Thursday, January 1, 2009

Community Stories

The following articles are written by members of our community about their experiences with immigration. You can access the articles either by clicking on the links below or scrolling down.

If you or your community has a story you would like to share, please email it to:

"Broadening the Scope of Our Vision"
by Mike Huber

Fort Collins, Colorado
"Let Them Know Hate Is Not OK"
by Charlotte Miller

Denver, Colorado
"Fighting for Family Unity: An Immigration Story from Denver"
by a Friend in Mountainview Friends Meeting

Washington, D.C.
"Keeping Families--All Families--Together: A Personal Story of the Reuniting Families Act"
by Stephen Donahoe, Campaign Program Assistant, Friends Committee on National Legislation

Ames, Iowa
"An Iowa Perspective on Immigrant Workers"
by Deborah Fink

Multnomah, Oregon
"Immigration Minute"
by Multnomah Monthly Meeting

Portland, Oregon
"Meeting Faces Hard Questions on Immigration"
by Kara Newell

Rio Grande Valley, Texas
"A Statement Against the Proposed Border Wall"
by Rio Grande Valley Friends Meeting, endorsed by South Central Yearly Meeting

Broadening the Scope of Our Vision
This reflection was written by Mike Huber, an FCNL constituent, in response to FCNL's Annual Meeting 2009 and the approval of an epistle encouraging Quakers to engage with American Muslims:

I see a connection between FCNL's outreach to American Muslims and the work FCNL is doing on immigration reform. After September 11, our nation has become preoccupied with the story of foreigners penetrating the security of our borders. We've become increasingly fearful of the "other." Our policies have emerged from this place of fear. We need to broaden the scope of our vision. We need to hear about the experience of our Muslim neighbors. We need to hear about the experience of Mexican, Filipino, Indian and Chinese immigrants. We need to hear about children and families. Once we know these stories, we will find our way to new policies.

Let Them Know Hate Is Not OK
This opinion piece, published in the Fort Collins Coloradoan, was written by Charlotte Miller, a Friends Committee on National Legislation constituent.

I was deeply saddened by the murder of security guard Stephen Johns at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. It's unfortunate that it sometimes takes a tragic event like this to focus our attention on the very real threat of domestic terrorism.

The Southern Poverty Law Center is working hard to track and expose extremists such as the anti-Semitic fanatic who lashed out. In fact, in its latest issue of the Intelligence Report, it warned about a dangerous resurgence of right-wing extremism since President Barack Obama was elected. Lately, Fort Collins, Denver and other Colorado communities have been assailed by hate-filled, extremist pamphlets. This behavior encourages more violent and personal attacks in the community, threatening the safety of us all.

It is important that our law enforcement communities have the latest intelligence on extremists as well as training to combat hate incidents, hate crimes and domestic terrorism. In addition to the Holocaust Museum shooting, there have been the murders of five police officers by extremists in recent months and the assassination of a prominent Kansas physician by an extremist tied to the anti-government militia movement.

These killers might have acted alone, but they were all influenced by the hate movement in America. What's alarming is that this movement is now being aided and abetted by far-right pundits on cable TV and talk radio, who are fanning the flames of hate with their increasingly hysterical rhetoric targeting our president, our government, our immigrant neighbors and others who are not like them. These are the same commentators who ridiculed the recent Department of Homeland Security that predicted the very kind of violent attacks we're now seeing.

We all need to speak out against hate. It is not enough to say that we support free speech. We must speak out against hateful speech and propaganda filled with untruths about people who are different in racial, ethnic, religious identity, as well as language use and political beliefs. If you hear someone saying discriminatory or derogatory things about those who differ from them, please speak up and let them know you disagree with them, and discrimination is not OK.

Fighting for Family Unity: An Immigration Story from Denver
This story was shared with me by a Friend from Mountainview Friends Meeting in Colorado. The story told below is a moving individual account of a situation in which thousands of families in the United States find themselves.

The Friend has consented to the story being posted on the blog, but all names have been changed to protect their identity.


Guillermo Rodriguez is my daughter’s husband and father of my grandson. We discovered that he is ineligible to receive a visa under the current Immigration and Nationality Act. He was told that since he had unlawfully crossed the border more than once that he would have to wait 10 years outside the before applying for a waiver. The waiver is needed because he was unlawfully present in the United States. After 10 years, the Attorney General has the discretion to grant a waiver if Guillermo's spouse or son can show extreme hardship. If he had unlawfully crossed the border only once, he could have received a waiver.

Guillermo first entered the United States from Mexico in 1995, when he was 18 years old, to work in Oregon agriculture. Since he missed his parents and little brother, he went home for Christmas in 1997. He was intercepted at the border upon his return in 1998 and voluntarily departed. He then reentered and returned to work in Oregon. Shortly after coming to the Denver area in 1999, he met my daughter Sarah at work. They married and had a son. They applied for a change in status for Guillermo shortly after getting married. He was hoping to receive a visa, green card and social security number to better provide for his American family.

