Our support of La Mariposa in sanctuary last year connected us more deeply to the whole struggle over immigrant rights, which is an ongoing mess. Much of what we read comes from the debates in Washington and the human rights crisis at our Southern border. But there’s also news here in North Carolina that merits our attention.
About a month ago you may have seen me among area clergy and immigration activists in a news photo standing in support of Buncombe County Sheriff Quentin Miller. At that news conference, he announced that absent a court-approved warrant, his department would not honor requests by officers of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to detain immigrants that it was seeking. Nor, he said, would his deputies participate in ICE raids or investigations.
Miller is among a number of North Carolina sheriffs who have refused to participate in a program called 287(g), which sets out an agreement for ICE agents and deputies to work together. Miller is right to refuse to participate in such an extra-legal arrangement that puts the immigrant community at risk.
But now under a bill proposed in the North Carolina House, sheriffs would be required to work with ICE, including asking people about their immigration status, notifying ICE when they come upon people who are undocumented and detaining those people if ICE asked them to. It would, in other words, put sheriff deputies in the position of enforcing unjust racial profiling throughout the state.
This is a moment when our voice could matter on behalf of our immigrant neighbors. While ICE action has been limited locally, hundreds of people have been seized across North Carolina in the last month or so. So, let me urge you to consider writing a letter to your representative or even the local newspaper opposing this move.
And while we’re at it, I welcome your participation in our immigration justice work. Recently, over the course of two Wednesday Thing programs I met with about 20 UUCA members to talk about what in our work in the last couple of years was most fulfilling and effective and how that should guide us in the future. We agreed that we appreciated being a part of an effort that built bridges to others, not walls, and that expanded our own awareness about and contact with our immigrant neighbors. And we are grateful to have built and still maintain a relationship with Maria and her family.
We also agreed that this experience and our commitment to affirming the inherent worth and dignity of all have called us to go further. Among other things, we hope to continue bringing the Spanish language into our worship and into our community. Maria’s presence with us prompted us to begin organizing Spanish language classes. We hope to continue those. We also want to look for ways to build contacts and relationships with the immigrant community in our area and raise our awareness of and act on justice issues that affect them.
If this interests you, I invite you to be in touch with me or members of our organizing team – Katie Winchell, Carol Buffum , or Elizabeth Schell. We remember, as Theodore Parker put it, that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. But lest we forget, for that to happen, it needs a few benders. Let us be among them.
Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister