UCC ministers among many opposed to new North Carolina law aimed at immigrants
Two United Church of Christ ministers in Greensboro, N.C., are dismayed at a bill signed into law Wednesday (Oct. 28) by Gov. Pat McCrory that prevents local N.C. jurisdictions from creating “sanctuary cities” for immigrants, and dismantles those already in place. It also requires state and local government agencies to use the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ E-Verify program to check the legal status of job applicants and contractors.
According to the Rev. Julie Peeples, pastor of Congregational UCC, and the Rev. David Fraccaro of FaithAction International House, the bill tears down three years of work by community groups, faith groups, and city and law enforcement officials to improve safety and reduce racial tension in Greensboro.
At issue, they say, is the safety and welfare of Greensboro residents, including immigrants (many of whom are not in the country legally and won’t report crimes they witness to the police for fear they will be deported). Additionally, many lower income people and homeless people find it difficult to get medical care and educational services for their children.
To help overcome these problems, FaithAction House introduced a community ID card program three years ago that had become widely accepted in Greensboro by local government, businesses, law enforcement officials, schools, health centers, and faith groups. The cards, part of a larger “strangers to neighbors” program, are now invalid in the eyes of local judges, clerks, magistrates and government officials.
“The ID provision will have a significant impact on North Carolina’s immigrant residents, many of whom do not have access to state issued identification, as well as on other individuals obtaining identification, including senior citizens and people dealing with homelessness,” said Fraccaro. Without a valid ID, simple tasks such as getting the water turned on, obtaining a marriage license, or getting hospital care can become impossible.
In Greensboro, many FaithAction ID sessions include police officers getting their ID cards along with the rest of the community. “Imagine a church fellowship hall filled with immigrants from Mexico, Africa and Asia, along with police officers,” said Peeples. “They’re mingling, talking, exchanging phone numbers. The program has built trust and respect, and reduced fear.”
The program “has been a model of successful community ID programs, and more communities are coming to Greensboro to learn about how it works,” added Fraccaro.
The new law does not name schools, health centers and hospitals, nonprofits, businesses and law enforcement officials, who still have the option of accepting the community ID cards as valid. With that in mind, Fraccaro held a new ID drive Friday, Oct. 30, with some 400 people expected to attend.
“There are times and places for speaking truth to power. But transforming a community must also take place from within,” said Fraccaro. “We must get to know and trust each other; to see each other not as the stranger, but as neighbors and friends. That’s how you break the cycle [of mistrust].”
The new law also limits food assistance for able-bodied, unemployed, childless adults. It was signed at the Greensboro Sheriff’s Department which, Peeples said, pits the county Sheriff’s Department against the local police force. Members of the Greensboro city council and police department had expressed opposition to the bill.
“Not only does the law affect the immigrant population, but also poor people and homeless people,” said Peeples.
Most disheartening to those opposed to the law is its potential for discrimination and racial profiling. Those opposed to the law include the ACLU, the NAACP-NC, the League of Women Voters of the Piedmont Triad, and American Friends Service Committee N.C., plus local officials and agencies in several North Carolina cities.
“As a people of faith, we are called to welcome the stranger in our midst, and love our neighbor,” said Noel Andersen, national grassroots coordinator for Church World Service. “The type of legislation passed by North Carolina will lead to racial profiling and is spreading to other states. We could see similar legislation proposed in as many as 25 states this spring. As people of faith, our role is to lift up a prophetic voice to stop this type of anti-immigrant legislation.”
Peeples asked the wider church for two things:
“Pray,” she said. “We need all the prayers we can get.” She also encouraged people to vote. Stripping local communities of their power, she said, “could easily come to your community. Vote, and pay attention to what’s happening in your own community.”
Learn more about faith and immigration issues.
Read about FaithAction International House.
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