"What Would You Do?" explores racism against day laborers

In January, ABC News ran an episode of What Would You Do? that explored racism against Spanish-speaking day laborers.

What Would You Do? explores ethics by secretly filming bystanders’ reactions to staged incidents of behavior such as shoplifting and sexual harassment. The Confronting Racism episode that aired on January 7 examined how customers reacted when a deli worker–a paid actor–refused to serve two Latino day laborers–also paid actors. The (pretend) deli worker referred to the (pretend) day laborers as “illegal” and made a number of racially and ethnically charged remarks, such as, “We don’t speak Mexican here,” in front of (not pretend!) customers.

Over two days, eighty-eight people came into the store while What Would You Do? ran its experiment. Of that number, forty-nine chose not to get involved in the situation.

Nine customers sided with the deli worker–one even offered to remove the day laborers from the store himself. That man later changed his mind after watching from the sidelines as the experiment repeated itself.

On the other end of the spectrum, thirty individuals stood up and spoke out against the deli worker’s racist actions. Some offered to buy the day laborers’ meals, and others asked to speak to the deli worker’s manager. Several vowed not to return to the store.

The fifteen minute video is a powerful and moving conversation starter for how people of faith can honor the inherent worth and dignity of immigrants. For me, it drove home the point that although our opinions about policy and laws are important, when we interact with one another, our faith calls us to regard each other first and foremost as fellow human beings.

As the show’s host John Quinoñes said,

“It’s a highly charged, volatile subject with emotions running high on both sides over legal and illegal immigrants and whether they have a right to be here. But when it comes to something as simple as being served a cup of coffee, why should any of that matter?”

Check it out: view What Would You Do?: Confronting Racism in America.

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

First UU Church of Nashville youth speak out for immigrants’ rights

On January 22nd, voters in Nashville, TN, defeated an amendment that would have made Nashville the largest municipality in the United States to pass an English-only ordinance. Members of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville (FUUN, pictured at right) joined forces with a broad-based coalition, Nashville for All of Us, and its subgroup, Faith Leaders for All of Us, to defeat this amendment, which would have violated the human rights of many residents in Nashville and surrounding Davidson County.

Members of FUUN were active in helping spread the word and getting out the vote. 5th and 6th grade members of the congregation discussed the issue in their Sunday morning Religious Education class, and then wrote letters that were published in the church newsletter, The Fireside, and mailed the letters to The Tennessean. See below to read their letters, reprinted from The Fireside.

Many thanks to Tanya Surawicz, co-chair of FUUN’s Social justice Committee, Marguerite Mills, FUUN’s Director of Religious Education, and the youth of FUUN for this news item!

Dear Editor:

I think that English shouldn’t be the only language in Davidson County. It isn’t fare to the people that only speeks one language. What if there is someone that only speeks Spanish and they can’t get a job because of that. That means that the people who speek a different language won’t be able to get a job and there will be a lot of people without jobs. In the Declaration of Independence it says that all men are created equal. If there is someone that is signing up for school they can only sign them up in English. So that being said English shouldn’t be the only language in Davidson County!!


Khalila Early-Zald, sixth grade

Dear Editor:

I think that English should not be the only spoken language in Davidson County because it is not fair for those who are from different countries, and can not pay for the education to learn English. Also, in the Declaration of Independence it says, “All men are created equal.” If this is passed, it goes against the Declaration of Independence. In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights it says, “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status.” If the English only amendment is passed, it would go against this to.

Sarah Keil, sixth grade

Dear Editor,

It has come to my attention that a law has been made to declare English the main language in Davidson County. My UU class and I oppose this idea. What about immigrants? Those foreign people who have a good idea and cannot understand English would not be able to communicate it. Please try not to pass this law.


Hannah Harrison, sixth grade

Dear Editor,

I believe that an English-only law should not be passed in Davidson County. This would harm the United States. We are the most united country in the world. We shouldn’t discriminate [against] others just because they don’t speak English. The declaration states that “all men are created equal.” We are the country where many immigrants [come] to in search of freedom, their only chance of hope. How do you expect those who are less fortunate and can’t afford to get a translator to move here and survive this way??? We live in the United States, we are united, we are 1. This can only be true if we truly are 1, we are accepting of others even if they look different, believe differently, or speak a different language.

