Immigration, Migration & Our Call to Welcome All
May 1, 2013

We’ve asked our staff to help us unpack the complex justice issues that we’re working on. Using our General Synod pronouncements as the basis for these reflections, we hope to provide insights into the issues you care about that are rooted in our shared faith, and can inform your advocacy efforts. This month, UCC Rev Mari Castellanos, our UCC Domestic Policy Advocate, offers a reflection on our call to work for immigration reform and the root causes of migration.

Immigration, Migration & Our Call to Welcome All

Scriptures give us clear instruction on how we are to treat the foreigner among us and our neighbors in need. We have been called to tear down the walls we have built between us, that we may see each person as a child of God; to love and welcome all of God’s children as members of one family and one world.

This call from scripture has been repeatedly reaffirmed by the General Synod of the United Church of Christ over the past two decades.

As immigration once again comes to the forefront of our national discourse, UCC pastors and churches have been on the front lines of service and advocacy on behalf of undocumented people living in our communities, perhaps even as part of our congregations. 

People of faith have the opportunity to learn about the needs, struggles and contributions of our immigrant brothers and sisters, and join them by acting in solidary over the coming months.

We invite you to take some time to:

 Why do people migrate?

People migrate for a variety of reasons. But usually it is a very solid reason. Leaving family, neighborhood, friends, customs and language behind is almost always a desperate action, not a first choice. Poverty and fear can be extremely persuasive.

During the last couple of decades, men, women and children have crossed our southern border on foot or sailed the ocean in rickety crafts to reach a land of promise. Mostly they were fleeing desperate poverty, or terrible violence.

Farm owners in need of hands to pick their crops; restaurants seeking dishwashers; factories looking for nimble workers; industrial poultry and pig farms willing to hire anyone who’d stand their terrible working conditions: all eagerly took in the thousands looking for a job in the U. S. of A. They clean our office buildings and flip our burgers, mow our lawns and lay roof tiles on our homes. We mostly ignore them until someone tells us they’re taking jobs away from Americans.

These men and women have no legal documents but can present an identification they paid many dollars for. They pay Social Security and other taxes, but they will never collect retirement nor unemployment benefits.

They marry and give birth to American children. They have dreams and aspirations for them. Almost all of them work more than one job, making minimum wages.

During an economic down turn, when American workers are laid-off, these immigrant laborers are regarded with suspicion and at times become scapegoats for the frustration of the jobless. They are the objects of scorn from radio talk show hosts and the victims of unscrupulous lawmen.

Without recourse and always in fear of detection by immigration officers, these sisters and brothers go on quietly with their lives. They flock to Pentecostal and Catholic churches on Sundays and enjoy picnics and birthday celebrations in public parks. Their children grow up to be Americans. With parents usually working two jobs, many of those children spend many unsupervised hours. Some study and play sports; others hang out with the neighborhood crowd, sometimes ending up in trouble. Amazingly some manage to get scholarships to universities and graduate with a degree that will change their lives and that of their families.

We have deep ambivalence toward immigrants. We mostly take them for granted as they perform menial jobs that many of us would not care to. Some residents of the borderlands, understandably, resent people who cross their property in the middle of the night, hiding from La Migra. Some look askance at these short, dark skinned people, as if they had just sprouted somewhere while we were not looking. But these are our sisters and brothers in Christ.

In the wake of workplace raids and deportations, many religious people have taken up the cause of the undocumented immigrants. A truly interfaith movement has been built around the country. Many have worked tirelessly for a path to legalization of these children of God.

Countless religious people have organized, lobbied and marched on behalf of the undocumented. Hand in hand, citizens and migrants, sisters and brothers will continue to fight for a just immigration law that will bring the undocumented into American society.

What can you do?

 Observe Immigrant Rights Sunday

The first Sunday in May, May 5th, has been designated Immigrant Rights Sunday within the United Church of Christ.  Justice and Witness Ministries and Wider Church Ministries are urging congregations to lift up immigrants on this day: to learn about their concerns, honor their contributions to our country and communities, hear their pain, pray for their well-being, and listen to hear where God is leading us regarding issues of immigration. We have reflections and prayers you can use in your congregation.

 Engage in Advocacy 

Leaders within the United Church of Christ have spoken out in support of the Senate’s Bi-partisan efforts to come together across partisan divides and forge a new solution for our immigration system that has remained broken for years.    

As this Immigration Bill continues through the legislative process we need you to be actively involved by joining local mobilizations, visiting elected officials and recruiting more UCC members to help advocate for a more just immigration reform with less restrictions and more humanitarian values. The UCC advocates for family reunification and a clear pathway to citizenship. You can find a good summary of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act from the National Immigration Law Center.

You can keep up with our work and participate in our advocacy by following along on our immigration page. If you are interested in being more involved contact me at castellm@ucc.org.

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CONTACT INFO

Rev. Maria E. Castellanos
Policy Advocate and Writer
UCC Washington, DC Office
Justice And Witness Ministries
100 Maryland Avenue, NE
Room #330
Washington,District of Columbia 20002
202-543-1517
castellm@ucc.org