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The Vulnerable Us?

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“No, the [Senate bipartisan immigration] bill would not loosen security at borders and ports… Ms. Napolitano’s testimony evoked a world of drones, radar and motion sensors, Border Patrol agents and National Guard troops, fencing and razor wire stretching for miles and miles. The bill calls for up to $6.5 billion in new spending, with expanded workplace-verification and entry-exit visa systems, and still more boots and fencing…”

- From a recent editorial in the New York Times

Do we really need more money for securing the border?

Border tour participants in front of the fence.

The border fence (Credit: Rashid Shaikh)

The noontime sun was intense, its light blinding and the air desiccating. Some ten of us were in Nogales, just south of the border, about a year ago. We–all Unitarian Universalists, from different parts of the country–went there to witness conditions at the Arizona-Mexico border. We were standing in the hazy shadow of the monstrous border fence. This is a part of what the Department of Homeland Security calls the “tactical infrastructure.”

To see it is to hate it–so oppressive is its sight. It stands about 25 feet tall–that is four to five times as tall as most of us. It goes on for miles and miles. It is a steel picket-style fence, set in concrete. Each picket is a three or four inch square, incredibly strong. These square pickets stand next to each other, their diagonals separated by a couple of inches. There are connecting structures on the top. Make no mistake: you will have to be very skilled–and very desperate–to try to scale this wall.

So, we were standing in the scorching sun. Our local guide told us about how Nogales–on both sides of today’s border–was once a united community. How the community used the open space that marks the border at festival times. The border was there but it meant very little to the people.

On our left, there was a little hill. The fence, of course, went up on the hill. We decided to walk up the hill, mostly to get a better view of the city.

Oh, but we had company! On the U.S. side of the border, there was a service road, some 50 feet from the fence. There, shining in the blinding sunlight was a white truck, Border Patrol sign emblazed on its side. Our tax dollars are indeed at work. I assumed innocently that they were just on a routine drive, looking for any trouble.

We kept walking. The truck moved. We stopped to talk or just look around. They stopped. We walked some more. The truck crept along. This went on until we reached the top of the hill. After stopping and taking a couple of pictures, we turned back. The truck turned back. And so it went on until we got in our own van and left the area.

We heard that a few weeks earlier, there had been an incidence where a young man trying to scale the fence had been shot at. The Border Patrol is well equipped with helicopters, drones, night vision equipment, and has lots and lots of men, vehicles, weapons, etc. Not to mention practically unlimited power. This certainly is a “militarized” zone!

With so much power, why do we need more and more resources for border security? Is the administration simply trying to mollify the conservatives? Or, is this proposal just another way to funnel money to contractors and equipment manufacturers who will ultimately receive a sizable portion of this allocation?

Are we really that vulnerable?


This post was written by Rashid Shaikh. Rashid is a member of the Immigration Task Force at First Parish Cambridge UU. You can find out more about BorderLinks immigration justice trips via  the Unitarian Universalist College of Social Justice.

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Standing on the Side of Love & Environmental Justice

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This is the third blog post in a series leading up to the UUA General Assembly in Louisville, Kentucky from June 19-23. We are exploring issues of environmental justice and we are standing on the side of love with communities that have been adversely affected by fossil fuel extraction. Click here for more information on this year’s public witness at GA. To learn more, you can also check out previous installments of this series: “There is a Sustainable Way” and “Grateful for Everything, In Spite of Everything.”


Rose Edington & Mel Hoover

This post was written by Revs. Rose Edington & Mel Hoover.

The West Virginia hills are part of our spiritual geography. We love the mountains in all seasons–in spring with their special, tender greenness and the happy sound of melting streams; in summer with their deep green and flowery finery; in autumn with their crisp evenings, crackling bonfires, gloriously colored leaves; in winter with the clarity of their trees etched against blue skies and snowy whiteness. In all seasons they nurture our soul. We love them and feel that they love us, too. We want them to be here for generations to come.

We also grieve the mountains. It hurts to see them blown up and to hear that blowing them up is the only way to meet our nation’s energy needs. It hurts when free-flowing streams are buried and clean water is destroyed. We believe the mountains and the streams know we grieve their passing because we are interconnected, part of the same web of life.

We live with the paradox of love and grief–that even as we work to save mountains we benefit from the injustice of their destruction; for we consume the electricity that comes from coal deep inside the mountains. We enjoy the comfort and convenience of everyday living–turning on a light, using our computer, etc. The hard truth is that our everyday lives are intertwined with the grief of destruction. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Coal can be mined differently.

