August 12-13, twenty other Mennonites and I met in Phoenix to witness the 'facts on the ground' after the passage of SB 1070, an Arizona state immigration law. Several years ago, Mennonite Church USA had made reservations for our 2013 convention to be in Phoenix. After Governor Jan Brewer signed the law, our Hispanic sisters and brothers said they would not feel safe attending. About 70 of our 930 congregations are members of Iglesia Menonita Hispana, and estimates are that up to 70% of the members and pastors of these congregations are undocumented. Many human rights groups have called for a boycott of Arizona because of the law. <http://www.azcentral.com/business/articles/2010/05/13/20100513immigration-boycotts-list.html> Years ago, a boycott reportedly forced Arizona to begin observing Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Might this tactic work again?
Reservations cost money, and if Mennonite Church USA cancels our convention we will lose between $350-500,000. This is a hugely significant amount of money for us and may mean significant program and job loss. SB 1070 caused Mennonite Church USA a huge problem.
The state of Arizona estimates that the state boycott proposed will cost the state $90 million. The Phoenix Visitors Bureau estimates that Phoenix will lose $3 million if we don't meet there (that is everything we buy-food, hotel, incidental shopping, etc.) We were reminded that 25% of the businesses whose income is convention-based are "minority owned" and that the boycott is devastating to small businesses. Alejandro Chavez (grandson of Cesar) said that boycotts should be specifically targeted against the people who are hurting the community, rather than the community itself. He talked about "one message at a time," meaning that a boycott of only one product (grapes or lettuce) is easier to sustain long-term and thus has a more specific impact than a boycott of an entire state.
We were hosted splendidly. Donn Oswald met us at the airport and shuttled us directly to our hotels, where glass bottles of water and fruit/nut mix awaited us, along with personal notes from hotel staff. Each time we walked from one location to another, convention staff accompanied us. We spent off-the-record time with the mayor, vice mayor, chief of police and deputy of investigation; with Rev. Petra Falcon, the leader of Promise Arizona <http://promiseaz.org> and the assistant city manager, Ed Zuercher, who is Mennonite. These high-profile speakers established that Phoenix is different from the rest of the state and had been fighting against this legislation for years. They admitted that people are understandably upset by drug dealers coming across the border and human smuggling, but didn't feel the bill adequately addresses these problems. The common message was, "Come stand with us and help us confront this unjust law." The question for me was, will masses of Mennonites take part in a protest against a law?
Nothing is simple. Our Navajo sisters and brothers are delighted to have a convention within driving distance. Many other states are in the process of passing copycat laws to SB 1070 (As of August 12, Alabama, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Virginia), so the state we might change to and the states our undocumented sisters and brothers need to drive through may be equally unwelcoming. A federal judge has taken many of the teeth out of the Arizona law and it will likely be in courts for the next three years--and the Arizona legislature may introduce new laws during that time.
In fact, racial profiling is evident in my small Ohio farm community <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3doHgAWeu7Q> and just north of me, a city council is preparing to pass a resolution in favor of SB 1070. Where will our undocumented sisters and brothers feel safe?
So if SB 1070 isn't the problem, perhaps unjust U.S. immigration policies are the problem. Yes, of course--immigration policies here in the United States are outdated and unhelpful, whether one is a farmer, an employer or an immigrant with or without papers (see links below). But does that help Mennonite Church USA decide whether or not to go to Phoenix in 2013?
For me, the most important people who spoke during our delegation were our sisters and brothers from Iglesia Menonita Hispana, the African-American Mennonite Association and Native Mennonite Ministries. As we sat in our circle and spoke our minds, they bared their souls. They spoke not so much about whether they felt safe in Phoenix, but about whether they felt welcome in Mennonite Church USA. Does there continue to be a two-tier system for access to power and resources? Can folks from these groups afford to come to conventions regardless of where they are held, since many can't take time off from work, much less pay all the expenses? Is Mennonite Church USA serious about our anti-racism priority? Are we each aware of our power and willing to lay it down?
The question became not about SB 1070 or about immigration, but about who we are as Mennonite Church USA in this nation. Not how do Anglos stoop down to ensure safety to our Hispanic sisters and brothers, but how do we as one church care for each other and face the problems of our country?
When we began using us language, rather than us/them words, we leaped ahead-and began being church. No longer were we concerned that part of our church was hurting; we realized our church is hurting. We sat by each other on the bus; talked to each other at meals; considered together what changes are needed, together thought about options, rather than who was going to win the original unwinnable situation.
And that made all the difference.
Download these posters to remind yourself, your youth group and your congregation that minor changes are not enough:
Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform
Support Humane Immigration Reform
Urge Your Rep. to Cosponsor H.R. 4321: <http://capwiz.com/fconl/issues/alert/?alertid=14515271>
The Immigration Dilemma is a six-week series blog series designed to help you understand the immigration dilemma in the United States. The series is written by Alexandra Douglas, FCNL's legislative program assistant on immigration.
Mennonite Church USA Immigration resources:
God's love has no borders. Learn, worship, act, advocate. <http://peace.mennolink.org/immigration.html>