The United Church of Christ was present in full loving force for nearly three hours of testimony at a public hearing Wednesday night, as the Santa Fe City Council unanimously voted to reaffirm and strengthen the city's welcoming of immigrants and refugees. More than 20 members came to the hearing, some getting into council chambers and others standing in the overflow in the hall, many wearing their green “Love God. Love Neighbor. Love Creation” T-shirts.
The City Council meeting wasn't the UCC's first rodeo. The resolution passed by the City Council builds on another one passed in 1999 — also supported by UCC — when Santa Fe went on record for being a welcoming city. This year, Mike Buttram, Community Engagement Minister at United Church of Christ Santa Fe, testified with Rev. Dr. Talitha Arnold, Senior Minister, at the City Finance Committee. Arnold was also asked to speak at the Public Safety Committee on Tuesday, and both of those meetings had UCC members in attendance.
"United Church of Santa Fe is doing exemplary work for justice by making their voices heard and presence felt in the halls of government,” said Rev. Dr. Bill Lyons, Designated Conference Minister. “On behalf of every child, every woman, every man that can sleep and work with less fear in Santa Fe, and on behalf of the Southwest Conference UCC, I offer United Church of Santa Fe and the Rev. Dr. Talitha Arnold my deepest gratitude."
Younger faces came to the hearing in support, too. In addition to UCC youth, an 11-year-old from Guatemala of Salazar school spoke out in fear that her parents might face deportation. Other church speakers included Shirley Clark and Allegra Love, Ellie Voutselas, Rev. Wendy Pomeroy, Rev. Betsy Bueschel, Santa Fe Reporter Editor Julie Ann Grimm, Jim Maloney, Michael Greene, and Bill Hultquist.
Immigrants and refugees came to speak for themselves at the meeting, who expressed how much they love Santa Fe and how the city has become their home. They spoke, too, of their hard work to care for their families and contribute to the community, despite not necessarily having access to the services their tax contributions provide. A self-identified home health aide said she and her coworkers, all immigrants, take care of “the grandparents of Santa Fe.” And a young man who came to the city 19 years ago as a teen, to escape war in Guatemala, earned his degree from the local community college and worked two jobs to start his own business. One of the Dreamers, part of the Adult Forum panel on Sunday, also spoke about her experience, her love for the community and country, and her fear for her family. Their voices were heard.
"Resistance and protest happen in many ways,” said Lyons. “Making our voices heard in legislative chambers and as friends of the courts is critical in these days of unprecedented assaults against human rights and gospel values."
Other speakers included people whose Santa Fe roots go back generations. As one person said, his family has lived in three different countries and never moved across the street. They didn't cross the border, the border crossed them. Laypeople from other Santa Fe faith communities (Temple Beth Shalom, First Presbyterian, Santa Fe Friends, San Isidro Catholic Church, Unitarian Universalist) also testified.
Among a variety of immigration and refugee issues discussed throughout the Church Council February meeting, the church is considering the adoption of a “Welcoming Immigrant” statement, similar to the Open and Affirming Covenant, and the Whole Earth Covenant. The Church Council also voted to sign on to a national interfaith Amicus Brief concerning the travel ban.
In addition, Buttram has organized an Immigration Study Group, supported by the Council and Outreach Team. The Study Group is gathering information, from both local and national sources, including up-to-date information on sane and just immigration reform as well as assessing the needs in Santa Fe and determining the most strategic uses of the church's time, volunteers, and other resources.
"Church members in the Southwest Conference are taking the faith-based case for extravagant welcome and immigrant rights to their elected and appointed officials,” said Lyons. “We are marching in the streets and rallying in the airport and standing beside our Muslim sisters and brothers at local mosques."
Buttram and Arnold participated in calls on Southwest Conference (the regional UCC) that provided information for local churches in the region, in light of the travel ban and increased deportations. Local, regional, and national UCC offices are keeping up with this issue in Santa Fe.