Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Strangers No Longer


by Amanda Fraser

Last month I attended a community meeting on immigration topics at Vine St Christian (Disciples of Christ) Church that was sponsored by the Doing Justly Project (DJP), a spiritual activism group. I have always favored liberal immigration policies and didn’t know if there would be much to learn at the meeting.

One thing I didn’t really understand is why so many Mexicans are increasingly coming to the US. For one thing, I was unaware of how much the NAFTA trade agreement has created severe unemployment and increased poverty in Mexico. This is largely due to policies that benefit large multi-national corporations that employ a relatively small number of workers in Mexico. These assembly plants have displaced small and medium-sized Mexican businesses and farms that employed 90 % of Mexicans prior to NAFTA. NAFTA also abolished the right of Mexican peasants to farm to community lands.

As a result these and other NAFTA policies, the percentage of Mexicans living in poverty has increased from 58% to 79% since the passage of NAFTA. The reason Mexicans come to the US is to flee the harsh poverty that has overcome their country. This is also why Mexicans risk their lives in crossing the brutal Arizona desert on foot to reach America. Over 30,000 people have lost their lives making this trek. This was movingly illustrated in a documentary, Dying to Get In, shown at the DJP meeting. This situation points to the need to urge out government to reform these clearly exploitive, large corporation-favoring NAFTA policies.

The situation also gives us strong motivation to re-examine our attitudes toward immigrants and refugees. If people could earn a living in their own countries, they would not be risking their lives to come to the US.

Last month I had also an opportunity to talk with Pat Halper of the Coalition for an Informed Community on Immigration and a member of my meditation group. During the last few months, the Coalition has put together three forums that invited the community to become more informed about immigration issues. A breakfast and forum was held for area clergy to share what their respective faith traditions say about welcoming new arrivals to our community. These conversations also work toward educating involved congregations and inviting faith leaders to take a stand against intolerance in our community.

Two students at Vanderbilt Divinity School have also organized Strangers No Longer and are working closely with the Coalition. Emily Snyder and Steve Miles, co-founders of the group, have created a terrifically helpful immigration Resources Packet that is available to faith leaders in our community. The packet includes: (1) scriptural verses (Christian, Jewish, and Muslim) that teach about immigration, (2) speaker suggestions, (3) sample sermons and prayers, (4) information on immigration-focused organizations and educational resources; and (5) tools for actions that congregations can take.

If your congregation or faith group is interested learning more about immigration issues, the Packet can be requested from its authors at faithandimmigration@yahoo.com.

This handy resource also tells us more about actions that your congregation can take, such as: how to request a Speaker; ideas for Partnering with a Hispanic or other immigrant congregation/religious community for pulpit exchanges or dialogue gatherings; opportunities to host an English class (much needed); and ideas for holding a Prayer Vigil or attending community gatherings to learn more about immigration.

For more information on education about immigration, you can also contact Avi Poster of the Coalition for an Informed Community on Immigration at 615-831-0681. Si si puede! (We too believe!)

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