Immigration as a Moral Issue (Draft Statement of Conscience)
"We were held with another woman who was coughing so badly that she threw up violently, over and over. The others in the cell called for help. An officer came over and said, ‘Que se muera!’—'Let her die’” (from “The Culture of Cruelty: Abuse and Impunity in Short-term US Border Control Custody”)
A belief in the inherent worth and dignity of every person is core to Unitarian Universalism. Every person, no exceptions. As religious people, our Principles call us to support the struggle of the immigrant and to affirm and promote the flourishing of the human family. To the suffering of immigrants, Unitarian Universalists respond, "No mas muertas!" “No more deaths!”
Our Sources teach us to honor the other and the stranger. For example, Hebrew scripture teaches love for the foreigner because "you were foreigners in the land of Egypt" (Leviticus 19:33-34). Christian scripture reports that Jesus and his disciples were itinerants. When asked "who is my neighbor?" Jesus responded with the parable of the Good Samaritan, a foreigner who treated a badly beaten man as the foreigner would have wished to be treated (Luke 10:25-37). The Hadith reports that Mohammed urged his followers to "give glad tidings to the strangers" (2:389). Those who respect the worth and dignity of every person could do no less.
Unitarian Universalist Principles and Sources call us to alleviate the suffering caused by misdirected individual and political actions that harm human beings who immigrate. The moral ambiguity stems from the tension between “us” and “them”.
Before recorded history, our ancestors migrated out of Africa and later across the world. People left their places of birth in order to feed themselves, protect themselves from hostile environments, or better their lives. Some humans have migrated voluntarily while others have been forced to migrate due to marriage, enslavement, war, famine, or fear of persecution. Whatever the circumstances, the human family is composed almost entirely of immigrants or descendant of immigrants.
In addition to the basic needs for food and shelter, humans have basic needs for safety and belonging. Banding together helps people meet these needs. Smaller communities self-define who belongs and who does not. Larger groups often define themselves using geographic boundaries.
Most of the land mass on earth is now divided into nations with boundaries. Nations have assumed the right and obligation to protect the well-being of their citizens by enacting and enforcing immigration laws. Moral immigration laws that are just and humane contribute to the public good, define the parameters of legal immigration, and restrict harmful influences such as criminal intent, epidemics, and contraband. Unfortunately, not all immigration laws are moral; some use racism, classism, religion, or ethnicity to dictate who belongs and who does not. Our challenge as religious people is to distinguish the moral from the immoral, supporting the former and opposing the latter.
Underlying Factors Contributing to Undocumented Residents
Today people leave their places of birth and migrate for the same reasons our ancestors did—to be safe, to meet their needs for food and shelter, and to better their lives. Violence, environmental change, and economic conditions often motivate immigration. Armed conflicts, violence against women, ethnic cleansing, and genocide are some of the acts of violence that drive people to migrate. Environmental conditions that have led to migration include droughts, floods, radiation and toxic pollution.
Economic factors are currently the primary driving force underlying immigration worldwide. Economic factors that cause people to migrate include the inability to meet needs for sufficient food and adequate shelter and to better their lives. Contributors to these economic conditions include population growth, environmental degradation, globalization, and policies that address land ownership, tariffs, trade, and working conditions.
A mechanism for implementing immigration laws is the issuance of visas, which are legal documents giving permission to enter and stay in a nation. When the supply of visas is far below the demand, then pressure to enter a country illegally or overstay a visa increases. A similar pressure occurs when the length of time between applying for a permanent visa and its issuance is a matter of years. When people cannot obtain or renew visas but choose to enter or remain in a country anyway, they become undocumented residents.
Lack of documentation and legal status can lead to exploitation. Work visas often require having an employer-sponsor, which can limit a person’s freedom to change employment. Some employers seeking workers are unable to find people willing to do certain jobs under the work conditions and at the wages they offer. Other employers are stymied by onerous requirements to prove a need for people with certain abilities. When the number of work visas is less than the economy’s demand for labor, employers will fill the need regardless of workers’ documentation.
Visas that allow multiple border crossings encourage people to visit families knowing that they can return for a job. When crossing a border is difficult or hazardous, the likelihood of returning to one’s family decreases and the desire to send for one’s family increases. The families of undocumented residents wanting to reunite with their loved ones also have no means of entering legally. A broken immigration system opens the way for illegality and exploitation.
Who migrates, how they migrate, where they migrate, and when they migrate are central to immigration policies worldwide. While immigrants fall in love, find jobs, build community, have children, and in other ways enrich a country with new ways of thinking and being, some citizens and national policies declare them illegitimate and unwelcome.
