On Monday, over 90 community activists, clergy, attorneys, DREAM activists, and immigrants met in Delaware, Ohio to generate action throughout the state to urge Congress to pass a fair and humane immigration reform bill in 2013.
The conference, held at the Methodist Theological School, was one in a series of events organized across the country this week to get the attention of key members of Congress while they are at home during recess.
"A pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented people will make equal justice under law more possible in America," said keynote speaker Rev. Geoffrey Black, general minister and president of the United Church of Christ, which has 1.6 million members nationwide.
"This is a perpetual goal, an ongoing process, and a continuous struggle," Rev. Black said. "When we have the courage to challenge this broken and unjust system, we are indeed following God’s call. We must get involved and act in a concerted, bold effort so that commonsense immigration reform can pass."
"Immigration reform is what we make of it. In the past it has been too heavily focused on security provisions," said Rev. Noel Anderson of the humanitarian agency Church World Service (CWS) in a panel discussion on the current state of U.S. immigration policy.
"Now it's time for the people to come together and advocate to make compassionate immigration reform a reality that prioritizes family unity and citizenship for the 11 million undocumented people already working and contributing in our communities," Rev. Anderson said.
Also represented at the conference were Central Ohio Immigrant Justice, the DREAM Activist Network, Latino Policy Action Network, and Capital University Law School, along with regional faith leaders from the Unitarian Universalist Association.
DREAM activist Maria Sanchez called for passage of an Ohio bill for equitable tuition for resident immigrant students. "After high school, I wanted to be able to go to college like many of my classmates," Sanchez told the conference attendees. "When I spoke to counselors and eventually my principal, I was told that I wouldn't be able to attend college like my peers because I was undocumented," she said.
"Many undocumented students give up before they graduate high school because they see no future for themselves without access to higher education," she said. Sanchez was also interviewed by Columbus NBC affiliate station WCMH-TV.
"As community leaders and national advocates, we spent the afternoon planning and strategizing how we can be more effective in calling on Congress to pass fair, compassionate immigration reform, with a roadmap to citizenship for the millions of people without documentation who are forced to live in the shadows of our society," said Rev. Noel Anderson.
Sponsors for the conference included Church World Service, Catholic Latino Ministry, Central Ohio Immigrant Justice, Cleveland Faith Immigration, Community Organizing Center of Columbus, Community Refugee Immigration Services, DREAM Activist Ohio, Interfaith Immigration Coalition, Methodist Theological School in Ohio, Ohio Action Circle, Ohio Council of Churches, Unitarian Universalist Association – Ohio Meadville District, and the Episcopal Church – Southern Ohio Diocese and Columbus Metropolitan Area.