The common necessities of life for us humans–unpolluted water for drinking, unpolluted air for breathing, unpolluted land for raising food–don’t have a price tag, but is that supposed to make them expendable? In Prenter, West Virginia, an entire town has only brown water coming from the faucets, thanks to the reverberations from mountain blasting that ruined the wells. The water is absolutely unusable. People cannot drink, cook, or even wash with it without being in some way poisoned. The town of Prenter sued, and after many years, the suit was settled in favor of the town in fall 2012.

Residents in and around coal mining communities fear for their health and their economic security. Miners fear for their jobs and worry about supporting their families. They also fear for their safety while mining. Health concerns are exacerbated by carbon dust and silica that are now blown above ground, along with residue from the explosives and dust and rocks that make up mountains. The particulate matter of the air we all breathe–even if we’re miles from a blasting site–increase asthma, bronchitis, and respiratory irritations. Even black lung disease, which can be prevented, is increasing among surface miners.

We even fear visiting our loved ones buried in cemeteries that have been declared off limits by coal companies. Some cemeteries have been blown to smithereens as part of mountain top removal mining. We’re still trying to pass a bill to protect family cemeteries and allow families to visit their dead. It is unjust for the mining companies to disrespect the dead, some of whom served these companies faithfully all their working lives.

With so much fear, there is a lot of anger and confusion. For too long, those who cared about the environment were portrayed as tree-hugging environmentalists, pitted against miners who think we’re out to take their jobs away. Although coal can be mined without blowing up mountains, many believe it when the coal company tells them that saving mountains means no jobs. Because others have presented us as being on opposing sides, miners are often skeptical when environmentalists support their calls for safety on their job sites.

We aren’t on opposing sides. We care about the health and safety of our community as much as we care about our earth. We are on the side of love and justice–for the environment and for miners.

We need laws as if life matters–yours, mine, and the critters and plants that are part of the mountains and streams. If they are alive and healthy, so are we. We need laws that respect our earth, the water we drink and the air we breathe, written to include all industries that extract our state’s resources. We need laws that protect the health and safety of all workers and job training programs to create new economic opportunities that are sustainable. We firmly believe that we can afford both to respect life and figure out energy needs–from a variety of sources. Such diversity would promote health for us and our planet.

We are heartened that federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials visited our state for the first time a couple years ago to see mountain top removal and its effects. They met at our UU Congregation in Charleston (UUC) with representatives from environmental grassroots groups in West Virginia and Kentucky. We are proud that the UUC is seen as an accessible, trusted place where environmental justice concerns can be worked on.

We are excited that GA 2013 is in Louisville and that so many UUs will be able to join together for public witness. We will be led by UUA President Rev. Peter Morales, Tim DeChristopher, and local UU clergy and interfaith and community partners including Wendell Berry in a rally entitled Energy for Change: Interfaith Action for Clean Energy and Healthy Communities. Won’t you join us?


This post was written by Rev. Rose Edington and Rev. Mel Hoover, co-ministers of the UU Congregation in Charleston, West Virginia.

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Standing on the Side of Love with Muslims in Terre Haute

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Group of participants from the Terre Haute interfaith event.

Credit: Emhemed Hamed

This spring, the members of the First Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Terre Haute, Indiana, are working to build relationships with our Muslim neighbors.

We invited members of the local Muslim community to join us for conversation and dessert. Our Social Action Committee worked with a Muslim student, Emhemed Hamed, to plan the program in partnership with the Islamic Center of Terre Haute, the Indiana State University (ISU) Muslim Students Association, and the ISU Interfaith Fellowship.

The event involved 45-50 participants and was extremely successful. The evening included a call to prayer and we were all invited to watch and listen to it. Later, we UUs sang our closing Sunni hymn that we sing at every Sunday service at the end of the event.

The conversations made a big difference for all who came. One man said he would never forget the evening and some Saudi women invited one of our members to lunch. A woman who adjusted my new bifocals and is studying Arabic said that her Muslim friends who had gone told her how great it was and how comfortable they felt. They especially enjoyed a painting by one of our members (now deceased) that displays many different symbols for the major world religions.

Check out this slideshow of photos that Emhemed made from the event:

We, in turn, were invited to attend a celebration for all the Muslim students who graduated from Indiana State University this year. Our congregation was given a very lovely thank you certificate for our support of the Islamic Center of Terre Haute. We are excited to build on these relationships and collaborate more in the future.

Our congregation has also been inspired to join the Shoulder to Shoulder campaign, which will help support our interfaith work.


This post was submitted by Catherine Mcguire, a congregant at the First UU Congregation of Terre Haute.

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I Met with My Senator Today, Will You Join Me?