Guillermo and I traveled to Mexico to receive his visa at the American Consulate. We thought he would have to be gone 30 or 40 days in order to receive a visa. But we were shocked to learn that under the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1996,* Guillermo is now classified inadmissible along with Nazi war criminals, terrorist and those who have committed serious criminal offenses such as murder, drug smuggling and child abduction. For going home for Christmas and returning to his job of helping to provide food for the American table, our family must now be torn apart. He is permanently barred from the United States, unless after 10 years someone is very sick or dying. Then maybe a waiver would be granted.

Many US lawmakers talk about family values, but do not apply these values to our real world. Guillermo is a devoted and loving father. The family is inseparable. Guillermo is devoted to his Mexican family of origin and his American family. He was looking forward to taking his family to his parents’ home for Christmas and legally returning to the United States. As the grandfather to Guillermo’s son, I am heartbroken. My daughter and grandson have to move to Mexico in order to preserve family unity. I was so looking forward to being with my grandson as he was growing up. My other daughter, Jessica, was hoping that her baby son would have a cousin and good friend. Both sets of great-grandparents are having a hard time coping with this. We are all suffering the pain of separation caused by this Draconian law.

Everyone that hears this story cannot believe that such an anti-family law could be written in this country. This is cruel and unusual punishment not open to court review. The punishment is not for Guillermo alone. This punishment is for the whole family.

An American Consulate Officer told me that there are thousands of families in this situation. Please repeal Section 212 (a) (6) and related sections from the list of inadmissible aliens ineligible to receive visas. These sections refer to illegal entrants and immigration violators. Should they not receive visas if they otherwise meet all of the other qualifications for a visa? Unlawfully crossing the border more than once is just not in the same category as terrorism and serious criminal activity. Guillermo never misrepresented his status to an US official and admitted to his history. The law was made harsher in 1996. Sarah and Guillermo are young and knew nothing of this law change.

Please also allow applicants, who were previously found ineligible to receive a visa under these sections, the right to have their previous application for change in status reinstated with the American Consul with whom the application was filled. This repeal must have retroactive effect to help families caught in this unjust law.



Section 212(a)(9)(B)(II) of the Immigration and Nationality Act states that immigrants who have crossed the border undocumented only one time and have stayed for more than a year are subject to a 10 year bar of reentry from the date of the immigrant's removal from the United States. After 10 years, an immigrant under this section is eligible to apply for a visa as the spouse, son or daughter or child of a US citizen or Legal Permanent Resident.

Whereas, Section 212 (a)(9)(C)(I) states that immigrants who cross the border undocumented more than one time and have been present in the United States for an aggregate period of one year or more are barred from reentry for a period of ten years. After 10 years the immigrant may appeal to the Attorney General to issue a waiver of ineligibility IF the immigrant can prove that their citizen or permanent resident spouse or child is suffering from extreme hardship.

Keeping Families--All Families--Together: A Personal Story
- a recent blogpost on "Of Peace and Politics" by my wonderful colleague Stephen Donahoe, Campaigns Program Assistant, Friends Committee on National Legislation

As a white male, I haven't had the experience of dealing with prejudice, racism or sexism that many people face every day. While I certainly try to understand how they feel, I have not been able to really know the struggles of women or people of color because I haven't experienced it myself.

I have also not truly felt the effects of laws that have been changed or created in order to create more justice for oppressed people. For example, I celebrated the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, but not from the perspective of someone who's life would be affected personally because of the law. While I know that all laws that promote justice have an impact on the world (and thus impact my life), I have not had the experience of feeling that my life would be made different if a law were passed.

The Reuniting Families Act, recently introduced by Rep. Honda, is changing this for me. This law would allow gay and lesbian Americans to sponsor their immigrant "permanent partners" for legal U.S. residency.

As a gay American with an Indian partner, this bill would make a tremendous difference in my life. This has an impact on many more things than I would have previously imagined, all the way from the big question of where my partner and I live down to the mundane details. For example, today my partner is spending the day at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles getting his license renewed because as a foreign national he has to get his license renewed more frequently than citizens or legal residents. He also has to go to the BMV in DC for foreign nationals which normally has a much longer wait than other BMVs. One of the most important differences this would make would be that my partner and I would not have to worry about him getting a work visa in order to stay here. It is extremely unnerving to think that if he lost his job and couldn't find another employer to sponsor his visa he would be deported to India.

Most importantly, the Reuniting Families Act would be a tremendous step toward the equal rights that gay couples deserve. There is no reason why my partner and I or any other gay couples should be discriminated against because of our sexual orientation. We should all be accorded the same fundamental right to choose our own relationships.

FCNL has taken the lead among faith-based organizations in lobbying for the Reuniting Families Act. I am so thankful to work for an organization that is working for my rights. As a matter of fact, FCNL hosted the press conference with Rep. Honda for the release of the bill. To find out more about the work of FCNL on this issue, check out our immigration blog--"Immigration: It's Our Community."


An Iowa Perspective on Immigrant Workers
By Deborah Fink, a member of Iowa Yearly Meeting. She serves on FCNL's General Committee.

