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.

On My Feet in the Phoenix Heat

(Cross-posted from the Standing on the Side of Love blog, originally posted May 29th.)

Rev. Meg Riley is Campaign Director of the Standing on the Side of Love Campaign and a Minnesota resident.

It’s hot here in Phoenix for this Minnesotan, though the locals say it’s just “warm”—mid nineties. Still, spirits are high as people gather from across the nation to protest Arizona Bill 1070.

The folks from Arizona are visibly relieved and buoyed up by the presence of visitors. One after another tell me, many with tears in their eyes, how frightening this bill is and how angry and helpless they feel in its wake. I don’t just mean people who know me, or people of faith, or Unitarian Universalists. I’m talking about waitresses, gas station attendants—strangers.

One waitress, noticing our not-a-bit-subtle Standing on the Side of Love t-shirts, and our buttons which state “I could be illegal,” gets tears in her eyes. “THANK YOU,” she says, “I know just why you’re here, and THANK YOU.” She then goes on to say that she was visiting family in California when the bill passed. To her horror, her family members thought it was a great thing and only wished California would have a similar bill. She says, quietly, “They just don’t know what they’re talking about. I didn’t even know what to say.” And then, even more quietly, “It feels like Nazi Germany.” She is a 60-something Jewish woman, she tells me, and she can’t believe her family could support this legislation, which for her is reminiscent of Nazi Germany.

Standing on the Side of Love in Phoenix

She’s not the only one tearing up. I sometimes feel I could wail, watching the beautiful Latino families around me, knowing the fear that many of them live with daily as they pray for one another’s safety. And then I want to cheer, seeing the joy and courage and ease they embody in this hot sun that is melting my neck and feet.

Hundreds of Unitarian Universalists, including dozens of clergy from across the nation, gathered with one broken heart at the UU Church of Phoenix Friday night and then came to rally and march on Saturday morning. Many of the clergy, joining colleagues from other faiths, lined the street where the marchers began to offer prayer, bread for the journey (in this case, tortillas), water, and blessings. It was a great vantage point from which to watch!

In the delightful random moments of such events, I saw Sandy Sorensen, a dear old friend who directs the United Church of Christ’s Washington Office. Sandy was joined by a group of United Church of Christ colleagues.

As the march gathered, the Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, who seems to know everyone, introduces me to a veteran Arizona politician and organizer, by the name of Alfredo Gutierrez. Gutierrez nods to the crowd, “That’s what they’re afraid of,” he says to us, pointing to a group of children playing. He goes on, “They’re not afraid of people like me. We’re old. They’re scared because of the children—all the children. And, look at those children! They are happy, they are laughing, they are not afraid. Look at the joy around you! How could this scare people?”

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.

Arizona on Our Minds

Ever since Governor Jan Brewer signed SB1070 into law – despite daily demonstrations and thousands of emails, calls, and faxes asking for veto – many of us both inside and outside of Arizona have been considering what to do in response. The new legislation is arguably the most far-reaching and repressive anti-immigrant legislation passed at the state level, and indeed, may not be constitutional. But in the mean time, while the lawyers ply their trade, what do the rest of us do to urge Arizona to reconsider?

Unitarian Universalism values relationship over creed; therefore, before we made any actions or recommendations of our own we had to know what our allies are asking for. And of our allies, it was most important to listen to those who would be most adversely affected by this new law. In this case, that would be organizations and people who represent immigrants, migrant workers, Hispanic/Latin@s, and other people of color who might be suspected of being “undocumented.” So we did a little research – some phone calls, some emailing, some websurfing – and this is what we found:

Not that they are the most important, but since they are in the news, let’s start with elected officials. Our only Latino/Hispanic senator, Sen. Menendez (D-NJ), is urging Major League Baseball players to boycott the 2011 All Star Game if it is held in Phoenix as scheduled. His voice joins that of Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY) Rep. Polis (D-CO), Rep. Gutierrz (D-IL), and Rep. Grijalva who have all called for a boycott in some form or another.

“The question will inevitably be, aren’t you hurting yourself?” Gutierrez says. “The answer to that question is, yes, we are!”

“We understand that our people are inordinately the dishwashers and the busboys for the hospitality industry…But we also understand they are the mothers and fathers of children in this state. It is they themselves who are asking for this boycott.”

