Secretary Janet Napolitano
Department of Homeland Security
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C. 20528
Attorney General Eric Holder
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001
July 29, 2011
Dear Secretary Napolitano and Attorney General Holder,
I write to you as the denominational head of the Unitarian Universalist Association, on behalf of more than 1,000 congregations across the country, urging immediate action to quell the growing human rights crisis in Arizona.
As someone who has witnessed firsthand the abuses taking place in the name of so-called law enforcement, I request that the Department of Homeland Security immediately sever Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s access to immigration programs like 287(g) and Secure Communities. I also request that the Department of Justice conclude its ongoing investigation into abuses by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office and bring Sheriff Arpaio to justice.
A year ago today, our Unitarian Universalist principle on the inherent worth and dignity of all people led me to Phoenix to participate in a National Day of Non-Compliance in protest of SB 1070. Along with others, I chose to engage in an act of civil disobedience in front of the Maricopa County jail. In blocking the entrance of Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s jail, I sought to impede — if only for one day — the Sheriff’s dehumanization of migrants, his raids on barrios, and his campaign of terror. After fourteen hours in jail, I was able to leave freely and return to my family. Others in Maricopa County jail were less fortunate.
Following my arrest, I led an effort to bring together seven other denominations and a dozen faith-based organizations in signing a letter to President Obama urging an end to policies like the frightening “Secure Communities” program that “Arizonify” local law police by requiring them to enforce unjust federal immigration laws. These programs criminalize immigrant communities, sanction racial profiling, and tear apart families. Our letter was delivered in February to the Department of Homeland Security. Unfortunately, Secretary Janet Napolitano, there has been no action in response.
I am thankful that the Department of Justice launched an investigation into Sheriff Arpaio’s actions, and I am hopeful that upon completion, the Sheriff will be held accountable for his crimes. But justice delayed is justice denied. The Department of Justice investigation has been a slow process. Attorney General Holder, I am not an investigator or a civil rights attorney. I appreciate that finding evidence requires due process. But as a minister who cares deeply about the suffering of other people — people whose freedom exists at the whim of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a man who has shown himself to thrive on cruelty — I ask you, Attorney General Holder, to please bring Sheriff Arpaio to justice swiftly.
There are approximately 8,000 inmates in Sheriff Arpaio’s jail cells, many of whom have been victims of policies that have been deemed unconstitutional. Whether firsthand or on television, we have all witnessed Sheriff Arpaio’s cruelty:
- We witnessed – on reality television — Sheriff Arpaio raid a man’s house with a tank, turning terror into sport viewing entertainment.
- We saw the prisoners in the tent city subjected to both snow and unimaginable heat.
- We watched as Sheriff Arpaio was forced to settle racial profiling suits, and fire his underlings for their overreach and intimidation.
- In the past year, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a ruling that Sheriff Arpaio has repeatedly violated the constitutional rights of detainees by housing them in overcrowded conditions, at “dangerously high temperatures,” and feeding them “overripe, moldy, and generally inedible” food.
- All the while, as you know, Sheriff Arpaio has defied numerous federal investigations into his conduct.
Sheriff Arpaio, who years ago said he thinks it’s an “honor” to be called KKK, and referred to his own tent city as a “concentration camp,” is not only still in power, but is also empowered by the Department of Homeland Security.
Secretary Napolitano, please stop people’s suffering in Arizona today with one simple action. By immediately cutting the Sheriff’s access to immigration programs like Secure Communities and 287(g), you can prevent injustice today. You have the legal authority and moral obligation to act, particularly because you know firsthand what is happening in your hometown.
To bear witness to human rights violations and not take action is to be implicated in the injustice. There is a domestic human rights crisis in Phoenix. I have seen it firsthand, and I am compelled to act.
One year later to the day, as I appear in court to answer for my deeds, little has changed to make Maricopa County more like the America I believe in. Instead, much has happened to make our country more and more like Maricopa County. Secretary Napolitano, you continue to replicate and expand policies born in Arizona; and in the process, DHS has made the entire federal government — and potentially all of us — into accomplices for Joe Arpaio’s crimes. Every day our federal government continues its contract with Joe Arpaio is a day in which it condones injustice. And every day we fail to stop dehumanization, we put our own humanity at risk.
Whether we all gaze upon Arizona and become desensitized to suffering and dehumanization, or whether we take action is not just a test for our federal government, it is a test for us all. Simply put, we all stand at a crossroads, and we must work to turn the tide from hate to human rights. It has been a personal decision by me and a denominational decision by the Unitarian Universalist Association to stand on the side of love because, in Arizona, there is no longer any such thing as neutrality.
Our efforts and the efforts of our partners in the faith community will not cease.
Next June, almost two years after the passage of SB 1070, we will bring thousands of people of faith to Arizona to shine a light on the human rights crisis that is taking place. We will stand with the communities in defense of their and our barrios because we cannot be neutral. We are called. We are all Arizona.