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UUA & RAC delegations with Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado

UUA & Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC) delegations with Sen. Michael Bennet.

This morning, I met with Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, my own senator and one of the “Gang of Eight” who drafted the bipartisan immigration reform bill, to share why I support compassionate immigration reform.

Will you join me in calling for compassionate immigration reform by meeting with your own members of Congress? Click here for a step-by-step guide to holding an in-district advocacy visit with your representatives.

As people of faith, we have a critical role to play in this ongoing immigration reform debate. We know that love has no borders. Our faith calls us to embrace the inherent worth and dignity of all and to speak out against injustice. We have a moral obligation to seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity—together, we can create a country where all are welcome.

Next week, Congress is having its last in-district work period before the immigration bill moves to the Senate floor. The window for shaping the content of immigration reform is closing fast and your members of Congress need to hear from you now.

I met with my senator today—will you meet with yours? Click here to learn how you can hold an in-district meeting with your representatives and raise your voice for compassionate immigration reform.

In faith,

The Rev. Peter Morales
President
Unitarian Universalist Association


The message above went out on Wednesday, May 22, 2013 to Standing on the Side of Love supporters. You can sign-up for these emails here.

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Immigrant Workers Need Our Love

1 Comment | Share On Facebook| Immigrant Workers Need Our Love Share/Save/Bookmark May 14, 2013

The Senate Judiciary Committee will be considering amendments again today to the bipartisan immigration reform bill. They began the amendment process last week, and will continue through the week of May 20. The amendment process is vitally important to comprehensive immigration reform. While some of these amendments provide important anti-discrimination and labor protections for immigration workers, others would effectively eliminate the ability of any guest workers to immigrate legally to the United States.

We must raise our voices and tell the members of the Judiciary Committee that our country needs compassionate immigration reform. Senators in the Judiciary Committee need to hear from people of faith across the country about the impact these amendments will have on our communities.

Please call 1-866-940-2439 to speak with the office of a Judiciary Committee member this morning and say:

“As a person of faith, I urge the Senator to SUPPORT all immigration amendments being offered by Senator Blumenthal, and Schumer #5, which would protect immigrant workers.

I also urge you to OPPOSE amendments that would hurt immigrant workers, specifically Sessions #3, Lee #19, Hatch #19 and #20, and Grassley #73 and #74.”

If you get an answering machine, please leave a message. Staff will be reporting all day on the number of calls for and against each amendment to the Senators. Find more information on the specific amendments below.

We believe that love has no borders, love keeps families together, and love respects the inherent worth and dignity of every person. Together, we can ensure that this immigration reform bill reflects our values.

Please call 1-866-940-2439 today!

In faith,

Jennifer Toth
Campaign Manager
Standing on the Side of Love


SUPPORT

Senator Blumenthal’s Amendments #7, #13, #17, and #18
These amendments would ban hiring discrimination based on national origin or citizenship status, provide whistleblower protections for temporary workers, ensure workers have the right to a pay stub so that they can prove employment status for the pathway to citizenship, and codify current ICE policy restricting immigration enforcement actions where labor violations have been cited, so a threat of raids won’t keep workers from reporting abuse.

Senator Schumer’s Amendment #5
This amendment would help workers change employers without the risk of losing their visa, and would provide an electronic monitoring system for the program.

OPPOSE

Senator Sessions’ Amendment #3
This amendment would prevent any guest workers from entering the U.S. if the unemployment rate is 5 percent or more. This is such a low threshold that it could effectively keep all guest workers from immigrating to the U.S.

Senator Lee’s Amendment #19 and Senator Hatch’s Amendments #19 and #20
These amendments would exempt employers of temporary workers from complying with labor and employment laws, thus allowing them to violate the rights of temporary workers; and would limit the ability of individuals and groups from submitting a complaint about worker’s mistreatment on behalf of a mistreated temporary worker.

Senator Grassley’s Amendments #73 & #74
These amendments would restrict temporary workers (new “W” visa recipients) from renewing their visas, and would require all temporary workers to provide proof that they can and are paying for their own health insurance, which could effectively prevent almost all temporary workers from entering the U.S.

*Please note that you likely will not be connected with your own Senator’s office through this number, unless they are a specific Judiciary Committee member. This is the best way to raise our voices at this moment. Judiciary members know they are responsible to ALL of us as they consider amendments. Feel free to call 1-866-940-2439 multiple times to connect with all priority Judiciary members. The Judiciary Committee list can be found here, if you want to call directly.


The message above went out on Tuesday, May 14, 2013 to Standing on the Side of Love supporters. You can sign-up for these emails here.

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