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Friday, July 30, 2010

A Day of Prayer, Protest, and Purpose

Today was a day of so many mixed emotions as we prayed and protested in Phoenix. There clearly was joy on the part of so many of the protesters who were celebrating the partial injunction against what is perceived by so many to be a potentially racist law and certainly prohibitive law against the work of the church in serving immigrants.

Joy was felt in the early morning (yes, 4:30 am is when the first march started!) as we marched to a downtown church for an interfaith service. Muslims, Jews, and Christians sang, prayed, preached and exhorted one another to continue to stand strong until SB 1070 is entirely repealed, and just and humane immigration reform is enacted. The worship service was the most powerful part of the day as it set the tone of the day for the majority of those who came from near and far to protest an unjust law and a broken system.

There was also anger, most of it righeous and just, and some of it out of control. The anger was felt during the morning's worship service. There was anger eloquently expressed by Bishop Carcano; anger at elected leaders in Arizona who have made immigrants the scapegoats for all the problems that Arizona faces. She said, "In essence, what (SB 1070) ultimately does is that it lets our political leaders off the hook for not having the wherewithal to figure out how to resolve the enormous problems we face in this state, or the basic common sense to know that immigrants are not the problem, but rather part of the solution with much to contribute to the well being of this state and this country. And let us not be deceived, SB 1070 was about political expediency –how many votes can an anti-immigrant bill bring? And I would ask those political leaders who supported SB 1070 for votes, are those tainted votes worth the integrity of your leadership?"

Bishop Carcano did not stop with the failed leadership by Governor Brewer and the other failed leadership in Arizona. She rightly placed responsibility upon the shoulders of President Obama as well.

She went on to say, "President Barack Obama needs to know that we will no longer forgive his lack of leadership in this country’s need for immigration reform. The belated and clumsy effort of the Department of Justice against SB 1070 is not enough. We need to let President Obama know in no uncertain terms that we will no longer accept his easy answer that there is a lack of political will in DC and therefore there is nothing he can do about immigration reform as much as he wants to do something. President Obama needs to be reminded that he was elected to lead and not to blame, and we need to be the ones to remind him of that fact."

Once again, some of the most vulnerable in our society are being tossed around like a political football by irresponsible political leaders who are looking to win elections rather than lead. Sadly, unless people of faith stand up and demand responsible political leadership, this kind of oppressive policy will continue to be brought up in states and federally simply because of its expediency.

The day did have those whose anger was expressed in chaotic ways unfortunately. This is bound to happen though when those in leadership positions fail to provide the necessary leadership to find solutions, instead of blaming vulnerable people. Governor Brewer, Sheriff Arpaio, State Senator Pearce, Senators McCain and Kyl and President Obama, all must be shamed into action. And so many more as well.

And the media was once again compliant in focusing mainly on those who screamed things that made no sense and acted in ways that often tried to bait the police to act forcefully. Of course, why the police chose to come out in full riot gear and put themselves in a position to antagonize protesters was a disgrace. There were certainly better ways to act on both sides. It was apparent that a few of the protesters and the police in full were determined to have conflict.

But the overall tenor of the day by the protesters, particularly among the people of faith, has to be described as faithful determination. People are determined not to allow immigrants to continue to be oppressed. More states can (and probably will) follow Arizona's lead in repressing newly-arrived immigrants through policies which racially profile and deny people of their basic human rights. More politicians will (and certainly will) use this issue to demonize and blame immigrants for all that ails society.

But people of faith - including United Methodists - will commit ourselves to not rest until basic civil and human rights of immigrants are fully protected. We will do all we can to build support among our spheres of influence - to build bridges of compassion and understanding between immigrants and US citizens, to recruit more people in our churches to advocate with us, and to demand just and sane leadership by those elected to office. Or we will get new leaders to lead us.

We will not stop until just and humane reform is enacted. No matter how long it takes.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Politics of National Security

Since arriving in Tucson yesterday, I have noticed 5 different billboards touting Senator McCain, who is promising to secure the borders if re-elected. McCain is in the run of his life to keep his Senate seat and trying to ward off his Republican primary challenger, JD Hayworth. Hayworth is rabidly anti-immigrant and actually lost his House seat several years ago to Harry Mitchell, precisely because his constituents saw him as rabidly anti-immigrant.

