While immigration reform has taken a backseat to the nation's budget and fiscal concerns, United Church of Christ activists have continued to push forward and keep the conversation alive. Emboldened by President Barack Obama's pledge to make immigration reform a top priority now that Congress has ended the partial government shutdown and passed short-term solutions to the budget and debt ceiling issues, advocates hope comprehensive immigration reform legislation will become a reality sooner rather than later.
"I'm hoping now that the shutdown and the default have been averted, immigration will come back into the forefront," said the Rev. Campbell Lovett, conference minister of the Michigan Conference of the UCC. "I was glad to hear President Obama say that this is one of the issues Congress would take up and deal with soon."
Immigration reform is considered the centerpiece of President Barack Obama's second-term domestic agenda. Despite Obama's pledge to pass comprehensive reform legislation this year, some opponents believe the tension between House Republicans and the White House all but ensures that it won't happen.
Since Congress' August recess, there have been a number of immigration reform efforts with UCC activists at the helm. UCC leaders were invited to the White House for the Southwest Border Economic Forum Sept. 25-26 to discuss the economic impact of immigration reform efforts on border communities. UCC groups were among 150 communities in 40 states that recognized the National Day of Action for Dignity and Respect on Oct. 5. The Church World Service Summit on Immigration Reform brought 250 faith leaders and 40,000 other immigration reform activists to Washington, D.C., Oct. 7-8. Oct. 18 marked the end of a 40-day fast for immigration reform, during which more than 10,000 people from 46 states participated, including 922 members of the City of Refuge UCC in Oakland, Calif.
Lovett played an active role in the discussion about the resolution supporting compassionate, comprehensive immigration reform passed at General Synod 2013 in Long Beach, Calif., and he also marched through the streets of Long Beach with several hundred General Synod attendees in support of immigrant rights. While much of the immigration conversation focuses on the southern border between the U.S. and Mexico, Lovett fears the country's northern border may also be impacted by legislation that calls for increased militarization. He also notes the number of seasonal workers Michigan farmers employ to harvest apples and other crops – people who are a vital part of the region's workforce but are not treated with fairness or respect.
"I know it's primarily happening in Arizona and California and people aren't as concerned about these Michigan borders," Lovett said. "But if militarizing our borders becomes the standard, we too will have zones with ICE agents and police who can do whatever they want and not be accountable to the law.
"There are migrant workers in Michigan who we know practically nothing about, who are not afforded decent places to live or a decent living wage, and are often times abused," Lovett adds. "It's a real justice issue."