Sheriff Joe Arpaio is proud of his tent city.
On his Web site for reelection as sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, he touts the camp as a cost-effective, “austere but humane” solution to jail overcrowding in a county that aggressively rounds up undocumented immigrants—and that, under SB 1070, Arizona’s newest immigration law, may soon be rounding up people who transport them to church and “harbor” them as guests as well.
Not to worry, Sheriff Joe says.
We supply fans and ice water in the summer because temperatures inside the tents can reach as high as 140 degrees. In the winter, when it’s cold, inmates are issued an extra blanket. Despite the extreme in weather conditions, we have not had serious health problems related to the heat or cold.
Echoes of the civil rights era are loud and clear to Alejandro Mandes, director of Hispanic ministries for the Evangelical Free Church of America. In comments on an email to which he gave subject line “Birmingham yet?” he wrote: “People were telling King this is not the time. Let it go. Now people say Phoenix will blow over.” But it won’t without action. Mandes calls on new leaders in the immigration reform movement to learn from their African-American brothers and sisters: “You are my teachers. Don’t let me learn these lessons from scratch. Teach me because anyone’s injustice is everyone’s injustice.”
CCDA is learning, and CCDA is acting. Since the weekend of the January board meeting in Phoenix, when board members traveled to the border with Mexico, learned from activists and from immigrants and their families, and held a rally in support of comprehensive immigration reform, the association has been stepping up advocacy efforts.
As an association of neighborhood-based ministries around the country, CCDA has something unique to offer to reform efforts, said CEO Noel Castellanos: “Our advocacy is incarnational advocacy. It comes out of our relationships with the people we work with and alongside in the neighborhoods we’re trying to transform. It is driven by the relationships we have with the poor.” In a position statement, the CCDA board acknowledges that “as a movement we may never reach consensus on specific policy implementation,” but agrees that “Kingdom servants must not stop at awareness but must move forward in a unified struggle toward the alleviation of injustice.” Noel emphasizes that that struggle must include a call for a pathway to citizenship for the 12 million undocumented immigrants who are already in the U.S.
Noel traveled to Phoenix in MAY to join with local community and faith leaders in calling for Governor Jan Brewer to veto SB 1070. She signed it instead. The following Sunday, Pastor Warren Stewart of Institutional Baptist Church in Phoenix organized a rally at his church to protest the new law. A leader in the early 1990s of the effort to restore the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday in Arizona, Stewart also hosted CCDA’s January 26 Day of Education, Witness, and Action on Immigration at Institutional Baptist. In an interview he addressed the illegality in “illegal immigration,” pointing out that legality and justice do not always line up:
Slavery at one time was legal, but it certainly was unjust. Undocumented workers who earn money here and send money back to their families are being paid by people who are breaking the law, whether knowingly or unknowingly. Consequently, in essence, we are all breaking the law—the undocumented workers and those of us who benefit from their working here illegally.
CCDA members are active in immigrant neighborhoods throughout the United states, providing services, developing communities, and advocating for just immigration laws.
Esperanza Martinez, director of the Family Life Center in Miami and a member of the first CCDA Emerging Leaders Cohort, is exercising quiet but persistent influence, meeting with pastors and other leaders in the city to talk about how they can work for immigration reform. She finds that “people think we should have immigration reform, but they haven’t made it an issue with their congregations.” This is changing as more and more people in congregations are affected by immigration crackdowns, and as young people see their undocumented peers shut out of opportunities. Her own congregation has lost 15 percent of its members to deportation or relocation to avoid immigration authorities.
Esperanza emphasizes the importance of activating networks of influence. One young man is persistently asking her what he can do, so she’s “giving him stuff to read, and he’s putting it on Facebook. He has influence on his own peers. It multiplies.” What changes legislation, she says, is not just events that appeal to emotion, but action based on personal conviction—action that results when someone realizes, “I know this is wrong as a child of God, and I cannot just stand by.”
Craig Wong, a member of CCDA’s advisory board, emphasizes the importance of providing a “counter narrative to the prevailing political narrative” about undocumented immigrants. He is the executive director of Grace Urban Ministries in San Francisco, which hosts and participates in the San Francisco Interfaith Coalition on Immigration. “It’s hard to argue data versus data,” he explains. But we can say: “We need each other. We need people who are different from ourselves, and immigrants contribute to the wholeness of our society, rather than taking away from it.”
Most people in the U.S. don’t realize how inhumane the current system is, that people are being stripped of due process and that families are being torn apart, Craig explains. “We think it’s horrible for other countries to have militarized police raiding workplaces and homes, but that’s what we’re becoming.” So congregations in the San Francisco coalition are supporting families affected by immigration enforcement—accompanying them to hearings, providing material support—while “making the actions public so the rest of the public can see.” The coalition is also meeting with local Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials to address the most egregious enforcement practices, and is working to restore San Francisco’s sanctuary ordinance so all residents of the city can access services and receive due process in the legal system.
Michelle Warren, community liaison at Open Door Ministries in Denver, is also a member of the first Emerging Leaders Cohort. She organized a January 26, 2010, satellite rally in Denver in conjunction with CCDA’s Day of Education, Witness, and Action on Immigration, one of five such rallies around the country that were led by cohort members.
After that rally a group of urban leaders in Denver began organizing to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level. They’ve held forums with evangelical pastors and business leaders and are asking them to sign on to a position statement that the group will present to legislators.
“What happened in January was the beginning of awareness, but kingdom service can’t stop at awareness,” Michelle said. “There has to be some forward action even if you don’t know what that action is going to look like.” We may “feel like we’re doing nothing, but that’s where momentum starts. You start a movement from nothing. We need prophets and pioneers at the beginning of momentum, then people join along the way and you begin to see some change.”
Back in Phoenix, youth pastor Ian Danley of Neighborhood Ministries laments,
We are exhausted. We feel under attack. We feel like we aren’t welcome in the community. People are trying to leave, but they don’t have anywhere to go. I hear them saying, “We don’t know anyone in Vegas or New Mexico. We think about going to Mexico, but my grandma says it’s not really good there either, and my kids don’t really speak Spanish.”
But he also sees reason to hope: Young people are exercising leadership like never before. They’re sleeping nights at the Capitol in protest of the new law; they’re phone banking to get people out to meetings; “They’re just really, really working hard.” This is Arizona’s next generation of political leaders. Currently, Ian said,
We don’t have political leadership that says, “I don’t care about my reelection.” On both sides of the aisle. Their failure of leadership is creating a vacuum that I see my young people filling. They’ve basically just asked a bunch of young people to show them the way to move forward.
Ian is convinced that what humans have intended for evil, God will use for good: “We believe that God is bigger than our sheriff.