But times have changed and so has Senator McCain. I remember the summer of 2006 when McCain and Kennedy were sponsoring a comprehensive immigration reform bill, largely in response to yet another anti-immigrant bill, HR 4437. HR 4437 was the bill, passed by the House in December of 2005, that gave rise to the mass marches throughout the country. I recall being part of a faith symposium in the summer of 2006 on immigration, hosted by the Interfaith Immigration Coalition. We had theologians, pastors, and immigrants all testify to the importance of faith in the immigration debate. We had Senators Brownback and Kennedy speak, as well as Senator McCain.

McCain spoke at a luncheon in the United Methodist building to a mostly progressive religious crowd and he sounded so "pro-immigrant" several who attended spoke out loud that they could themselves voting, for the first time in their lives, for a Republican who was saying the things he was saying.

Boy, times sure do change. And so has Senator McCain. Exit stage left McCain the Maverick. Enter stage right (hard right) McCain the politician.

Saying things like "secure the borders" will win you elections, but yelling those kinds of statements at the top of your lungs does not provide the leadership necessary for workable and humane solutions.

At a recent hearing before the Senate Judiciary committee, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano stated, "Every marker, every milepost that has been laid down by the Congress in terms of number of agents, deployment of technology, construction of fencing and the like has either already been completed or is within a hair's breadth of being completed. And one of the questions I think we need to talk about is whether securing the border is ever going to be reached before the Congress...or whether that goalpost is just going to keep moving."

Everyone likes to say let's secure the border before we really try and pass comprehensive immigration reform. What none of the politicians who say this (and now supposed faith "leaders" too unfortunately) will tell you is that we HAVE been doing enforcement-first for the last 10-15 years. We have spent billions of dollars, have built fences that do not make a lick of sense, have deployed enormous of military personnel and weaponry and our system remains broken. Building fences and militarizing the border does not fix a broken immigration system.

And the Democrats are certainly not that different on this than the Republicans. The Obama administration has submitted a request to the House for an additional $500 million to continue the same failed policies of the last 10-15 years. Do you smell change in the air or is that the same stale and broken promises of the last administration? Where is candidate Obama who promised, that he, "wouldn't continue the same failed policies of the last 8 years"? He hasn't continued them - he has made them worse!

As usual, what we need form Washington DC is leadership and neither party seems inclined to give it. We need someone to forget the best way to get elected and to tell the American public the truth: the borders are as secured as they can be, and we need to begin to focus on real solutions.

Those solutions include:

* Providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented that require a payment of a reasonable fine, learning English (and providing enough resources to teach all who want to learn English), learning US civics, and payment of back taxes. Making the pathway punitive (which so many seem to want to do once again to win elections) satisfies some weird political need to punish, but once again, it is not workable and if too punitive, will actually defeat the goal of bringing people out of the shadows and finding out who exactly is in the country.

* Reunify families who have been separated by migration patterns and detention and deportation. The stories of family separation are heartbreaking and are endless. We have seen more deportations under the short period of the Obama administration than the entire duration of the Bush administration - so much for hope if you are undocumented.
The family backlogs are long and tremendously costly to families in so many ways. Eliminating the backlogs must be a priority of any reform legislation so that we can stay true to our commitment to healthy and strong families. Any strong society has as its basis strong families, so to cut back on the family immigration system only hurts all of us as a society.

* Secure the rights of all workers, US citizen and newly arrived immigrant alike. Giving the rights to workers to collectively bargain, organize and advocate for higher pay and better working conditions helps all workers. Pitting immigrant workers against US citizen workers is the best way to ensure that no worker rights are bettered at all - which is the aim of some politicians and anti-immigrant groups.

* A real solution-oriented discussion on the root causes for the global movements of people we are currently seeing. Working for economic justice for the poor and protection of human rights for the vulnerable and dispossessed throughout the world will achieve as much stability and long-term solutions for everyone as the three points above.

All of these are important.

Practical, workable and humane solutions. This is what we need and this is why we are here in Arizona supporting the faith community's stance against SB 1070 and hoping (and organizing) against 1070's in other parts of the country.

My main hope and prayer is that our elected leaders - including President Obama and Senator McCain - will stop playing politics and lead. It is not too late even today.