Returning to the Scene of the Crime: Phoenix, Two Years Later

Two years ago, on July 29, 2010, I was arrested in Phoenix for nonviolent civil disobedience during large protests against SB1070, Arizona's anti-immigrant law. As the president of the Unitarian Universalist Association and a man of faith, I knew it was my obligation to stand in opposition to this draconian legislation that harms immigrants and people of color, tears apart families and destroys the peace of mind within American communities. I was one of many who raised our voices that day. Our peaceful acts of conscience were treated as crimes.

This June, I will return to the scene of that crime. Two years have passed since the implementation of SB1070, and for the first time since my conviction, I will join with thousands of Unitarian Universalists from around the country, other people of faith, our local social justice partners and residents of Arizona. We will gather in peace, in solidarity and to bear witness to the truth.

The truth is, those of us seeking justice are not the criminals. The true crimes are being committed every day that SB1070 remains a standing law. Every day that the State of Arizona and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio use SB1070 to justify bigotry and violations of basic human rights, is another day such crimes are allowed to continue. As people of faith, we are beholden to shine a light on these abuses.

I am eagerly anticipating the U.S. Supreme Court's consideration of this horrid legislation. While the outrage inspired by SB1070 has not abated, there is now some hope that our nation's highest court will acknowledge the institutionalized racism embedded in this law and declare it unconstitutional.

Thousands of Unitarian Universalists are preparing to gather in Phoenix in late June, at the invitation of our social justice partners in Arizona, for our General Assembly. This year, however, we have declared our annual gathering of faith and public witness to be a Justice General Assembly, as we grapple with the knowledge that immediate dangers are facing migrant workers, many of them people of color, because of SB1070 and copycat legislation that has found its way to other states.

When writing about SB1070 two years ago, I asserted that this law and those it has helped spawn would, ironically, undermine the very goals they purport to defend. The Arizona law requires local and state law enforcement officials to ask for proof of citizenship if they suspect a person might be in the country illegally. It was said SB1070 would make Arizona a safer place. Rather than bolstering public safety, however, it has created an environment in which crime victims and witnesses are afraid to go to police for fear they will be detained and deported, separated from their spouses or lose their children. And in a legal environment that implicitly encourages racial profiling, it will become increasingly difficult for Latino people -- citizens and immigrants alike -- to feel secure in their communities, to find work and to live with the basic right of personal freedom that this country values so dearly.

This is not the American dream. It is an unforgivable lapse of courage on the part of legislators, not just in Arizona, but also in other states that have mimicked SB1070 in their own laws.

The First Principle of Unitarian Universalism affirms the worth and dignity of every human being. When we raise our voices in protest against SB1070, it is because this law strips the dignity from those whose immigration status, economic status, race, color, or country of origin may be different from yours or mine. This law is an affront to good leadership, preying instead on our fear of the unknown, the "other." It is not in keeping with the humane immigration policies this country deserves. And it must not stand.

I look forward to returning to Phoenix. I look forward to worshiping together, to learning together, to bearing witness for justice. I am humbled when I see the broad coalition of social justice organizations and faith groups that have chosen to stand on the side of love with the Unitarian Universalist Association. And if in this fight for justice I have been branded a criminal by the likes of Joe Arpaio, so be it. I will wear that brand with honor.