Unitarian Universalists Successfully Organize in Massachusetts to Oppose Widely Criticized Immigration Enforcement Program
Six months of steady organizing and public witness on the side of love has paid off!
Standing on the Side of Love and UUA Witness Ministries staff have played a significant role in mobilizing Unitarian Universalists in Massachusetts to stop an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) program that has been tearing apart immigrant families.
In what the Boston Globe is calling “a major turnaround on immigration enforcement,” Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick stated Monday that he will refuse to sign on to the controversial federal Secure Communities program (S-Comm), which refers undocumented immigrants arrested even for minor crimes to federal immigration officials for deportation.
The Massachusetts ACLU Chapter said:
“This is a huge victory for civil liberties and for advocacy. A range of groups representing civil rights, immigrant rights, victims’ rights, church groups and local police chiefs urged the Governor to do the right thing – and he has. “
On Dec. 23, 2010, a week after Governor Patrick stunned many by announcing that he would sign on to the ICE program, a rally and action was quickly organized by Centro Presente—a statewide immigrant rights advocacy organization. Rev. Fred Small, minister at First Parish Cambridge UU, was one of the speakers and UUs from around the greater Boston area participated.
In the coming months, Standing on the Side of Love joined Centro Presente, UU Mass Action (the UU state advocacy network), and the Boston New Sanctuary Movement, an interfaith coalition, in urging the Governor not to sign onto Secure Communities. Throughout the winter, Standing on the Side of Love organized to bring UUs in our signature yellow “Love” shirts to rallies and hearings at the Massachusetts State House in support of Centro Presente’s Just Communities Campaign. With UU Mass Action, we collected several hundred postcards from UU congregations to the Governor. We also used social media to generate hundreds of phone calls to Gov. Patrick’s office, urging him not to change his mind and not sign Massachusetts on to the S-Comm program.
On Feb. 14th, national Standing on the Side of Love Day, Rev. Fred Small, UUs from several congregations, and interfaith leaders joined Centro Presente at an action at the State House on Beacon Hill. The action led to a meeting with the Governor where he promised to explore the possibility of opting out of the policy and to hold public meetings around the state to get community input about it.
UU clergy and lay leaders attended and spoke out at every single one of the public meetings, wearing Standing on the Side of Love T-shirts and pins, carrying placards and calling for and end to a program that is harming immigrant families. Among them were:
• Rev. Lara Hoke, UU Congregation of Andover;
• Rev. Lee Blumel, North Parish UU Church;
• Rev. Ralph Galen, Community Church of Lawrence;
• Rev. Wendy von Zirpolo, UU Church of Marblehead;
• Rev. Fred Small, First Parish UU Cambridge;
• Rev. Terry Burke, First Church Jamaica Plain UU; and
• Rev. Jason Lydon, Community Church UU Boston.
UU leaders and clergy from ten congregations, including State Senator Susan Fargo, a member of First Parish in Lincoln, came to the Waltham public event on S-Comm in April, where the Tea Party had bussed in anti-immigrant protestors.
In addition to the public meetings, several UU clergy and lay leaders had phone conversations and meetings with their legislators.
Daryl Bridges, youth director at the UU Church of Medford and recent seminarian graduate, was recruited by the UUA as a short-term organizer to help mobilize Massachusetts residents against Secure Communities during the last several weeks. When a call went out two weeks ago for organizations to sign onto a letter to the Governor, twenty UU congregations were represented among the 100 entities, which also included the Unitarian Universalist Association, the UU Mass Action Network, and the UU Service Committee.
Last week, State Representative Carl Sciortino, a Unitarian Universalist, led an effort urging other legislators to sign a letter to the Governor urging him to reject S-Comm.
With Monday’s announcement, it is a moment to celebrate – Gov. Patrick has chosen not to further marginalize immigrant communities in Massachusetts. But the door is still open for cities to participate in S-Comm, unless state legislation or an executive order is passed prohibiting them from doing so. Plans are already underway to urge Mayor Menino of Boston, the only city that currently participates in the program, to withdraw. Stay tuned!
We need to continue our work to stop S-Comm in every state. Please sign the national petition for a moratorium on S-Comm: http://bit.ly/scommice
Has Alabama taken up the mantle as the most anti-immigrant state in America?
The New York Times reports:
“Alabama has passed a sweeping bill to crack down on illegal immigrants that both supporters and opponents call the toughest of its kind in the country, going well beyond a law Arizona passed last year that caused a furor there.
The measure was passed by large margins in the Alabama Senate and the House, both Republican-controlled, in votes on Thursday. Governor Robert Bentley, a Republican, is expected to sign the bill into law.
“Alabama is now the new No. 1 state for enforcement,” said Kris Kobach, a constitutional lawyer who is secretary of state in Kansas. He has helped write many state bills to curtail illegal immigration, including Alabama’s.
