Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Faith Leaders Urge President Trump to Keep Paris Climate Commitments


 May 9, 2017 
President Donald Trump 
The White House 
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW 
Washington, DC 20500 

Dear Mr. President: 

As members of a coalition of diverse faith traditions, we are united across theological lines and called by our commitment to care for all of God’s creation and to stand with vulnerable communities, both across the world as well as right here in the United States. Included in our coalition are many faith organizations that provide direct accompaniment, technical support and post-disaster relief to frontline communities everywhere. These communities daily face the devastating impacts of dramatically changing weather patterns. Climate change disproportionately affects the world’s poorest communities; our faith traditions compel us to bear prophetic witness to their suffering. 

It is in keeping with our deeply held religious values that we write to urge that the United States remains a signatory to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Paris Agreement and to fulfill our commitments under that agreement. 
As people of faith, we believe that we have a responsibility to be caretakers of Divine creation - to preserve our ecosystems for future generations and to ensure the human dignity and worth of all people. The ongoing climate crisis places a disproportionate burden on women and children, communities of color, low-income communities, and tribal nations both in the United States and globally. 

Weather events such as hurricanes, floods, and drought can create great instability for individuals, families, and entire nations. It can mean losing their livelihoods, incomes, homes and land. It can also lead to an increase in conflict, hunger, disease, displacement, and human trafficking. 
Many people in the United States live at or below the poverty line, including members of our own congregations. The Paris Agreement is a historic pact that will not only protect vulnerable populations, but benefit the United States’ economy and society. It will reduce carbon emissions, result in long-term energy savings, and foster growth and job creation in the emerging alternative energy market. Efforts to address climate change are, at their core, efforts to protect all of earth’s inhabitants, especially poor and vulnerable communities. 

There are also broad international consequences to exiting the Paris Agreement or failing to meet domestic reduction goals. If the United States withdraws from the agreement or halts all efforts to reduce carbon emissions, we will face diplomatic ramifications that could undercut cooperation on other global efforts that are in the interests of the United States. Exiting the agreement would send the message that the United States cannot be trusted as a leader and partner in global affairs. 

The need for global leadership could not be more urgent. We believe that the United States can and must play a leadership role in addressing the environmental challenges which threaten our planet, our security, the health of our families, and the fate of communities throughout the world. 
For these reasons, we join together to urge you, as the President of the United States, to remain in the Paris Agreement and to meet our commitments in that agreement. The Paris Agreement will safeguard God’s creation, protect the vulnerable, address the impacts of climate change and fulfill our moral obligation to future generations. 

Sincerely, 

American Jewish World Service 
Coalition for the Environment and Jewish Life 
Columbian Center for Advocacy and Outreach 
Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, U.S. Provinces 
Church World Service 
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America 
Franciscan Action Network 
Friends Committee on National Legislation 
Interfaith Power & Light 
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns 
Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office 
National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd 
Office of Social Justice, Christian Reformed Church in North America 
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) 
Sisters of Mercy of the Americas' Institute Justice Team 
UUSC: Unitarian Universalist Service Committee 
Union for Reform Judaism 
Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth 
Unitarian Universalist Association 
Young Evangelicals for Climate Action 


CC: The Honorable Rex Tillerson 
The Honorable Scott Pruitt 
The Honorable Wilbur Roos 
The Honorable Steve Mnuchin 
The Honorable Bob Corker 

The Honorable Ben Cardin 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Join a National Call In Day to Oppose the AHCA

Call 866-426-2631 to make your voice heard.

As introduced, the American Health Care Act would profoundly reduce coverage for millions of Americans—including many low-income and disabled individuals who rely on Medicaid—and increase out-of-pocket costs for the sickest and oldest among us. Recent changes to the AHCA are alarming; these changes include allowing states to waive the requirement for essential health benefits, which could deny patients the care and treatment they need to treat their conditions.

Another change allows states to waive protections against health status rating. Weakening these rules would enable insurers to charge higher prices to people with pre-existing conditions, possibly making insurance unaffordable for those who need it most.

