumn’s arrival, many people start thinking about their schedules for the coming year. We have a few suggestions for justice-oriented planners and calendars for 2009, and for some important dates to put in them, too. This post will tackle planners and calendars, while tomorrow’s will include important social justice dates and campaigns to be aware of in the coming year.

Many people rely on their calendars to tell them which days are important, historic, and worth celebrating. Calendars frame how we view time, seasons, growth, and change. For this reason, I prefer calendars which mark the anniversaries of important strikes, protests, court decisions, and changes in the Earth and lunar cycles. My co-workers and I have compiled a list of some of our favorite calendars, and some we’ve never seen but sound cool, below.

Planners and Calendars

2009 Peace Calendar – According to the Syracuse Cultural Workers, based in Syracuse, New York, the 38th edition of their annual peace wall calendar is “greener than ever.” Printed on paper made from 100% postconsumer waste (PCW) which is processed free of chlorine and dioxin, the calendar is sold without wasteful extra packaging like plastic shrinkwrap and cardboard stiffeners. Sweatshop free, made in the USA, and Union-printed, the Peace Calendar is packed with social justice/peoples’ anniversaries, holidays of many faiths, and lunar cycles. Inside, inspirational art touches on topics including resistance to US militarism at home and abroad, urban sustainability, indigenous women, response to gay hate crime, and the celebration of the 77 year history of the Highlander Center in New Market,TN. Click here for more information.

Slingshot 2009 Organizer

The Slingshot Organizer is produced by an all-volunteer collective–“no bosses, no workers, no pay”–in Berkeley, California. The organizer has a strongly anti-capitalist tone. It opens with an essay entitled, “False Hope, Real Transformation,” which slams the notion that a new leader produced by a corrupt capitalist system can solve the nation’s problems. The essay also sounds the call to “seek forms of organization that re-localize decision making,” and make “our day-to-day existence more meaningful, engaged, and connected with others.” The following 160 pages of the Slingshot organizer mark the forgotten history of people of color, immigrants, indigenous peoples, women, working class people, and members of queer communities. Also included are a list of radical bookstores and infoshops, information on sexuality, transgenderedness, interacting with police, and a calendar for recording menstrual cycles. Click here for more information.

The War Resisters League 2009 Peace Calendar

From the War Resister’s League website:

“A desk calendar and state-by-state account of the places where radical history happened, from the civil rights and anti-racist struggles of Alabama and Mississippi to centuries of war tax resistance in Massachusetts, indigenous opposition to oil-drilling in Alaska, and union organizing in Kentucky and California.”

Includes a directory of U.S. peace and justice organizations and publications, and international contacts. Click here for more information.

Mothers Acting Up in 2009

Also produced by the Syracuse Cultural Workers, Mothers Acting Up is “[d]edicated to moments that change our lives– that take a person and give back an activist.”

Changingworld.com describes the calendar as “a weekly engagement calendar for mothers that also offers tools, information, weekly actions, and most importantly, portraits of people who inspire our own activism–from the mom next door to movie stars and elected officials.”

Click here for more information.

Autonomedia Calendar of Jubilee Saints

Features radicals & rebels for every day of the year. Last year’s “saints” included Audre Lorde, Frederick Douglass, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Frida Kahlo, James Joyce, U.G. Krishnamurti, Emma Goldman, Eugene Debs, Jesus Christ, Albert Einstein, William Blake, Cesar Chavez, Bob Marley, and more, with short bios on each one. Check the Autonomedia online bookstore for the 2009 calendar release date, which may not be until December.

Now that you’ve got your radical calendar, now what? Check back tomorrow for a schedule of UUA Advocacy & Witness social justice campaigns for 2009.

Supreme Court will decide whether immigrant guilty of identity theft


This week, the United States Supreme Court has said that it will take a case which could have great significance for immigrants across the country. In Ignacio Carlos Flores-Figueroa v. United States of America, the Supreme Court will determine whether an immigrant who uses another person’s social security number for work can be charged with aggravated identity theft.

Until May of this year, workers detained for immigration violations were usually charged with just that–immigration violations–and deported. Immigration violations are civil offenses, which do not carry jail time.

But after the ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) raid on May 12 in Postville, Iowa, over three hundred immigrant workers were threatened with charges of aggravated identity theft–a federal criminal offense. Such a conviction would carry a two-year prison sentence.

With this threat hanging over their heads, 302 immigrant workers were pressured into pleading guilty to lesser charges rather than being charged with aggravated identity theft. These lesser charges may bar many of them from returning to the United States ever again, even if their family remains in the U.S.

Critics of this tactic, including the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) have pointed out that the pressure to accept lesser charges in order to avoid a felony may have caused workers to accept plea agreements requiring them to give up rights to immigration relief they may not have realized that they had. Furthermore, they may not have received adequate counsel to navigate two complex areas of law, criminal and immigration.

Most importantly, AILA point out that aggravated identity theft is intended to refer to situations in which a person knowingly steals the identity of another person in order to commit financial or other fraud. But in many cases, the immigrants threatened with these charges may not even have been aware that the social security numbers they were using belonged to other people.

The question is whether, if a worker makes up a random nine digit number to use as a social security number to obtain a job, and later that number turns out to belong to another person, should the worker be held accountable for aggravated identity theft–a felony–even if he or she never attempted to assume the other person’s identity?

This was the case of Ignacio Flores-Figueroa, a Mexican citizen who used a counterfeit Social Security card bearing his real name and a false Social Security number in order to get a job at a steel plant in Illinois. Flores-Figueroa was unaware that the number he used belonged to a minor, and he was convicted with aggravated identity theft by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis. Now his case has made it all he way to the Supreme Court, who will review his case next year.

Their ruling could determine the fate of thousands of people. Federal appellate courts in Richmond and Atlanta judging similar cases have handed down convictions, while courts in Boston, San Francisco and Washington have determined that prosecutors must prove that the defendant had knowledge that the social security number they were using belonged to someone else. The Supreme Court’s ruling may have important influence over similar cases in the future.

For more information about the legal aftermath of Postville and how charges of aggravated identity theft harm immigrants, see Bush Administration Takes Unprecedented Punitive Action Against Postville Workers.

To read about the Supreme Court’s decision to take up Flores-Figueroa’s case, see Justices Will Hear Identity Theft Case.