The Alabama bill includes a provision similar to one that stirred controversy in Arizona, authorizing state and local police officers to ask about the immigration status of anyone they stop based on a “reasonable suspicion” the person is an illegal immigrant. Federal courts have suspended most of that Arizona law.
Alabama’s bill goes beyond Arizona’s. It bars illegal immigrants from enrolling in any public college after high school. It obliges public schools to determine the immigration status of all students, requiring parents of foreign-born students to report the immigration status of their children.
The bill requires Alabama’s public schools to publish figures on the number of immigrants — both legal and illegal — who are enrolled and on any costs associated with the education of illegal immigrant children.
The bill, known as H.B. 56, also makes it a crime to knowingly rent housing to an illegal immigrant. It bars businesses from taking tax deductions on wages paid to unauthorized immigrants.
Alabama UU Ministers have been speaking out against the measure. Weeks ago, Rev. Fred Hammond, the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa, testified against the measure, telling legislators:
This legislation troubles me as a person of faith on many levels. Our faith calls us to love mercifully, to act with justice, and to walk humbly with our God. It is what Christians, Jews, Muslims and many other faith traditions are also called to do in their faith. This bill prevents what good people of faith are called to do and therefore must not be passed.
Read his complete testimony here: http://serenityhome.wordpress.com/2011/03/02/alabama-hb-56-public-hearing/
All of Alabama’s UU ministers gathered together to author a letter to Gov. Bentley, immediately after HB56 passed the Legislature and was sent to the Governor’s desk. Although the Governor has voiced support for the measure, opponents have vowed to challenge it in court as unconstitutional. No doubt, faith voices will continue to be lifted up against the lack of compassion associated with the measure.
LETTER TO GOVERNOR BENTLEY:
3 June 2011
600 Dexter Avenue
Montgomery, Alabama 36130
Dear Governor Bentley,
When the Legislature presents its substitute bill for HB56, I hope you will veto it. There are many reasons why this bill needs to be vetoed this year. But the major reason is it is simply not good for Alabama.
Governor Bentley, you recently sent back to the Legislature the proposed budget because there were bills that have not yet been passed that would place the budget out of balance and therefore make the budget unconstitutional. This bill will also make the budget unconstitutional in Alabama. Sections 22 and 23 require an increase in the state budget but because this bill falls under Amendment 621, a cost analysis is not needed to be established. But there is a cost that will be added to the state budget; and since Alabama is struggling to balance the budget in these dire economic times, this unknown cost will place the budget out of balance.
The act of criminalizing a whole group of people has costs associated to it that the state legislature has refused to seriously acknowledge. The arguments against these increased costs are based on assumed cost savings that are speculative and not based on real numbers of undocumented immigrants. We do not know how many immigrants are undocumented in the state but the Legislature is assuming that all Spanish speaking citizens are undocumented. This bill, therefore, targets anyone whose first language is Spanish and who looks like they come from south of the border.
Despite all arguments that racial profiling will not be permitted, human nature will dictate the occurrence of racial profiling. Our law enforcement personnel will not be able to be adequately trained to determine reasonable suspicion when language and ethnicity are part of the mix. But even if they were adequately trained, this bill also requires schools to determine if students were born in this country. Federal law requires that all children be given a public education regardless of national origin. This bill increases racial profiling in the schools.
This bill states the presumption that undocumented immigrants are causing economic hardship and an increase in lawlessness. There is no proof that this is the case. The legislature has come up with spurious anecdotes but nothing is found in the documentation. There is documentation that immigrants (undocumented and documented) have increased the state’s revenue in taxes and increased economic development in their respective communities. In fact, the state has had a decrease in violent crimes over the last decade even while the immigrant population has increased. This presumption is therefore a biased statement.
Governor, I urge you to veto this bill when it comes across your desk. It has components that in Arizona have cost that state millions of dollars in litigation. It has components that are blatantly prejudiced and demonize a hard-working segment of our population. This is not a job creation bill unless Alabama is seeking to increase the private for-profit prison industry in the state by criminalizing a whole population. Is this the Alabama you want to create as a legacy of your administration?
Rev. Fred L Hammond, Minister, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa
Rev. Diana Allende, Minister, Auburn Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
Rev. Lone Jensen Broussard, Minister, Unitarian Universalist Church of Birmingham
Rev. Paul Britner, Minister, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Montgomery
Rev. Alice Syltie, Minister, Unitarian Universalist Church of HuntsvilleMore >
by Susan Leslie, UUA Congregational Advocacy & Witness Director
Almost exactly a year ago, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) asked the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) to partner with them on a campaign to stop immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) Secure Communities (S-Comm) programs. Specifically, NDLON asked us to bring the faith community into this effort. The prevailing wisdom among many in the broader faith and immigrant rights advocacy communities was that it would be impossible to touch these Secure Communities programs and build the power necessary to stop them.
