The United Church of Christ in the USA will observe its first Immigrant Rights Sunday on 3 May 2009, to highlight vital issues of justice and hospitality for people facing discrimination and exclusion.
Although the UCC has been a long-time advocate of just migration policies that guarantee legal rights to every person living in the United States, this is the first time a Sunday has been designated to recognize the situation of immigrants.
“Welcoming the stranger is an edict from God to the people of God (Deuteronomy 10:17-19.) But too often the strangers among us are rejected and treated like enemies,” says the UCC.
Congregations are being encouraged to include stories about migrants in their worship services on the first Sunday in May.
The organizers of the nationwide event, Rev Art Cribbs and Rev Daniel Romero, comment: “One recent story we will be highlighting follows the lives of two brothers, Benigno and Ronald, who find themselves caught in a legal limbo as they seek to make it through the maze of immigration bureaucracy.
“Brought to the United States from Guatemala by their mother as small children, they are now 24 and 28 years old. When their mother became a legal resident through marriage, she petitioned for her sons to become residents as well. Unfortunately, they sought help from a notario, a notary public posing as a lawyer, who charged them a few thousand dollars to do the paperwork.
“There are many unscrupulous individuals who engage in the unauthorized practice of immigration law and leave their clients hopeless and helpless. In this case, Benigno and Ronald ‘think’ they may have petitions pending. Even if they do, as unmarried children of a legal resident from Guatemala, it may take up to seven years for visas to become available for them to achieve their dream.
“Wishing to marry, Benigno has postponed doing so because he knows the laws are different for married and unmarried children of permanent residents. Both these young men have no experience of living in Guatemala and if forced to leave, they would be fish out of water.
“They have been raised in this country, gone through the educational system, and are fully bilingual with very promising futures. Their story is repeated time and again with children who, by no decision of their own, find themselves in legal limbo,” conclude the UCC ministers.
There are millions of immigrants in the USA. Many of them reside near our local churches, says the denomination. Immigrant Rights Sunday is an opportunity to learn their stories and share them.
“Promoting draconian policies and militarizing our borders do not protect or serve anyone’s best interests. Too many families have been divided and too many lives have been lost because our country has failed to properly address the needs of immigrants,” say the organisers. “It is time for us to honour God’s instruction to feed, clothe, and love ‘those who are strangers, because you yourselves were strangers’”
“As we learn the stories of others, we can tell our stories also; the stories of our families’ journeys to America. We can remember what it felt like to be received or rejected in a new land. Then, we will discover the practical reasons why God instructed us to take care of immigrants, foreigners, and strangers.
“Nobody should be left in a legal limbo to fend alone or fall prey to individuals, systems, or institutions that abuse them and deny their human dignity. If we forget our own experiences, we may mistreat others who are going through what we once knew to be a frightening and unwelcoming period in our lives.
“We can do better to make God’s entire family feel welcome and at home. Hospitality is a hallmark of our faith.”
For more information about Immigrant Rights Sunday and worship resources, go to: www.ucc.org/justice/immigration