I just got back from the Fast for Families six-week bus tour, where CWS was deeply involved in coordinating events in 90 congressional districts to push for just and humane immigration reform. In each city we heard testimonies of the devastating impact of deportations that are tearing families apart. As the House of Representatives continues to ignore the pressing need for immigration reform, it is more critical than ever for the Obama administration to stop the suffering caused by our broken immigration system. CWS is asking President Obama to stop separating families through deportations, and to allow our undocumented community members to stay here in the United States without fear of deportation.
This past Wednesday, I was honored to be part of a prayer service in Lafayette Park just a few steps away from the White House. I joined with members of the immigrants’ rights groups and faith communities to pray for Ernestina, who has been on a hunger strike outside the White House. Ernestina’s husband was deported on April 3rd, in the midst of his own hunger strike while in detention at Texas Joe Corley Detention Center. With no options left to reunite her family, she would be willing to giver her own health and body with the hopes that her and husband can still reunite, if new administrative reforms might take effect through the stroke of our President’s pen.
Ernestina has courageously decided to enter into this sacrifice – camped out on a blanket in front of President Obama’s front door – to bring attention to the case of her husband and the cases of hundreds of thousands of immigrants who are detained and deported at the rate of 1,100 per day.
This April 2014, we approach a significant marker in which the Obama Administration will have deported two million people. Faith communities across the spectrum have been actively engaged in advocating for just and humane immigration reform. After taking part in thousands of calls, letters, vigils and visits to our Representatives, Congress continues to stall and their inaction results in thousands of separated families. The President can take concrete, bold and necessary actions to turn back the deportation machinery. As people of faith, we have a moral obligation to act and we cannot stand by and do nothing while families suffer the consequence of partisan gridlock.
This is why so many congregations and pastors are joining the #Not1More Campaign, calling on President Obama to do what he has the power to do: halt deportations and grant affirmative relief to all our undocumented community members. Affirmative relief could be similar to the recent Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in which undocumented individuals who came to the U.S. as children can apply to temporarily be able to travel and work legally.
Faith communities from a broad spectrum of traditions were involved in the April 5th Not One More National Week of Action, which mobilized people for vigils, rallies and marches in over 100 cities throughout the country. In Arizona, activists marched sixty miles from Phoenix to the Eloy Detention Center. In Aurora, Colorado United Church of Christ Rev. Anne Dunlap joined immigrant activists in a vigil outside an immigration detention center and at a deportation court hearing where undocumented minors like 16 year old Nicol Castaneda fought their case to stay with their families in the U.S.. United Methodist Rev. Lyda Pierce and other faith leaders rallied with children and wives of immigrants detained at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington, weathering rain storms yet united to stop deportations. United Methodist congregations were part of 60 actions throughout the country, often leading their own prayer services and vigils.
The Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law recently delivered a letter to President Obama highlighting exactly how the administration could help as many as two million immigrants obtain greencards by simply approving pending visa petitions and waiving the arbitrary bars that prevent anyone who has been undocumented from pursuing legal status for up to 10 years.
It is clear that there are many administrative reforms that can be made to reunite families and heal communities. The Obama administration’s strategy to expand harsh immigration policies in order to win the favor of Republicans has failed, and has simultaneously caused suffering of thousands of families separated by deportations. However, it is always the right time to do the right thing, and CWS will keep pushing for all policy makers to do their part to stop suffering and find solutions for our communities. We are proud to be part of the growing campaign to make sure administrative reform happens this year to stop the alarming rate of inhumane deportations and to see options made available for our undocumented community members to stay in the United States without fear of deportation.
Rev. Noel Andersen is Grassroots Coordinator for Immigrants’ Rights for CWS