Arizona pastor invited to White House immigration forum
Written by Emily Schappacher
September 24, 2013

The Rev. Randy Mayer, pastor of Good Shepard UCC in Sahuarita, Ariz.

To the Rev. Randy Mayer, the border between the U.S. and Mexico should be an economic benefit to the rest of the country. Not only does its unique location serve as a tourist destination for people on both sides of the divide, but it's one of the country's busiest commercial ports, with 70 to 80 percent of produce sold in the U.S. "coming right up Interstate 19," Mayer said, at any given time of the year. But increased militarization, a result of immigration reform efforts, is taking its toll on border communities and the people who live in them, said the pastor of Good Shepherd UCC in Sahuarita, Ariz. So Mayer hopes this week's Southwest Border Economic Forum can inspire some solutions to the problem.

"The event is really focused on the Southwest border communities because everyone has pretty much forgotten them and is literally just throwing us under the bus like we don't matter in this conversation," said Mayer. "But it's also a push to get immigration reform back into the conversation because it is stalling."

Mayer is among 40 clergy, government and business leaders, and law enforcement officials from Arizona, Texas, California and New Mexico who were invited to Washington, D.C., for the Southwest Border Economic Forum Sept. 25-26. Organized by the Southern Border Communities Coalition and the Campaign for an Accountable, Moral, Balanced Immigration Overhaul, the forum will address trade, travel, tourism and the economic impacts of immigration reform efforts on border communities. On Sept. 25, the group will meet with senior White House staff and high-level agency officials to discuss how to best address these issues, followed by a briefing with House staff on border enforcement, economic prosperity, and accountability on Sept. 26.

"The problem is when you begin to have that militarization, or low-intensity warfare, in communities, it affects everyone's well-being," Mayer said. "And when you start having checkpoints and extra surveillance, and people are being stopped because of their accent or the color of their skin, it makes for an unfriendly place for people to visit. It just begins to beat down everybody's desire to cross the border."

Despite bipartisan collaboration, the road to immigration reform has been bumpy. Last week, two Republican members of the bipartisan group that had been working on the House's version of the immigration reform bill dropped out of the effort, citing concerns about President Barack Obama's willingness to fully enforce any immigration measures developed in an immigration bill. Rep. John Carter (R-Texas) and Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas) are the second and third Republican members to abandon the House effort, after Rep. Paul Labrador (R-Idaho) left the group in June. 

In June, the Senate passed a comprehensive bill that would allow the nation's 11 million undocumented immigrants to apply for U.S. citizenship, dedicates $46 billion to increased border security, and revamps the legal immigration system to bring in more high- and low-skilled workers. The House will now focus on smaller bills dealing with different portions of immigration law, such as border security and visa programs.

"I still have just a glimmer of hope," Mayer said of comprehensive reform legislation. "But it's becoming a bigger and bigger mess the longer we 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.

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