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Results from Justice and Witness meeting in response to SB 1070

The following is a copy of an email sent by Rev. Dr. John Dorhauer on May 14, 2010.

Dear Colleagues in Ministry,

I apologize for the length of this email. Many of you will want to hear, and will appreciate, the time that was taken to share this information with you. Some, however, will find this burdensome. Feel no obligation to read everything if this is not of interest to you.

I also apologize that even as I write this, some of the information is incomplete and will within a short period of time even be obsolete. We covenant with all of you that we will do our best to keep you informed of developments as resposnes to SB 1070 develop anywhere in the Conference.

What I am inviting you to read are my own notes from the meeting that our Justice and Witness committee conducted yesterday with representatives present from across the Conference and even the Denomination.

There were powerful stories told. There was helpful advice offered. There were questions answered. And the emergence of some clear strategic responses were developed.

All who read this are invited to imagine ways in which they, or their church, might be called to participate. We are happy to receive any offers of help in any of the areas that were addressed at the meeting.

Here are the notes:

After some brief introductory words and greetings from the Conference Minister, the meeting began with some powerful stories from families at TOX Ministries.

Mother of three: I am a citizen. My husband is not. Our three children ask "Are we going to lose our Dad?" I try to explain what might or might not happen, but children don't understand law.
Fr: I am a citizen, but my brother is not. If he calls for a ride to work or to church, I will not tell him no. What happens to me if I am pulled over? I am stopped, and now I am a criminal. Friends will ask for a ride to church or to work, and I do not ask a friend who needs a ride: "Do you have papers."
Ca: I have been in America for 24 years, my family moved here when I was 5. I have tried for years to follow legal procedures for citizenship. I spent over $30,000 before a judge ruled that because I was young, I could adapt and deported me. I have two children here, 11 and 13. I walked back through the desert to risk being with them again, and almost died. I can't look for a job. What if I get pulled over? I have no family in Mexico and would not know where to go for housing, for a job, for a community.

When the members of TOX were asked if, even though the new law is not in effect, are things worse there was an immediate and visceral response: yes.

The story was told of a girl that was robbed. She was Hispanic and a US citizen but had no ID (it was taken in the robbery). She speaks no Spanish. The policeman who took her complaint of robbery told her to wait while he called for help. He called the Sheriff's department, who came and detained her on suspicion of being here without documentation. They would eventually release her when her family came with identification.

We were told this was an illegal action taken by law enforcement officials. If you say you are a citizen, they cannot ask you for documentation. If you are driving, they can ask for a license, but they cannot search of detain you or ask you to produce papers.

Senator Guitierrez (16 years in the Arizona Senate, 14 as Senate majority leader) was present and spoke about this new law.
He spoke of a granddaughter who came here at the age of 3, graduated with honors from a nearby college - but who is not documented.
He addressed the impact of the law in human terms.
Being undocumented, according to this new law, is a crime. No bail is established, so once detained and put in jail there is no way out. The detainee will be brought to the custody of ICE officials (this is part of the 287G agreement) to be processed and declared illegal.
A second mechanism that is used is the "Secure Community" Act or Agreement which gives local law enforcement officials access to federal databases used to determine whether the person now captured is a legal or illegal immigrant.
The processing can take up to a week, during which time every day great pressure is being put upon the detainee to sign a voluntary departure statement saying they are not legal and will be deported. Once that is signed, or their research proves that one is here without documentation, they are transported to the border and simply released on the other side. No consideration is given to where family is or may be. They are given no resources. This happens whether one is a child, a mother, a father.

Somos America has a number that people can call to refer abuses. 1,000 deportations a day are carried out in the state of Arizona - more than 50% of all deportations originate in Arizona - more than all the other 49 states and territories combined. And this is true even though Texas and California have more undocumented immigrants.

One woman, while in detainment, was brought in daily and pressured to sign her voluntary departure form. They finally obtained her signature, but when released to ICE she was taken not to the border but to the hospital to treat the arm that was broken as a result of actions taken to compel her signature.

The law mentions "reasonable suspicion." You can't be stopped just for being brown - there has to be a crime committed to be stopped. Most frequently, that crime is a broken taillight on the car. This new law permits local police enforcement officials to stop a car for a violation, ask the driver for his license and all other occupants for their papers.