Rev. Peter Morales
President, Unitarian Universalist Association
It wasn´t your usual group of Central Americans arriving at the immigrant detention center in Tapachula, Mexico. The center guards are used to receiving buses of detainees awaiting deportation to their home countries, but this group was comprised of family members of migrants, caravanning through Mexico to protest the inhumane treatment their relatives receive during their journey via Mexico to the US.
Standing together in front of the locked gates and armed guards, about 150 Central American and North American activists called upon Mexican immigration authorities to clean up their act. “I was beaten by an immigration officer in Huixtla, Chiapas, even though I had authorization to be in Mexico,” testified one Honduran man. “I was caught by immigration in northern Mexico, but they turned me in to kidnappers, who held me and abused me for 4 months,” said a Honduran woman from behind dark sunglasses to protect her identity.
“These are just some of the abuses,” emphasized Irineo Mujica, a Mexican migrant rights activist, “Here in this detention center, there are stories of rapes, mistreatment, exploitation. They charge migrants 4 times the price just to call their families. They hold them for months and months–long past the authorized amount. They call this a detention center, but just look at the bars on the windows. This is a prison!”
After Mr. Mujica, Father Heyman Vasquez, director of the migrant shelter in Arriaga, Chiapas, spoke up, demanding that the United States also be held accountable for the treatment of migrants in Mexico. “The US is using Mexico to push its border further south!” he shouted. He then went on to point out that the United States uses its aid money and diplomatic pressure to encourage Mexico to beef up its immigration enforcement, particularly along its Southern border.
Indeed, out of the 1.4 billion dollar aid package the United States began providing to Mexico through Plan Mérida (aka Plan Mexico) in 2008, 20% is designated for immigration authorities. These funds go to things like buses for deportations, more migration check point and detention centers, and arms and equipment for Mexican authorities. Supposedly aimed to promote order, human rights defenders are seeing that this same strong-handed enforcement has led to the situation of abuses and extreme violence against migrants that they witness every day in Mexico.
After the testimonies and speeches, the group moved forward and formed a human chain directly in front of the gates. We chanted together “Stop the kidnappings! Stop the rapes! Stop the abuse!” I moved with the group, linking arms with the two Central American women at my sides, knowing that, as a United States citizen, the struggle to end violence against migrants in Mexico is just as much my fight as theirs.
Previous posts in the series “Reflections from a Migrant Rights Caravan”:
Part 1: Step by Step Towards Peace–A Six-Day Caravan for Migrants’ Rights
Part 2: U.S. Immigration Enforcement Hits Home
Dear Standing on the Side of Love,
Today is the third anniversary of the attack on Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church. I served as TVUUC’s Director of Religious Education at that time, and I spent 20 months dealing with the aftermath before moving on. Even so, there are times when that day seems to be with me still, just behind me, like an endless movie playing somewhere nearby. At such times I find peace in a myriad of ways, and for this I am grateful. One source of peace is the Standing on the Side of Love website. I find little bits of healing simply by clicking through the pages and reading the stories and knowing that thousands of people are working to stand against the violence and hatred that killed my friends, shocked our congregation, and wounded the spirits of the children in my program.
This week I published for the first time some of my thoughts about that day, and I wanted to share a link to your readers:
But most of all I just want to say thanks. The work you do is far more powerful than you can possibly know. The old lapsed Southern Baptist in me wants to say that Greg McKendry and Linda Kraeger are smiling down on you.
The UU in me says, hey, maybe so.
Brian Griffin, Former DRE, TVUUCMore >
Rev. Chris Buice is a minister at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee
The message below went out to Standing on the Side of Love supporters on Wednesday, July 27, 2011. You can sign-up for these emails here.
As the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church marks the anniversary of the shooting in our sanctuary on July 27, 2008, our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Norway as they mourn losses on an unimaginable scale.
In Knoxville, we lost two lives — Greg McKendry, a big, burly man with a heart of gold; and Westside congregation member Linda Kraeger, a scholar with a dry wit and a mind on fire. Thanks to the actions of brave members in the pews, we did not lose a single child. Our prayers are with the people of Norway who are suffering the heartbreaking loss of the young.
There is no comparing the scale of our losses. Even so, the parallels are unsettling. A man’s anger at extremists turned him into an extremist. In a fury to prevent terrorism he became a terrorist himself. This is what hatred can do to any of us. Hatred can blind us so that we do not see the humanity of others and the sacredness of their children. We are perpetually in danger of becoming like those we hate.
It is a paradox that good can come from evil. Acts of hatred can inspire an outpouring of love. Our congregation and the Westside congregation are empowered by the many people across the country who have become part of the Standing on the Side of Love campaign in the aftermath of our tragedy. Together we are re-envisioning the politics of our time.
In our statement of principles and purposes we affirm that we are inspired by the “words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love.” This campaign invites us to live lives grounded in that spirit.
