UU Rev witnesses on immigration at DC vigil

Yesterday, faith leaders and people of faith gathered at the Episcopalian Church of the Epiphany in Washington, D.C.–just a few blocks west of the UUA Washington Office for Advocacy, and a few blocks east of the White House–to pray and witness for comprehensive immigration reform.

The interfaith press conference and vigil had originally been scheduled to coincide with a White House summit on immigration with Administration and Congressional leaders. But late last week, the date of the summit was pushed back–for the second time. The bipartisan summit was scheduled initially for June 8th, then rescheduled for Wed. June 17th. Now, there’s no certainty about the new date. Organizers of yesterday’s vigil, who included Reform Immigration For America and the Interfaith Immigration Coalition, decided to continue as planned, in spite of the summit’s shifting date.

Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Unitarian Universalist faith leaders lead vigil attendees in reflection and prayers for President Obama and Congress to have the courage to move legislation forward this year. Speakers included: Rabbi Darryl Crystal, KAM Isaiah Israel, Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, Chicago, IL; Rev. Simon Bautista, Latino Missioner for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington; Fr. Robert Wotjek, Archdiocese of Baltimore, MD; Rev. Nancy McDonald Ladd, Bull Run Unitarian Universalist in Manassas, VA; and Rabbi Noam Marans, Associate Director of Interreligious Affairs, American Jewish Committee.

After the vigil’s conclusion, faith leaders and attendees proceeded to the White House for further prayer and witness. Watch the video above to see reflections on immigration reform from Unitarian Universalist minister Rev. Nancy McDonald Ladd, who has been involved in immigrant justice work in Manassas, Virginia.

Federal Trial against UU who provides humanitarian aid to immigrants begins today

“I am moved by my faith as a Unitarian Universalist to be engaged in this work along the border. It’s an important social justice issue to be in solidarity with the courageous people who leave so much behind to try and build a more dignified life for themselves and their families.” –Walt Staton

Today marks the beginning of the federal trial of Walter Staton, a Unitarian Universalist who provides humanitarian aid to migrant border crossers as a volunteer with No More Deaths, an official ministry of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson. Staton is being charged with knowingly littering after putting out jugs of water intended for migrants crossing remote areas of the Sonoran desert last December on Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge.

Dehydration is often a factor in deaths that occur along the border. Approximately 20 bodies of migrants have been recovered from Buenos Aires since 2002, with many more deaths occurring just outside the refuge’s boundary. No More Deaths volunteers distribute water jugs throughout the refuge in order to prevent deaths by dehydration, and they routinely pick up trash they find on the refuge. When Staton received his citation for littering, the group of volunteers he was with was carrying out empty water jugs and other trash.

The trial is expected to last most of the week.

  • Read No More Death’s official Press Release on Walt’s trial
  • Walt Staton and No More Deaths were featured in a February UUA.org article entitled Awakening Compassion at the Border
  • See an April 2009 video interview with No More Deaths volunteer Dan Millis, who also received a citation for littering, and Amy Goodman of Democracy Now.

Sharing a Family Secret

When Mom passed away recently, her niece, my cousin, flew into town for the funeral. Later that evening as we sat around the dinner table, my cousin asked questions about her aunt. Most of the stories that my dad told in response were ones that I had heard many times before. How Mom’s and Dad’s respective families had fled the communist takeover of mainland China and landed in Taiwan. How some family members on both sides had been left behind as the curtain descended. How they had met each other while working for the Taiwan post office. How they had immigrated to the U.S. as masters students at Brigham Young University. And how I was the first baby born to the community of Chinese students there – quite possibly the first Chinese baby born in Provo, UT.

Almost as an aside, Dad mentioned something that I had never heard before – that he and Mom had once been divorced. My grasp of Mandarin is not the best so at first I figured that I had simply misunderstood him. But as he continued talking, it became undeniable that I had heard correctly. Although married in Taiwan, Mom and Dad had divorced, immigrated to the U.S., and then remarried again. “Why?” I asked. “Because,” my dad explained, “U.S. immigration officials would not grant visas for married couples. They only gave visas to single students.”

I immediately understood why. Prior to the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, there was a strict quota based on nationality that discriminated blatantly against Chinese and other immigrants of non-Western European origin. U.S. immigration policy sought to “preserve” the county as a “white” nation. The U.S. would not have granted student visas to a Chinese married couple as they would be much more likely to have a child while in the U.S., who would then pave the way to permanent residency and citizenship. I sat there at the dinner table stunned both by the revelation of a family secret that I had never known and also by the lengths to which my parents were willing to go in order to get into the U.S.

