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Church committee offers update on work to safeguard immigrants, aid refugees

P&JSC  Report on Refugee and Immigrant work.
Refugees 
 The Haydenville Congregational Churh (HCC) has a Circle of Care under the umbrella of P&J and the leadership of Lisa Hall. All members of the Circle are oriented and all have completed the paperwork required by Catholic Charities, the resettlement agency. With the Republican Administration’s travel ban and the stoppage of all refugees for 120 days it is unclear whether there will be more refugees any time soon. Sadly, if there are no refugees for 120 days resettlement agencies are in trouble. Ascentria has begun laying off staff.

Doug Renick and Francesca Piantedosi represent HCC on the Pioneer Valley Refugee Action Group (PVIRAG). The focus of this interfaith group has been supporting refugee resettlement agencies through the collection of furniture and welcome kits. Also, the group has an educational objective to make our area more welcoming of refugee families. Finally, the group has a goal of pushing for increasing the number of refugees allowed into the country, especially Syrian refugees. At the moment PVIRAG is frustrated that the flow of refugees is stymied. The group will consider shifting its focus to immigrants at its next regular meeting. This is a very energized and effective group.

Immigrants 

At its annual meeting on February 26 those present at HCC annual meeting affirmed this Faithful America pledge.
“In keeping with our commitment to welcome the stranger, our church will not cooperate with the Trump administration’s efforts to deport or detain our immigrant and refugee neighbors. We will not provide any information to law enforcement agencies pursuing immigration cases, nor will we voluntarily allow them entry to our facilities.”

Over 200 congregations nationwide have signed this pledge.
As we all know, the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) has begun picking up people who are undocumented. It is casting a wide net, including more than just convicted criminals. Families are being torn apart. Some churches are offering physical space, as in the 1980’s, as sanctuary.
The Pioneer Valley Workers Center (PVWC) here in Northampton is leading the organizing in western Mass to protect immigrants from ICE raids and deportations. Northampton and Amherst have declared themselves sanctuary cities, despite the Administration’s threat of withdrawing federal funds.
Pastor Chris, Alexis Kumar and Doug Renick represented HCC at a March 19 workshop about Sanctuary.

There are four action areas being developed at this time:
Physical space—housing refugees in churches.

  1. Physical space—housing refugees in churches.
  2. Sanctuary in the Streets—a rapid response network will go live in April. Volunteers will be trained to cover the hotline and volunteers will stand trained and ready to respond by showing up at where ICE is making a raid. The first training was March 26 and Rachel Greenwood represented HCC.
  3. The Cosecha Movement—a national non-violent movement led by undocumented immigrants. Currently the movement is preparing for a one-day strike on May 1. This organizing will escalate to a week-long strike some time in the future.
  4. Legislative lobbying at the municipal and state levels.  At the state level there is a push for passage of the Safe Communities Act, which would make all of Massachusetts a sanctuary state. The speaker of the Mass House of Representatives, Robert DeLeo is not on board with this effort and neither is the governor who wants the state police to cooperate with ICE. At the local level there is support for cities and towns declaring themselves sanctuaries.

A new Congregational Affirmation of Sanctuary and Solidarity will be presented by P&JSC to the Church Council on April 9 for their approval and their guidance on how to make this a church-wide affirmation. Here is the affirmation:

                        A Congregational Affirmation of Sanctuary and Solidarity

Our congregation affirms we have thoughtfully and prayerfully considered the ways we will stand with immigrant brothers and sisters in this time of fear and uncertainty.

We are an immigrant welcoming congregation. We stand with immigrants in our community.  We commit to building the Interfaith Sanctuary and Solidarity Network by actively participating in our local cluster, and regional efforts.  We will support this work in varied ways, some of which include:

  • Welcoming immigrant congregations into our local cluster or into relationship with our congregation
  • Advocating for legislation that supports the rights of immigrants, refugees, and immigrant workers
  • Standing with immigrants as they boycott or strike through May 1 efforts
  • Accompany immigrant families with potential needs as they arise.
  • Participate in the Sanctuary in the Streets rapid response network.

At the 3/19 workshop four clusters were formed: Northampton, Amherst, Franklin County, and one other. The hope is that one congregation in each cluster will commit to providing physical space for immigrants threatened with deportation. Other congregations will provide support. HCC is in the Northampton cluster and the first meeting will be on April 5, 6:00, First Churches. Doug and Alexis will represent HCC this meeting, perhaps with others.

P&JSC is working to create a Facebook page linked to our website. The aim is to keep the congregation informed. We’ll also use the weekly emails that Pastor Chris sends out and the Sunday bulletin announcements.

Submitted by Doug Renick  3/27/17

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