September 17, 2017

Here are the answers to two frequently asked questions regarding sanctuary:  What does being a full sanctuary church entail?  Why are we doing this?

If our congregation were to pass this congregational resolution on immigrant rights and sanctuary, and if we were to build a shower in our church and clear a room for an undocumented person, and if Isaiah contacted us about a person needing sanctuary, and if we invited that person into our church, we would make a public statement of sanctuary for this person and tell their story.  We would supply a private bedroom with linens and towels, and a bathroom. Since our guest can’t leave, we would supply them with food, toiletries, and whatever else they needed to live as comfortably as they could in our church building, basically under a type of house arrest.  Employees of the church would not be required to assist in any way.   Volunteers would stay with them 24 hours a day, for their safety and comfort and to answer the door if the press or ICE were to come. Depending on their wishes, volunteers could share a meal or conversation.  It is an isolating experience and a little company might help the person’s wellbeing.

Sanctuary is a temporary, emergency solution for an undocumented person.   We’re not attempting to further their illegal presence in this country.  We’re trying to change the laws while working with an individual to see if there’s a way for them to stay legally.  It’s a delaying process, a way to slow things down to make sure the person has received a fair hearing on their case.

We would not be alone in this scenario.  Sanctuary support churches in Rochester and surrounding area would help with all of the above.  We will have partners in this act of civil disobedience from the 47 or more sanctuary churches around the state.

Our congregation’s participation in standing with someone in sanctuary encourages other citizens to take a second look and not accept the assumptions that immigrants are a threat or a drain, but to see them as members of our community.

Providing sanctuary to an individual is one way we are seeking to stand against injustice, but our fundamental desire and need is to change the system.

August 20, 2017

Former UUA president Peter Morales, wrote about Sanctuary in the spring 2017 issue of UU World.  “Our congregations need to be places of safety.  First, we must be a place of safety for one another….but the sanctuary we offer must go far beyond taking care of one another. Most of us are not among the most defenseless. I believe these times demand that we offer sanctuary to the most vulnerable. Dozens of our congregations have chosen to be ‘sanctuary congregations.’ I applaud them, but this is only the beginning. We cannot offer sanctuary to hundreds of thousands [of immigrants] by protecting a few families. We must join hands with other religious organizations to offer resistance.”  That is what the Racial Justice Task Group was called to do last spring.  As one of our members said in March, we were leading with our hearts, not our heads.  It was true.

Since then we have immersed ourselves in researching what other faith communities have done.  We have learned a lot about ICE and the laws surrounding undocumented people.  We have also learned that many people in Rochester, especially those who work in restaurants and in hotels and who have lived here for many years and are part of our community, are undocumented.  We have met with leaders of local Latino/Hispanic organizations that are helping people prepare for deportation.  We now know that other faith communities have declared or are interested in declaring themselves sanctuary churches and we can join together to speak out and protest unjust immigration laws.  We have talked to a Rochester immigration lawyer and received information from the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota.  We have discovered that undocumented people in Rochester are living in fear of being deported.

The Racial Justice Task Group invites you to review the documents on our church’s Sanctuary web page the information in the church library and on the table in the commons.   Check out First Unitarian of Des Moines’ sanctuary web pages Rev. Luke’s former church, White Bear Unitarian Universalist

ISAIAH representative Catalina Morales, who spoke at our church on July 30, says the meaning of sanctuary church differs for each community, and not all churches can logistically commit to the arrangement. It might mean offering shelter, clothing, and food; providing space and time for access to legal services; or accompanying immigrants to court hearings. Some churches might make strong public statements of support for the immigrant community.  In our church, any action that requires a financial investment will be approved by the Board.

The RJTG believes that speaking out as a faith community of love–whether it is to protest a law, an action, or a deportation—is a way to live our principles.

August 13, 2017

This is the story of a young woman who was born and raised in Rochester named Janet. As an adult she moved to the Twin Cities and met and fell in love with Miguel. He told her that he was undocumented and had walked across the desert from Mexico to the US with family members when he was 17 years old.