As the daughter of immigrants, I have always been sensitive to public anti-immigrant sentiment and its racial overtones. It doesn’t matter that public ire is currently directed at immigrants from Mexico and other parts of Latin America. I know that blame was once directed at people who looked like me and could easily be so again – all it takes is a spy plane incident or a weak economy to turn us from “model minority” to “yellow peril” – just as it has been directed at successive waves of people who looked and acted differently.

Indeed, as I look at the history of Chinese immigration to the U.S., I can see many similarities with the situation facing immigrants from Latin America today. Chinese immigration started in sizaeble numbers in the mid-19th century because of work available on the railroads and in mines and the lack of economic opportunity in the homeland. Their growing numbers stirred anti-immigrant sentiment even as the railroad and mining industries happily took advantage of their cheap labor. (Does that sound familiar?) The Chinese were accused of being too insular, keeping to themselves, and unable to assimilate into “American” culture. (Does that sound familiar?) Chinese migrant workers were ambushed, beaten and sometimes killed. (Does that sound familiar?)

Anti-Chinese immigrant sentiment culminated in the 1882 “Chinese Exclusion Act,” the only law passed by Congress that bars immigration and naturalization based on race. By the 1920’s, the Chinese and eventually all Asians except Filipinos (because their homeland had become a U.S. colony) were prohibited from marrying whites, owning property, and/or becoming citizens, and subject to a slew of other degrading and racist laws. While I don’t expect things to get quite that bad ever again, the actions of authorities like Sheriff Arpaio make me wonder.

Most people nowadays would argue that the immigration debate isn’t about race at all, but the rule of law. “Illegal aliens are criminals because they’ve broken the law.” It may be easier for someone whose family has been in country for generations and is not viewed as “foreigners” – most likely a white family – to say that undocumented workers are “breaking the law.” It sounds so objective, unbiased, fair… But that ignores the fact that the law itself is unfair. If the law is written such that it makes it a lot easier for one group to “obey” the law than another, then there is something wrong with the law. My parents did not do anything “illegal” per se but they took drastic steps in order to circumvent the intended purpose of the law at that time… because they knew that the law was discriminatory and unjust. To what extent would someone go who does not have the privilege of applying for student visas?

My parents took the drastic measures that they did so that they could give their future children a better life. And I am not just referring to the divorce. They left their friends and family, their native soil and their culture, all for the sake of their children. Other parents right now are going to even greater extents – braving deserts and vigilantes, breaking the “law” – driven by the same love for their children and a desperation to provide for them what they know they cannot in their homeland. We are all (or nearly all) immigrants or descended from immigrants here, no matter how long your family can trace its roots in the U.S. And all because our ancestors were looking for a better life for their progeny.

UU Rev. in Stockton, CA preaches on Child Citizen Protection Act

“When we talk about immigration, there are always theological questions lurking just under the surface of our usual arguments. Here are some:
it moral to exclude people from this country?
Is it moral for a country to defend its borders, and if it is, why is it moral?
Is it ever right for a group to band together and keep out others who “don’t belong”?”
excerpt from “Family Across Borders,” by Rev. Laura Horton-Ludwig

This Mother’s Day, Rev. Laura Horton-Ludwig of First Unitarian Universalist Church of Stockton, California, preached on the theology of immigration. After sharing a story from her own family’s experience and contemplating the theological questions behind how we approach immigration, Laura closed her sermon by explaining HR 182, the Child Citizen Protection Act, and encouraging members of her congregation to fill out postcards to their representative asking them to co-sponsor the Child Citizen Protection Act.

Read Laura’s sermon, Family Across Borders, and then send your own message to your representative through our online action campaign.

The Child Citizen Protection Act would allow immigration judges to take into account the well-being of a U.S. citizen child when determining if their non-citizen parent should be forcibly deported. The bill would offer hope to families which include include at least one non-citizen parent and a U.S. citizen child—which make up 15% of all families in the United States.

A day of solidarity with Postville and communities affected by immigration raids

Today marks the one year anniversary of the raid in Postville, Iowa, where 389 people were arrested. In Postville and in communities across the country, people are standing in solidarity with immigrant workers and families and their friends and loved ones by calling for justice and comprehensive immigration reform.

You can stand in solidarity as well by sending a letter to your representatives through the Interfaith Immigration Coalition’s website.

Find a solidarity event in your area at the Interfaith Immigration Coalition’s Event Calendar. If an event you’re organizing or attending is not listed, please email kherrick@networklobby.org to have the event added.

To learn more about the raid in Postville, watch a short 8 minute film at the website for the forthcoming documentary abUSed: The Postville Raid.

Confronting Contagion

(Photo Credit LA Times)

It is a time to pray, not to blame; to send help, not to close borders; to love more fully, not to exclude more effectively. The H1N1 virus threatens our immune systems, but our spirits must repel the equally dangerous contagions of hatred and fear.  We must offer an active resistance to bigotry.

