Love the Immigrant as Yourself – New Sanctuary Movement in Kansas City

This is actually old news, but I just saw a picture of a billboard erected almost a year ago by the Immigrant Justice Advocacy Movement (formerly the New Sanctuary Movement Coalition of Greater Kansas City), and wanted to share it here. Picture credited to KMBC – TV of Kansas City.

Last year, about twenty churches in the Kansas City, Missouri, decided to form a coalition in support of immigrant families as part of the New Sanctuary Movement (NSM). Among these was All Souls UU Church, members of whom were present September 25, 2007, when over a hundred people gathered to announce the coalition.

One UU church member, Angela Ferguson, was quoted by the Kansas City Star as saying, “Our goal is to speak out against making immigrants the scapegoats of all problems. If you can’t get that off the table, then we can’t have a logical debate about how to fix the situation.”

I think the Immigrant Justice Advocacy Movement found the perfect words to convey that message.

Picture credited to Freddy Rhoads, originally posted at

For more information:

Click here for a Unitarian Universalist guide to the New Sanctuary Movement, or check out our webpages on Immigration at

UU Immigration Activists in the News

“How as people of faith could we not stand with immigrants? Isn’t that what religion is all about?”

–Susan Leslie, UUA, quoted in the Boston Globe

On July 4th, the Boston Globe published a front page article exploring the role of religious groups in supporting immigrant workers. The article features the involvement of the UUA and Boston’s Arlington Street Church with the New Sanctuary movement. Our very own Susan Leslie of Congregational Advocacy is quoted! Read all about it in Churches Champion Immigrants’ Plight.

In addition, the UUA webpage is featuring a story about Massachusetts UU immigrant activists’ involvement in a statewide coalition. Check out Unitarian Universalists Join Welcoming Massachusettes Campaign Kick Off in Support of Immigrants.

Susan and I are collecting stories of how UUs all over the country have been involved in volunteering and advocating around immigration issues, so that we can share them with the greater UU community. Please contact Susan or I if you have a story to share!

Susan – sleslie [at] uua [dot] org
Lisa – lswanson [at] uua [dot] org

Act Now to Repeal the Ban on HIV Travelers and Immigrants to the U.S.

Posted below is a special, urgent Action Alert from Immigration Equality.

ImEq Logo

The U.S. bars anyone with HIV/AIDS from immigrating or visiting – even as a tourist. HIV is the only disease singled out by Congress for special treatment. The ban is unfair, ineffective, and disproportionately harmful to LGBT immigrants and their families. While opposite-sex couples qualify for a waiver to the ban, same-sex couples do not.

Today the Senate is considering legislation that would end the ban. Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Gordon Smith (R-OR) added language to the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which is being debated on the Senate floor today.

Send a message urging your Senators to support the Kerry-Smith provision and to ensure that the repeal of the ban on HIV-positive visitors and immigrants remains in PEPFAR.

Immigration Equality has been working to end the HIV ban for more than a decade. Don’t let this opportunity pass us by – contact your Senators now and ask them to repeal the HIV travel ban!

Immigration Resource Expanded and Updated!

Updated, Expanded Resource: Welcoming Our Neighbors: An Immigration Resource for Unitarian Universalists

Do you remember that skinny 12 page resource for UU Immigration Reform advocates that we released back in May? Well, based on further research and your feedback, it has been up-dated, expanded, and re-named, and has emerged as a strapping 27 page guidebook! Take a Look!

New sections include the answer to what exactly “comprehensive immigration reform” entails, stories of immigrants’ experiences of injustice, and how you can support immigrant justice through–I am not making this up–Myspace.

But don’t worry; the guide won’t overwhelm you; the Table of Contents will guide you to just the sections you need, when you need them!

I hope you’ll take a moment to skim through it, or, should you feel so moved, to print it out and carry it around with you everywhere you go.

Media Matters Launches Petition Against Anti-immigrant Hysteria on Fox and CNN

Media Matters Action Network has released an excellent new report called Fear & Loathing on Prime Time: Immigration Myths and Cable News, which documents how Lou Dobbs, Bill O’Reilly, and Glenn Beck propagate anti-immigrant myths on CNN and Fox News. Media Matters has also launched a petition asking Dobbs, etc., to stop the anti-immigrant hysteria.

Media Matters’s video posted below shows how Dobbs, O’Reilly, and Beck create false impressions that undocumented immigrants cause crime and constitute an economic drain on American society, and legitimize urban legends like the NAFTA Super Highway, the “North American Union,” the “Reconquista” of the American Southwest, mass voter fraud by undocumented immigrants, and the spread of leprosy by immigrants.