In 1997, Miguel’s uncle, Jose, had applied for citizenship for his own family and Miguel’s family. Jose checked with immigration every year to see the status of their application. After 18 years of waiting, the family received notice in 2015 that they could start the citizenship process. Unfortunately, Jose had died in a construction accident 6 months earlier so the application was no longer valid. The hope of becoming citizens went away for the entire family since he was the author on the application.

Janet and Miguel married in 2011 and they now have two children. Miguel has a fairly good job—he is a master chef in a restaurant. His boss knows a good share of her staff is undocumented, and she takes advantage of that. As an example, a couple of years ago, since he doesn’t earn days off, he asked for a week off without pay to go on a vacation with his family and Janet’s parents. His employer said he could have the days off but he would be sorry. Sure enough, it took him a whole year to get back to close to 40 hours a week—she reduced his hours as punishment. And she knew he could not complain.

A year ago he was stopped for having a broken tail light. Since he doesn’t have a driver’s license, the officer told him he’d better be careful but didn’t report him. Still Janet and Miguel were so alarmed that they traded that car for another to make it less likely to be traced. Since that time they have talked to eight different immigration lawyers about their situation and have little hope that there is a way for Miguel to stay legally in the US, his home for the past 18 years. So they have a plan. They have decided to move to his very poor town in Mexico to be close to Miguel’s family.

For them, this is better than living here with the constant threat of deportation. To accomplish this they have sold all of their belongings except a few toys and their clothing. Janet and their two children moved to Rochester to live with friends. Miguel flew to Mexico three weeks ago with a one-way ticket so customs wouldn’t make trouble for him. He will prepare a place for the family to live and look for a job while the rest of the family stays in Rochester and Janet continues working. Within a year, they hope, Janet and the children will move to Mexico. After 10 years in Mexico, Miguel can apply for a waiver to start his US citizenship application. But there is still no guarantee that it will be accepted. Janet and Miguel are concerned about the prospects of finding a good job, the education their children will receive, and the quality of life in that part of Mexico. But the stress of the threat of deportation makes this move necessary.

Miguel and Janet’s circumstances relate to one of the purposes of the congregational proposed resolution: seeking changes in immigration law. Uprooting this family under these circumstances is wrong. Our laws should not create refugees.

June 25, 2017

For the past 2-1/2 months, we have heard stories of people in our community that have illustrated the injustices of our country’s immigration laws. One of the advantages of our approving the congregational resolution on immigrant rights and sanctuary will be our ability to speak out as a church, not just as individuals, and to join with other faith communities to speak out against these unjust laws and promote reasonable and humane laws to replace them.

An example of such a policy is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, an executive order that President Obama signed in 2012. And just last week President Trump announced plans to continue the policy.

DACA provides a 2-year release from deportation to undocumented persons under the age of 31 as of June 2012, who were brought to the United States by their parents when they were 16 years old or younger, have a high school diploma or equivalent, and have not committed a felony. These young people, who have been raised in the US and become members of our communities, have the opportunity to acquire a work permit, a driver’s license, and protection from deportation for 2 years. After that time they can renew their DACA status. The application process is rigorous and requires a fee of $465 including $84 for photos and fingerprinting.

Of the 1.1 million undocumented persons who were eligible in 2014, more than 750,000 had been approved for DACA status, including about 7,000 Minnesotans. By 2016 about 93% had applied for renewal. This successful policy removes the fear of deportation and family separation and facilitates access to jobs and education, which helps local communities and economies. All good things.

However, DACA is an executive order and therefore only temporary. It is not a law. Congress is the only entity that can provide a long-term solution to this issue. Bipartisan bills have been introduced to replace DACA and even expand it, but so far they haven’t been passed.

Acting collectively to urge passage of just immigration laws for millions of undocumented people is as important as providing sanctuary.

June 18, 2017

Today I’d like to share my story with you about the impact of being undocumented, which is something that most people haven’t experienced.