AMES, IA- I have experience with rural immigrant workers in Iowa. In 1992, I worked undercover in an IBP pork processing plant in rural Iowa. IBP was one of the notorious union-breaking outlaws that restructured the meatpacking industry in the 1980s primarily. Now it has been taken over by Tyson. When I worked in the plant, there were about 40% Anglos, 40% Latinos, and 20% Asians and Blacks combined. Since then it has gone to almost completely immigrant workers. I was instrumental in starting up the immigrant workers program in the North Central Region of AFSC in 1993. In 1998, I published a book called Cutting Into the Meatpacking Line about the changes in the lives of Midwestern rural workers.

When I was working in the plant, we got paid on Thursdays. On Thursday evening, my coworkers – many of them Mexicans – would go out and buy Iowa lottery tickets. I gave them a hard time about this: the odds are against you when you play the lottery, you are throwing away your money.

Not so, my Mexican friends replied.

For $5 a week, they could buy the hope of being able to return to live in Mexico. Without hope they could not get themselves to the grimy plant each morning.

They ached to return home.

My coworkers routinely sacrificed seniority to take a month or so to go back to Mexico and then return to the plant. This was expensive. For the undocumented, it was dangerous and there was always the possibility that they wouldn’t get back. They still wanted to go.

A Mexican co-worker told me this story. In Mexico, there was a tree that fell over a ditch or canal. People used it as a bridge, walking back and forth across the ditch. Then one day the tree righted itself and stood up straight. That was a miracle. In Mexico.

The Mexicans I worked with weren’t simple or gullible, but they maintained a mystical reverence for Mexico. If someone were sick, he or she would get better by going back to Mexico. The sun shines brighter there. There is color and music in Mexico. People are friendly and decent.

If there were any way they could live in Mexico, most of them would. I am convinced of that.

As important as uniting families in America is for those who want to stay, we must resist the ethnocentric assumption that everyone in the world wants to come to America. They don’t.
For Mexicans, living in Iowa is very hard in many, many ways.

The actions of the United States – going back for many years – have made life very difficult in Mexico. NAFTA is the tip of the iceberg. In my view, NAFTA is even something of a red herring. The larger story is much worse than NAFTA. It is outrageous that this story is not well known in the United States. I think that if American citizens did know this story they would be horrified.

I believe that ameliorative steps to lessen the suffering of Mexican immigrants are appropriate and should be done. Yet more important is going to the root of the “immigration problem” and looking at why so many Latinos are showing up in America to do our crappy, low-paying jobs.


Immigration Minute

by Multnomah Monthly Meeting

Multnomah Monthly Meeting concurs with the Friends Committee on National Legislation that

The world should move toward becoming a global community that safeguards human rights and guarantees the economic opportunity of all people in their country of choice.

We thus believe that all persons who reside in our country should be treated with justice and equality which, at this time, too many in our state and nation are denied.

Many of those providing our food and clothing, building our homes, our bridges and roads, and caring for our children face arrests, raids, detention, deportation and separation from other family members. These U.S. residents contribute to economic, social and cultural life of Oregon, but live in fear and often isolation.

Our Congress has been unable to agree on a much needed immigration reform bill and our state is bitterly divided on how best to address the problem of undocumented immigrants.

In accordance with our Quaker testimonies Multnomah Monthly Meeting of Friends believes that at this time we should at least offer compassion and support for those in need. The Oregon New Sanctuary Movement, spearheaded by the AFSC and local interfaith groups, is presently providing shelter and legal assistance, as well as physical and emotional support, to immigrants in our area.

At our November 2008 Monthly Meeting for Business, the Multnomah Monthly Meeting recommended that we become a recognized member of ONSM, joining them in their work and in those activities as are in keeping with our beliefs and testimonies.


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."


A Statement Against the Proposed Border Wall

by Rio Grande Valley Friends Meeting

The Rio Grande Valley Friends Meeting is opposed to a physical wall at the United States-Mexico border.

(1) We believe a physical barrier would be environmentally devastating to an already stressed ecosystem that is unique in the world and home to a wide variety of rare and endangered creatures. The damage would come from the isolation of breeding populations, loss of access to water, and increased damage from flooding.

(2) We believe a militarized border does not reflect the familial and economic reality of the border and would be harmful to the social and economic life here.

Building a wall that damages the natural interactions of adjacent communities creates artificial distance between those groups. In human communities, separation facilitates dehumanization and violence. True peace and security stem from healthy, productive relationships between communities not artificial boundaries.

Endorsed by South Central Yearly Meeting at its annual session, March 2008
The Rio Grande Valley Friends Meeting is opposed to a physical wall at the United States-Mexico border.

(1) We believe a physical barrier would be environmentally devastating to an already stressed ecosystem that is unique in the world and home to a wide variety of rare and endangered creatures. The damage would come from the isolation of breeding populations, loss of access to water, and increased damage from flooding.

(2) We believe a militarized border does not reflect the familial and economic reality of the border and would be harmful to the social and economic life here.

Building a wall that damages the natural interactions of adjacent communities creates artificial distance between those groups. In human communities, separation facilitates dehumanization and violence. True peace and security stem from healthy, productive relationships between communities not artificial boundaries.

Endorsed by South Central Yearly Meeting at its annual session, March 2008

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