In Fear and Loathing, Media Matters busts these myths and legends, and calls out Dobbs in particular on irresponsible journalism. One example from Fear and Loathing points out how, in October of 2006, Dobbs reported that “just about a third of the prison population in this country is estimated to be illegal aliens.” But according to the Justice Department, noncitizen prisoners (including documented and undocumented), account for only 5.9% of the prison population. In truth, the incarceration rate is five times higher for the native-born than for the foreign-born.

To see more of Dobbs, O’Reilly, and Beck’s anti-immigrant urban legends busted, check out the Fear and Loathing report, available in both English and Spanish. It’s a fascinating and disturbing twenty pages.

The petition launched by Media Matters calls for Dobbs, O’Reilly, and Beck to “stop feeding anti-immigrant hysteria by repeating myths and misleading claims about undocumented immigrants.” Furthermore, the petition calls for CNN and Fox News “to step up and provide the American public with a fair and accurate portrayal of immigration issues.” Click Here to Sign the Petition.

To conclude, I’ll leave you with a minute and forty-five seconds of Paul Waldman and Dobbs going head-to-head on Dobb’s reporting of the alleged NAFTA SuperHighway, followed by the Security and Prosperity Partnership Of North America’s official statement on the subject.


Myth: The U.S. Government, working though the SPP, has a secret plan to build a “NAFTA Super Highway.”

Fact: The U.S. government is not planning a NAFTA Super Highway. The U.S. government does not have the authority to designate any highway as a NAFTA Super Highway, nor has it sought such authority, nor is it planning to seek such authority. There are private and state level interests planning highway projects which they themselves describe as “NAFTA Corridors,” but these are not Federally-driven initiatives, and they are not a part of the SPP.

Gulf Coast Guest Workers Launch Hunger Strike for Justice

“Instead of punishing the criminals, they see us as criminals and set immigration after us. While they are trying to send us back, we are standing here on hunger strike until the real criminals are brought to justice.” –Guest Worker on Hunger Strike

In the wake of the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, hundreds of thousands of people, left without jobs or homes, were forced to leave the Gulf Coast and begin new lives elsewhere. Over the next two and a half years, the government and its agencies proved ineffective at revitalizing Gulf Coast communities. The massive displacement which had initially been viewed as temporary gradually assumed the aspect of a permanent “Katrina/Rita diaspora.”

Meanwhile, Signal International, a company with shipyards in hurricane-affected coastal areas of Texas and Mississippi, claimed that it could find no willing or able workers to hire. While the government continued to fail to bring Gulf Coast residents home and back to work, the United States Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) approved Signal to bring in guest workers from other countries. In late 2006, Signal hired a labor recruiting firm called “Global Resources” to find workers in India.

Global Resources recruiters promised 550 Indian workers that they would receive permanent jobs with Signal International, green cards, and eventually the right to bring their families to America, in exchange for $20,000. For many of the men who accepted the offer, $20,000 represented their entire life savings. Some men borrowed money, and others sold their homes for a chance at U.S. citizenship. But when the workers arrived in the United States, they found that they had been lied to.

Instead of receiving a path to citizenship, the workers from India were given H2B guest worker visas–permission to work in the U.S. for ten months, with the possibility of renewal controlled by their employer, Signal International. The workers were forced to live on company property, paying $1,050 a month to share a room with 23 other men. Signal tried to make about 30 welders who had been promised wages of $18.50 per hour sign papers to cut their salaries to $13.50/hr. Because the welders’ permission to work in the U.S. was tied to Signal by their H2B visa, which does not permit guest workers to change employers, the threat of deportation hung over their heads if they did not comply.

When some of the workers tried to organize for better wages and living conditions in the spring of 2007, armed guards raided the workers’ bunk-rooms at 3:00 AM and detained six of the organizers with the intention of deporting them. The workers made contact with the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance (MIRA), who called in Hindi-speaking organizer Saket Soni from the New Orleans Workers Center for Racial Justice. The workers began to organize under the aegis of the New Orleans-based Alliance of Guestworkers for Dignity. (Saket Soni, pictured with workers & allies, left).

On March 6, 2008, after having reported themselves to the Department of Justice as victims of trafficking and demanding federal prosecution of Signal International, nearly 100 of the guest workers employed in Signal’s Pascagoula, MS, shipyard walked off the job, leaving their hard hats at Signal’s gate.

The workers launched a “Journey of Justice,” traveling, largely on foot, from New Orleans to D.C., traveling through key sites of the civil rights struggle. In May, the workers–now turned activists inspired by both the Indian Ghandi and the American King–arrived in D.C. Yesterday morning, the workers assembled in front of the White House with allies from SAALT, AAJC, UFCW, ARW, and more, and launched a hunger strike with the message: “The US needs a just immigration system that does not link the US economy to exploitable foreign workers while displacing poor and working-class American workers.”