Many years ago, when I was a young nurse, my dream was to travel and work in another country. Through a series of events, I found myself living in Quito, Ecuador learning Spanish and eventually, I was offered a job in a private hospital, where the administration took care of getting me a work visa. I was living out my dream.

A year later, I was offered a job at another hospital that was, even more, amazing-overseeing a newborn nursery. I was so excited about this opportunity that I inadvertently let my work visa expire. I was now “undocumented,” an “illegal,” an “alien.” While I was trying to figure out what to do, a coworker denounced me to the Immigration police, and one day they came to the hospital to arrest me. I was terrified because I had heard terrible stories about what happened to young foreign women in the jails. I convinced them to come back when my shift was over because there wasn’t anyone to take my place. They said they’d wait for me at the hospital entrance. I called a co-worker to cover the rest of my shift as well as an ex-military friend to see if he could help me. I ended up sneaking down the back stairs and out through the kitchen service door to escape. I was now a fugitive from the law.

My life changed that day when I had to go into hiding. I couldn’t go back to work, I had no income. I stayed with friends and family but rarely went out during the day for fear of being caught. When I did go somewhere, I was anxious and worried that someone would grab me and turn me in. Anyone in a uniform was a threat: a policeman, mall security cop or even a fireman. I looked different, had an accent and stuck out in a crowd. I didn’t sleep well or if I did, I had nightmares. I had headaches and stomach pains from the stress.

People tried to help me get legal advice but I was afraid I was putting them at risk for helping me. My future was uncertain. The advice that filtered down to me was that I would have to leave the country but would have to do so carefully so that immigration didn’t pick me up because I’d evaded them earlier. I was lucky that I had some support, but not everyone does, and even so, the continued stress and constant fear were almost unbearable.

A Sanctuary Church would have given me a safe place to stay while I determined what my legal options were and made a plan.

June 11, 2017

It is estimated that around 95,000 undocumented people live in Minnesota. According to the Migration Policy Institute in 2014 more than 70 percent of those people have lived in the US for longer than 5 years; 38 percent have been in the country for more than a decade; about 1/3 have at least one child who is a US citizen. 54 percent have a high school diploma or GED; of those, more than half have attended or graduated from college. 1/3 own a house, 1/3 live below the poverty level. They live, work, raise their families and pay taxes. But they are now facing deportation due to outdated laws that don’t consider that they have become part of our communities.

Imagine that you have been living in Minnesota for 10 years, working, paying taxes, raising a family. You are living a good life except you and your spouse came from Mexico on a visa and it expired long ago—you are undocumented.

At present, you live with the threat of deportation, with the fear that you will be removed from your family without notice. And so you have prepared in the following ways. You have saved money for a bond—the average bond in Minnesota is $7,000. You own a house and have a bank loan and a savings account, so you signed a power of attorney to designate a family friend to handle your financial decision making and assets. You retained a lawyer—statistics show that having an immigration attorney means you are twice as likely to have a good outcome. The government will not appoint one for you. So you need more money. You made sure your US born children have passports and copies of their birth certificates. You wrote down names, addresses and phone numbers of your employer, your bank, your attorney, and the person who can care for your children if you are detained. That’s the most difficult of all—completing a Delegation of Parental Authority and explaining to your children, without scaring them, that they will be safe even if you don’t come home one day.

You made sure your family and friends know about the ICE Online Detainer locator system. If they are not nearby when ICE arrests you, they may have no idea where you’ve gone. And you may have difficulty getting access to a telephone. So they can search using personal information and find out where you are being held. It may be far from where you live.

Is this any way to live? Is it a way you would want to live? We need to work to change our immigration laws to provide these community members a reasonable path to legal status.

May 28, 2017

The Racial Justice Task Group has proposed a congregational resolution on immigrant rights and sanctuary. As part of the education and discernment phase of this resolution, we are presenting stories that illustrate that current immigration laws are unjust and that inconsistent enforcement compounds the injustice.

