President Obama has just released his administration's blueprint for immigration reform. It is notable that this is one of the first acts of his second term in office. Though some may ascribe political motivation, the President will lay out a pathway for justice, a way for those who have lived in the shadows to come out into the light. This is not just politics; this is doing what is right.
The United States is a multi-racial, multi-cultural country. The strength of the nation comes from diversity and unity. We who are many, who come from many cultures, choose to be one people, devoted to shared principles and committed to the wellbeing of all.
For over a decade, lawmakers and citizens alike have recognized the presence among us of newcomers from many lands, who have journeyed, like so many before them, fleeing wars and poverty, and seeking work and safety. Men and women cross barren deserts on foot under cover of darkness. As we increased surveillance in areas close to towns, the pilgrims ventured farther into the desert where many lose their lives. We erected three layers of wall, crowned by barbwire.
Still the migrants came. They fled poverty and violence. Many perished trying. Those who made it across told horrible stories of wars and violence, as Mexican law enforcement battled the drug traffic.
Many businesses were happy to welcome these new laborers. From farms to meatpacking plants, to restaurant kitchens, they were welcomed and often paid less than minimum wage. Almost all work at least two jobs to make ends meet. They are human shadows silently walking in the light of dawn and in the moonlight. All fear "la migra", the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) police who raid factories, taking away those lacking proper papers and sometimes leaving behind terrified children, who don't know where their parents are.
During hard times, even tender-hearted people can get tough. Perhaps the economic downturn of the past few years fueled it. Immigrants through many states suddenly had to fear, not only "la migra", but law enforcement agents from states and municipalities who had passed their own immigration laws. In at least one infamous case, they had to endure terrible hardship and humiliation. Immigrants fled once more.
The Latino community mobilized, and leaders denounced the inhuman conditions of the INS detention centers and other facilities where the undocumented were held. Religious leaders of all faiths condemned the treatment of immigrants.
President Obama seems to have heard the cry of the poor, the undocumented immigrant women, men and children who want to remain a family, an American family. The President has introduced his plan for immigration reform. A bi-partisan group of senators have produced a plan as well.
In the Nation's Capital, where Ethiopian and Salvadoran faces abound, where people from the entire world visit to behold the experience that is America, the President and the Congress must find a way to incorporate the undocumented to the American story, a story of resilience and perseverance, a story of freedom and grace.
The United Church of Christ has 5,194 churches throughout the United States. Rooted in the Christian traditions of congregational governance and covenantal relationships, each UCC setting speaks only for itself and not on behalf of every UCC congregation. UCC members and churches are free to differ on important social issues, even as the UCC remains principally committed to unity in the midst of our diversity.
The Rev. Mari Castellanos is the UCC's policy advocate for domestic issues based in our Washington, D.C., offices.