States that waive health status rating protections would be required to set up a high risk sharing program, which may include a high-risk pool. Offering these risk sharing mechanisms as an alternative to affordable health insurance is not a viable option, particularly high-risk pools. Previous state high risk pools resulted in higher premiums, long waiting lists and inadequate coverage.

Weakening protections in favor of high-risk pools would also undermine the ban on discrimination based on health status. The individuals and families we represent cannot go back to a time when people with pre-existing conditions could be denied coverage or forced to choose between purchasing basic necessities and affording their health care coverage. Given these factors, we oppose the latest draft of the AHCA. We urge Members of Congress to reject this legislation.

For more than 60 years, Presbyterian General Assemblies have been calling for reform of the U.S. health system, urging the establishment of a national medical plan that will ensure universal health coverage for all persons residing in the United States. In 1988, the Assembly wrote, “Jesus’ command to love our neighbor requires persons with plentiful health resources both to comprehend the condition of those persons without basic health care and to share the means to health.” In other words, it is our collective responsibility as a community, and as a nation, to make sure that all people have access to the means to good health – that is, access to quality, affordable, comprehensive health coverage. 



Join our National Call-In Day: Call your representative at 866-426-2631 make your voice heard and oppose the cruel new health care bill.

Sample Script:

As a Presbyterian, I urge Representative _____ to vote NO on the American Health Care Act.

1)    The Presbyterian Church has long viewed healthcare as a moral issue

2)    I am are especially concerned with the 880 billion in cuts to Medicaid contained in this bill. If this bill is passed an estimated thousands of people in this district will lose lifesaving Medicaid coverage.

4)    Restructuring Medicaid, a program that covers over 70 million people, and ending the Medicaid expansion will end affordable coverage for millions of low-income Americans – making it even harder for them to put food on the table each day.

I forcefully oppose the AHCA and strongly urge Representative _____ to vote against it.


Monday, April 24, 2017

Hundreds of Faith Leaders to Hold March Urging Congress to Reject Trump’s Immoral Budget Proposal



Prominent ecumenical coalition call on House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
 to protect the vulnerable

Washington, D.C.—Hundreds of clergy and lay leaders from across the country will gather for a prayer vigil in front of the United Methodist Building, 100 Maryland Ave., NE, at 12 p.m. on Monday, April 24th, to urge Congress to reject President Trump’s sinful and immoral federal budget proposal, which makes deeply destructive cuts to programs that address human needs in order to increase Pentagon spending.

Following the vigil, clergy will march to the Hart Senate Building, where they will kneel and pray in the atrium to draw attention to the magnitude of the harm this budget will cause vulnerable populations in our nation.

The Christian clergy and lay leaders participating in the march are in the nation’s capital for the Lobby Day of the 2017 Ecumenical Advocacy Days for Global Peace with Justice. Close to 1,000 Christians will participate in the EAD conference over the weekend, which is organized around the theme, “Confronting Chaos, Forging Community: Challenging Racism, Materialism and Militarism.” 

In the Christian tradition of fasting to petition God to respond to dire circumstances, Ecumenical Advocacy Days participants will fast from sunup to sundown on April 24.

Rev. Dr. Leslie Copeland-Tune, an organizer for Monday’s public witness event, remarked, “The extreme nature of this proposed budget, which would cut funding for programs that help children, the elderly, those who have disabilities, and those protecting God’s creation, to build walls and tanks that we don’t need is sinful and immoral. It goes against our beliefs and values. We reject it. We say no to it. In fact, we say hell no to this sinful budget that would hurt the most vulnerable people in our nation!”

Doug Grace, Director of Ecumenical Advocacy Days,said, “It’s important for us to send a strong message to Congress and the President that this budget is immoral, and we will do all we can to oppose it. We will not be silent or stand idly by while those most in need are harmed. We will not watch as families are ripped apart through mass deportations and our air and water are polluted because of corporate greed and deregulation.”

WHEN:
Monday, April 24th, at 12 p.m.

