With President Obama's reenergized focus on comprehensive immigration reform during his second term, the United Church of Christ has found some new energy of its own. The UCC's Immigration Taskforce formed in the fall of 2012 to capitalize on this momentum and work to make the new legislation a reality. Comprising UCC pastors, executives and partners, the Immigration Taskforce members hope to combine their time, passion and expertise to create a unified voice for hope and change.
"Our primary goal is to strengthen the voice of the UCC on our call as people of faith to welcome the stranger and protect the human dignity of immigrants," said the Rev. Noel Anderson, Church World Service grassroots coordinator for immigrant rights, former assistant pastor at the Good Shepherd UCC in Sahuarita, Ariz., and a primary taskforce organizer. "I think the other piece is that we want to engage UCC congregations more on this issue."
The UCC's unified efforts couldn't come at a better time. A bipartisan group of senators introduced a four-part framework Jan. 28 to address the country's "broken" immigration system and its 11 million undocumented immigrants. The four legislative pillars include the creation of a "tough, but fair," path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants currently living in the U.S., reformation of the legal immigration system, creation of an effective employment verification system to prevent identity theft and the hiring of future unauthorized workers, and the establishment of an improved process for admitting future workers.
The group of four democrats and four republicans formulated the plan during five meetings since the November election, where 70 percent of Latino voters supported President Obama over Republican Mitt Romney. The election outcome served as a tipping point on the issue of immigration, and Anderson and other activists say there is a chance new legislation will be introduced as early as March 2013.
While the idea of an Immigration Taskforce had taken shape in the past, it was never approached with as much excitement or optimism, Anderson said, and with the federal government so focused on the issue, a unified voice never seemed more important. The taskforce has about 25 members from throughout the United States, including the Rev. Mari Castellanos, policy advocate for domestic issues for the UCC's Washington, D.C. office; the Rev. Randy Mayer, pastor of the Good Shepherd UCC; the Rev. John Dorhauer, UCC's Southwest Conference Minister; and the Rev. Anne Dunlap, minister of communidad liberacion at Mayflower Congregational Church UCC in Englewood, Colo.
The group hopes to not only address the issue in states with high immigrant populations, but to also touch states where there isn't as much activity, Anderson said.
"I was traveling around and meeting pastors who were very involved and realized that none of them were together on anything and some didn't know each other," Anderson said. "With all of the activity coming in 2013, it made sense to try to get the UCC together."
One of the task force's most recent initiatives was drafting and submitting a resolution for General Synod 2013 calling for the support of compassionate comprehensive immigration reform and the protection of the human rights of immigrants in the 113th Congress. Other initiatives include setting up calls and meetings with congressional representatives, and building more immigrant-welcoming UCC congregations. The UCC's Southwest Conference offers curriculum and training workshops for congregations interested in embracing this topic with their members.
"The immigration world is hopping, to say the least," Anderson said.
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.