Secondly and more significantly, a coalition of over thirty organizations – representing Latin@/Hispanics, labor and civil rights groups, and others – have called for a national boycott. This effort is being spear-headed by the National Council of La Raza, the largest and most well-known Hispanic/Latin@ rights group in the nation.  You can sign their pledge here.

La Raza is joined by many other groups, including the League of United Latin American Citizens, the National Puerto Rican Coalition, and

Like Sen. Menendez, one of their main targets for the economic boycott is Major League Baseball’s 2011 All-Star game, which is scheduled to be played in Phoenix. From’s email ask to move the game:

“Many other major league players and coaches are saying they don’t want to play ball in a state where Latino players — who make up more than 25% of the League — and Latino fans are subject to racial profiling.”

Latin@s/Hispanics are rightfully concerned that the Arizona law encourages racial profiling against them regardless of their legal status, but Asians know that such laws affect them as well. After Latin@s/Hispanics, Asians constitute the second largest population of undocumented immigrants, and South Asians in particular have been subject to harrassment. The Asian American Justice Center and the Japanese American Citizens League are part of the boycott coalition.   In a statement,  the JACL called SB 1070 “the worst case of racial profiling since World War II.”

And African-Americans are, of course, very familiar with racial profiling. The campaign against SB1070 is being waged with help from civil rights leaders, including Rev. Al Sharpton. Economic boycott was part of a strategy that the Black community successfully employed to “convince” the AZ legislature to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr with his holiday.  In that same vein, Alpha Phi Alpha, the fraternity of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Thurgood Marshall, moved their annual convention from AZ to NV.

“Our late Alpha brother the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, in a letter he wrote while sitting in the Birmingham Jail, ‘injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ Alpha Phi Alpha’s decision to boycott Arizona continues that same fight, fought during the Civil Rights era.”

Other members of the coalition calling for national boycott are the Center for Community Change (CCC), which advocates for economic justice on behalf of low-income people, especially low-income people of color, and labor groups such as the Service Employees International Union  (SEIU) and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW).

SEIU’s website includes a roundup of who is participating in the boycott.  Of particular note, the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators together with the National Black Caucus of State Legislators have canceled their upcoming conferences in Arizona.

“This misguided legislation will likely subject countless people to unwarranted harassment. In a demonstration of our disapproval, we have decided to hold our annual Promoting Healthy Lifestyles Conference, which was to be held in Scottsdale, Arizona, elsewhere,” stated NBCSL President, Representative Calvin Smyre (GA).

We also looked at what immigration and migrant worker rights groups were doing in response to SB1070.

“These boycotts are happening in conjunction with marches, rallies, and protests across the country. Our actions will show that we’re not going to sit quietly while the state enshrines racism and hatred as the law of the land.”

  • National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) and, as part of the Alto Arizona coalition, are organizing for a massive rally in Phoenix on May 29th.  They also have a petition asking the Obama administration to intervene.
  • In addition to moving the MBL All Star Game (see above), also has a petition letting Arizona leaders know how we feel about the new law: Shame on Arizona.
  • Border Action Network is supporting a number of actions posted on, including petition the Obama administration to intervene, attend local solidarity actions, boycott, and civil disobedience.
  • Detention Watch Network offered a similar list of actions.
  • The National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights also offered four actions: calling Gov. Brewer, spreading the message locally, asking President Obama to intervene, and supporting local organizations working against SB1070.

The ACLU is also looking ahead to other states and organizing to keep what happened in Arizona from spreading.  (Currently 10-11 other states are considering similar legislation.)  Visit their site to tell your elected officials that What Happens in Arizona Stays in Arizona.

As I said, there’s a good argument to be made that SB1070 is unconstitutional, and three of the most experienced immigrants’ and civil rights legal organizations nationwide – the ACLU, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), and the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) – have announced a partnership, together with local Arizona-based counsel, to challenge the new law in court.

So as of the moment, the major possible actions for folks like you and me seem to be a “mega march” in Phoenix, AZ on May 29th (see this video), asking the Obama administration to intervene,  and a call for economic boycott.