Undocumented immigrants are often denied the civil rights protections of citizens, paid less than citizens, and labor in unsafe and unhealthy conditions. In the United States, increased border security has forced immigrants into dangerous border crossings where basic human needs such as drinking water are ignored. Border fences affect not only the flow of human traffic but also that of wildlife. Increased enforcement of immigration laws has led to creating detention centers, some of which are privately run for profit motives. These centers are not regulated and are often overcrowded and deny essential needs including medical attention.
Undocumented immigrants and their families live in constant fear of deportation. This fear affects access to educational opportunities, health care, and police protection. When deportation occurs, the result is destroyed dreams and broken families—partners separated and children taken away from their caregivers or forced to return to a place they do not know. The perceived and constructed threat of those who are different has led individuals and nations to meet immigrants with fear. Fear has become a social and political force that turns human beings into “illegals”—mothers into “criminals” and children into “terrorists.”
Our Unitarian Universalist (UU) principles and sources compel us to affirm that all immigrants regardless of legal status should be treated justly and humanely.
At a minimum, a moral immigration policy would include the following elements:
- A path to citizenship or legal permanent residency for those already in a country legally or illegally, as well as for those wanting to enter a country;
- Work visas that allow employment and that
- Require the same worker protections applicable to citizens including fair wages, safe and healthful environments, and receipt of benefits;
- Do not depend on a single employer;
- Allow multiple entries;
- Permit entry into the path for citizenship; and
- Provide parity between the number of visas and the work available in the receiving nation.
- Access to the same medical care and education available to citizens;
- Evaluation of human and environmental costs of proposed barriers to immigration or other changes in immigration policy;
- Due process under the law including representation, rights of appeal, and the right to initiate suits;
- Non-deportation of parents with dependent children or partners of documented residents;
- Provision of asylum for refugees and others in fear of violence or retribution; and
- Collaboration with source countries to address underlying causes contributing to immigration.
Calls to Action
Considering the human rights crises among undocumented immigrants, we pledge to ground our missions and ministries in UU Principles and moral teachings as we undertake individual, congregational, and denominational actions such as:
As individuals, we can:
- Educate ourselves about human migration, immigration policies, human rights abuses that result from immigration policies, and the impact of trade policies on human migration.
- Learn a language used by a large number of immigrants in our communities.
- Advocate for moral immigration policies.
- Volunteer for local organizations providing aid and advocacy for recent immigrants.
- Take direct action such as intervening to preserve the lives of immigrants, helping them get needed medical and legal aid, refusing to report undocumented people, or reporting abuses of immigrants.
- Record stories of recent immigrants and of our own immigration histories.
As congregations, we can:
- Cooperate with other UU congregations and local groups focused on immigration issues for the purposes of education and action.
- Offer life span education, youth and young adult programming, and worship services that address immigration issues.
- Create a covenant group that focuses on immigration issues.
- Adopt service projects that address immigrant rights.
- Explore and implement ways to transform concern into action.
- Participate in efforts that support the rights and dignity of immigrants.
- Support and participate in efforts to change immigration laws that are not moral, including state legislative ministries where they are available.
- Coordinate experiential trips to gain first-hand understanding of border, migrant, and refugee issues; support groups such as No More Deaths (AZ), UUSC, or the UU College of Social Justice.
- Visit local detention centers; support the families of those detained.
- Fund college scholarships that are available to undocumented young people.
- Take an active role in UU and interfaith organizations that address the needs of immigrants such as UURISE, Interfaith Immigration Coalition, Standing on the Side of Love, and Interfaith Worker Justice.
- Engage in congregation-based community organizing or join with other community-based organizations such as Turning the Tide.
- Encourage the sharing of congregants’ cultural heritage and experiences to create personal bonds and enhance appreciation for the contributions of diverse cultures.
- Participate in a refugee resettlement program.
- Provide English as a Second Language tutoring and other skills needed by immigrants.
- Incorporate into congregational life languages other than English.
- Conduct citizenship classes, voter-rights education, and voter registration drives that target new citizens.
At the denominational level, we can:
- Publically witness against violations of the human dignity and human rights of immigrants nationally and internationally.
- Advocate for just and humane immigration policies and international conventions.
- Join with other faith-based groups working for comprehensive national policies on immigration.
- Provide curricula, resources, current information, and networking opportunities that congregations can use in their immigration education and advocacy efforts.
- Support the immigration-related work of the UU United Nations Office (UUUNO), UU Service Committee (UUSC), and other UU-related organizations such as UU Refugee and Immigration Services and Education (UURISE) and the UU College of Social Justice.
Affirming the inherent worth and dignity of every person, we take up this call with joy, celebrating the creative and life-giving diversity of our world’s peoples.
For more information contact socialwitness @ uua.org.
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Last updated on Thursday, November 15, 2012.
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