A broad, diverse range of faith and civil rights groups and leaders representing more than 40 organizations and communities convened April 27 in San Diego to demonstrate their opposition to Arizona's immigration reform bill SB 1070.
Signed into law by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer on April 23, SB 1070 turns unlawful presence, a federal civil law offense, into a state crime. It also requires police to question and arrest people they suspect of being in the country illegally.
"This terrible, heart-breaking law goes against our values as a nation," said the Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson, UCC minister for racial justice. "In troubling economic and emotional times such as these, we should be striving to be our best selves, not our lowest selves. All people of conscience need to stand together and declare that we are a nation that upholds human rights, freedom, fairness and equality."
The law's proponents claim race and ethnicity alone cannot be cause for questioning immigration status. But public officials assert that illegal immigrants can be identified by what they wear and how they speak.
In San Diego, police have been reiterating at daily briefings long-standing local policies that bar officers from randomly asking whether someone is in the United States illegally.
"This egregiously irresponsible law sets Arizona back half a century," said Kevin Keenan, executive director of the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties. "It is a modern-day Jim Crow law, creating a suspect class of residents, invoking the worst images of police/community relations." Among other organizations represented at the April 27 event were the San Diego Human Relations Committee; Catholic Charities of San Diego; and the Islamic Center of San Diego.
Gathered at their annual meeting in Sedona, Ariz., members of the UCC's Southwest Conference acted quickly this week after learning that Brewer had signed SB 1070. Conference members wrote an open letter to Brewer, President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder and U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano.
The letter states, in part, "As people of faith we affirm and live by the biblical imperative, 'When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.' (Leviticus 19:33-34)."
"We are profoundly disturbed by the passage of the harshest anti-immigrant legislation in the country by the Arizona Legislature," the letter continues. "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."
Calling for comprehensive immigration reform providing legalization for those who contribute to society, the letter states, "We find it morally reprehensible that 5,500 men, women and children have lost their lives in the last 16 years trying to provide a life of dignity for their families."
Conference members lifted up six actions to demonstrate solidarity and commitment to immigrants:
• Encouraging members to pledge non- compliance with the unjust and racist law SB 1070
• Cancel plans to hold 2011 annual meeting in Arizona
• Relocate our next annual meeting to another southwestern state
• Encourage our business and professional members to influence board decisions
• Direct action of prayer, study, protests, and fasting
• Mobilize our congregations to advocate for the Dream Act, a just and fair Comprehensive Immigration Reform and the abolishment of SB 1070 and 287 (G)
Thompson says she supports the Conference's overall recommendations, but cautions against implications that could result from boycotting. "From the national setting, I think that when you are talking about a boycott, yes, it does push the economic sector – but it also hurts people and can cost jobs. This is not necessarily where I would see our focus.
"We need to be educating people," says Thompson, "advocating for just immigration reform and mobilizing local congregations to get involved."