ICE Raids and Anti-Immigrant Legislation in the State of Arizona

As many of you may already know, anti-immigration forces have been moving hard and fast in the state of Arizona.   Less than a week after state lawmakers passed the most far-reaching anti-immigrant legislation ever, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement)  launched massive raids in Phoenix and especially Tucson.   In Tucson alone, over 800 officers set up checkpoints all around the predominantly Hispanic/Latin@ area of South Tucson.  Eight-hundred officers.   Fathers, brothers, sisters, mothers, students, workers, tax-payers, neighbors…were pulled over at supposedly  “random” checkpoints and taken into custody if they could not produce proper identification.

It is not a coincidence that these massive raids happen so soon after the passage of  SB1070/HB2632.   Senator Russell Pearce’s bill allows and encourages the state police to become immigration enforcement officials.   Whereas before, police could only ask for documentation if the person were arrested for a crime, they now can ask any person any time there is “reasonable suspicion.”

If you are thinking that  this does not affect you – that only those without documentation have anything to fear – just think of how often you leave the house without official ID… to go for a run, or to the gym, or to pick up a gallon of milk at the corner store.  I personally am without my drivers license as I type this having forgotten it at home as I left the house this morning.   Now imagine walking around, even for short errands, without your ID if your skin looks even remotely Hispanic/Latin@.   Imagine your kids going to school without ID.

If you are still thinking that this does not affect you – because realistically you know that the law will be “enforced” via racial profiling and you’re lucky enough to “look American” – consider this: SB1070 also makes it illegal to transport or “harbor” an undocumented person if you know or disregard the person’s legal status.  That means that you could be prosecuted for having an undocumented person in your car or in your house.

And if you’re thinking that this doesn’t affect you because you live no where near Arizona, take note that several other states are considering enacting similar bills.

Governor Brewer has not yet signed the legislation, but she is getting a lot of pressure from anti-immigrant groups to do so.   We need to show her that there is even more reason not to.   We need to remind her that the bill violates civil liberties and promotes racial profiling.  We need to point out that it will cause even greater distrust of the police which will lead to greater crime.   We need to let her know that where similar laws have been enacted at a county level, economies have suffered as the Latin@ community took their heretofore unappreciated spending elsewhere.  We need to tell her that if  SB1070 becomes law, it will give the state of Arizona a reputation for being unwelcoming, draconian… a state that tourists and convention goers would not want to visit.   But it is not too late for her to turn it around – all it takes is one VETO.

PLEASE take action via the links listed below.  It takes about 30 seconds to complete any of the below actions and you can do as many of them as you’re moved to do.  And please call (800-253-0883) or email ( the governor’s office directly to urge a veto.  My friends in AZ tell me that they are counting every call, email, fax… even those from out of state, so please act.  Your voice will be counted.

Sign Border Action’s Petition to Governor Brewer

Sign this Petition from

Send an Email through America’s Voice

Send an Email through Alto Arizona

Send a Fax through Credo Action

Send a Fax through United Farm Workers

ICE Raid in Tucson First-hand

In November of 2009, I took a trip to the Mexico/U.S. border with Rev. Louise Green and other members of All Souls Church, Unitarian in DC.  The organization that led our trip was Borderlinks.  Being so close to the border in Tucson is a very different experience than thinking about immigration here in DC.   The effects of our immigration policies are immediately evident there.  So when I read the following account of last week’s  ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) raids by Borderlinks staffer, Rachel Winch, I knew it had to be shared.  With her permission, Rachel’s description of April 15th, 2010.

“ICE has swarmed the city.  There are over 800 officers making check points and raids all over South Tucson.”  I felt a sense of panic as a friend from Derechos Humanos, a grassroots organization that promotes human rights and fights the militarization of the Southern Border, came to share the news this morning that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had taken hold of South Tucson.

For those living in parts of Tucson besides South Tucson, the largely Latino/a “Pueblo Within a City,”[1] it would be easy not to know that anything out of the ordinary was happening today.  It is even possible that those passing through the area who were not worried about their immigration status or being “confused for a migrant” could pass by the 12 patrol vehicles and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officers in full black facemasks at the intersection of 6th Avenue and 29th Street without being filled with fear.  But for members of the Latino/a community and anyone who might “appear to be here illegally” (i.e. have brown skin), today was no less than terrorization.

