This week Pope Francis makes his inaugural visit to the United States. As he is greeted with well-wishes from people of faith and conscience, I am reminded of his compelling message for the 2013 World Day of Migrants and Refugees. He said, "Migrants trust that they will encounter acceptance, solidarity, and help, that they will meet people who will sympathize with the distress and tragedy experienced by others, recognize the values and resources the latter have to offer, and are open to sharing humanly and materially with the needy and disadvantaged."
Sadly, many migrants to this country do not encounter acceptance and help. And worse, if these migrants arrive in Maricopa County in Arizona, they face Sheriff Joe Arpaio's anti-immigration fear tactics, inhumane prison conditions at Tent City, and humiliating practices like forcing inmates to wear the notorious pink underwear.
In 2010 in Phoenix, AZ, along with local partners and Unitarian Universalists, I was arrested for civil disobedience in an effort to combat Arizona's anti-immigrant law, SB1070. I experienced first-hand Sheriff Arpaio's dehumanizing tactics at his 4th Avenue Jail.
This week, Sheriff Arpaio is standing before a judge as contempt-of-court hearings resume. Arpaio is charged with failing to follow the judge's orders in the case Melendres v. Arpaio, a racial profiling and civil rights lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union. Arpaio gained notoriety--and derision--for his legally questionable practices around immigration enforcement in Maricopa County. Despite his legal troubles, he still remains the sheriff of Maricopa County. It's time for Joe to go. It's time for the families he has terrorized to receive justice and peace.
In Arizona, our partner organization, Puente, has launched a campaign, Arpaio Free AZ, calling for Sheriff Arpaio's resignation and a transformation of the sheriff's department. This transformation also requires that U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director Sarah Saldaña remove federal deportation agents out of the Maricopa County 4th Avenue Jail. You can help advance justice by signing this petition.
We Unitarian Universalists believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person. We believe that everyone should be treated with kindness, compassion, and dignity, regardless of immigration status. Far too many migrants who seek safety and the chance at a better life within our borders have faced indignity, discrimination, and danger.
Also this week, one hundred women are making a 100-mile pilgrimage from a migrant detention center in York County, Pennsylvania, to Washington, DC. They are scheduled to arrive in time for Pope Francis' visit to the nation's capital. They walk in solidarity with migrant families who are suffering after leaving their home countries in search of a better life only to be greeted with disdain and imprisoned in detention centers. The stories of heartbreak and sorrow they carry with them bear witness to the lives they left behind in their home countries and the mistreatment and discrimination they faced when they arrived in our country.
As the first Latino president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, I championed immigration reform as a moral issue within the Unitarian Universalist community leading to the adoption of our Statement of Conscience "Immigration as a Moral Issue" at the UUA's 2013 General Assembly. I am proud of the work our partners and our Unitarian Universalist faith community have done to change how migrants are treated in our country, but we must do more.
My hope is that we will welcome families seeking a better life in our country with the same warm, open-armed welcome that the Pope is receiving this week. We still have a long way to go before we reach that destination. I invite you to walk with me on that path of love and justice that leads to the Beloved Community.