I hope you will consider this letter. Thank-you for your time!


Joanna Paul, seventh grade

To learn more about the defeat of the English-only ordinance in Nashville, see Nashville Speaks up: English Only soundly defeated from The City Paper of Nashville.

UUs’ Op-ed: Shall we be innkeepers or wise men?

An op-ed by Rev. Victoria Safford and Dan Hoxworth, Chair of the Economic Justice Initiative at White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church, was published yesterday on MinnPost.com.

In Are We a Nation of Innkeepers or Wise Men, Hoxworth and Safford reflect on the Christmas nativity story to gain a new perspective on the immigration debate.

Read it here: Are We a Nation of Innkeepers or Wise Men?

Photo Credit to Prio, Creative Commons.

While You Weren’t Looking…

Back on April Fools Day, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that it was waiving nearly three dozen laws and regulations in order to extend the wall it’s been building along our border with Mexico. The federal, state and local laws that were bypassed include legislation that protect the environment and our health, sacred Native American lands, and the rights of property owners. As a result, a remarkably broad coalition has formed of people who oppose this enormous waste of money and trampling of legal process, from the expected environmentalists to cattle ranchers to mayors of many border towns in the U.S. Despite that, the issue has gotten little attention in the rest of the country. To read more about the Border Wall and the environmental havoc it is wreaking, check out this blog post from NoTexasBorderWall.com.

I am thinking about the fact that the DHS announcement was made on April Fools Day because another announcement with wide-ranging environmental impacts was recently made on Election Day. While the nation’s attention was almost unanimously focused elsewhere, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced that on Dec 19th, more than 50,000 acres of land within close proximity to three National Parks in Utah will be auctioned off for oil and gas drilling rights. The three national parks affected are Arches (home of the iconic and aptly named “Delicate Arch”), Canyonlands, and Dinosaur.

The top National Park Service official in Utah, Cordell Roy, says that his department wasn’t even notified before this announcement was made. Needless to say, the National Park Service objects to what some are calling a Bush administration “fire sale” for the oil and gas industries. While the BLM claims that this is simply business as usual and is surprised by the protest, conservation groups say that never before has the BLM “bunched drilling parcels on the fence lines of national parks.” And keep in mind that while the high price of gasoline may tempt us to consider putting part of our national heritage at risk, the Energy Information Administration says that Utah has only 2.5 percent of the country’s known natural gas reserves and less than 1 percent of its known oil reserves. Drilling around our national parks will not decrease oil prices.

Perhaps it was just a coincidence that this announcement was made on the afternoon of Election Day. But with the bustle of the winter holiday season getting into full swing, we might want to keep our eyes and ears open for additional holiday surprises.

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.

Youtube videos teach how to call Congress

Check out these cute Youtube videos below by Aquifer Media, made with the support of Homies Unidos. They’re easy to follow, and kid-friendly!

The first video teaches how to call your Representative, and the second shows how to call your Senator. Video creator Will Coley suggests following the first video to urge your representative to support HR 1176, the Child Citizen Protection Act, a bill the UUA has been actively supporting for several months. You can find more info about CCPA here, and the UUA action page here.

Tour of the Faithful – People of Faith for Immigration Reform

Scroll to the bottom of this post for links to event schedules.

Pro-immigrant media organization America’s Voice is facilitating a national month of action called Tour of the Faithful. 17 events organized by local religious groups will take place in cities across the nation over the next month, calling for reform to the United States’ broken immigration system.

The first event on the Tour was an interfaith prayer vigil held at the Ohio State House in Columbus on Wednesday, Sept. 10th. I attended together with 75 others from a diverse array of faith traditions.

Rev. Mark Belletini of First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus offered a prayer, along with twelve other faith leaders, including Cantor Jack Chomsky of Congregation Tifereth Israel, Dr. Asma Mobin-Udin of CAIR Ohio, and Rev. Steve Hammond of the American Baptist Church. Standing under a banner that read, “Moral Voices Unite for Immigration Reform,” prayer leaders called for humane, just immigration reform and an end to raids and deportations.

For me, the vigil was an extremely powerful experience. English, Spanish, and Arabic were spoken, and faith leaders often began their prayers without identifying either the God to whom they were praying or the faith they represented.

