The Rev. Peter Shober and several members of his Missoula, Mont., congregation will travel from one U.S. border to another this week to attend the 10th annual Border Issues Concert and Fair in Sahuarita, Ariz. While many Americans associate border control issues solely with the country's southern states, the senior pastor of University Congregational United Church of Christ says that isn't the case at all.
"Montana is a border state," Shober said. "Just because its border isn't Mexico doesn't mean we don't have issues."
Shober cites the example of the Blackfoot Confederacy, a Native American tribe that expands from Montana to Alberta, Canada, whose members have had increased difficultly crossing from one country to the other as border security measures tighten among talks of comprehensive immigration reform.
His group of 11 will join hundreds of others interested in immigration reform on Jan. 17-18 at the 10th annual Border Issues Concert and Fair at The Good Shepherd UCC in Sahuarita, Ariz. The weekend event will begin with a concert by musician and political activist Peter Yarrow (former member of the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary), followed by a day of speakers, presentations, and informational displays. The theme of the event is "Revitalize, Not Militarize," said the Rev. Randy Mayer, pastor of The Good Shepherd UCC, in hopes of bringing life back into border communities that have been beaten down by the over-enforcement of U.S. immigration and border security policies.
While the main purposes of the Border Issues Concert and Fair are to educate the community about plights of border communities and celebrate the achievements of immigration reform advocates, Mayer admits he never thought the event would enter its 10th year.
"We never thought we would be in this situation, that 10 years later we would still be trying to educate and talk about immigration and border issues with the community and beyond," Mayer said. "We thought we would have accomplished our goal by now, but clearly that hasn't happened."
Margaret Mills, associate minister for the Western Reserve Association of the UCC in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, is also traveling cross-country to attend the Border Issues Concert and Fair, bringing seven UCCers from Ohio and Wisconsin congregations with her. This is Mills' third time attending the event and her second time escorting a group of concerned members of the faith community. These events have been "life-changing, heart-rending, emotion-building experiences" for Mills and those she has traveled with, many who have changed their entire perspectives on the issue of immigration reform and border security after witnessing the impacts firsthand.
Like Montana, Mills said many people don't associate Ohio with having a large immigrant population. But after this year's event, her goal is to form a Prophetic Witness Team of the people who have attended the Border Issues Concert and Fair with her the past two years. This team will work together to share their experiences with their congregations, associations and beyond in hopes of educating people that these injustices happen everywhere and impact everyone.
"Our purpose has become to spread the word about what is happening on the Arizona-Mexico border and how it impacts us in places where undocumented migrants are hidden people," Mills said, referencing her home state. "They are here and they are pretty oppressed most of the time. We want to encourage people in our churches to look in their own communities to see where there might be immigration issues happening right under their noses that they are not aware of."
Shober agrees with Mills' approach of experiencing what's outside in order to fix what's within. "Sometimes," he said. "You have to go to a different place to truly have your eyes opened."