Two teenage boys pulled off a bus on their way to school and taken into custody.  Armed enforcement officials patrolling within eyesight of students playing at a local elementary school.  Fathers, brothers, sisters, mothers, pulled over at “random” checkpoints and leaving in handcuffs when they failed to produce documentation.  A Latina college student at the University of Arizona carrying three forms of ID with her in fear that she would be interrogated.  April 15th, 2010, South Tucson has become yet another example of the ever increasing police state.[2]

For those of you outside of Arizona, this may seem unfathomable, an exaggeration even.  Surely this could not be legal to stop people simply walking down the street or driving their cars around town because they “look like they might be undocumented.”  In the Land of the Free people do not need to walk around carrying documentation, right?

Well, that may be called into question this week in Arizona after the state house of representatives passed landmark legislation that would greatly extend the powers of police and immigration officials.  Under the new legislation, police would have the right to ask anyone whom they have “reasonable suspicion” to believe is in the country illegally to produce documentation proving their legality.  Whereas formerly police were only allowed to ask for such documentation if a person were arrested for another crime, under the new legislation standing on a street corner and looking Latino, or looking for work at a day labor center would be probable cause for police to interrogate and make an arrest if such papers were not produced.

While under the guise of attempting to crack down on human smuggling, today’s checkpoints and the interrogation and arrest of people without evidence of involvement in smuggling is yet another example of the Department of Homeland Security’s increased terrorization of the Latino/a population and militarization of the US-Mexico border.

Friends, we must take action to ensure that these raids stop and that police and immigration officials are not allowed free range of our communities.

The words of anti-Nazi theologian Martin Niemöller reverberate through my head:

“In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.”

We must not stay silent as our brothers and sisters are being intimidated, arrested, deported.  Please join me in writing to your local newspaper, contacting your elected officials, and telling your friends.  Not in our name.


[2] These were some of the stories shared at the Derechos Humanos rally outside the Federal Court building at 2:30 pm.  April 15, 2010.

Change Takes Courage and Faith: Rallying for Immigration Reform

What a time to be in Washington! This past Sunday I joined 150 UUs and over 100,000 others who came from all across the nation to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform. While we rallied on the National Mall we could see the Capitol Building where Congress was deliberating on health care legislation. It was truly an historic day. President Barak Obama addressed the crowd via satellite from the White House and the exuberant crowd fell silent as he promised to fight for a path to citizenship for the 12 million undocumented immigrants in our country. Later that night, as we all know, Congress voted to pass the health care bill, bringing health care to many more US citizens (though not the undocumented), and clearing the way for immigration reform and other vital legislation.

The rally began with an interfaith prayer service that set the tone for understanding that immigration reform is a moral issue of welcoming the stranger, the newcomers among us, and understanding the role that the US government and US business plays in driving people to migrate here. Rev. Nancy McDonald Ladd, minister at the Bull Run UU Congregation in Manassas Virginia spoke eloquently for our faith tradition. The spirit of the service and rally were a sharp contrast to the Tea Party demonstrators that were out in front of the Capitol hurling oppressive epithets at Members of Congress and anyone else that opposes them.

The immigrant families and their supporters who gathered on the Mall responded enthusiastically to the Standing on the Side of Love Campaign. Placards, stickers, buttons and T-Shirts were grabbed up and could be seen all throughout the crowd. Many of the UUs in attendance came with interfaith community organizations and came to the SSL meet-up point to check-in and bring SSL placards back to their contingents. UUs from Community Church in NYC, UU Church of Danbury CT, and the UU Congregation at Shelter Rock in Manhasset NY paid for and organized buses that brought their immigrant partners to the rally. VOICE, an interfaith organization from Northern VA, brought over 1,000 to the rally and included folks from the UU Church of Arlington, who brought along a huge Standing on the Side of Love banner. A dozen UU clergy were in attendance and we counted 20 UU congregations that sent teams of folks ranging from 5 to 50 people from Joliet IL, Philadelphia, Buxmont, and Devon PA, and several congregations from the Metro DC area. Rev. David Carl Olson of First Unitarian in Baltimore wrote a moving account of the day for the SSL blog.

