Written by Daniel Hazard
Local congregations encouraged to participate
The United Church of Christ will observe its first "Immigrant Rights Sunday" May 3. Although the UCC has been a long-time advocate for just immigration policies that guarantee legal rights entitled to every person living in the United States, this is the first time a Sunday has been designated in the UCC to recognize immigrants.
Welcoming the stranger is an edict from God to the people of God (Deuteronomy 10:17-19.) But justice advocates note that too often strangers are rejected and treated like enemies.
Congregations are encouraged to include stories about immigrants in their worship service on the first Sunday in May.
Organizers, the Rev. Art Cribbs and the Rev. Daniel Romero, write: One recent story follows the lives of two brothers, Benigno and Ronald, who find themselves caught in a legal limbo as they seek to make it through the maze of immigration bureaucracy.
Brought to the United States from Guatemala by their mother as small children, they are now 24 and 28 years old. When their mother became a legal resident through marriage, she petitioned for her sons to become residents as well. Unfortunately, they sought help from a notario, a notary public posing as a lawyer, who charged them a few thousand dollars to do the paper work.
There are many unscrupulous individuals who engage in the unauthorized practice of immigration law and leave their clients hopeless and helpless. In this case, Benigno and Ronald "think" they may have petitions pending. Even if they do, as unmarried children of a legal resident from Guatemala, it may take up to seven years for visas to become available for them to achieve their dream.
Wishing to marry, Benigno has postponed doing so because he knows the laws are different for married and unmarried children of permanent residents. Both these young men have no experience of living in Guatemala and if forced to leave, they would be fish out of water.
They have been raised in this country, gone through the educational system, and are fully bilingual with very promising futures. Their story is repeated time and again with children who, by no decision of their own, find themselves in legal limbo.
There are millions of immigrants and stories about strangers who reside near our local UCC churches. Immigrant Rights Sunday is an opportunity to learn their stories and share them.
Immigrant Rights Sunday is intended to help overcome fears about the strangers among us, and to work on their behalf to make life safer in the United States. Promoting draconian policies and militarizing our borders do not protect or serve anyone's best interests. Too many families have been divided and too many lives have been lost because our country has failed to properly address the needs of immigrants.
It is time for us to honor God's instruction to feed, clothe and love "those who are strangers, because you yourselves were strangers..."
As we learn the stories of others, we can tell our stories also: the stories of our families' journeys to America. We can remember what it felt like to be received or rejected in a new land. Then, we will discover the practical reasons why God instructed us to take care of immigrants, foreigners, and strangers.
Nobody should be left in a legal limbo to fend alone or fall prey to individuals, systems, or institutions that abuse them and deny their human dignity. If we forget our own experiences, we may mistreat others who are going through what we once knew to be a frightening and unwelcoming period in our lives.
We can do better to make God's entire family feel welcome and at home. Hospitality is a hallmark of our faith. Every human life is precious and the "loving image of God."
For more information about Immigrant Rights Sunday, contact Wally Ryan Kuroiwa or Edie Rasell at the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries, 216/736-3700. Worship resources are available at <ucc.org/justice/immigration>.