WHERE:
United Methodist Building, 100 Maryland Ave., NE
Washington, D.C. 20002

WHO:
Rev. Dr. Susan Henry Crowe,
 General Secretary, General Board of Church & Society, United Methodist Church
Rev. Traci Blackmon,
 Executive Minister of Justice & Witness Ministries, United Church of Christ
Rev. Jimmie Hawkins,
Director, Office of Public Witness, Presbyterian Church (USA)
Rev. Aundreia Alexander, Esq.,
 Associate General Secretary for Justice and Peace, National Council of Churches of Christ USA
Dr. Patrick Carolan,
Executive Director, Franciscan Action Network
Rev. Dr. Leslie Copeland Tune,
 Director, Ecumenical Poverty Initiative
Mr. Douglas Grace,
 Director, Ecumenical Advocacy Days
Rev. Noel Anderson,
 National Grassroots Coordinator, Church World Service
Bishop Jose Garcia,
 Senior Advisor for Prayer and Special Initiatives, Bread for the World
Rev. Dr. Timothy D. Boddie,
 General Secretary, Progressive National Baptist Convention

###

Ecumenical Advocacy Days is a movement of the ecumenical Christian community, and its more than 50 recognized partners
 and allies, grounded in biblical witness and shared traditions of justice, peace and the integrity of creation. Through worship, theological reflection and opportunities for learning and witness, EAD’s goal is to strengthen Christians’ voice and to mobilize

 for advocacy on a wide variety of U.S. domestic and international policy issues.

Monday, April 10, 2017

7 things you should know about the 2017 DHS immigration enforcement guidelines

By Ray Chen, Emerson National Hunger Fellow at the Office of Public Witness

On February 20, 2017, DHS Secretary John Kelly issued two memoranda [1, 2] that guides DHS offices and personnel on how the department will fulfill the executive orders President Trump signed earlier in January [1, 2]. The memos detail a radical departure from more community-friendly guidelines that were adopted towards the end of the Obama administration. Generally, there will be much stricter immigration enforcement and subsequent expansion of the immigration system. It is still unclear as to how these memos will affect immigration enforcement on the ground, but they provide us with general trends we need to be aware of.

1. These memos rescind all previous DHS guidelines except the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans memos, including the memo that enforce sensitive locations, which grant churches a layer of protection when providing sanctuary,­­ and memos that protect vulnerable populations.

All conflicting DHS guidelines were rescinded except for the 2012 DACA memorandum and the Nov 2014 DACA+/DAPA memorandum, which allow deferred action and work authorization for undocumented people who enter the country as minors and parents of US citizens or lawful permanent residents.

However, it is unclear what this will look in practice, but some clues offer us some insight on the following guidelines:
      Enforcement actions at sensitive locations. The sensitive location memo instructs ICE officers to avoid enforcement activity at places of worship, schools, medical facilities, religious or civil ceremonies, and public demonstrations. The memo protects the people who are housed in places of worship in the Sanctuary Movement. This guideline is currently still up on the DHS FAQ page. However, this may be only temporary, and it is important to note that there have been reports of enforcement actions adjacent to these sensitive locations (i.e. on public road next to a school).
      Protection for victims or witnesses of crime. On Tuesday, Apr 5, DHS spokesperson says that witnesses or victims of crime are not immune to deportation (the Hill). This can lead to decreased public safety, as undocumented people will be less likely to report crime.
      Protection for other vulnerable populations. Previous guidelines have deemed certain groups of people as not an enforcement priority for humanitarian reasons, such as primary caregivers of children, individuals with serious mental disabilities or physical illness, and pregnant and nursing mothers. However, the memo that allows for this flexibility was specifically named to be revoked in the new memos.

2. These memos end “catch and release,” which allowed undocumented people without criminal records to not be detained, and restrict exemptions from detention to a very few people, greatly increasing the population targeted for detention.

These memos specifically called for an end to “catch and release,” which loosely describes the practice of not detaining undocumented people unless if they meet certain criteria for priority removal such as having been convicted of a felony or being a gang member.

With these new guidelines, the only people exempted from detention are: People who are being removed from the US; People granted relief from removal or with valid immigration status in the US; People who withdraw an application for admission voluntarily and leave the US; People required to be released by statute, judicial order, or a binding settlement agreement; People granted parole under the DHS; People who an asylum officer finds has a “credible fear” of persecution or torture, pose no security risk, and agree to comply with any additional conditions of release.

