Written by Emily Mullins
Despite a delay in the review of the country's deportation policies issued last week by the White House, United Church of Christ advocates continue to move forward to address the needs of the nation's immigrants. About 100 leaders from the faith community will gather in Los Angeles June 9-11 for "Let My People Work," a three-day interfaith conference that will identify and connect the intersections of immigration reform, economic justice and worker rights. To the Rev. Deborah Lee, a UCC minister and organizer of the event, this is a conversation that could impact the lives and livelihoods of countless families in California and beyond.
"The goal is to lift up that there is a crisis of working poor families in California and across the country, and a lot of them happen to be immigrants as well," said Lee, who is also director of the Clergy & Laity United for Economic Justice's Interfaith Immigration Coalition. "We are using a very bold tradition from the faith community to help us think about how we can forge this movement for immigration and economic justice together instead of having them be siloed."
"Let My People Work" will take place at Holman United Methodist Church and will offer a number of workshops, plenaries and speakers, including Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of the National Catholic Social Justice Lobby and organizer of the Nuns on the Bus; Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center; the Rev. James Lawson, former pastor of Holman United Methodist Church and a civil rights leader; and Luis Ojeda of the California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance. The Southern California-Nevada Conference of the UCC is a co-sponsor of the event.
Attendees and participants are a diverse mix of advocates who have been involved with immigration and workers' rights issues for many years and those who are "just getting their feet wet," Lee said. There is also a good mix of elders from the faith community and young leaders who are approaching their advocacy in new ways.
"It will be a great time to learn from the wisdom of both the elders and the new leaders," Lee said. "We hope that they go away inspired to believe that as people of faith we have a unique role and contribution to the social justice movement. We hope that they are sort of called into that role."
Immigration reform continues to be a hotly-contested issue in Congress. Last week, President Barack Obama issued a two-month delay of what immigration reform proponents say is a long-overdue review of the Department of Homeland Security's deportation policies. News reports indicate that the deportation enforcement review would have been viewed by House Republicans as an abuse of executive power, further diminishing the chance of an immigration overhaul in Congress this year. The delay is intended to give House Republicans the opportunity to pass an immigration reform bill before the fall election campaigns ramp up, which few advocates see as a likely possibility.
But regardless of what happens in Washington, Lee says that one piece of legislation will not fix all of the problems immigrants face in the United States, and that immigration reform advocates from the faith community need to be in it for the long haul.
"The way we are approaching [immigration reform] at this conference is that there is an immigration crisis with 1,100 deportations a day that needs to be addressed and there is a crisis of 11 million undocumented people in this country that needs to be addressed – we need to keep pushing for these things," Lee said. "At the same time, we need to make sure that our vision for justice and a just immigration system is really beyond what the conversation is right now. We are trying to prepare people that one piece of legislation isn't going to solve things.
"We have to be looking beyond the current terms of immigration reform," she adds. "We need a much deeper fix and it's going to be a long, hard struggle."