Turning the Tide! Momentum Builds for Halting ICE S-Comm Program
by Susan Leslie, UUA Congregational Advocacy & Witness Director
Almost exactly a year ago, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) asked the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) to partner with them on a campaign to stop immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) Secure Communities (S-Comm) programs. Specifically, NDLON asked us to bring the faith community into this effort. The prevailing wisdom among many in the broader faith and immigrant rights advocacy communities was that it would be impossible to touch these Secure Communities programs and build the power necessary to stop them.
Federal officials say Secure Communities Programs (S-Comm) improve public safety by identifying undocumented immigrants who are criminals for deportation. We know that these programs are not achieving their goals. They are not stopping crimes, but they are creating fear and distrust in immigrant communities, fueling anti-immigrant bigotry in society, and leading to racial profiling and the criminalization of whole communities.
By Feb. 10th, 2011, UUA Witness Ministries staff and Standing on the Side of Love had enlisted seven other denominations, two dozen faith-based organizations, and more than 400 clergy to send a letter to President Obama urging a halt to ICE programs like Secure Communities. The letter was released at a hearing held by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) on the impact of these enforcement programs and delivered to the Administration at a meeting with Department of Homeland Security staff. We have also been mobilizing UUs and others in key states identified by NDLON where there are opportunities to stop or rescind the program, as well as stop copycat AZ style anti-immigrant legislation.
The work of the faith and immigrant rights communities has not been in vain. In the past month alone:
- The Governor of Illinois has cancelled the state’s participation in Secure Communities
- The California Assembly has passed legislation that will allow counties to opt out of Secure Communities.
- Thirty-eight legislators in New York have asked Governor Cuomo to rescind the Memo of Agreement between NY State and ICE, and there is breaking news that he has issued a temporary stop pending a review. (Rev. Bruce Southworth of Community Church (UU) New York spoke for Standing on the Side of Love at a Stop S-Comm rally outside the Governor’s New York City office on May 18th.
- In Massachusetts, Gov. Patrick has held public meetings on whether or not to sign on to Secure Communities. (See Rev. Wendy Von Zirpolo’s blog—The Stranger.)
- Several cities and towns across the country have also passed resolutions to opt out.
- The Congressional Hispanic Committee has requested that President Obama put a moratorium on the program, and
- The US Office of the Inspector General has announced that it will investigate the program.
Building on this momentum, NDLON and other groups, held a “Turning the Tide Conference” in Arlington VA May 26-28th. The conference brought together more than 500 organizers from the immigrant rights, labor, and faith community. There were activists from the LGBT, African American, and Muslim communities who made linkages between the intersections of the various communities’ struggles.
The Unitarian Universalist Association brought fifteen UU clergy and lay leaders from AZ, CA, FL, MA, MD, NC, PA, VA, and Washington D.C., as well as a dozen leaders from the Interfaith Immigration Coalition (IIC) and the national New Sanctuary Movement (NSM). Our workshop on Building Partnerships between the Faith and Immigrant Rights Communities was well attended and included presentations from Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, minister of the UU Congregation of Phoenix, Jen Rock from the NSM Philadelphia chapter, and Bill Mefford from the United Methodist Church and IIC.
Rev. Frederick Gray spoke about how her congregation has partnered with Puente (the Phoenix affiliate of NDLON) to educate and mobilize area congregations. Jen Rock from the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia explained their strategy of organizing community meetings that have centered on testimony from immigrants and been attended by hundreds from the interfaith community and included the mayor and chief of police. She also talked about their program for clergy and others to accompany immigrants to court hearings. Bill Mefford of the IIC stressed the need for long term relationship building between faith communities and rights organizers and that while the faith community is united on a national level, there is much work to be done on the ground with local pastors and congregations.
There were many other workshops as well as plenary strategy sessions that addressed issues involving the border, detention and deportation, shutting down the private prison industry, stopping S-Comm and anti-immigrant state legislation, including a repeal and boycott movement in Georgia, where copycat SB 1070 legislation was just signed into law, moving federal immigration reform legislation and more.
The energy of a movement that is really starting to build some power was flowing throughout the three days we spent together. On Thursday evening, a march and rally was held in downtown Arlington, Virginia to thank the city for opting out of S-Comm and to call on others to do so. An Arlington police officer spoke about why they don’t want to be acting as immigration officers, and the need for immigration reform. Rev. Carlton Elliot Smith, one of the Team Ministers at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, captured the spirit of the gathered community when he said, “We are from many different faith traditions, and perhaps no tradition at all. We are many different colors, yet we are united as one human family, standing on the side of love with immigrants and their families.”