Many vigil attendees also took part in a two-day Summit which taught tools and techniques for immigration reform advocacy. The Summit, which First UU Church of Columbus and the UUA Washington Office helped organize in conjunction with the Interfaith Immigration Coalition and local Midwest groups, exceeded my expectations. As the Summit drew to a close, participants shared their impressions. Many voiced a feeling that they were inspired and well-equipped to return to their communities to begin organizing and taking action.

The Prayer Vigil and Summit were two of the most amazing and effective experiences I have had during my time at the Washington Office.

Check out the Tour of the Faithful Schedule to see if any events are taking place near you. Or, see locations of all events at a glance on the event map.

Raids & Deportations are a Mental Health Issue, Too

Raids and deportations are often viewed as workplace and legal issues. But there are some very good reasons that we should also view raids and deportations as mental health issues.

In October of 2007, the Urban Institute and National Council of la Raza (NCLR) released a 109 page report entitled, Paying the Price: The Impact of Immigration Raids on America’s Children. According to the report, there are almost 5 million children in the United States with at least one undocumented parent–and because of our nation’s broken immigration system, any of these children’s parents could be detained or deported at any time.

The psychological consequences of having a parent suddenly taken away can be devastating, especially when children are too young to understand why their mother or father is suddenly gone. There is also a risk of children “personalizing” their parent’s disappearance; a child may believe that he or she is somehow responsible, or that their parent’s sudden disappearance is connected to his or her own behavior.

The resulting stress, guilt, grief, and anxiety can harm a child’s mental and emotional well-being. Schoolwork, behavior, and relationships may suffer. Paying the Price details the consequences a workplace raid had for one 8 year-old boy.

For one eight-year-old boy, stress associated with his mother’s arrest manifested in health problems. Although his mother was released on the evening of the raid, he was unexpectedly picked up from school by a friend. While in the friend’s care, the boy overheard a conversation about
the raid and cried for a couple of hours until his mother arrived home. Following his mother’s return, he found out about her possible deportation and experienced major separation anxiety. He was described as nervous and clingy after the raid, even though he had never displayed such symptoms before. He experienced repeated nightmares from which he sometimes awoke with uncontrollable shaking and loss of breath. He was taken to the hospital twice, and doctors diagnosed him with major anxiety disorder resulting from post-raid stress.

Paying the Price, p. 53

Stories like these remind serve as a reminder of how important it is to honor family ties, even when those ties cross legal boundaries of immigration status. They also remind us of the need to continue to advocate for just and compassionate family-based immigration reform.

You’re Invited: Midwest Interfaith Immigration Summit, Sept. 10 – 11

The UUA’s Washington Office for Advocacy in Washington, D.C. and First UU Church of Columbus in Ohio have been working with the Interfaith Immigration Coalition, (an interfaith team of national faith advocacy groups based in D.C.), and Midwestern faith groups to plan the Midwest Interfaith Immigration Summit.

The two-day Summit will take place Sept. 10 – 11, 2008, in Columbus, Ohio. Its goal is to bring faith-based leaders and advocates in the Midwest together to work towards educating and mobilizing their communities in support of fair and humane immigration reform. Workshops will cover a variety of topics, including state and federal legislation, Lobbying 101, Raids, Detention, and Worker Justice, and much more.

I will be attending to represent the UUA, and I encourage Midwestern UUs who are interested in immigrant rights & immigration reform to attend. The UUA is offering a few scholarship to cover tuition ($95 before August 15th). If you are interested in attending and/or applying for a scholarship, or have any questions about the Summit, please contact me at lswanson@uua.org.

Register online at: http://hias.org/midwest-interfaith-immigration-summit

If you would like to post a flier in your congregation’s place of meeting, a printable PDF is available here: http://www.hias.org/files/immigration/SummitSavetheDateFinalUpdated_2.pdf

Principal Coordinator: Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS)

Sponsored By: American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League, Church World Service, Franciscan Action Network, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Mennonite Central Committee, NETWORK, Ohio Council of Churches, Ohio Hispanic Coalition, Peace and Justice Support Network of Mennonite Church USA, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, Sojourners, Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations,Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society, United Jewish Communities, & World Relief.

Endorsed By: Friends Committee on National Legislation, Interfaith Worker Justice, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS).

Made possible in part by a grant from the Open Society Institute & The Carnegie Corporation of New York.