On Monday I participated in the interfaith advocacy day and joined a delegation from MA that met with staffers from Senator John Kerry’s and Senator Scott Brown’s offices. Senator Kerry is a long time supporter of immigration reform. We asked for the Senator to press for legislation to be introduced that includes family reunification as a priority, non-criminalization of undocumented people already in the US, and humane enforcement at the border. Senator Kerry’s staff said that they think immigration reform legislation will be passed this year. Senator Brown’s staff agreed that immigration reform is needed but had little hope that it would be passed this year. They wanted to know how much immigration reform would cost and if we would be supportive of the framework proposed by Senators Schumer and Graham. We made clear that immigration reform is not a partisan issue and that the legislation needs a champion. We asked for the Senator to use his influence to get the three priorities listed above included in the legislation and to press for it to be introduced. We reminded them that the majority of Massachusetts voters welcome the diversity and contributions that immigrant families bring to their communities.

Before leaving Senator Brown’s office, I asked if I could go out on to the balcony. Senator Brown’s office is the office of the late Senator Edward Kennedy. Teddy used to spend a lot of time out on that balcony with his beloved dog Splash at his side. He did a lot of his thinking and his deal-making there. As I stood on that balcony, looking at the view of the park across from the Senate building, I thought about how happy Senator Kennedy would be to know that health care legislation had finally passed. So much has occurred since his death and for the first time, in a long time, I felt hopeful again about what’s happening in Washington these days. As the slogan for the rally proclaimed, “Change Takes Courage and Faith” and I would add, lots of grassroots organizing and pressure. Si se puede! Yes we can!

Reflections on the March for America

On Sunday, March 21st (the first day of Spring), several of us were blessed to be able to participate in a massive rally in favor of comprehensive immigration reform.   Organizers estimate the crowd at over 200,000 attendees.  From our vantage point, it was clearly crowded, festive, diverse, family-oriented, and filled with love.

From Rob Keithan:

As the singing of the Star Spangled Banner came to an end, I wondered how the words “land of the free and home of the brave” felt to the many immigrants in attendance. I suspect that they appreciate what freedom means more than I ever will. As brave as I like to think I am, I don’t know if I’d have the courage to move to a foreign country–leaving behind everything familiar and potentially risking everything–in order to provide for my family. Hopefully I will never be faced with that choice.

From Taquiena Boston (Director of the UUA’s Identity-Based Ministries)

I was moved by the number of families who attended the rally with their children, and by how many of those families have been negatively affected by current immigration policies. I was encouraged by the many religious groups represented, including Unitarian Universalists. It was heartening to see that the message of Standing on the Side of Love resonated with so many non-UUs, especially when children, youth and young adults asked for the SSL buttons, placards, and bumper stickers.

From Meg Riley:

The moment that reduced me to tears was when, strolling along, I saw this young woman holding her handwritten poster. On either side of her stood friends, holding “Standing on the Side of Love” placards. (I couldn’t fit all three of them in and still read what she had written.) I saw how love was, literally, allowing her to stand. We’re always talking about ‘deadbeat dads’–here’s a deadbeat system forcing parents away from their kids. It broke my heart.

From Kat Liu:

As a person of Asian descent, I am very aware that different ethnic minorities in the U.S. have often been pitted against each other, when we could be so much stronger united. And I know that undocumented immigration is also an Asian issue, even though Latinos/Hispanics get most of the (unpleasant) attention. So it was very important to me to see diversity represented both on stage and in the crowd. While most of the people present appeared to be descended from Latin America, there were also Asian, African and Euro faces speaking as one. Walking among the crowd, I felt we were united, strong. This IS America.

Organizing UUs and the Community to Assist Haitians Applying for Temporary Protected Status

by Linda Cundiff

Saturday, February 20th, there was a remarkable gathering of folks at Harvard Law School to be trained in how to assist Haitians applying for Temporary Protective Status that was organized by the UUSC & UUA. (Webinar trainings for people in other areas of the country will be offered on March 3rd & 10th). Over 40 volunteers, including law students, UUs of many backgrounds, community organizers, and others were enthralled by the presentation by Jacques Dessin, a lawyer and trainer of Haitian background. He presented clear and concise information about this new immigration process for Haitians who were here in the US before the earthquake without documentation. I had expected to be completely bored and bewildered; imagine my surprise when I found it fascinating!