Some discussion followed about the boycott.
It was shared that 26 conventions planned for Phoenix have already been cancelled. It is expected that in a matter of weeks, the All-Star game and a potential $90 million in revenue from that will also be pulled.
It was shared that resistance to this law should come in all forms. A lawsuit is being filed today, an injunction asking the court to stop this law from taking effect. In 1996, a similar law was passed and was defeated. It was clear at the time that the maintenance of borders and the writing of immigration law belonged, by mandate of the second amendment, to the Federal government. George W, after 9/11 began outsourcing those responsibilities to local communities, including states. The Inherent Authority Memorandum written at that time by a member of the Justice Department said that local police have 'inherent authority' to adjudicate matters of immigration violations. This approach has been embraced and even advanced significantly under the Obama administration. Given all of this, though the '96 law was ruled unconstitutional, it is not clear that this one will be. Too much has changed.

At this point, the gathering split into four strategic planning groups:

  • Strategic responses to effect a repeal of the law, to boycott, or to engage in direct action or civil disobedience
  • Strategic responses to educate our local churches or to empower them to respond in critical ways
  • Strategic responses to the actual moving of half of our Hispanic church from the Phoenix area to another location in New Mexico and starting a new church there
  • Voter registration in critical districts

The following notes were taken at the closure of the small group discussions and as we gathered again to share what we had come up with. Following each small group report, a rousing chorus of both applause and chants of "Si Se Puede" enlivened the group.

From the small group that met to talk about repeal of the law, direct action, and boycotts: 2 paths were identified regarding legal actions:
a. Participate in legal actions as a named litigant in any legal action that may be filed or an
b. be a friend of the court in an Amicus Brief
Brendan will contact attorneys who are involved in any and all legal cases currently proceeding.

I will contact Frank Fox (Conference Attorney) about this and other issues.

Educational materials need to be produced so that clarity can be gained about the law itself, what it does and does not allow, and how it affects the lives of people. A fact sheet needs to be put together to circulate to our churches.

Greg Brekke will be contacted to do a lead story on UCC.org.

We also need to begin to collect the stories of those who are in our churches and communities and begin to tell them.

Direct Action needs to be seen as a means of either shifting attitudes about this law or as a means of inflicting pain on the system that created it. To that end, two things were proposed. One is a concerted effort to participate AS THE UCC IN SUPPORT OF TOX at the march on May 29th. (Another group was invited to form to strategize about a UCC event, but not enough were present to split the group this many ways and so an informal commitment to use the weekend of the 29th as a time for a major UCC event connected to the march developed). A piece of this would include some symbolic action - like the washing of the feet of immigrants. We would look to march as one body - the UCC - all wearing the same t-shirt printed by a local latino family who owns a t-shirt business here in the Phoenix area. We also talked about the need to participate in effective lobbying whenever legislation like this emerges.

From the small group that talked about Education in our local churches:
A curriculum will be written that includes material for bulletins, newsletters, narratives of immigrants in Arizona and in our UCC churches, data about the law, myths about immigrants that need to be corrected, etc. This material would be printed, collated, and placed on the website, distributed to churches and pastors electronically, and mailed in hard copy to all churches. Every church will receive a call asking to whom the material should be sent. Panelists will also be named who will be willing to go to any church and conduct an informational review of this law and its impact. Movies and short films will be produced, or ones already in circulation will be identified for inclusion in the material.

From the group that talked about moving TOX members:
John will meet June 4 in Albuquerque with clergy and lay leaders interested in helping this move take place. Churches will be found who have members who can provide temporary housing for up to 20 individuals; who can identify sources of job employment for these displaced men and women; who can provide food until such time as jobs can be found; and who can provide space to nest a new church start in Albuquerque for TOX. In Phoenix, resources will be identified who can provide pro bono legal paperwork for parents who want to name legal guardians for their children should the parent be deported or detained; who can drive individuals across state lines into Albuquerque; who can later move furniture and goods that will be left behind when they escape Arizona into New Mexico.

From the small group that met about voter registration:
There is a potential candidate from our UCC church in Mesa who might decide to run against Russell Pierce, who won by less than 1,800 votes in his last election and who may be vulnerable since he was the primary mover of SB1070. It was agreed that the key would be voter registration that involved volunteers from both the anglo and Hispanic communities.

The meeting was adjourned.

Humbly yours in Christ,

Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer
Conference Minister
Southwest Conference UCC