Federal officials say Secure Communities Programs (S-Comm) improve public safety by identifying undocumented immigrants who are criminals for deportation. We know that these programs are not achieving their goals. They are not stopping crimes, but they are creating fear and distrust in immigrant communities, fueling anti-immigrant bigotry in society, and leading to racial profiling and the criminalization of whole communities.
By Feb. 10th, 2011, UUA Witness Ministries staff and Standing on the Side of Love had enlisted seven other denominations, two dozen faith-based organizations, and more than 400 clergy to send a letter to President Obama urging a halt to ICE programs like Secure Communities. The letter was released at a hearing held by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) on the impact of these enforcement programs and delivered to the Administration at a meeting with Department of Homeland Security staff. We have also been mobilizing UUs and others in key states identified by NDLON where there are opportunities to stop or rescind the program, as well as stop copycat AZ style anti-immigrant legislation.
The work of the faith and immigrant rights communities has not been in vain. In the past month alone:
- The Governor of Illinois has cancelled the state’s participation in Secure Communities
- The California Assembly has passed legislation that will allow counties to opt out of Secure Communities.
- Thirty-eight legislators in New York have asked Governor Cuomo to rescind the Memo of Agreement between NY State and ICE, and there is breaking news that he has issued a temporary stop pending a review. (Rev. Bruce Southworth of Community Church (UU) New York spoke for Standing on the Side of Love at a Stop S-Comm rally outside the Governor’s New York City office on May 18th.
- In Massachusetts, Gov. Patrick has held public meetings on whether or not to sign on to Secure Communities. (See Rev. Wendy Von Zirpolo’s blog—The Stranger.)
- Several cities and towns across the country have also passed resolutions to opt out.
- The Congressional Hispanic Committee has requested that President Obama put a moratorium on the program, and
- The US Office of the Inspector General has announced that it will investigate the program.
Building on this momentum, NDLON and other groups, held a “Turning the Tide Conference” in Arlington VA May 26-28th. The conference brought together more than 500 organizers from the immigrant rights, labor, and faith community. There were activists from the LGBT, African American, and Muslim communities who made linkages between the intersections of the various communities’ struggles.
The Unitarian Universalist Association brought fifteen UU clergy and lay leaders from AZ, CA, FL, MA, MD, NC, PA, VA, and Washington D.C., as well as a dozen leaders from the Interfaith Immigration Coalition (IIC) and the national New Sanctuary Movement (NSM). Our workshop on Building Partnerships between the Faith and Immigrant Rights Communities was well attended and included presentations from Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, minister of the UU Congregation of Phoenix, Jen Rock from the NSM Philadelphia chapter, and Bill Mefford from the United Methodist Church and IIC.
Rev. Frederick Gray spoke about how her congregation has partnered with Puente (the Phoenix affiliate of NDLON) to educate and mobilize area congregations. Jen Rock from the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia explained their strategy of organizing community meetings that have centered on testimony from immigrants and been attended by hundreds from the interfaith community and included the mayor and chief of police. She also talked about their program for clergy and others to accompany immigrants to court hearings. Bill Mefford of the IIC stressed the need for long term relationship building between faith communities and rights organizers and that while the faith community is united on a national level, there is much work to be done on the ground with local pastors and congregations.
There were many other workshops as well as plenary strategy sessions that addressed issues involving the border, detention and deportation, shutting down the private prison industry, stopping S-Comm and anti-immigrant state legislation, including a repeal and boycott movement in Georgia, where copycat SB 1070 legislation was just signed into law, moving federal immigration reform legislation and more.
The energy of a movement that is really starting to build some power was flowing throughout the three days we spent together. On Thursday evening, a march and rally was held in downtown Arlington, Virginia to thank the city for opting out of S-Comm and to call on others to do so. An Arlington police officer spoke about why they don’t want to be acting as immigration officers, and the need for immigration reform. Rev. Carlton Elliot Smith, one of the Team Ministers at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, captured the spirit of the gathered community when he said, “We are from many different faith traditions, and perhaps no tradition at all. We are many different colors, yet we are united as one human family, standing on the side of love with immigrants and their families.”More >
1,500 Signatures So Far to CEOs in North Carolina – Will You Help Keep Up Pressure Against Anti-LGBT Bigotry?
1,500 people have signed our petition to business leaders in North Carolina!
The petition, crafted in partnership with Equality North Carolina, urges companies to stake out a strong position against a proposed anti-LGBT constitutional amendment that will be considered in coming weeks.
Standing on the Side of Love has reached out to the CEOs for their response. While we await word as to whether they will speak out against anti-LGBT bigotry, will you please share the petition link with your friends & family, and ask them to sign?
Well worth watching.
This PSA was launched by the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign, an on-going initiative from Special Olympics and Best Buddies to eradicate the derogatory use of the word “retard(ed)” from everyday use and promote the inclusion and acceptance of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.More >