Members of the United Church of Christ from Arizona and around the country joined an estimated 20,000 protesters May 29 to march in opposition to the state's SB1070 immigration law that, according to critics, targets Hispanics and could leave the door open for racial profiling by law enforcement agencies.
The law, slated to take effect July 29, requires any police officer conducting a traffic stop or when questioning people to ask them about their citizenship if there is "reasonable suspicion" they may be in the country illegally.
In response to the passage of the law the Southwest Conference of the UCC recently published a call for a more humane US immigration policy, an end to migrant deaths and for support to immigrant communities.
In an open letter to President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano and Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, the Conference states, "We are profoundly disturbed by the passage of the harshest anti-immigrant legislation in the country by the Arizona Legislature. It is legislation such as this that codifies racial profiling and creates an atmosphere of suspicion, hatred, and scapegoating of immigrants and U.S. Citizens."
According to the Rev. John Dorhauer, Conference Minister for the UCC's Southwest Conference, the Conference was the first organization to call for a boycott of Arizona because of the law. Many more have followed suit.
"The boycott means that we will move our annual meeting out of Phoenix, where it was scheduled, to Albuquerque," Dorhauer said. "I'm here today in Phoenix to march not only in solidarity with our brother and sister immigrants ... [but also] with the members of our churches in the Southwest Conference who have stood against this racist and unjust law."
Prior to the march, the Rev. Felix Carrion, director of the UCC's Still Speaking Ministry, shared a pair of full-page ads paid for by donations, one in English that ran in the Arizona Republic and another in Spanish that ran in La Prensa on the day of the march. The ads claim "God's love knows no borders."
"The gospel of Jesus Christ is about welcome and the United Church of Christ is about that welcome. We are here in opposition to 1070 because we find that 1070 is in opposition to the gospel", Carrion said. "We want to send the word out to those communities that will suffer from this hurtful legislation that we stand with you we will struggle with you, we will fight with you until this law is repealed."
Pastor Luis Gonzalez of Comunidad Cristiana Minsterios, known informally as TOX Ministries, said that as a result of the law almost 50 percent of his congregation face leaving the state. Currently the Southwest Conference is helping up to 20 members of TOX, who live and work in Arizona without the benefit of documentation, move with their families to New Mexico before the law takes effect.
Members have also been offered job placement services and pro bono legal assistance. Gonzalez said that many of his congregants experience fear and pain, "...every time they leave their home." Alfonso Escareno, an employee of TOX Ministries said, "SB1070 is dividing families, and we believe in the unity of families."
"We've been working on the border with these issues for ten years and it's painful to see the hate and the discrimination is moving deeper into our communities," said the Rev. Randy J. Mayer from the Good Shepherd United Church of Christ in Sahuarita, Ariz. "What we need to be doing is creating comprehensive immigration reform."
The rally and 6-mile march to the state capitol proceeded peacefully under 94-degree heat. Demonstrators carried signs and chanted slogans. Shouts of "!Si se puede!" – "Yes we can!" were volleyed along the route. At times, the mass of people stretched for more than three miles.
Volunteers at stations along the way handed out a steady supply of water, and a few walkers were treated for heat exhaustion. Some people fashioned makeshift cardboard hats to avoid the direct sun. According to a variety of media sources, including the Arizona Daily Star, about 20,000 people participated in the march on the capitol. They were joined by hundreds of supporters in other states, and about 300 people at the US Embassy in Mexico City.
"I'm here today in Phoenix to march not only solidarity with our brother and sister immigrants…as well as with the members of our churches in the Southwest Conference who have stood against this racist and unjust law," Dorhauer said. This is in our DNA, we can do no other."
In response to SB1070, the Southwest Conference of the United Church of Christ is:
- Encouraging individuals to pledge non-compliance with the unjust and racist law SB 1070
- Canceling plans to hold 2011 annual meeting in Arizona
- Relocating their next annual meeting to another southwestern state
- Encouraging their business and professional members to influence board decisions
- Encouraging direct action of prayer, study, protests, and fasting
- Mobilizing their congregations to advocate for the Dream Act, a just and fair Comprehensive Immigration Reform and the abolishment of SB 1070 and 287(G)
Additional images by Scott Griessel from the May 29 rally and march.
The following links provide information about SB1070 and the response of the United Church of Christ and the Southwest Conference:
A CALL FOR A MORE HUMANE US IMMIGRATION POLICY; END MIGRANT DEATHS; SUPPORT IMMIGRANT COMMUNITIESS
Resolution, adopted by delegates to the 2010 Southwest Conference Annual Meeting, strongly condemning Arizona's recent anti-immigration legislation.
The Law (Myths and Debunking them)
Arizona's New Anti-Immigrant Legislation and Common Immigration Myths, by Brendan N. Mahoney, Esq., Southwest Conference Moderator.
Results from May 13, 2010 Justice and Witness meeting in response to SB 1070
Letter sent by email to SWC members, containing notes on the Justice and Witness meeting held on May 13 to address concerns and explore responses to Arizona's SB 1070, by John Dorhauer.
From around the UCC, TOX ministries in Phoenix, A Politician's Perspective, and Rhode Island UMC Clergy
The Issues of Immigration and SB1070
Ways that Faith Communities can organize and Resist SB1070