United Church of Christ immigration advocates stand with more than 250 faith leaders gathered in Washington, D.C., today as part of the Church World Service Summit on Immigration Reform, urging Congress to refocus the conversation on reform and act on comprehensive legislation now. The two-day conference, Oct. 7-8, follows a call for change sounded around the country on Oct. 5, the National Day of Action for Dignity and Respect, when more than 150 communities in 40 states lifted up their voices for immigration reform.
"October is a pivotal period for moving forward on legislation that would establish a fair and humane immigration policy," said Sandy Sorensen, director of the UCC's Washington, D.C., office and a summit attendee.
Sorensen will be among 60 faith leaders who will lead a blessing during a lunchtime rally on the National Mall before nearly 40,000 immigration reform advocates march to Capitol Hill. The rally, permitted on the Mall even though the country is operating under a federal government shutdown, is allowed because of freedom of speech guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. After prayer, the rally will honor those who have lost their lives during the battle over immigration reform, with a reading of the names of those who have died crossing the border. Scheduled speakers include House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Md.), Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), and civil rights activist Julian Bond. Musical performers include Lila Downs, Tigres del Norte, and Calle 13.
Other UCC representatives participating in the event include the Rev. Noel Anderson, Church World Service grassroots coordinator for immigrant rights and member of the UCC's Collaborative on Immigration, the Rev. Randy Mayer, senior pastor of the Good Shepherd UCC in Sahuarita, Ariz., and the Rev. Campbell Lovett, conference minister of the Michigan Conference of the UCC.
The rally and march to Capitol Hill will be followed by acts of civil disobedience with more than 200 faith leaders, community leaders, immigration activists, and undocumented immigrants risking arrest during a sit-in in front of the House of Representatives Rayburn Building. Those who chose to participate are expected to be cited and released within 8-24 hours. The Rev. Donna Schaper, senior pastor of Judson Memorial Church United Church of Christ in New York City, is joining in as a way to express her frustration with Congress and the current state of the government.
"I am simply fed up with Congress' delay, and we have got to push them even with the newly ridiculous circumstances of the government shutdown," Schaper said.
Tuesday's activities began with a prayer service and a news conference, followed by pray-in actions at the offices of key government leaders at 10:30 a.m. The 250 faith leaders divided into three groups and visited the offices of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.). The groups invited the representatives to engage in face-to-face prayer, read from scripture about welcoming the immigrant, and share communion. The goal of the visits was to put pressure on the representatives whose leadership is necessary to push immigration reform legislation forward in the House, and also push back against anti-immigrant measures such as the SAFE Act.
"Throughout the broad network of summit attendees, we are united by our desire for a just and humane immigration reform that will reunite families, create a path to citizenship, protect refugees and other vulnerable populations, and drastically change our immigration enforcement policies to be in line with humanitarian values," said the Rev. John L. McCullough, Church World Service president and CEO, at the outset of the summit. "We also need to address the root causes of migration, including poverty, trade policies, conflicts around the world, climate change, and other realities that necessitate people to migrate to provide for their families."