Quoting the gospel of John at the conclusion of a 48-hour vigil held outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., the Rev. Felix Carrión emphatically reminded those in prayerful witness –– and in opposition to Arizona Senate Bill 1070 –– that there is always enough room for our neighbor.
"In my father's house, there are many rooms for you," said Carrión, Stillspeaking Coordinator of the UCC Publishing, Identity and Communication ministry team, quoting the familiar Bible passage.
"The voice of the church reminds our nation that we have the capacity to create room for all people in our nation, especially the outsider, the stranger, the immigrant who comes in search of a home –– those who come in search of a dream of making a new life for themselves and their families," said Carrión, lifting up the UCC's "God's Love Knows No Borders" print ad campaign of 2010.
After the vigil, more than 100 people embarked on a "Jericho march" around the Supreme Court building as the high court continued to hear arguments in the federal government's lawsuit against SB 1070. The court's ruling, expected in June, will affect not only Arizona's illegal-immigration-enforcement laws, but similar laws in other states. The high court agreed to hear arguments after federal courts halted key parts of the law from going into effect.
Although many of its most controversial elements are not yet law, SB 1070 is inflicting major hardship in Arizona, says the Rev. Randy Mayer, pastor of The Good Shepherd UCC in Sahuarita, Ariz.
"It's raised a lot of race issues, immigration issues, and there is tension in the congregation that wasn't there before," said Mayer. "Forty percent of the people here are Hispanic, and one-third of our community is border patrol."
Mayer says residents are scrutinized for giving assistance to those even suspected of being undocumented.
"Neighbors are supposed to report those suspected of helping the undocumented," he said. "It begins to turn neighbor on neighbor, friend on friend. Everybody's a suspect. To not report a suspect could lead to your arrest."
About 60 members of The Good Shepherd congregation participate in an ecumenical "Samaritan Patrol" in Arizona's Sonora desert that regularly replenishes water supplies along border areas and tries to maintain a sense of vigilance for their brothers and sisters native to Mexico.
For the first time, said Mayer, the Mexican immigrant population into Arizona is decreasing –– and fear among Hispanic residents is soaring.
"A lot of the Hispanic community has just completely gone underground," Mayer said. "They're not coming out of their houses, they're just being very quiet. And there really is no work. What used to be a very vibrant, important part of the community has just been completely taken out."
Volunteers have been working to help Hispanic families develop safety plans.
"What happens when your mother doesn't come home from work?" said Mayer. "What happens when a child isn't picked up after school? Do we have power of attorney figured out so that somebody could sell the family vehicle to post bond?"
Meanwhile, already-substandard schools are getting worse, and businesses outside the state have no desire to move in, said Mayer.
"The economy is not going to get better," Mayer said. "It can't get better when you've thrown out all your labor –– made it so uncomfortable to be here that they've taken off."
Such conditions in the church community compelled several Arizona pastors and lay leaders –– including the Rev. Phil Reller, chair of the UCC Southwest Conference's justice and witness team, and David Mellott, a member of Church of the Beatitudes UCC in Phoenix – to make the trip to the nation's capital to voice concern that quick-fix approaches proposed by many elected officials will not work.
"Our leaders are trying to use simple, not-clearly-thought-through legislation, and the result is a community that has become strained and divided," said Mayer. "We're sitting in the middle of a wound and there's no healing."