Written by Emily Mullins
Despite the demonstration that resulted in the arrests of nearly 120 faith leaders and immigration activists outside of the White House in support of the nation's immigrants on July 31, lack of support forced House Republicans to scrap an emergency spending measure to address the surge of young Mexican and Central American refugees fleeing to the United States. Unless the House comes to an agreement during a meeting Aug. 1, the move diminishes the chance that legislation addressing what both Democrats and Republicans are calling a national crisis will be presented to President Obama before Congress' five-week August recess.
"The laws of our flawed immigration system are clearly immoral," said the Rev. Linda Jaramillo, a national officer of the United Church of Christ and executive minister of the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries, one of those arrested in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. "President Obama and Congress not only have the legal executive authority to fix this problem right now, they have the moral obligation to do so. Because, just like us, most of them are immigrants too."
Alongside a crowd of more than 500 supporters, 112 faith and immigration advocates engaged in civil disobedience along the White House fence to urge Obama to protect the unaccompanied children who have sought refuge in the U.S., expand relief for immigrant families and workers, and to immediately stop deportations. After refusing to leave the White House sidewalk with signs calling for the president to act, the advocates were arrested and charged with blocking passage. The action kicked off a weekend of anti-deportation events in the nation's capital, including a rally taking place at the White House on Aug. 2.
House leaders had hoped to pass the legislation calling for $659 million in emergency spending, less than the $2.7 billion proposed by the Senate and the $3.7 billion originally requested by Obama. News reports indicate that the lack of action by House Republicans is being considered an "embarrassment" to the party's new leadership team, including Reps. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the new majority leader, and Steve Scalise (R-La.), the whip, and many Republicans fear it could also be seen as a political liability.
In the meantime, immigration courts are speeding up hearings for these refugee children, giving each child an initial hearing within three weeks of their arrival. While immigration lawyers have long advocated for a quicker process, many now fear the courts are moving so quickly that the children may not have enough time to make a case that they should be allowed to remain in the U.S. The children also may not receive enough notice of their hearings and be issued a deportation order if they fail to appear, and advocates say there aren't enough pro-bono immigration lawyers to help the tens of thousands of children in need of legal assistance.
The Council for Hispanic Ministries of the UCC was also represented during the July 31 action. The organization, which monitors UCC boards and ministries that deal with issues of importance to Hispanic people, is particularly concerned with supporting the unaccompanied refugee children coming to the U.S., and released an official statement on the situation.
"We understand that it is hard enough for these children to have to endure this difficult and dangerous trip from their countries of origin alone to find themselves with their hopes shattered by discrimination and an unjust immigration system," the statement reads. "Our system and our country have treated these children as criminals, terrorists and enemies. The United States of America is a nation of immigrants and we are a stronger and more vibrant nation because of our diversity."
A July 29 survey from the Public Religion Research Institute shows that most (71 percent) Americans, across all political and religious viewpoints, say the unaccompanied children crossing into the U.S. from Mexico and Central America are refugees fleeing violence and danger at home, and that the U.S. should offer these children shelter and support while their cases are reviewed, not deport them immediately. The survey also showed that most Americans can differentiate between the problem of unaccompanied children arriving in the U.S. and that of undocumented immigrants in general, and that the value of keeping families together cuts across all party lines.
"As religious leaders, we deplore the brokenness of family separations that deportations create across our country," Jaramillo said. "While we respect the law of the land, we also respond to a higher law. Our faith traditions hold us to a greater calling where we put God's law to love our neighbor above and beyond any unjust law of our nation."