United Church of Christ immigration advocates stood for the rights of immigrant families during an ecumenical vigil in Washington, D.C., Thursday. The Rev. Mari Castellanos, UCC minister for domestic issues, offered a prayer in Spanish alongside Sister Marie Lucey of the Franciscan Action Network, who prayed in English. The Rev. Noel Anderson, Church World Service's grassroots coordinator for immigrant rights and founding member of the UCC's Collaborative on Immigration, helped organize the event.
"We praise you and give you thanks for your blessings on all immigrants, on those who cross all the borders in the United States," said Castellanos during the prayer. "Today we pray for a clear and direct pathway to citizenship for all our people. We pray that you guide the hearts of policy makers, to make the right decisions, and be on the right side of history."
The Center for Community Change and Casa de Maryland, an affiliate of the Fair Immigration Movement (FIRM), organized the vigil as part of a series of events leading up to International Labor Day on May 1, when thousands will march for immigrant rights in every major U.S. city. The vigil also marked the kickoff for FIRM's escalated presence in the Senate Judiciary Committee's immigration discussions. Immigrant family members gave testimonies about what immigration reform would mean for their families and for their future. Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) also spoke.
Advocates are fighting for fundamental improvements to the immigration reform legislation introduced last week by a bipartisan group of senators. These improvements would include doing away with the cutoff date for citizenship eligibility, which currently excludes immigrants who arrived to the U.S. after Dec. 31, 2011, shortening the pathway to citizenship to take fewer than 13 years, and making sure more family members have the opportunity to join their families in the U.S.
"For these families, immigration reform is not about politics or party preference," the Center for Community said in a statement. "It's about keeping daughters united with their mothers, about parents being able to provide for their children, and about keeping families together rather than inflicting pain on mothers, fathers and children, and ripping them apart. Our families face a fierce urgency. Every day we delay, 1,100 families are torn apart and impacted in fundamentally immoral and degrading ways because of our broken immigration system. They cannot wait."
The United Church of Christ has a long history of affirming the dignity of immigrants and working for comprehensive U.S. Immigration policy. Since 1995, General Synod – the main deliberative body of the UCC – has repeatedly called for a fair and human approach to U.S. immigration policy that protects families and respects the humanity of our immigrant brothers and sisters.
The UCC's Collaborative on Immigration formed in fall 2012 to represent a collective voice in the recently reenergized fight for immigration reform. The group includes faith-based activists who work toward strategic goals and represent the advocacy of UCC leaders and congregations throughout the United States.