“Our fore-father, Mahatma Ghandi, did a hunger strike against the odds, to make the impossible, possible,” one worker said through an interpreter. “And that is what we are following today.”

Through the hunger strike, the guest workers hope to pressure Congress to hold hearings on Signal International and other Gulf Coast companies’ use of the federal Guest Worker program as a legally sanctioned vehicle for exploitation.

How you can help:

Where to learn more:

Standing on the Side of Love with Immigrant Families: A May Day Rally with President Sinkford

I was so proud to be a UU yesterday as I stood in a crowd of several hundred immigrants from Central America and their allies and listened to UUA President Rev. William Sinkford address the crowd. Bill was surrounded by a group of interfaith clergy as he spoke saying “The Gospel instructs us to ‘Love our neighbor as ourselves.’ We need to ask ourselves, ‘Who is my neighbor”’ and we need to include undocumented folks in our answer.”

The rally was held in Chelsea, MA, a small city north of Boston with a large immigrant population. The Chelsea City Council voted to become a Sanctuary City in June 2007 and is a welcome contrast to the kinds of sweeps we see being conducted by the sheriff in Phoenix and his volunteer posse that keep a count of people they have detained and deported up on their website.

In fact, there is now a campaign in MA called Welcoming Massachusetts aimed at making us the first state to be officially welcoming to all immigrants. President Sinkford was asked to address the rally because of the leadership role the UUA has been taking in that campaign and as the first religious denomination to sign on to the New Sanctuary Movement.

The New Sanctuary Movement was launched a year ago on Mother’s Day weekend (Saturday in Latin American and Sunday in the US & Canada). Forums, vigils, press conferences, film showings and more will be held across the country May 8-11 to mark the anniversary and highlight the continued need to stop the raids and enact humane immigration reform. (Check the website for an event near you). ICE has made over 5,000 workplace arrests this year and extended their reach to Amtrak trains and Greyhound buses. Many cities continue to see raids and hateful rhetoric. However, we are also seeing lots of solidarity. UU congregations are active in the 30 interfaith new sanctuary coalitions across the country.

There will be a statewide forum at the Arlington Street Church (UU) in Boston on May 10th being co-sponsored by the UUA, UUSC, Centro Presente, and MA Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice.

As a staff person who helped launch the UUA’s anti-racism multi-cultural initiative, I am so gratified to see us developing partnerships with the immigrant community. At a time when hateful rhetoric and fear surround the issue of immigrant rights, it is as people of faith that we call for compassion, for keeping families together, for recognizing that we are all children of god. I think we can help build bridges between communities. As the largely Latino crowd cheered Bill Sinkford, an angry white man rushed in front of the stage demanding to know if Bill was from Chelsea. The Imam standing on the stage with Bill came down and took the man by the arm and led him to the side as he talked with him calmly while the crowd chanted “Si Se Puede – Yes We Can!” Bill began talking again about how we are all neighbors. People came up to shake Bill’s hand. And I’m happy to say that several of them were UUs! It was a religious witness we must continue.

In Honor of May Day: A New Resource for UU Immigration Activists & A Request for Your May Day Stories

“As much as we need a prosperous economy, we also need a prosperity of kindness and decency.” –Caroline Kennedy Schlossburg”

Today, activists across the country are celebrating immigrants and advocating for immigration reform. In honor of May Day, Susan Leslie and I have spent the past two weeks putting together a new printable 12 page resource for UU immigrant rights activists called Welcoming the Stranger: An Immigration Resource for Unitarian Universalists. The resource includes facts about immigration, related to UUA policy, a statement from UUA President Rev. William G. Sinkford, sermon excerpts, ideas and resources for taking action, and ways for youth to get involved.

For the record, my favorite part is the sample of citizenship test questions on page 12. Just which are the two longest rivers in the U.S., anyway? And who was President during World War I?

Unfortunately, I probably won’t be able to make it to the Immigrant Rights rally being held in DC this afternoon in Malcolm X park, but it makes me happy to know that immigrants and allies across the country are taking part in May Day mobilization activities. UUA President Rev. William G. Sinkford is speaking today at a May 1st Coalition Immigrant Rights Rally in Chelsea, MA, which became a sanctuary city in June, 2007. He will be speaking about why people of faith support immigrant families, and calling on Massachusetts citizens, organizations, and city and town governments to sign the Welcoming Massachusetts Pledge.

If you attend a May Day immigrant rights event today, we would like your story! Please send a 1 or 2 paragraph report and a few digital photos to Susan Leslie, UUA Director for Congregational Advocacy and Witness, at to have them posted on the UUA website.

