Last fall, the Rev. Wayne Laws, minister of social justice and mission at Mountain View United Church UCC in Aurora, Colo., was arrested for an act of civil disobedience protesting the injustices of the country's immigration system. On Wednesday, March 12, Laws will share this experience with other activists and issue a call to the faith community to work to improve the lives of immigrant families everywhere during a Fast for Families Across America bus tour campaign stop at his church.
"I will build upon that experience as a call for advocacy in line with the Fast for Families goals to empower constituencies and people of faith to act, fast and pray for immigration reform," said Laws. "The message will be that the immigration system we have is unjust, and we, as people of faith, need to hear the call of the prophets to work for justice and for those who are oppressed and marginalized."
The Fast for Families Across America bus tour will stop in Aurora on March 12 for a press conference at Mountain View United Church followed by a community meeting at the immigrant-rights organization Rights for All People later that evening. The event comes two weeks into the 66-day campaign across the United States, which aims to send a strong message about the critical need for immigration reform. The tour began Feb. 24 in Los Angeles and will end April 9 in Washington, D.C.
Each bus tour stop was determined by congressional district. Mountain View United Church is located in the district of Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) who, because of redistricting, recently inherited a portion of Aurora with large immigrant and minority populations. Up for reelection this year, Laws says Coffman has shifted his stance on immigration slightly, and is facing pressure from Democrats and immigrant-rights groups to take leadership and work for reform.
"Since Mountain View United Church is in Aurora, in Rep. Coffman's district, because we have an on-going mission and outreach to the immigrant community, and because of our activism for immigration reform, the organizers of this stop asked if we would be willing to host the event," said Laws. "Of course we jumped at the chance."
The Rev. Nancy Rosas, minister for spiritual formation at Wash Park UCC in Denver, will also attend the Fast for Families event at Mountain View United Church because she cares about justice and equality for all people, especially for women and families.
"I believe that all families need to stay together, to live without fear of being separated from their loved ones, and to have access to fair and just immigration reform that allows them to live with the same dignity and freedom like everybody else in this country," Rosas said. "Fasting is a way to expose and call attention to an injustice that needs to be addressed and mended. As people of faith, we are called to be healers of the brokenness in our communities."
Fast for Families Across America is a follow-up to Fast for Families: A Call for Immigration Reform where, for 30 days in late 2013, hundreds of people gathered in a tent on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to support five core immigration advocates who fasted for change. The five core fasters, who survived on only water for 22 days during the original fast, are also key participants in the nationwide tour.
Laws, who is a member of Coloradans for Immigrant Rights and also works with the immigrant groups Rights for All People and El Centro Humanitario, said his church is very involved with Colorado's fight for immigration reform and the fair treatment of all immigrants. Through El Centro Humanitario, the church provides breakfast once a month to local day laborers and domestic workers, and also conducts an annual collection of winter outerwear to help them survive the cold Colorado seasons. Mountain View United Church is also involved with the Refugee, Asylum Seeker, and Immigrant Covenant Group, through which the church provides housing, emergency assistance, transportation, and educational opportunities for immigrants and day laborers.
Laws is also active with the Clergy Immigration Witness Network, which provides clergy support to the immigrant community through efforts such as supporting them with prayer and presence at deportations and court hearings, and leading prayers and blessings at vigils and rallies.
"Immigration reform is important to us as we live out the commandment to love our neighbors, and we recognize the oppression of our system on the immigrant community," Laws said. "So our outreach is two-fold: providing for the day-to-day things needed to just survive, and doing advocacy to change the systems of oppression."
Laws expects eight to 10 members of his small congregation of about 30 active members to attend the Fast for Families Across America event. But he hopes the event raises awareness about the devastating effects immigration policies have on immigrant families and that the increased awareness will lead to action.
"I hope that this event will help Rep. Coffman see that this is an important issue to part of his constituency and will lead him take up leadership in the House to get immigration reform moving," Laws said. "As with anything like this, I also hope it will result in our various faith communities coming together and will lead to further collaboration on social justice work. I hope that our participation will demonstrate that you do not have to have hundreds of members and an overflowing budget to be active in social justice work, but rather a commitment to love your neighbor."