Displaced Haitians receive emergency food aid in an operation led by USAID. Image courtesty of USAID taken by Prentice Colter, U.S. Air Force
Displaced Haitians receive emergency food aid in an operation led by USAID.

Many attending had questions about the most basic issue: is TPS a good thing for these Haitians? The answer to this is not easy, and volunteers need to just give the information without recommendations, as each person will have to decide this for themselves. They will be able to work, get driver’s licenses, and other important things that documented folks have. The risk they might feel is making themselves known to the “system” and what that might mean in the future.

I had been included in the planning for this first training because I am leading an initiative to address immigration issues at my church, First Parish UU in Cambridge MA, and because in my work life I lead community health outreach for a public hospital system in the targeted communities. A partnership has developed with local non-profits in the four small cities that are home to the largest numbers of Haitians in Massachusetts. These include the Haitian Coalition and anti-poverty (CAP) agencies, health departments, Haitian churches, other community coalitions and Harvard Law School. UUSC and UUA staff were instrumental to the success of this initiative. They brought together the partners, found a trainer, developed the webinars, and generally provided logistical support.

Haitians queue for water in Tapis Rouge, a neighbourhood in the Carrefour-Feuilles area of Haiti's capital city, Port-au-Prince. Carrefour-Feuilles, a slum that stretches into the high mountains surrounding the city, has received little assistance since Haiti's earthquake. mage courtesy of Sophia Paris via the United Nations Photo Library.
Haitians queue for water in Tapis Rouge, a neighbourhood in the Carrefour-Feuilles area of Haiti's capital city, Port-au-Prince.

Back at First Parish Cambridge UU on Standing on the Side of Love ‘Reimagining Valentine’s Day’ Sunday, we had an inspiring “To Haiti With Love” service (see Rev. Fred Small’s sermon), and members of the Haitian Coalition were there. There were requests from the pulpit to sign up for TPS training and other Haiti related events. Over 15 people signed up and half of them attended the first training.

The next step is organizing “TPS legal clinics” for the community. Systems will be set up to assist folks in completing the paperwork and submitting it. For large events in Haitian churches we will need many volunteers to help not just with the forms and processes, but to translate, and to provide food and entertainment for children and hospitality. We’re looking forward to that!

For more information about getting trained to volunteer at a TPS Legal Clinic, see the UUA’s Immigration website.

Linda Cundiff is a member of First Parish Cambridge UU and Senior Director for Community Affairs at Cambridge Health Alliance.

“Stand” and Sing Out Your Love to Haiti

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

My congregation, First Parish Cambridge, Unitarian Universalist, had an amazing service yesterday that focused on Haiti and on standing with immigrant families here in the United States. Community partners from the Haitian Coalition were in attendance. We collected Valentine’s Day cards made by UU Mass Action to send to our legislators for Comprehensive Immigration Reform. People signed up to participate in Temporary Protected Status Legal clinics sponsored by theUUAUUSC and partners. People also signed up to go as a congregation for a Walk for Haiti in March sponsored by the Haitian Coalition that will raise funds to rebuild schools in Haiti. The religious education classes made valentines for Partners in Health and read Circles of Hope – a story about Haiti. The youth group sold t-shirts for the walk (1/2 the sales go to Partners in Health or you got a free t-shirt if you promised to get sponsors for your walk).

Rev. Fred Small preached a truly amazing sermon on Haiti – managing to give ‘a people’s history of Haiti’ in the context of worship and rousing folks to love and action. Truly standing on the side of love. We sang “Stand” by Amy Carol Webb in the worship service, the choir sang a Haitian ballad, and the congregation sang a calypso Alleluia. At the end of the service after eveyone had a chance to eat Haitian cake in the parlor, speak with our guests (a number of people from the Haitian community came to the service as well as the folks who work at the Coalition) and sign up for the TPS legal clinics and the walk (along with turnng in cards for CIR) – we all went out on to the front steps of the church – holding the Standing on the Side of Love Banner – and singing ‘Stand’ with Rev. Small playing guitar and singing the verses. The moment was magical, folks were filled with love, and passersby stopped to listen and cheer us on. We’re now thinking we could do this once a month around various standing on the side of love justice issues as a form of public witness.