Very few people fit the above criteria, and there would need to be massive expansion of detention facility and personnel to make these detentions a reality. The guidelines vaguely state that ”detention resources should be prioritized based upon potential danger and risk of flight.” The memos also specifically name a restriction on the use of parole, adding that parole can only be granted in “demonstrated urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefits.” Further regulations that clarify the use of parole power is expected.

3. These memos expand the definition of who is considered criminal, thus prioritizing the removal of virtually all undocumented people.

These memos rescind the Priority Enforcement Program, which restricted the criminal offenses that are prioritized for removal, and returns to the Secure Communities Program. Furthermore, it expands the department’s enforcement priorities to also people who have been
      convicted or charged with any criminal offense,
      committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense,
      engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation,
      have abused any public benefits programs,
      have a final order of removal, or,
      as deemed by an immigration officer, poses a risk to public safety or national security.

These criteria are broad and ambiguous, and can cover petty offenses such as jaywalking or even simply “improper entry by alien.” There is also a specific focus on immigration offenses committed at the southern border.

4. These memos restrict prosecutorial discretion and expand expedited removal so that more people are deported without due process of law.

In contrast to previous guidelines that encouraged prosecutorial discretion for vulnerable groups, these memos say that “shall not be exercised in a manner that exempts or excludes a specific class or category of aliens from enforcement of the immigration.” The General Counsel will issue further guidance on what this will look like in practice.

Furthermore, there is an expansion of the use of Expedited Removal that allows for the removal of arriving undocumented people at the discretion of immigration officers, without further judicial hearings or review. Before the memo, expedited removal had only been used within 100 air miles of the border for people who have only been in the US for less than 14 days and people arriving to the US by sea other than at a port of entry. This memo seeks to enforce removal without further hearings or review for anyone who cannot prove that they have been continuously present in the US for at least two years. The specific guidance has not yet been developed, and will be published in the Federal Register.

5. These memos call for increased state and local law enforcement cooperation with federal immigration enforcement agencies.

Under the Priority Enforcement Program that has now been dismantled, there has been a shift away from state and local law enforcement agencies assisting in the enforcement of federal immigration law. Returning to the Secure Communities program, local and state enforcement can detain an undocumented individual for up to 48 hours additional hours so that ICE officers can apprehend the person, regardless of the type of crime the person had been charged for. Many civil rights groups have criticized this hold as unconstitutional detention.

Furthermore, the memo calls for the expansion of the 287(g) program in the border region, which allow for written agreements between state and local governments to authorize their law enforcement agencies to perform the functions of a federal immigration officer. The 287(g) program had been restricted after it came under criticism for encouraging racial profiling behaviors from local law enforcement and putting communities in dangers as a result of fewer crimes being reported for fear of deportation.

The memo also calls for the expansion of the Criminal Alien Program (CAP), which is facilitated by increased state and local cooperation. CAP focuses on expediting securing a final order of removal for undocumented people who are incarcerated so that the person is deported without even being taken into ICE custody.

6. These memos call for the expansion of detention facilities & enforcement staff.

To implement the above policies, the memos call for the hiring of an additional 10,000 ICE agents and other associated operational, mission support, and legal staff, 5,000 additional border patrol agents, and 500 air and marine agents or officers. The memos also call for resources to be allocated to expanding detention capabilities and building a border wall. Congress will have to allocate enough funds in the federal budget to the DHS for the department to make this expansion a reality.

7. These memos create mechanisms to reinforce the narrative of the “criminal alien.”

Most ostentatiously, the memos establish the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) office, which will ensure that victims of crimes committed by undocumented people and the victims’ families have information about the offender. Furthermore, the memos call for a monthly report of data on alien apprehensions and releases that include “country of citizenship, convicted criminals and the nature of their offenses, gang members, prior immigration violators, custody status of aliens, and if release, the reason for release and location of their release, aliens ordered removed, and aliens physically removed or returned.” The memos also calls for a weekly report to the public of non-federal jurisdictions that release aliens from their custody, particularly spotlighting cities that have adopted “sanctuary” policies and do not fully cooperate with ICE officers.