In East Tennessee, we carried our Standing on the Side of Love banner in the Martin Luther King parade and in a community effort to offer a positive alternative to neo-Nazi rally. We marked the national Standing on the Side of Love day with a community interfaith forum to reclaim civil discourse on polarizing issues. With our neighbors in the Oak Ridge UU Church we voiced our opposition to the “Don’t Say Gay” bill seeking to ban open discussion in our schools. We hosted a teen-led rally where the message was “It’s Okay to Say Gay.” We have been inspired by the stories we hear around the country of congregations making a difference in their communities which can have ripple effects around the world.
On July 27, 2008, our congregation was everyone’s congregation. The trauma we experienced was felt throughout our denomination. We received cards, letters, paper cranes, messages of love and support from around the world. Our congregation has found healing in this love and reaffirmed our commitment to act in the world in ways that are congruent with this outpouring of compassion. “Love is the spirit of this church” read the banner put up in our front lawn by two members in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. Love continues to be the spirit of our congregation and the spirit of this campaign which is touching lives around our country and the world.
It is new day, July 27, 2011, filled with new possibilities. So I will end by saying to you words I share with my congregation every Sunday, words adapted from a familiar hymn: “Prophetic church the world awaits your liberating ministry, go forward in the power of love, proclaim the truth that makes us free.”More >
This blog post, by Juliana Morris, is part of a series following a caravan for migrant rights on the Mexico border.
“The worst part is that, I have so many photos of him in the house, every time I look at them all the pain comes rushing back.”
And with that, the tears begin to fill Alicia’s wide eyes. She sits on the edge of the plastic lawn chair, clutching the photo of her son in her two hands. Alicia is one of the hundreds of Central Americans participating in the migrant rights Caravan Paso a Paso Hacia la Paz (Step by Step Towards Peace), demanding better treatment for their migrant relatives who leave home searching for a brighter future in the United States.
Alicia’s son left his home in San Marcos, Guatemala for the last time nearly nineteen months ago, but for the past eighteen months, she hasn’t had any news of him. She has heard rumors that he got lost and dehydrated in the desert of Texas. She worries that he may have been attacked by gangs. And she has had dreams that he’s locked up in a detention center in Arizona. Alicia lives every day with this uncertainty and fear, hoping against hope that her son is alive and that he will return to her someday.
Still, things didn’t always go badly for Alicia’s son, Ricardo. When he first emigrated to the United States, in search of work opportunities to support his family, he arrived safely to his destination – Boston, Massachusetts. Only 17 years old at the time, he quickly adapted to life in the U.S., made lots of friends, and developed a reputation as a skilled, hard-working laborer. He also started going to school and was learning English. However, after seven years, Ricardo’s time in the U.S. was cut short when he was picked up driving without a license in a traffic stop near Boston and turned into immigration authorities by the police.
After a few months in detention, he was sent back to Guatemala. But he didn’t stay there long. He missed his life in the U.S. so much, after just one month of being back home, he hit the road again.
Back in the States, Ricardo went back to work, but was picked up in another traffic stop just 8 months later. This time, the police didn’t arrest him directly, but gave him a court date. When he arrived in court, Immigration was waiting for him. So in 2009, after being deported twice, Ricardo tried for his third time to get back to his life in the U.S. He called his mother to tell her he had made it to Mexico, but that was the last she heard from him. Now, she struggles to deal with her worries, with only her photos and hopes to sustain her.
What’s at the root of Alicia’s suffering? Clearly, the fact that Ricardo journeyed multiple times along a dangerous migrant trail put him at an elevated risk for getting lost, detained, abused, kidnapped or even killed along the way. But one could also point to a deeper cause of Ricardo`s multiple migrations – the fact that he was turned in to migration authorities by local police for a minor infraction and ultimately deported. Ricardo spent his formative years in the U.S. – he had made his life there. If he had never been deported, he wouldn’t have felt the need to retake the risky journey to get back to the U.S. If his case had never been channeled from local police to immigration, he would have never been lost to his mother.
Stories like Ricardo’s are becoming increasingly common. In Boston and throughout the U.S., the Secure Communities program has operationalized the collaboration between local police and immigration authorities, in spite of the demands by human rights advocates that immigration enforcement remain a purely federal responsibility. As was the case with Ricardo, the majority of the deportations that take place under Secure Communities are of people classified as “non-criminals.” And yet it is programs like these, and the increasing numbers of deportations each year from the U.S., that are terrorizing families on both sides of the border.
Here in Central America, the impact is painfully clear. As Alicia passes me her son’s photo and says him name, a tear falls from her eye. “If only they`d give him a chance,” she pleads. Unfortunately, in Ricardo’s case, even if this chance came, it might still be too late.
If you have news of Ricardo Baldemar Córdova Figueroa, last seen in Monterrey, Mexico, please communicate with the Ministry of Foreign Relations of Guatemala: http://www.minex.gob.gt/
Please take a minute to help stop the deportation of two other young immigrants from Boston — Denis and Vinny: http://tinyurl.com/enddenisvinny
For more information on the impact of Secure Communities on immigrants and their families, visit http://uncoverthetruth.orgMore >