While much of the immigration reform debate focuses on the southern border, advocates as far north as Montana are urging Congress to take action. Vigils took place in Billings, Bozeman and Helena on Women's Equality Day, Aug. 26, to highlight the importance of a woman's role in the family and the need to keep immigrant families together. The Rev. Marc Stewart, conference minister of Partnership Ministries, a collaboration of the Montana-Northern Wyoming Conference of the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Montana, was front and center at the Billings event, speaking out for immigrant rights and offering prayers of justice and support.
"This was an opportunity to remember women's roles in their families and what the U.S. immigration policy does when it separates families from each other," Stewart said. "I urged the crowd to be vigilant and call on the government to be responsible for keeping families together and to not subordinate those values to whatever else is driving the move against immigrants and undocumented workers."
The vigils were organized by We Belong Together, a campaign to mobilize and empower women in support of common-sense immigration reform that will keep families together. About 30 people were present at the Billings event, which took place outside of Rep. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) Eastern Montana office, and included singing, prayer and statements by local clergy and activists. Each attendee signed a statement to be presented to Daines urging him to act on immigration reform.
"Women are central to keeping our families, homes and communities united as mothers, caregivers, breadwinners, leaders and more," the statement said. "This first-hand experience gives women unique leverage to demand that target leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives have the courage to unite their own House around these same values – core American values – and to take the lead in pushing for common-sense immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship and treats women and children fairly."
As an immigrant who came to the United States from England when he was 5 years old, Stewart is personally invested in the fight for comprehensive immigration reform. A regular presence at local immigration rallies and vigils, Stewart also offers the conference facility as a meeting space for the Immigration Reform Taskforce of the Montana Organizing Project, a collaboration of community, labor and faith groups that works for economic, racial and social justice. He played an active role in the creation of a statement of concern passed last year by the Montana Association of Churches calling for the welcoming of the stranger and promotion of humane and just immigration legislation, public policies and business practices.
"Particularly as a faith issue and a justice issue there is just extreme angst that our government is doing so little and putting values above what we know are the most important, like family," Stewart said. "The government isn't speaking for us when they put values of perceived security or economic issues above family concerns. We need to be more vigilant and take back what our government is about and what it stands for."
The UCC 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.