What people of faith and conscience must do about immigration reform

By Peter Morales The distance from the small Guatemalan city of Rabinal to the Mayan village of Plan de Sánchez … Continued

By Peter Morales

The distance from the small Guatemalan city of Rabinal to the Mayan village of Plan de Sánchez is only about five miles, but it takes almost an hour to travel. We rode standing in the back of a four-wheel-drive flatbed truck because our small minibus didn’t stand a chance on the steep, narrow, winding dirt road. It had rained the night before, so the road was mud all the way.

The “road” to Plan de Sánchez is relatively new. It did not exist on July 18, 1982. Then the only way to get to and from Plan de Sánchez was by walking on steep trails. That is how the Guatemalan army unit arrived on a Sunday twenty-eight years ago. They rounded up all the women and children and proceeded to kill almost 200. The young women were raped before being murdered. About 100,000 Mayans died at the hands of the Guatemalan military in 1982. This July 18, I went as part of a Unitarian Universalist Service Committee delegation to attend a commemoration of the massacre at the little chapel in Plan de Sánchez. I stood in the chapel, surrounded by Mayan villagers, wondering how a man could bring himself to slaughter defenseless women and children.

I write this hours before getting on a plane to fly to Phoenix in order to join Unitarian Universalists and others protesting SB 1070, the Arizona law that, before Wednesday’s federal court ruling, would have allowed police to stop anyone they suspect of being in the state illegally. I applaud the judge’s ruling, but I know that this is only a temporary step and that many harsh provisions of this law remain in effect.

Plan de Sánchez and illegal immigration to Arizona might seem completely unconnected. The truth is that the connections are deep and strong. If we don’t understand the connection, we cannot understand what is happening in America today.

People are being pushed from their homes and pulled by opportunities in the United States. America is involved in both the push and the pull.

First, the push. We have to understand that the US has helped to set in motion the forces that drive people to risk their lives to come to America. In the case of Guatemala, our CIA overturned a democratically elected government in the 1950’s. The massacres of the 1980’s were carried out by a military government we supported, by US-trained officers and by military units using American weapons. More recently, our economic policies have helped contribute to massive unemployment and dislocation in Mexico and Central America. The vast majority of immigrants from the south are not criminals, they are economic and political refugees.

And then there is the pull. American employers have been more than happy to hire Mexicans and Central Americans to pick crops, cook in restaurants, clean offices, do landscaping and provide cheap child care.

Now in Arizona we have the kind of thinly veiled racism and fear, stoked by demagogues, that can lead to violence.

People of faith and conscience must do three things. First, we must raise our voices. We must stand on the side of love and the side of human dignity with immigrant families. We must resist the implementation of this law, even if it means breaking it.

Second, we must make the law of our land reflect the highest moral ideals of our people. We must continue to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform. We helped to create this crisis. It is our job to fix the mess we have made.

Third, we have some religious work to do. We must be faithful to our ideals of compassion and of the inherent worth and dignity of all people. We must bear witness to a vision that includes all people. Laws like Arizona’s SB 1070 exist because of fear, ignorance and hate. We must be tireless practitioners of hope, knowledge and love.

We are all Arizona. Todos somos Arizona. We are all Plan de Sánchez, too. It is more than a slogan. It is a reality. Together we can help create a new reality.

Peter Morales is President of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA).

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  • revpup

    The Rev. Peter Morales was arrested yesterday in Phoenix demonstrating against the Arizona senate bill 1070. For more information go to:

  • BethelAlaskan

    Although I agree with the notion of providing love and support to those who need it, the reality is that there are places here in the United States, with citizens who are paying taxes, who are part of our community, who do not have the luxuries of those who come to the U.S. illegally. My suggestion is to support those who are driven from their homes through donations to causes to assist these people in becoming productive members of their own societies, in their homeland. For those of you who want to do something, to really be involved, let me tell you that we can use your love and compassion out here in Alaska. Bethel, Alaska is 400 miles west of Anchorage, connected to no other city or town by roads. There is no “electrical grid”, we generate our own power. Heating oil is over $7 a gallon. A large percentage of the people who live here have never been out of the area because the plane ticket to leave is too expensive. Domestic abuse is rampant. Sexually transmitted disease is epidemic among the young people. Suicide rates are three times the national average. We are frustrated that so much money and effort is going towards supporting illegal immigrants and overturning laws in Arizona when that money, time and effort could be used to help us…the citizens of the United States, overcome our problems. Though some of us have come from other parts of the country to do what we can to help, it is going to take more than just a few outsiders with our knowledge to make a difference.I hate to say it, but we have three villages within 8 miles of our city…and unlike the village of Plan de S├ínchez, they aren’t connected at all. Let’s clean up our own house first folks…please.

  • twinsfan

    To the person from Bethel, Alaska:Thanks for your post. I appreciate you reminding us of the corrosive effects of poverty in so many American communities–whether in rural Alaska, or my hometown of Detroit, or Appalachia, or inner-city Los Angeles. I am sorry that you folks are facing such severe problems.I agree with you that the best long-term solution to the problem of illegal immigration is to strengthen the communities of origin so that the residents are not compelled to seek a living in the U.S. And I’m sure Peter Morales agrees with that, also.But I also support the efforts to treat those who are here illegally with dignity and compassion. They aren’t just poor: they’re also defenseless. They have NO legal rights, no mayor or governor or Congressman representing them, no one to keep authorities from deliberately separating families and returning them “home” hundreds of miles apart–and of course, many of them don’t even speak or read English. And one thing more: they’re also targets of hate. It is NEVER okay to stand by and let hatred go unchallenged, whether it’s aimed at illegal immigrants, blacks, whites, gays, straights, Jews, Muslims, Christians, gypsies, Rwandans…I don’t know what the solutions to your town’s problems are. But I do know they don’t involve leaving illegal immigrants to face cruel and unjust laws like Arizona’s SB 1070.