When I was 18 and just out of high school, I took a summer job in west Texas working on an irrigation farm and cattle and sheep ranch. It was hard work, around 70 hours per week loading and unloading wagon-loads of hay bales, changing irrigation tubes, and occasionally dipping sheep or driving cattle. I got paid room and board and $150 per month. In my case, room consisted of a bunkhouse that I had to myself. Board consisted of a pantry full of cans of chicken, beef stew, and beans, and boxes of Jell-O and tapioca pudding.

One morning, part way through the summer, two undocumented immigrants showed up, having walked all night through the desert to the ranch. One of them said “Good morning,” which turned out to be the only two words of English either of them knew. The boss’ son gave them water, and perhaps would have given them breakfast, but my boss insisted that they put in a full morning’s work before they got any food. So they went to work hungry, throwing 40-pound bales of hay onto a wagon behind the tractor that I drove. Somehow they got through the morning, got lunch, and were hired.

Their room consisted of a shack in a ravine that had mesquite trees tall enough that the shack could not be seen from the air. Their board consisted of a 50-gallon drum of water, a bag of rice, and a bag of beans. My boss told them not to cook much so that border agents would not detect the smoke. If they were at work and they heard an airplane, they had to run and hide in the sorghum. Their pay was $75 dollars a month, for the same 70-hour work week. They were not in a position to negotiate.

My employer competed with every other cattle and feed producer in the country, so he counted on cheap labor. The system he participated in was clearly unjust to undocumented workers. Had border agents found them, my co-workers would have been arrested, detained, and deported. My employer would have paid a small fine, maybe.
I am 68 years old. Fifty years have passed since that summer. Clearly we’ve had enough time to come up with a just immigration system. Why haven’t we?

May 14, 2017

This is a story about a community member living and working in Rochester at the present time. It illustrates some of the problems with our immigration laws.

She was a married mother of six living in a poor remote village in Mexico many years ago. There was little work in her village so there was barely enough to eat, and certainly not enough for shoes or school fees for her children. Everyone spoke of the United States as having unlimited jobs paying more per hour than what she and her husband could make in a day in their village. The woman’s mother agreed to care for their children while she and her husband made the dangerous trek north. They planned to work hard for a year or two, send some money home, and return with the money from two incomes that they saved.

They worked hard for seven days a week in Rochester without knowing how to read or write or how to navigate in a completely different culture. But oh, how delighted everyone at home was with the money they sent. The woman and her husband were so proud that their children were being educated and well fed.

They stayed longer in Rochester than they had planned and sadly, the woman’s husband died. She wondered what to do next. Her decision was to stay here and continue to send home money so her children and mother could have a better life in Mexico. As time went by she knew the little ones wouldn’t remember her. Her older children resented their parents for being absent.

For more than a decade she has worked in Rochester seven days a week cleaning motel rooms, she walks everywhere she needs to go, and she spends only a meager amount on herself. She knows even if she attempted to see her children, they wouldn’t recognize her—she’s lost so many teeth and is tired and careworn. She is lonely, feels guilty and knows that she will most likely never see her family again. Added to that is the stress that immigration officials may be actively looking to detain and deport her even though she’s never done anything wrong except try to make a good life for her family by doing work no one else wants to do.

April 30, 2017

The Racial Justice Task Group has proposed a congregational resolution on immigrant rights and sanctuary. As part of the education and discernment phase of this resolution, they are presenting examples that illustrate that current immigration laws are unjust and that inconsistent enforcement compounds the injustice. The following is based on an interview of a Rochester woman by one of our church members.

I left my family in Mexico in 2003 because I was being sexually abused by 2 family members. The culture there was to be obedient and do as you were told and when they said they didn’t believe me, I left. I thought it would be safer in America. When I first got to America, I knew no one and didn’t have anybody to trust. I was scared of what would happen to me. I didn’t want to get sent back to Mexico.

When I first moved to Rochester I lived in a 2 bedroom apartment with 5 other people. Because I didn’t have family and didn’t know the language, people took advantage of me. Such as when I worked in housekeeping, I didn’t know about tips. The people I worked with went into the rooms before me and took all the money. Another thing I remember is I needed to have my signature notarized, and a person charged me 50 dollars. Later I found out that people notarize things for free. But that was what it was like when I first got here and didn’t know any English and didn’t have any friends and couldn’t complain because I was afraid someone would report me.

But then I found a friend from my home town in Mexico and moved in with her. She helped me get to a school to learn some English. Now years later I have 3 children–I want them to be safe and successful Americans. While I am working with a work permit, I am also still going to school in Rochester so someday I can get the kind of job that will be helpful to others when they come here and need help like people helped me.

I have been more afraid lately since deportation of undocumented people has increased. I am sad and afraid only for my children. They worry a lot, and if I am 20 minutes late getting somewhere, they think I have been deported. I just filled out custody forms so they can live with familiar people in case immigration detains me. If I get deported I will be okay, but my children will be not be

April 23, 2017

The following is an excerpt from a sermon by the Rev. Mike Morran given on March 2, 2014, at First Unitarian Society of Denver, a Sanctuary Church. Copies of the complete sermon are available at the Immigration table in the Commons and in the church library.

There are three large and practical flaws in the current Immigration system, flaws that produce untold human suffering that is completely unnecessary.

The first great flaw is in the way current law fails to allow or account for temporary workers. There are hundreds of thousands of seasonal and temporary workers who come to the U.S. for jobs that few native citizens want, but which for many immigrants are real prosperity. These workers are an essential part of the economy and all of us rely on them.
However, by severely limiting the number and type of workers allowed to enter the country legally….the current system makes it inevitable that workers without documentation will immigrate to seek those jobs, and that employers will circumvent the law in order to hire them.

A second major flaw is that we don’t adequately recognize families….If someone has been here living and working, paying taxes and raising their family, even if they’ve been here for decades. Even if they’re married to a U.S. citizen. Even if they have children who are U.S. citizens. Even though our own contradictory system makes it impossible for them to apply [for citizenship], they can be forcibly separated from their lives and families and forcibly deported.

Which brings me to the third broken element of existing policy: the arbitrary, random, inhumane and unjust ways in which enforcement takes place….This kind of enforcement completely fails to address the basic issues of immigration, the need for workers, the rights of workers, the health of our communities, or even national security. These policies and their arbitrary enforcement only make the inadequacies of the current system more tragic, and highlight the urgency of a more rational and just approach to immigration.

April 16, 2017

The Racial Justice Task Group has proposed a congregational resolution on immigrant rights and sanctuary. As part of the education and discernment phase of this resolution, the task group is presenting examples that illustrate that current immigration laws are unjust and that inconsistent enforcement compounds the injustice.

Twenty-three-year old Francisco Rodriguez arrived in Portland, Oregon, when he was 5 years old with his family who came from Mexico. Growing up he was just like everyone else. He started school at Glenfair Elementary and went all the way through Reynolds High school with the same kids he knew from kindergarten. No one ever questioned his immigration status, so it took him years to realize that he had no legal status. His younger brother and sister, who are 13 and 19, were born in the US so they are US citizens.

Almost three years ago after President Obama enacted the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, he applied for DACA status which meant he could attend school and work and didn’t need to be afraid of being undocumented. He takes classes at Mt. Hood Community College and volunteers at his old elementary school.

Last December he was arrested for a misdemeanor driving under the influence. Since then he has gone into treatment, signed up for a diversion program, and showed up for all his court dates—on his way to getting the DUI expunged from his records.

Around 7:30 on Sunday morning, March 26, his family was awakened by loud knocks on the door. His sister answered the door and the officers asked for him. “I think they are immigration,” she said. Everyone in his family was very afraid for what would happen to him. He opened the door and the next thing he knew he was in handcuffs and inside their car. The ICE agents, who didn’t have a warrant, told him he would lose his DACA status, and they took him to a facility in Tacoma, Washington, a long way from home.

ICE released him from custody 2 days later in response to hundreds of people speaking out. He now has access to an attorney and the opportunity to challenge to the notion that his misdemeanor disqualifies him for DACA status.
From Willamette Week — April 5, 2017.