Here’s what Susan needs:

Where, What, When, Who. If possible, please highlight UU participation, and send digital photos that capture faith and families. We will include this with our report on of May Day activities!

If you’ve read this far and you’re thinking, “Oh no! I didn’t know that May 1st was a day of national mobilization for immigrant rights! Now it’s all over and I didn’t do anything!”–NEVER FEAR! I have some great ideas for how you can take a stand for immigrant rights RIGHT NOW in three minutes or less in just three simple steps:

  1. Participate in our online action campaign to oppose the border wall
  2. Participate in our online action campaign to oppose the (misnamed) “SAVE” Act, and
  3. Subscribe to our UU Immigration Activist News Bulletin. To sign up, check the “Immigration” box and submit your info. Susan and I send out about 1 email a month with information on federal immigration legislation, the New Sanctuary Movement, resources, and all things UU-immigration related.

To conclude: Hurrah for Immigrants, Hurrah for Immigrant Rights Advocates of all backgrounds, and Hurrah for May Day!

1) The Missouri and Mississippi Rivers
2) Woodrow Wilson

Boston Interfaith Community Immigrant Rights March, May 2006
Photo by UU World Editor Chris Walton. Image and more info available
online at

Building the Border Wall Hurts Us All

On the grounds of “protecting national security,” the U.S. government wants to build a wall on the 2,000 mile border between the U.S. and Mexico, with estimated costs ranging between one and eight billion dollars. (For perspective, the first 11 miles of the wall near San Diego cost $42 million – that’s $3.8 million per mile.) The government is building this wall despite evidence that tells us that the Canadian border is far more susceptible to anti-U.S. terrorist activity than the Mexican border. (Yet the U.S. is not building a wall along the Canadian border). Also, where it has already been built, the wall is woefully ineffective at keeping people out, delaying crossing by a matter of minutes. Instead, the wall has made human smuggling a lucrative business.

The Bush administration wants to complete another 670 miles of this wall across the environmentally sensitive Southwest by the end of this year. On April 1st the Dept of Homeland Security announced that it would be waiving almost three dozen federal, state and local laws and regulations in order to accomplish this goal. DHS has the power to do this because Congress passed the REAL ID Act in 2005, which amongst other things gave the Department of Homeland Security the ability to waive all legal requirements, as necessary, in order to expedite the construction of border walls.

Unfortunately, this was not a cruel April Fools joke. In addition to the exorbitant costs for something that isn’t effective, these waivers have other quite serious repercussions. First, in the name of security, they bypass the very laws designed to ensure our safety, including the Clean Air Act and Safe Drinking Water Act. This means for example that DHS can build its wall without monitoring the impact that it will have on the Rio Grande. (If there are no negative health impacts, then why the need to bypass the laws?)

Second, by bypassing laws that protect land ownership/use, DHS can force the rightful owners to sell the needed land. This includes the forced selling of First-Nation-owned, sacred, ancestral lands, violating the the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Third, it means that wildlife refuges that took years to create by painstakingly purchasing contiguous segments will be cut in half, bypassing laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act. The wall designed to segregate humans will also keep endangered species such as the ocelot from hunting and mating. It’s no wonder that the wall is opposed by a broad coalition of mayors, land-owners and environmental activists.

Our Seventh Principle, the interdependent web of existence of which we are a part, tells us that what we seek to do to one group also affects everything else including ourselves. As the examples above show, building a 2,000 mile wall across a continent hurts the most vulnerable people and animals on both sides of the border. We need a more holistic approach than building walls to reinforce boundaries that nature does not recognize. Looking at the economic forces that drive immigration and recognizing the need for equitable economic development would be a start.

Friends, if you are outraged by this latest abuse of power in the name of “security,” please do not let another abuse pass without resistance. Raise awareness. I’ve had a few people tell me that they didn’t even know about it. Tell your friends. Write letters to the editor. Blog. Make your voice heard.

"Saved": The SAVE Act, Nativism, and Our Role as Immigrant Advocates of Faith

“In ordinary usage, “to save” means to keep safe or to protect from harm. In Christian theology, being saved is deliverance from sin through Christ’s death and faith in God. Unitarian Universalist tradition is founded upon the belief that salvation is universal—available for all people, not a chosen few. But on Capitol Hill this winter, “SAVE” has acquired a different meaning: the Secure America through Verification and Enforcement Act of 2007 . . . .”

Hey y’all, that was a teaser! Today the rest of my post is over at Street Prophets,”the online forum that mobilizes progressive people of faith to name, discuss and take action on critical political and religious issues.”

Read the rest of my post at, and check out the other great articles on Street Prophets!