Written By: Julie Taylor, NFWM Executive Director
Recent legislation aimed at restricting immigrant rights is increasing concern both for the experience of immigrants in our country but also for the people of faith who feel called to minister to the “strangers” among us. Anti-immigrant rhetoric continues to challenge the actual realities of immigrant presence in our communities. This is troublesome and calls people of faith and conscience to a diligence of truth and resistance.
In Florida, recent legislation was passed. House Bill (HB 1617) and Senate Bill (SB 1718), which make transporting a family member, friend, or neighbor with an unregulated status into the state of Florida a felony of second or third degree. For example, if a teacher takes Florida children to a Washington D.C. field trip and one of the students is still navigating our very complex immigration system, that teacher can be punished with up to 15 years in prison.
Texas is debating legislation to create state-sponsored vigilantes and codify abusive operations already in effect.
At the same time, the statistics literally demonstrate that immigrants perform necessary jobs in our society. During the pandemic, these jobs were called “essential” because they kept, specifically the food and domestic industries running when so much shut down. Admittedly, these were low income jobs and ones that most Americans will not do. They often provide this work without appropriate compensation, without benefits, in difficult working conditions, and sometimes under duress. Crimes committed by this population are less than the dominant culture. The fear generated in anti-immigrant speech is baseless and, yet it is prevalent. Why?
Perhaps because immigrants are primarily people of color, perhaps because they are often low income individuals, perhaps because for many English is not a first language, perhaps because with the challenges in our society it is easier to blame someone who is “not from around here,” perhaps because it helps politicians to focus on a scapegoat of ‘othering’ strangers to gain credibility as society’s champions, I don’t know. I just know it is wrong. And it denies the reality of what is actually happening in our communities.
The calls for following the rules to immigrate in this country are ridiculous for so many since the process is not only complicated but limited, especially for people of color and people from the Global South. It is not true that “anyone can get in” if they go through the process and for most, it means waiting decades, not a few months.
There are other anti-immigrant efforts in a variety of states around the country. It hasn’t been that long since Scott Warren was taken to trial in 2019 for providing water sources in the desert to prevent those seeking to cross to US soil from dying of dehydration. While the case went in his favor, it put on trial people of faith and conscience in our society who seek to meet the needs of those who struggle on the margins – to save the lives that in desperation seek safety or assistance from a rich nation. In another trial, the verdict went a different way for four women doing the same work (see an article in the Christian Century from 2019) but was later overturned on appeal.
The original bill for Florida was so egregious, even what remains challenges the freedom of compassion. Consider that many of our denominations and religious orders embrace the role of faith in providing sanctuary. Those who have engaged in it know the challenges it presents for constant vigilance to keep from being arrested and detained.
What does all this mean? NFWM is rooted in a history of extending hospitality and assistance to the marginalized in our society. With a beginning in Migrant Ministries, NFWM has grown to be a faith leader in standing with farm workers around the country as they seek justice in the fields. The choice, in 1971, to incorporate and move the focus towards advocacy and education, to stand in solidarity with farm workers is illustrative of a belief in systemic change, that society could be better, that farm workers could achieve the same rights as other workers in our country. While the dream is not yet realized, it still lives in our hearts and drives our efforts.
Over the years, NFWM has come to be simply called “the Ministry” by our farm worker partners. Our name is shortened, but it is clear that we are recognized as people of faith and conscience who stand with farm workers. That’s who we are. That’s who we will continue to be. And we will stand with farm worker organizing groups – unions, coalitions, associations, committees, whatever they are called – as well as Migrant Ministries who work to assist the immigrants in our country.
NFWM stands with all people of faith and conscience as they pursue their ministries of support for immigrants. We still recognize the importance of this work even though we long to change the reality of farm workers that make these ministries necessary. NFWM will use our organizational voice to speak against the anti-immigrant rhetoric and use our influence to oppose anti-immigrant legislation and regulations in this country. We will follow our calling to offer hospitality and our mission to educate, equip and mobilize people of faith and conscience to stand in solidarity with farm workers.