There is deep danger in assigning blame for the virus along ethnic lines, as radio talk show host Jay Severin did by calling Mexican immigrants “criminaliens,” “primitives,” “leeches,” and “women with mustaches and VD” on Boston’s WTKK-FM last week.  This reactionary response to a real public health crisis spread false information and racist language. WTKK-FM has yanked Severin from the air, but the bigotry that inspired his words is being echoed in scape-goating blog posts and cartoons across the United States.

It is imperative that people join together and stand on the side of love. Think of what you can do to be a healing agent in this time of crisis.  Writing blog posts and letters to our papers confronting dehumanizing rhetoric is important, but also consider other ways to be in solidarity.  A radical ministry at this moment may be as simple as having a joint potluck with a Mexican church.  Or, if day laborers congregate in your neighborhood, bring some baked goods or coffee one morning. 

We need to come together, even if we are wearing masks and disinfecting our hands every five minutes. We cannot let any virus destroy the fabric of our human family.  So next time you are driving by a Mexican restaurant and someone in your car cracks a joke about the swine flu, maybe you ought to pull over and have a delicious dinner of rice, beans, and carnitas.

Arpaio discusses immigration enforcement on The Colbert Report

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Joe Arpaio
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Unfortunately, I fell asleep before Stephen Colbert interviewed Sheriff Joe Arpaio on The Colbert Report this past Monday night, but Alex and I watched a clip of their conversation online this afternoon.

Over the course of a seven minute exchange in which Colbert did most of the talking, the discussion touched on law enforcement, racial profiling, and the border wall. Sheriff Arpaio responded to Colbert’s questions clearly and professionally, and even with a certain measure of grace–especially in light of the fact that a crowd of picketers was outside the building, protesting his treatment of undocumented immigrants.

Watching the interview, it was obvious that Sheriff Arpaio possesses a great deal of knowledge, experience, and passion for law enforcement. But I was troubled by how the pragmatism of his answers glossed over the human costs of his immigration enforcement practices.

For example, when the conversation turned to racial profiling, Arpaio said that identifying undocumented immigrants on sight is “pursuant to [his and his officers’] duties” in enforcing immigration laws. And while that may seem on the surface like a logical answer to the question asked, for me it misses the point.

Arpaio’s response, though calm and seemingly logical, left unacknowledged the suffering that his methods have created in immigrant and Latino communities by spreading fear and dividing families.

We need strong law enforcement, but first we need to be sure that the laws that we’re enforcing are good–that we have policies that work. Currently, our immigration policy is overwhelmingly broken. Enforcing broken laws is dangerous as well as ineffective.

We need pragmatism in our law enforcement, but our pragmatism absolutely must be anchored in compassion and respect for the inherent worth and dignity of every human being.

Watching the interview reaffirmed my belief in how important it is that Unitarian Universalists practice advocacy. The compassionate perspective is so very important, and that’s what we, as people who value both human diversity and interconnectedness, bring to the table on issues of social justice.

What do you think? Please feel free to share your comments and reflections on the video here.

Sherrif Arpaio to appear on the Colbert Report tonight

Tonight, this man . . .

. . . will take on this man . . .

on Comedy Central. 11:30 PM/10:30 C.

I might have to stay up past my bedtime.

(Who are these men, anyway? Stephen Colbert of the Colbert Report, photo by DJOkatu on Creative Commons, and Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Phoenix, Arizona, photo by lanceold on Creative Commons. Colbert is the host of mock news show The Colbert Report. Sheriff Joe Arpaio is being investigated for civil rights abuses against immigrants.)

Conference call for UU Immigrant Justice Advocates this Tuesday

In the latest of a string of experiments in finding new ways to connect and inform the UU immigrant justice community, the UUA Washington Office for Advocacy is hosting a conference call this Tuesday, April 21st, from 4 to 5 PM Eastern Standard Time. The call will briefly cover:

* Legislative developments
* May actions including May 1st and the May 12th Day of Remembrance
* May 2009 Action of the Month: Crash Course for Immigrant Justice materials
* The new UUA Immigrant Justice presence on Twitter, Delicious, and Facebook

To participate, send an email to lswanson [at] uua.org. I’ll email you the call-in number, access code, and agenda on Tuesday morning.

Photo by Darwin Bell, Creative Commons.

UUA Immigrant Justice takes the internet by storm . . . .

First there were webpages.

Then there was an email update list.

And now . . . . there’s UUA_Immigration Twitter!

. . . And UUA_Immigration on del.icio.us.

–And last but not least, a new Facebook group called Another Unitarian Universalist Acting for Immigrant Justice on May 1, 2009.

Not sure how Twitter, del.icio.us, or Facebook work? Us neither. (Just kidding). (Sort of).

Why are you still reading this post? Go click on the links and explore!