In contrast to prior protocol, the memo declares that the Privacy Act as now only covering US citizens and lawful permanent residents, thus facilitating the release of personal identifiable information to the public by these regular reports and the VOICE office. Under the guise of transparency and accountability, the department is releasing information that can be used as fodder to feed the growing hysteria around “criminal aliens.”

Conclusion
The memos also cover other policy changes, such as ones to collect authorized civil fines and penalties from undocumented people and those who facilitate their presence, to return arriving unauthorized migrants to the contiguous country while they wait for their removal proceedings, regardless of their country of origin, and to change the definition of who qualifies as an unaccompanied minor.

Overall, these memos show that this administration seeks to greatly expand immigration enforcement, and that any undocumented person can be targeted for removal. However, it is unclear how these policies will actually look in practice. It is important to continue watching out for new guidelines that more specifically describe how these policies look on the ground.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Executive Order on Climate Threatens God's Creation


The PC(USA) Office of Public Witness Raises Grave Concern Over Rollbacks of Climate Protections

March 30, 2017 
Washington D.C.- On Tuesday March 29, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order that will nullify the Obama administration’s efforts to curb global warming.  Although it is not a formal withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, this order forecloses on the possibility of the US meeting the 2015 commitment to roll back emissions by at least 26 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. Our concern as Presbyterians lies not only in our mandate to protect God’s creation, but in the knowledge that the ruins wrought by climate change will fall disproportionately on the backs of the poor, indigenous, and citizens of the Global South.

President Trump directed the Environmental Protection Agency to start the complex and lengthy legal process of unraveling and rewriting the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which would have closed hundreds of coal-fired power plants, frozen construction of new plants and replaced them with vast new wind and solar farms. It was projected to prevent nearly 3,000 premature deaths and almost 100,000 asthma attacks per year by 2030. Every child has the right to a pollution free environment and we have a moral obligation to protect God’s gift of air for our children and grandchildren.  Beyond the Clean Power Plan, Trump’s order prioritizes the development of domestic coal, oil and natural gas reserves over renewable energy sources and opens federal land to coal leases.

Office of Public Witness Director, Rev. Jimmie Hawkins remarked:

The President’s Executive Order on climate change is a tragic turn for the future of this nation and for the entire planet. By this one stroke of his pen, the president has rescinded the Coal Mining Moratorium on US federal lands and substantially weakened a number of environmental protections. His signature threatens the health of children already suffering with respiratory illness, endangers seniors living in environments already polluted by industrial waste and places at risk the well-being of every living person the world around. As people of faith who believe in a God of creation who commands good and proper stewardship of this gift, we must speak with one voice that this world is worth protecting. We affirm that climate change is real and impacted by the actions of human beings. We can protect the environment and affirm the dignity of work as we come together to produce solutions which enhance all aspects of created life . But environmental justice must be a priority or we will not have a future to work towards. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,… and God saw that it was good.” (Gen 1:1; 10b)


Legal experts say it could take years for the E.P.A. administrator to carry out the process of withdrawing and revising the climate change regulations, and the process will be hit by legal challenges at every turn. More than anything, this executive order is a signal by the Trump administration that they do not intend to take seriously the threat of climate change.

The primary motivation for the order, according to the Trump Administration is to bring jobs back to coal country. As Presbyterians, we have deep care and consideration for families who rely on extractive industries for their livelihood. But the reality is that markets are already shifting to favor investment in renewable energy and this political measure is unlikely to reverse the decline of the coal industry.

In difficult times, we refer back to a report entitled “The Power to Change” Approved by the 218th General Assembly:

The challenge we face is daunting. The temptation to despair is real. Only God can give us the power to change. Our Reformed tradition reminds us that it is God who created the earth and saw that it was good, God who sustains the earth and seeks to hold its processes together, God who judges sin and greed, and God who reveals in Jesus Christ that love and justice are the essence of God’s power. God is the inexhaustible source of energy for personal, social, and ecological transformation. Although we are complicit in the evils we face, we can repent of our own sinful misuse and abuse of the Earth as we confess our sins. As recipients of God’s endless mercy, this redemptive energy frees and empowers us to be good stewards of God’s creation.