Thursday, January 1, 2009

Meeting Faces Hard Questions on Immigration

by Kara Newell, a member of Reedwood Friends Church in Portland, Oregon. She is on FCNL's Policy Committee

PORTLAND, OR - An immigration raid that led to the arrest and orders for the deportation of more than 100 people living in our community has helped focus attention here on federal government policies that tear families apart.

Although no one at Reedwood Friends Church was arrested during the raids, our entire community saw firsthand the devastating impact of this country's broken immigration policies. Here at Reedwood we hope that our journey to understand how this could happen and the questions we are asking will help others find their own responses to these policies.

The story in our community is one that has been repeated in cities and towns across the United States in the past decade. Although we had read these stories, the impact of U.S. immigration policies became a lot more real on June 12, 2007. On that day agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement went through three Portland-area plants belonging to Fresh Del Monte Produce, asking people for Social Security cards and other documentation proving they were legally allowed to work in the United States.

Families Given Terrible Choice

More than 160 people could not produce such papers and were arrested. Some were deported immediately to their home countries; others were given electronic 'bracelets' to wear and told to appear at deportation hearings.

Children came home to find that their fathers had disappeared or that their mothers had been forced to wear an electronic bracelet while they waited for a deportation hearing.

What some of us at Reedwood didn't understand until these raids is that many of the children of these hard-working, tax-paying families (some of whom have lived in the United States for more than a decade) were born here and are U.S. citizens. Each of these families is now faced with a terrible choice: Do they take their children with them to a country that will offer them fewer economic and professional opportunities or do they leave the children behind in foster care in the only country they have ever known?

At Reedwood we have felt led to declare our opposition to these policies that are tearing families apart (see our minute below). We are calling on our elected leaders to end these policies and develop a just and workable program offering legal status to undocumented immigrants.

The Reedwood Friends community is embracing, providing space for, and helping to support a Hispanic congregation. We are learning more about the "others" in our wider community. We have invited some of the women whose family members were arrested to meet with us and tell their stories. We have met together in worship to discern a way forward.

People from Reedwood have also joined with others in the Portland faith community to protest the treatment of these families. Our membership includes employers who have tried unsuccessfully to gain legal immigration status for long-time employees who are undocumented.

Earlier this year, Reedwood forwarded our approved minute on immigration to Northwest Yearly Meeting, which is now urging local churches to consider this minute.

This process has raised new questions for some Friends. Some of us at Reedwood have heard concerns from other Friends that the minute could imply an endorsement of people who are breaking U.S. laws. Others have pointed out that immigrants who arrive here illegally are skipping ahead of others who wait sometimes for more than a decade to gain legal entry into the United States.

We at Reedwood don't know what type of federal policies should be put into place. We hear these Friends' concerns sympathetically at the same time as we acknowledge that laws can and often need to be changed. More important, we continue to affirm that these workers and their families are all God's people. As Christians and as Quakers we feel led to speak out against any system that tears families apart in this manner.

I know from FCNL that the pace of workplace raids has increased 45-fold since 2001, and yet Congress is no closer to a long-term solution to this country's broken immigration policies.

We began our minute this year with a quote from Proverbs (22:2) and ended with a commandment from God: "Treat the alien as one of you, because you were aliens in Egypt."�

Reedwood Friends Church Minute on Immigration

"Rich and poor have this in common: The Lord is the Maker of them all." -- Proverbs 22:2

Recent enforcement actions in the State of Oregon and across the nation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have resulted in the arrest and pending deportation of hundreds of people. Many of these people have committed no crime other than that of coming without documentation to the United States in order to find work and provide for their families. Those arrested now face losing all that they have earned through years of toil, and their families are being ripped apart.

Many of those recently arrested have been working here for years and have school age children who were born here and are citizens of the United States of America. In many cases these children have been asked to make a decision whether to be deported to a foreign country with their parents, or remain in the United States in foster care. These citizens of the United States must now choose between relinquishing their birthrights in order to remain with their parents, or remaining in their home country and being separated from their parents for the foreseeable future.

As Christians and Quakers we declare that such treatment of our fellow human beings is inhumane, and that the policies which have dictated this course of action are abhorrent and unconscionable to us.

We ask that our elected political leaders put an end to these intolerable and unconscionable practices and conditions. A just and workable program offering legal status to those caught up in this situation, and legal opportunities for those who want to remain here to work, is one way to heal the wounds our society has inflicted upon these, our brothers and sisters, and upon itself.

We have heard the command of God through Moses, "Treat the alien as one of you, because you were aliens in Egypt." We are also mindful of the words of Jesus Christ, "As you have done to the least of these, you have done to me."

This minute was approved March 30, 2008, at Reedwood Friends Church's monthly meeting, which adopted it on the understanding that it represented the beginning of a dialogue, not an endpoint. It was to be sent to Oregon's media and congressional delegation.

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